Master Bath Makeover

Finished at last

Finished at last

This project has evolved slowly in many small stages – I had originally considered doing a major overhaul since there were a lot of things not quite to my taste but instead we decided to just dress up what we had – the cost and mess were too much to contemplate and besides its not like what we had was actually broken.

Missing mirrors, silver and gold faucets and old light fixtures - Yuck!

Missing mirrors, silver and gold faucets and old light fixtures – Yuck!

When we first moved in the previous owners had taken the mirrors with them…. so the very first thing we did was go out and pick up a couple from Home Depot with nice silver frames – it is surprisingly difficult to brush your teeth without a mirror LOL!

After that, I bought a couple small teardrop chandeliers to hang over the tub – give it a bit more presence. Of course that meant that we needed to convert the existing recessed cans first. Eric risked life and limb installing them for me while the teen and I assembled the chandeliers (trickier than you would think and likely the reason for the excellent price)

chandeliers and medallions that replaced the old recessed cans

Chandeliers and medallions that replaced the old recessed cans

Once they were up they still needed a little something – so I started looking for ceiling medallions that snapped around already installed fixtures. Eric would have had a nervous breakdown if I asked him to take them down again!

towel rings and new towels

Towel rings and new towels

Oddly enough, there was nowhere to hang hand towels, so I picked up a couple of oil rubbed bronze ones (knowing my future plan to replace the chrome and gold faucets – yuck) some new towels and a mat to go in front of the shower so that the crappy floor tiles were less likely to kill us. For some reason every tiled surface in this house is the same ceramic tile that is completely lethal when wet – a great choice for bathrooms – sigh….

when we first moved in

When we first moved in – note the massive chip in the tub

For quite some time, that was it – too many other projects on the priority list.  One thing that had bothered me from the start, was that there was only one light fixture to the side of each mirror above the sink – clearly designed by a man – How am I expected to apply make up properly when one side of my face is in shadow???

I had my eye on some cute lights from Possini in silver with a glass dome surrounding some hanging chandelier drops – they matched the fan I put up in the the master bedroom – but they were too expensive. I needed four of them and at $200 a pop that was too spendy for my tastes. I kept an eye on a few websites and saw the prices drop on sale but still held off – then one glorious day there was a flash sale on and they were listed at $99 each so I snapped them up – Yay for being a smart shopper :)

They languished in the boxes for months – eventually Eric put up one of each but we never got around to running the additional wiring for the other too – half my face remained in darkness…

brassy hinges to match - Yuck!

Brassy hinges – Yuck!

We badly needed exhaust fans in all the showers in the house so we splurged on a handyman to come and do all three at once – this would ensure the mildew problem the house had when we first moved in would not reappear….not a glamorous project, but very necessary.

Blechh - old shower door handle

Blechh – old shower door handle

I would love to replace the ugly shower door at some point but since I know that was further down the road, I decided to just gussy up the existing one. However, the splotchy old bronze handle and hinges were just nasty, so I dragged out my trusty oil rubbed bronze Rustoleum spray paint and it gave it a whole new look that has survived really well over the past 6 months of heavy use. I also spray painted the toilet roll holder while I was at it.

spray painted handle

Spray painted handle

spray painted hinges

Spray painted hinges

Little by little it was starting to look  a little more presentable. I picked out some stacked stone tile for the wall behind the tub and paint and a stencil for the walls – but I kept putting that off – wanting the new lights to go up first….

Old sink faucets

Old sink faucets

New oil rubbed bronze  - much better

New oil rubbed bronze – much better

sad old shower head

Sad old shower head

New rain head shower and lever

Glam new rain head shower and lever

In the meantime, I ordered replacement faucets for the sinks and the shower – lovely oil rubbed bronze thanks to Amazon. They turned out to be easy to replace since I went with the same brand as the old facets and we could leave the existing valves in place. This made a huge difference and the bathroom started to really look good. A month later we replaced the tub faucet and drain – some internet research showed us how to do it. (The key was a smart dumbbell and some brute strength)

old Tub faucet - already updated the overflow and drain

Old tub faucet – already updated the overflow and drain

New faucet - Yum!

