This and That

Random bits of my life

Jerusalem Marathon 2014

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 24, 2014


I ran my first half marathon (21 km) in the Jerusalem Marathon 2014 last Friday. The photo above was taken on Jaffa Street, around 7:15 a.m. I looked a lot fresher at km 3 than I did at the end!

The photo below was taken on Hevron Road, near the Begin Center. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish because I didn’t sleep the night before (really!) and had a bad night’s sleep the night before that. I’ve always had a hard time sleeping if something exciting is happening the next day. But once the adrenalin kicked in I was fine.


My race time was 02:27:35, which is respectable for a first-timer on this route. The Jerusalem Marathon is widely regarded as one of the most difficult marathons in the world, because of the relentless hills. (Blogger Karla Bruning describes it as a road race with a trail profile.) My rank was 46/69 in age/gender category, 580/888 in gender category, and 3325/3948 overall.

I can’t begin to describe the experience. Normally, pedestrians have to dodge cars, buses, and trams in the city center. During the marathon, you own the streets. :-)  There’s no one around at that hour except guards and waiters sitting in front of closed cafes and a few volunteers handing out water bottles. Jerusalem has a totally different character. The streets are quiet and empty, the air is fresh, and the sun casts long shadows behind you. Someone asked whether everything goes behind in a blur. I said that actually it seems to go by more slowly because you’re not in a bus and because you can see much more when the sidewalks aren’t covered with pedestrians and sales racks. We poured out of the Rabin Road tunnel and I ran with the human tidal wave up Bezalel Street with Joni Mitchell bouncing through “Chelsea Morning” on my iPod.

These photos were taken with the iPod, so they’re a little wonky and haven’t been edited. I considered taking a camera and then decided against it, in view of my fatigue and the length of the run. This is what the organization point in Gan Sacher looks like at 6:15 a.m. The sun isn’t up yet. Only the half and full marathon runners are around. The marathon was very well organized and the bathrooms were actually bearable and stocked with toilet paper (I hear it was quite different by the time the 10K racers showed up).

Jerusalem Marathon

People really do run in costumes! I’m not sure how far one can run dressed as a heart, but I did see a big guy in a granny dress and red puffy hat, a lot of Supermen, and a couple guys with paper bags on their heads.

Jerusalem Marathon

We headed to the starting line just as the sun was coming up.

Jerusalem Marathon

The half marathon began 15 minutes before the full marathon (7 a.m.). A group of African marathon runners blinded us with their dazzling gold Mylar capes. It was pretty cool to watch. I don’t know whether they ran with them or threw them off at the start of the race.

Jerusalem Marathon

At 7 a.m., there were far more runners than spectators and we passed a few drum ensembles playing on street corners. Later in the day, more people came out to watch. It was fun seeing runners being cheered by family members and neighbours while they ran through their neighbourhoods. At the corner of Yehuda and Emek Refaim, they were playing music through speakers and lots of people were cheering. It’s not Boston or New York, where you have thousands of spectators, but it makes you feel like a rock star!

Here’s a panorama I took with my iPod after I crossed the finish line. About 50 of us were on one side of the barrier, stretching, resting on the grass, and drinking water. On the other side were over 10,000 runners waiting to begin the 10 km run. I was quite content to stretch under a tree for a while (no phone!) and relax, before grabbing a medal and heading out to find my family.

Jerusalem Marathon


This video focuses mainly on the half marathon. The guy in the granny dress appears around 0:50. I appear very briefly at 1:10, behind the guy with the paper bag on his head. You have to look really hard because I’m in the shadows on the side opposite the camera. If you watch to the end, you get an idea of the carnival atmosphere.

Addendum: A couple people asked how long I trained. It took me about four months, with two short runs and one long run a week. I have been running (not very seriously) for about 12 years. Because I was able to run 7 km easily when I started, I chose the half marathon because the 10K did not seem sufficiently challenging.

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Středověká krčma (Medieval Tavern) in Mala Strana

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 17, 2014


Back to Prague, and from the sublime to the ridiculous….