New faucet – Yum!

That just left the shower drain which I have been unable to find an exact replacement for so out came the Rustoleum again – hopefully it will hold up to daily wear and tear until I can find the real deal.

I had plans to tile the wall behind the tub and when Eric got himself a new Dremel, I decided to try it out on the tile needing to be removed.

Demo on wall done

Demo on wall done

Demo time

Demo time

halfway mark - weekend 1

Halfway mark – weekend 1

Final wall tile done

Final wall tile done – weekend 2

It did a great job but then I needed to go out and buy the spendy stacked stone tile I liked so much to cover it up LOL – that project ended up taking a couple weekends to complete – but I love how it looks – much more elegant! Hard to see in the picture but it is multiple sizes and depths of varied natural stone and marble along with a couple smoky glass tiles.

My closet floor was bare concrete – I guess there had been some issue with the previous owner – don’t know if there was a leak or what – but when we moved in I just pulled up the old carpet strips so I didn’t step on them and left it to make sure there was no water problem. A year and a half later with no sign of a leak I ordered some carpet tiles from Home Depot to stick down to make it look a little more finished and comfortable. They were really easy to install and it was a quick fix.

bare concrete in closet

Before – bare concrete in closet

easy stick down carpet tiles from Home Depot

easy stick down carpet tiles from Home Depot

carpet tiles down

carpet tiles down

Next up was the tile rug inset on the floor – I wanted to remove some of the old tile and replace with natural stone which is much less slippy but without having to replace all the old tile – I had done a similar thing at our old house in WA and it worked out great. However this was tile laid on concrete slab – much harder to remove than we had hoped.

floor before - death trap tile

floor before – death trap tile

After Eric “Dremelled” around the old grout lines, we removed a section 3 x 5 tiles wide and replaced it with the new tile. Demo was of course the hardest part – you need to not damage the tiles you want to leave behind and chip up all the old mastic before laying the new stuff – this is an extremely dusty process so be prepared for the clean up if you try it…

Tile is up - now to chip away all the old mastic

Tile is up – now to chip away all the old mastic

Old tile up and ready to go

Old tile up and ready to go

Those 15 tiles took all day to remove and there was much frustration and unhappiness all around – it was brutally hard work and the mess was beyond belief. There is a reason professionals charge twice as much to remove old tile than to lay new tile… sigh.  Basically get yourself a chisel with hand guard (trust me hammering your own knuckles makes the whole thing even more miserable), a hammer and all the elbow grease and muscle you can muster.

Damage prevention - my pretty lights wrapped in a fowl and a plastic bag

Damage prevention – my pretty lights wrapped in a towel and a plastic bag

Ceramic tile is sharp and shards of it were flying around the room – safety glasses are a must and make sure you protect any light fixtures or breakables while you work.

The all important chalk line

The all important chalk line

The next day I measure and laid the tile and Eric did all the tile cutting for me – between the two of us it took most of the day.  Just crank up the tunes and get to work. When you retrofit an existing floor it is best to start with the outside edges and work in since there is no room for error on sizing.

Edging down

Edging down

Snap a chalk line so you match the grout lines around the outside where the original tile is – once you are  working on the inside you can go with a different grout size if you prefer – but it will look weird if you mess up the perimeter.

Edging and contrast tiles laid

Edging and contrast tiles laid

Tile down - grout to follow

Tile down – grout to follow

After letting it dry, we sealed and grouted and finally it was done and what a difference it makes the deep chocolate marble accent tiles match some of the darker marble in the tile wall and with the oil rubbed bronze fixtures I loved how it pulled everything together – makes me almost forget the old ugly ceramic tile surrounding it LOL

Paint finished - goodbye sludge green

Paint finished – goodbye sludge green

At last it was time to paint the walls – I had to wait till all the messy stuff was done and I was so glad to be covering up the old green paint. I used Behr’s “woodsmoke” my favorite grey beige. It is a great neutral that works well with both warm and cool colors.

Late night stencilling

Late night stencilling

The final touch was using a trellis stencil on the wall behind the sink and in the toilet area. I wanted a high end wallpaper look but this felt safer in a high humidity location like a bathroom.

Stenciling finished

Stenciling finished

All in all total time elapsed 20 months  – actual hours spent working on it –  more like a month. Taking it on a bite sized chunk at a time made it more manageable both from a cost and time perspective – better than waiting like a deer in the headlights for the right time to start – that would never have come.

Finished product - looks like wallpaper - tiled wall in mirror

Finished product – looks like wallpaper – tiled wall in mirror

So if you are overwhelmed by the thought of a big project – just start with one small step – it will get you there in the end :) (Still no extra lights by the mirror – maybe next weekend LOL)

 

 

Restoration Hardware – you are drunk!

Final arrangement

Final arrangement

I recently bought a console table for an empty spot in the house – it was a wall crying out for something – of course this meant I then needed things to put on it….sigh…

I remember seeing some cool glass domes in Restoration Hardware catalogs with scrolls and keys in them and I thought a few of those would look nice along with some crapola I already had – like a nice wooden horse and silver tray that were in need of homes.

I guess I had never checked the price on these splendiferous glass “cloches” – the one I particularly liked full of vintage keys was $395 – WTF?  If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would never pay 400 bucks for a bunch of old rusty keys in a glass dome! Even the empty ones were $70 – 100 – not happening!

Some of the raw materials

Some of the raw materials

Outraged, but still wanting my fancy “objects d’art” – I decided to take matters into my own hands. I ordered 3 varying sizes of cloches from Amazon – do yourself a  favor and search for glass display domes – they are automatically half the price of a glass “cloche” LOL. The largest most expensive was under $40, the other two were $20 and $14 all on a nice walnut base – just like the Restoration Hardware versions :)

I also ordered some old keys online for $15 and then hit JoAnnes and Michaels to pick up a few more old keys, some carved wooden eggs and a pad of that paper scrapbookers use with old letters, sheet music, maps etc printed on them I may have spent all of $30

Map scroll with Ireland and Journey Key

Map scroll with Ireland and Journey Key

Once I had all my ingredients on hand, I started with the easy stuff. The tallest “cloche” I wanted to fill with scrolls – similar to the expensive inspiration but since I was doing it myself, I was able to personalize – I rolled up a map from the scrapbooking pad, leaving  Ireland visible –  tied it up with a piece  of canvas that came with some of the JoAnnes stuff and added a small key with the word “Journey”.  Since I moved from Ireland to the US many years ago I thought this was appropriate. I made another scroll from a piece of sheet music and added a key with the word “Heart” on it  –  I did find my wonderful husband here after all – then I used a few more vintage looking letters and tied them with the ribbon that held some of the keys together  and “Voila”  for $25 bucks I had recreated a pretty cool piece.

Heart scroll

Heart scroll

Even easier was filling the smallest dome with a bunch of carved wooden eggs – I thought that would be kind of fun, since, we amazingly enough, have chickens who lay a bunch of actual eggs –  this was a quirky nod to the life we have today and love. This one may have cost me about $35

The final one was more of a project – I really wanted that damn cloche full of keys!!! The Victorians were on to something – you can put any old crap under glass and it instantly becomes fascinating and fabulous – part of an exotic collection. I needed one of these so bad – I just refused to pay a fortune for it!

Badly focused view of the hooks

Badly focused view of the hooks

I used some dark bronze wire I bought in JoAnnes to make hooks. I have some pliers from a jewelry making hobby I had back in the day that let me easily form the shape I wanted and I just made them in varying heights and arranged the keys in a way that made me happy. I used a piece of styrofoam to get the general layout and then marked the base of the largest dome with a sharpie in the approximate layout of the hooks in the styrofoam.

Putting the teen to work drilling the base

Putting the teen to work drilling the base

My teen, who loves to help out on projects and build things (wonder where he gets that from?) used a fine drill bit to drill holes straight down into the base. Make sure you mark your drill bit with tape so you don’t go the whole way through  – just 3/4 of the way is what you need.