In addition to the State Opera and stunning Gothic architecture, Prague has a silly theme park side. Středověká krčma (literally “Medieval Tavern”) was very quiet when I visited it on Sunday morning. If you show up during the evening the web site advertises swordsmanship and “medieval” dancing (scroll down to the video of scantily clad fire dancers). I have no idea whether this tavern is really medieval. It has generally good reviews on Trip Advisor, but don’t expect the Prague State Opera. I wandered inside for about 3 minutes and took these photos at very high ISO because it was so dark.

I wish I had managed to get a better photo of this waitress. She was amazing.




The decor is Neo-Torture Chamber. I think they used the same interior designer as the Red Keep. The room with the skulls in the ceiling is downstairs (I missed that somehow).



I guess he wasn’t a good tipper…



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Ruchama Forest 3

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 10, 2014


These photos of the Ruchama forest were taken during the afternoon. The light was very warm at that hour.




Eucalyptus leaves.



Back-lit sheep. All those little white dots are the bits of fluff from the flower seeds.




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Ruchama Forest 2

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 10, 2014


More photos of anemones in bloom, anemones going to seed, anemones losing their petals….





Great horns and facial expressions on these sheep.


Cattle egret hopping between sheep. They hitch a ride on the backs of the sheep and eat insects that live in the fleece. The egrets are so white that they’re difficult to photograph well because the highlights tend to be overblown.


Zoom blur. I had a tripod with me.


Anemone in bud, in bloom, and gone to seed.


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Ruchama Forest

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 10, 2014


Last week I took a half-day photo workshop in the Ruchama forest (near Sderot) led by Yehoshua Halevi. Eight of us spent half a day running around the Ruchama forest photographing the anemones (red, poppy-like flowers that bloom in winter). Yehoshua is a gregarious, patient teacher and an experienced photographer based in Efrat. I prefer to be left on my own while on photo tours, so that was OK as well. The lighting conditions were varied, from overcast to sunny.

The two photos below were taken in a commercial almond orchard. Very few of the trees were in bloom, so I concentrated on the tree trunks in the first photo and a bee on a flower in the second.



I’m planning to break into the world of sheep portrait photography. Truly a niche market….



The anemones were a bit past their prime, going to seed, but they were still plentiful.


These anemones were growing around a charred log. Anemones are a challenge to photograph because the brilliant reds often turn out overblown, with little detail. I find that I have to underexpose them in order to see the edges of the petals.


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Dvořák’s Rusalka

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 24, 2014


Dvořák’s lyric opera, Rusalka, was first performed in 1901. It remains one of the most popular Czech operas. (A rusalka is a water nymph or sprite who lives in a stream.) The heroine of this opera, Rusalka, is a water nymph who falls in love with a human prince and gives up her voice in return for being able to live on land as a mortal. Rusalks is the original Slavic “Little Mermaid,” which was adapted by Hans Christian Anderson. Disney gave the story a happy ending, but since this is opera, everyone dies at the end.


The production was gorgeous and the voices were wonderful. I didn’t want to be too obvious about taking photos (we were sharing the box with a German couple), so most of these photos were taken during curtain calls. The first photo (above) shows the castle where they are preparing for the wedding feast. It was such a stunning set I had to photograph it.


The curtain calls with the red curtain in the background were taken just before the intermission. The opera is three hours long.






I found a video of short segments from this production, uploaded by the Prague State Opera. It’s a pity that the famous “Song to the Moon” is so difficult to hear over the orchestra, but the rest of the excerpts are quite good. It’s a pity that the dance segments were not included, because the wedding dance was  impressive.

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Prague State Opera

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 24, 2014


It’s been a while since I’ve posted photos of Prague. This is the Prague State Opera. I’ve always wanted to watch an opera in an old European opera house–one of those Baroque chocolate boxes with gilded balconies and chandeliers, and champagne at intermission. The Prague State Opera was perfect, and very reasonably priced (most expensive tickets were around $50, much less than you’d pay at La Scala or Covent Garden). You can buy tickets on-line.

We watched Dvorak’s opera, “Rusalka.” Most of these photos were taken during the intermission. I didn’t want to be too obvious with the camera, so I didn’t bring a wide angle lens with me. The photos don’t do it justice. The State Opera is considered one of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe.