Checking for fit on my styrofoam prototype

Checking for fit on my styrofoam prototype

Once he did that, I started to assemble the hooks into the base. I discovered that the weight of the keys made them swivel so I used a hot glue gun to put a bead of glue on the bottom of each hook before inserting it into the base – this held them securely where I wanted them, then I could hang the keys knowing they wouldn’t shift around and get tangled.

Looks like $400!

Looks like $400!

Finally, I put the glass dome in place and stood back to admire my handiwork. OK I may have spent $70 all told on this one, but it is a far cry from the $395 that Restoration Hardware wanted  – of course they may have been drunk off their asses when they came up with that price point LOL

Sunny Scotland?

Edinburgh - View from Hotel

Edinburgh – View from my hotel room

As is frequently the case I have been traveling a lot for work recently – after a week in Phoenix, I jetted off to Scotland for meetings and was met with sunshine – a first for me I grew up in the UK and am used to seeing grey drizzly weather  – every time I have visited Scotland for work it has been the same so I was quite shocked and delighted to actually need sunglasses on this trip :)

Dundee - view from Hotel

Dundee – view from hotel room

I started in Dundee where our offices are located, staying at the Malmaison hotel for the first time – nice hotel very stylish refurb of an historic building, hip but comfortable  rooms with lovely views. (However the bathrooms had no lighting and there wasn’t a single plug near a mirror for blowdrying my hair in the entire room – clearly designed by a man LOL)

Not a bad place to work from :)

Not a bad place to work from :)

After a couple days in Dundee we headed to Edinburgh to stay at The Caledonian (the perks of traveling with a VP means staying in very nice hotels LOL) This is a beautiful old hotel, right next to Edinburgh Castle that has recently been refurbished – absolutely gorgeous! Since I have some status at Hilton properties they upgraded me to a room with a view of the castle, so I can’t complain too much about the twin beds.

The Peacock Bar in the hotel was a great place to set up for my meetings and get a little work done – all the more exciting since the actor Brian Cox was hanging out here too – my brush with celebrity.

Brian Cox - my brush with celebrity LOL

Brian Cox  sighting

Apparently he is originally from Dundee and has a home in Scotland. I think he is a great actor – I enjoyed him in Red, The Grudge and remember he played the original Hannibal Lector in Manhunter.

Timberyard restaurant

Timberyard restaurant

The first night in Edinburgh, my coworkers and I ate at the Timberyard - fantastic food and amazing and unexpected cocktails with ingredients like smoke, marmalade, pine etc. I had one with a picked elderflower in it – so weird but absolutely delicious. It was called Rumpy Pumpy which is a saucy old British term for sex – if you are a Blackadder fan you know exactly what I mean. Of course, I had to order it – now I can say I had some rumpy pumpy in Edinburgh LOL

"Rumpy Pumpy" Cocktail

“Rumpy Pumpy” Cocktail

The next day my meetings ended in the early afternoon and I wasn’t flying out till the next morning so I seized the opportunity to visit Edinburgh Castle.

Roal Palace

Royal Palace

It is the highest point in Edinburgh and also the longest continually occupied Castle in UK I believe – there are some building from the 12th century right up to some built in the 1800’s I explored the Castle, saw the Scottish Crown Jewels and wandered around Grassmarket before heading back to the hotel for dinner. It was an unexpected treat to get such a clear day and take in the incredible views.

Looking down on the low defenses and Edinburgh spread out below

Looking down on the low defenses and Edinburgh spread out below

View from parapets

View from parapets

The Lang Stairs

The Lang Stairs

Meg Mons - Giant cannon & balls

Meg Mons – Giant cannon & balls

Fireplace in Royal apartments

Fireplace in Royal apartments

The Great Hall

The Great Hall

Grassmarket just outside the castle

Grassmarket just outside the castle

One of the many closes off the Royal Mile

One of the many closes off the Royal Mile (Scottish term for alley)

Former church - now The Hub an event space

Former church – now an event space

St Giles

St Giles and record hall in foreground

Royal Mile Grassmarket

Royal Mile Grassmarket

The Windy City

Sears Tower Sky deck!

Sears Tower Sky deck!

A few weeks ago, I had to fly to Chicago for client meetings and since our oldest is in college there, we decided that we should all go and make a weekend out of it. Chicago is one of my favorite American cities – the museums, the architecture, the location of some of my favorite moves ever LOL

Ceiling of the Palmer House Hilton Lobby

Ceiling of the Palmer House Hilton Lobby

My youngest and I arrived at the Palmer House Hilton on Tuesday night – what a beautiful hotel? It is the longest continually operating hotel in the nation and the brownie was invented here during the Worlds Fair in 1893. It has been beautifully restored and well worth a visit if only to marvel at the ceiling in the lobby or the stunning art deco Tiffany Peacock Doors- these doors originally came from the House of Peacock – an historic Chicago jewelry store.

Peacock Doors

Peacock Doors

We went for Chicago deep dish at Lou Malnati’s on Thursday night which was a big hit with everyone – lots of cheese! My husband arrived that night and even he couldn’t finish it LOL

View from Sears Tower

View from Sears Tower

Friday morning I had client meetings in the Sears Tower ( I know it is officially called the Willis Tower now – but no-one calls it that) so my guys met me at lunchtime and we went up to the Skydeck. They installed glass boxes on the side of the building on the 103rd floor so you could look down to the street without pressing your nose up against the glass (Thanks to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

103 stories straight down - Skydeck

103 stories straight down – Skydeck

It is a little unnerving – your brain keeps telling you you are hanging in mid air but the views are spectacular and it really is an experience not to be missed. I think it is better than the Hancock Tower, although I have not been there since they added Tilt to the observation deck – so probably worth seeing both :)

I had it half eaten before I thought to take a photo LOL

I had it half eaten before I thought to take a photo LOL

We had a fantastic lunch at Berghoffs another Chicago classic restaurant started in the 1870s and the historic location is unchanged from the 50’s  – Chicago is such a great foodie town.

River Tour - Sears Tower

River Tour – Sears Tower

We headed up the Magnificent Mile where everyone goes to shop, took an architectural boat tour on the river before another great meal in Rosebud on Rush – a fantastic Italian restaurant.

Stuffed French Toast at Beef & Brandy's

Stuffed French Toast at Beef & Brandy’s

Sat the sun came out so fueled up by a great breakfast at Beef & Brandy’s diner, we visited the bean again or Cloud Gate if you want the real name…

Chicago Skyline in the Bean

Chicago Skyline in the Bean

This sculpture really is something else –  I am not sure what it is about it that makes it so compelling – the Chicago skyline reflecting in the curved surface? The odd reflections when walking under it? Or just the ability to take crazy selfies… Whatever it is, it is impossible to resist. (If you ever saw Source Code it is featured at the end)

Visiting the Chagall windows at the Art Institute of Chicago

Visiting the Chagall windows at the Art Institute of Chicago

Every time I go to Chicago, I go to the Art Institute – it is an amazing museum filled with many famous works of art – things I studied in books when I was at school – plan to spend at least 4 hours if you really want to see it all.  I was delighted to see the Chagall windows again, since the last time I was there, they were in storage during the museum remodel. I confess I don’t love the new location –  the old one was much better (see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off again) They are sort of tucked away in a dark corner, unlike before where you could sit on a bench and see all three at once while the light flooded through them bathing you in blue…..

We had lunch in Millers Pub  – another Chicago classic right under the L on Wabash. Great food – unpretentious and friendly.

Biograph Theater - where Dillinger was shot

Biograph Theater – where Dillinger was shot

After making the guys sit through so much culture I agreed to go on the Untouchables Bus tour (yet another movie reference) This tour took you around some of the famous gangster crime locations in the city the most memorable being the Biograph Theater where Dillinger was shot (watch Johnny Depp in Public Enemies)

Downtown Chicago

Downtown Chicago

That night we took the L and went to Kingston Mines – a live blues club that will allow minors in with their parents – the music, the food and the atmosphere were great – it was hard to tear ourselves away but we had an early flight the next day…

Sinful dessert

Sinful dessert at the Palmer House

Maybe because I didn’t have the chance to visit Daley plaza this time (location of the final chase scene in the movie where the amazing Picasso public art is) we felt compelled to watch the Blues Brothers when we got home :)

Till next time…

 

There’s a snake in my coop!