The Prague State Opera. originally called the New German Theater, opened in 1888. From 1949 to 1989, it was called the Smetana Theater. It was originally built by the  German-speaking community in Prague, when Prague was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Opera is very popular among the Czechs. While the concerts in chapels tend to be specifically for tourists (i.e., 45 minutes of Great Baroque Hits, played by competent but not outstanding musicians), opera attracts a lot of the locals. If you’re planning to go, dress up a bit.

I didn’t get a great shot of the facade because I would have had to cross a very busy street, several lanes wide. By the time the opera was over, it was dark, so I just took this quick snapshot from the sidewalk in front. The State Opera is half a block from Wencelas Square, in the direction of the train station.


Here’s the the view from inside our box. Ironically, the tiny wooden seats in the box seem to be less comfortable than the padded seats in the orchestra. There are a few advantages to having a box. You don’t have to check your coat because there are coat hooks on the wall. It’s easier to get out at the end of the performance. If you’re in a ground floor box, you’re close to the bathrooms.


Ceiling details…




The boxes on the third level (below) have statues holding lamps.


The boxes on either side of the stage are bowed.


Close-up of the third-level boxes



The lobby is much smaller, with rococo ceiling mouldings.


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First Anemones Race, Shokeda

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 24, 2014


Last Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, I ran the 10K Anemones Race (Merotz haKalaniot) in Shokeda, near the Gaza strip. This is the first year that this particular race was held. The anemones, which look like poppies but are actually related to buttercups, were in full bloom. I don’t normally get to see the winter flowers because I live in Maale Adumim, so this was a wonderful opportunity to compete in a new race and see a new (for me) part of the country. I had to get up at 5 a.m., got picked up at 6, and we drove 1.5 hours to Shokeda.


Everyone is milling around getting numbers and picking up t-shirts. I didn’t win a trophy this time because I placed 4th (out of 6) in my category, but I did set a new personal record–66 minutes–and placed 176/198. The fact that it was so flat and I didn’t get lost (as I did in Kiryat Arba the previous week) undoubtedly contributed to the better time. The three women who placed ahead of me were very good runners, all under an hour.

Starting line:


And they’re off…. Nearly 200 runners participated.


The race course was entirely on dirt roads around fields. I had no idea it was so flat, even though I’d checked the elevation ahead of time. There were some slopes but not around this field.


At the 5 km mark. The long straight road seemed to stretch on forever. I kept staring in the same direction, watching an electrical tower gradually get larger and larger.



This must have been where the long road turned 90 degrees because I can see some of the runners ahead of me on the left side of the photo.


Just before the race they told us that we would have about 200 meters of mud. I couldn’t figure out how there would be mud, since it hadn’t rained for nearly a week. Then I saw the sprinklers…. Fortunately, the camera slipped into my waist pouch with enough room on the strap for me to keep running without having to unfasten the leash.


Neither Yisrael nor I placed high enough to get a trophy, so we wandered over to the fields to photograph flowers before heading home.



I desaturated the green and blue to get this photo. Looks a bit like they’re growing after a forest fire. :-)


About half an hour after the 10K run ended, the 20K off-road bike race began.


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Lunch in Jaffa

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 23, 2014


Our tour finished by the Jaffa marina. The eagle is a decoration on a tour boat. The clock sculpture below is just below the old lighthouse.


We ate lunch at Dr. Shakshuka (shakshuka is a mixture of sauteed vegetables in tomato sauce, topped by poached eggs).  It is located on Beit Eshel street, in a rather rundown area. Eating there is an experience. Not sure I’d go back by myself, but it was fine for a group outing.


The ceiling is decorated with dozens of old cooking pots and primus (kerosene) stoves.


The walls are covered with magazine and newspaper clippings about the restaurant. I like the position of these two guys studying the menu, with the owner’s face staring out of the picture frames.


I haven’t been in Israel long enough to remember when the currency was in liras. The bills, worth almost nothing now, were tucked under the plexiglas table cover.


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More Shots of Jaffa

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 23, 2014


(Above) Alley in Old Jaffa

(Below) Doorway to nowhere. Well-preserved door mounted against a stone wall.


Another doorway to nowhere:




Enclosed balconies across from the marina:


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