Theres a snake in my coop!

Theres a snake in my coop!

I have mentioned before that I am a city girl living in the country these days and I have mostly gotten used to the random wildlife encounters – giant spiders the size of my hand, weird bugs, gopher tortoises digging holes and the occasional snake in the yard…. But I have to confess I was surprised and proud of my recent reaction when nature got a little closer than expected…

Eric the snake wrangler

Eric the snake wrangler

I went out late one afternoon to collect the ladies eggs from the coop and when I opened the second nest box a giant snake was looking me right in the eyeball! Did I scream? Did I run? Did I faint dead away of shock? Nope, remarkably, I did not!

hiding in the coop after I chased him away from the eggs

Hiding in the coop after I chased him away from the eggs

I dropped the lid, yelped and took an involuntary step backwards – then promptly opened it back up again so I could take a picture LOL. (You got to identify these things so you know what to do…)

Scarlet King snake - thankfully not a coral snake

Scarlet King snake – thankfully not a Coral snake

When we first moved in, we saw what we thought was a Coral snake on the front step and scared to get too close we took a picture and looked it up – fortunately it was just a Scarlet King snake – harmless but it looks a lot like the deadly Coral snake on first glance. They both have red, yellow and black stripes but the order is what is important.

Red next to black, friend of Jack
Red next to yellow, kill a fellow.

Words to live by people….

Gopher Tortoise on the pool deck

Gopher Tortoise on the pool deck

Eric did see a Coral months later, mostly however we see Black Racers which are likewise harmless – this one was new to me so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I opened the box and took the picture he was clearly trying to move away – I think more frightened of me than I was of it – just barely LOL.

Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spider - beautiful but huge!

Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spider – beautiful but huge!

I chased him off before he ate any of our eggs and sent the picture to Eric who was on his way home. When he arrived a few minutes later he got the grabber and went to investigate.  (I may have been able to chase him but I draw the line at actually trying to pick him up – we all have our limits and thats what husbands are for LOL)

Sand hill cranes - my fav Florida bird

Sand Hill Cranes – my fav Florida bird

At first, we thought he was gone, but I saw him up on the top rafter – Eric managed to get him out and was astonished that it was at least four and half feet long – I don’t think he believed me when I told him how big it was LOL

possibly a mole king snake... not sure LOL

Possibly a mole king snake… not sure about this one LOL

After a little research we discovered that is was a yellow rat snake (some people call it the chicken snake since it likes eggs and will eat chicks if available) Fortunately all our ladies are likely too big to be in any danger from a snake and he can eat as many rats as he can find – even thought Catness, our badass barn cat, doesn’t leave much room for that LOL

Deer in the pasture

Deer in the pasture

Haven’t seen him since – Much prefer the deer and Sand Hill Crane sightings LOL

Black racer staring in the window at me...

Black Racer staring in the window at me…

Black racer on the pool deck

Black Racer on the pool deck

 

A little calm amidst the chaos

My moment of Zen

My moment of Zen

It has been a busy couple months  – a couple of my oldest friends have to come to visit with their kids, family have been houseguests and between the theme park visits, dinners and entertaining everyone, I have also been traveling a lot for work… So I am especially happy to have carved out a little time for myself this weekend.

potato mix with chives and cheese

potato mix with chives and cheese

Yesterday, I had a great lesson with my horse, riding around the obstacle course of the back wooded pasture. She was calm and connected and I was more focused than I have been of late. Now the nights are brighter I need to try to ride a couple times a week! I think we need to get out on the trails soon.

little nests of the potato mix

little nests of the potato mix

This morning the house is empty – all the current houseguests are with my guys at Universal – I stayed home to do laundry, run errands and clear my head before the work week starts again on Monday. However since it is Easter I decided to try a new egg recipe

nests after 30 minutes in the oven

nests after 30 minutes in the oven

Baked Eggs in Hashbrown Nests

  • Take a packet of thawed Simply Potatoes hash brown potatoes and add some chives, cheese and seasoning.
  • After tossing that together in a bowl, spray Pam on a muffin pan and make little nests of the potato mixture
  • Put that in the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, then let cool a little.
  • Crack an egg into each nest and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper or your favorite seasoning.
  • Bake for about 10 -15 minutes (you need to keep an eye on it since everyone’s ovens vary)
  • Sprinkle a little cheese and some shredded prosciutto on top and serve.
eggs baked with a little cheese and prosciutto on top

eggs baked with a little cheese and prosciutto on top

It was pretty good even if I do say so myself LOL

yolks are little too firm - but still tasted good :)

yolks are little too firm – but still tasted good

Unfortunately I was a little distracted and left them in closer to the 15 minute mark which meant the yolks were quite firm when I had actually wanted them to be soft – the 10 minute mark might have been the right time to take them out since they continue to cook in the pan – Oh well, next time….

Laundry is done, belly is full – I think it may be mani pedi time :)

Israel Trip

Jerusalem - Old City next to new

Jerusalem – Old City next to new

I travel a lot for work and so don’t normally get too excited about it – in fact it gets pretty old most of the time. Every once in a while however,  I get a chance to go somewhere completely new to me and that gets rid of that blasé attitude in a hurry!

Jerusalem - Old City street

Jerusalem – Old City street

Last week I went to Israel – yes it was for work, but I was really looking forward to the trip – I love to experience the culture of new places and Israel has such a storied history.

Jerusalem - Dome of the Rock and Western Wall

Jerusalem – Dome of the Rock and Western Wall

I stayed in Tel Aviv, which is a lively modern city on the Mediterranean sea – sadly the hotel was not on the beach – next time LOL

Bucket of hummus with falafels in background - fries clearly not authentic LOL

Bucket of hummus with falafels in background – fries clearly not authentic LOL

I managed to get some sight seeing done in the evenings after work The team I was visiting took me out for a traditional hummus and falafel lunch on the first day Yum! A bit more hummus than I am used to eating in one sitting but it was really good.

Stark modern architecture on this synagogue near Rothchild st

Stark modern architecture on this synagogue near Rothchild st

That evening my traveling companion/co worker and I took a cab to Rothchild street to walk around and see some of the Bauhaus architecture that part of the city is famous for. This was a fun street to people watch on – lots of people out for a stroll, taking their dogs for a walk or sitting in cafes and restaurants. We ate at a lovely restaurant called Shulchan which is Hebrew for table. The food was absolutely delicious!

Bauhaus architecture

Bauhaus architecture

Monday night the Israeli team took us to dinner at Jaffa Port – Jaffa is an old fishing town that has now been incorporated into Tel Aviv – however it is a completely different vibe – old buildings with winding streets and stone plazas – I loved it and wished I had been able to spend the day strolling around and being a tourist. Again, we had a fantastic dinner at Kalamata with many shared courses sitting outside in the mild evening air.

Fruit shop near Rothchild St - it glowed against the other darker buildings

Fruit shop near Rothchild St – it glowed against the other darker buildings

Israeli food is a bit of a mix between a few different influences, Mediterranean, Arabic and of course Jewish. There are a lot of fresh vegetable dishes – I even ate beets for the first time in many years and actually liked them!!! I also was told to try a fantastic arabic dessert called kanafeh that has cheese , hair fine pasta (or perhaps pastry), pistachios and sweet syrup – it was as amazing as promised – I will have to see if it is possible to make it myself.

Jaffa Port

Jaffa Port

The next night I took the design team out for dinner and they recommended Kitchen Market in Tel Aviv port – completely different. Much more modern boardwalk along the sea and a lovely little restaurant above a farmer’s market. We watched the sun set over the Mediterranean and again had a dinner with many courses and some amazing desserts!

Jaffa Port

Jaffa Port

We saw the minister of Justice -Tzipi Livni – strolling along with her husband which was quite a surprise for everyone – she has been instrumental in the recent, but sadly stalled, peace talks that Secretary of State Kerry has been involved in.

Kanufeh - best dessert of the trip!

Kanufeh – best dessert of the trip!

On our last day, a couple of the Israeli team drove us into Jerusalem for a bit of sightseeing before leaving the next morning. It is about an hour away but traffic before the upcoming Passover holiday made it slow going. We drove through some of the ultra orthodox areas on our way which was a little rundown.

Jaffa Port

Jaffa Port

This is a topic of much debate and tension recently – my description of it is likely simplistic since I am no expert but the problem as I understand it, is this –  For religious reasons these families do not believe in working in the secular world and want to practice their life of prayer in peace without any interference. However the challenge is they have little income, the government apparently has to subsidize them and they do not participate in Israel’s draft, citing the same religious reasons. There is a new law that is being passed to say that they must participate in the draft like everyone else. As you can imagine this is causing heated debate. I can see both sides points – on the one hand wanting to live according to your own beliefs, but on the other hand not wanting to subsidize people who do not have to make the same contribution to society as you must.

Tel Aviv Port

Tel Aviv Port

Once we arrived in the old city I was amazed to see so much history crammed into one relatively small place – this is the the most sacred place in a number of different religions and its often violent history makes it a truly fascinating place to be. It is a magnet for tourists and religious pilgrims from around the world. I could have spent a week there alone but I did my best to take advantage of the few hours that we had.

Farmer's Market Tel Aviv Port

Farmer’s Market Tel Aviv Port

We took the underground tour that brings you down to the original street level of the Western Wall – we are talking built in Herod’s time!!! I can’t begin to describe how it felt to be walking on 2000 year old stones and touching the 2000 year old wall. We saw the old cisterns that provided water for the temple and the city above and heard about the history of the holiest place on earth. I am no stranger to history – growing up in Ireland it is common to see castles built in 1100AD etc but we are talking built in 70 BC – anyway you look at it that is really freaking old LOL

Mediterranean Splash over sea wall

Mediterranean Splash over sea wall

Once back out in the sunshine we visited the more visible part Western Wall – men and women are separated and traditionally you write a prayer or wish on a piece of paper and roll it up and cram it into the crevices in the wall.

Jerusalem - Old City Market

Jerusalem – Old City Market

We wandered around the market where I picked up souvenirs and gifts – you need to be willing to haggle big time here – fortunately I had some no nonsense locals to help me out with this LOL.  I bought a beautiful necklace made from silver and 2000 year old Roman glass for myself. Not being religious, this was the perfect souvenir for me and I got it for less than half what he asked originally.  Mind you, this elaborate, theatrical haggling session involved flinging arms in the air and walking out of the store because the price was so terrible, only to be chased after by the shopkeeper begging us to come back for a new and special deal that was putting him in the poor house – this happened three times – I kid you not! I was having a hard time keeping a straight face and would never have done that on my own.

The Underground Tour

The Underground Tour

On a high after my complete bargain, I picked up some beautiful hand painted Armenian pottery, some intricate mother of pearl inlaid boxes, hand carved olive wood boxes and a few other trinkets to give to friends and family.

These stones with the frame around them are from Herod's time!

These stones with the frame around them are from Herod’s time!

We wandered around the streets and saw he Tower of David and a beautiful park with lighted fountain that the local kids where playing in, before having dinner at Eucalyptus in the Artist Colony. Again this was a tasting menu, comprised of approximately eleventy billion courses that went on for hours LOL. It was  all fantastic but I could barely manage the desserts at the end. We had Maqluba as one of the courses which is apparently a special dish that you have to circle your hand above 7 times and make a wish before turing it out on a plate – it is mostly rice and chicken and quite good. The chef came out to chat with us and it was a great evening.

Artist Colony

Artist Colony

Finally we headed back to the hotel and a 4am start for the 28 hours trip back to the US. Next time I go I will tack a few days on so I can spend more time wandering around and absorbing all the history and, of course, eating at many more restaurants :)

Tower of David

Tower of David

 

Old City at night with fountain plaza in foreground

Old City at night with fountain plaza in foreground