Author Archives: Masada Siegel

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Times of Israel: Who is the Real Enemy?

I was working at CNN as a field producer on Sept 11, 2001. In disbelief, I watched smoke pour out of the enormous gash in the World Trade Center. Soon after, the building started to fall.

The next few weeks were filled with bomb scares. New Yorkers’ days were filled with crying friends, heroic firefighters and first responders all over the streets and the smell of death which permeated the city.

Millions in NY, Washington DC and Pennsylvania were traumatized. New York City was officially a war zone. The USA went after the terrorists, after Al Qaeda, even eventually killing Osama Bin Ladin. The world for once was on America’s side, except of course for the Palestinians who were dancing in the streets, giving out candy and celebrating death in America.

In 2005, Israel voluntarily left Gaza. Israel’s soldiers were forced to uproot their fellow citizens from their homes, all in the name of peace. Gaza leadership has been destroying infrastructure ever since. First they destroyed empty buildings that were once synagogues, instead of using them for their own benefit.

Also, Israeli settlers had built greenhouses to grow vegetables when they were living in Gaza. Instead of dismantling them before they left, the settlers sold them to American Jewish donors for $14 million. The greenhouses were then transferred over to the Palestinian Authority in order to help create economic opportunities for the Palestinians. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own cash.

In September of 2005, Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

The result was obvious; the Palestinians destroyed their own opportunity to rebuild. A multi-million dollar opportunity to create employment was ripped to shreds with no pushback from leadership. The destruction continued outside of Gaza with unending rockets firing at Israel – hundreds, thousands of rockets. For years now, the children in border town Stderot, Israel run to bomb shelters on a daily basis.

My nerves were shattered after Sept 11 and that was one tragic day. I can’t imagine danger raining down on my country on a regular basis. No American president would put up with America’s people being attacked nonstop.

After September 11 America didn’t run, we didn’t hide, we took care of business, at a very high price: we lost over 2,000 American soldiers. In the process, estimates suggest over 170,000 innocent civilians in Afghanistan were killed.

Was there an alternative for America? Should we have been expected to “broker peace” with Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization whose main goal is to kill Americans and destabilize the modern world?

Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel and of Jewish people. Men, women and children are all legitimate targets to kill. This is in their charter. What is not in their charter is to build bridges, infrastructure, schools and give women rights. That’s because they are not interested in freedom of the press, freedom of religion, education and gay rights.

Hamas doesn’t build. It knows only how to tear down. So while the world defends Hamas, we might think about what our lives would be like if we were forced to live under an organization whose core beliefs is to kill.

When Israel was created as a state in 1948, the next day five Arab nations went to war against a new country. Israel has been fighting for survival ever since. Against all odds, so far Israel has succeeded. But not without an enormous challenge and psychological cost: in its 66 years of existence, it has suffered numerous wars, thousands of rocket attacks and dozens of suicide bombings.

Over the past several years, thousands of rockets have been launched from Gaza, home to one of the supposed poorest people in the Middle East. How is there money for rockets but not food? How is there money for weapons and not infrastructure?

Israel controls both the water and the electricity in Gaza. What country shoots rockets at another and still has their basic utilities turned on? Not to mention, Hamas is delinquent in paying their bills for these services. Billions of dollars from around the world have flooded into Gaza, where has the money gone?

According to the Congressional Research Service, Since the establishment of Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed about $5 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians.

Additionally, the United States is the largest single-state donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

America has taken a keen interest in also helping the Palestinians develop an economic infrastructure. If the money was allocated properly; Gaza would have become the Singapore of the Middle- East, a thriving beach resort metropolis.

However, damning evidence is pointing directly to where the money has gone. Hamas built an underground city of tunnels from people’s homes in Gaza into Israel in order to kidnap and kill Israelis. Perhaps if they were so fearful of Israeli aggression, they might have thought to build bomb shelters for the Palestinian people they supposedly represent, instead of tunnels for terror. Clearly, following their charter to destroy the State of Israel, their focus was elsewhere.

Estimates are in the billions of dollars and upwards for the costs of these underground tunnel structures. Why does the world not demand accountability for where the money goes?

Additionally, a second UN chartered school filled with missiles was found, not to mention a hospital being used as the headquarters of Hamas, where news briefings are held. Is a hospital an appropriate place for news briefings?

Many media outlets, which are also businesses, need ratings and to make money. They find it much easier to show horrific photos of dead children instead of discussing facts and what alas has caused these innocent and unnecessary deaths and what could have prevented them.

Perhaps that is why, earlier in the week, it was underreported when according to UN websites, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “The United Nations position is clear: We condemn strongly the rocket attacks. These must stop immediately,” said Mr. Ban. “We condemn the use of civilian sites – schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities – for military purposes.”

“No country would accept rockets raining down on its territory – and all countries and parties have an international obligation to protect civilians,” he added.
The media is caught in the middle, and many also have their own security concerns about what they say. Reporters in Gaza who posted images showing the reality on the ground about Hamas abuses of UN facilities on their twitter feed were immediately intimidated and many posts were deleted.

For instance according to the Jerusalem Post, “Wall Street Journal Middle East correspondent Nick Casey tweeted on Tuesday a photo of a Hamas spokesperson using Shifa hospital for media interviews, writing: ‘You have to wonder with the shelling how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see interviews.’”

“Although the tweet was deleted, pro-Palestinian Twitter accounts continued to include him on lists of “journos in Gaza [who] lie/fabricate info for Israel” and “must be sued for crimes.”

What is even more shocking is the lack of respect Hamas has for their fellow Arab: besides attacking Israelis they shower rockets indiscriminately, full well knowing that these rockets have the potential to kill Israeli Arabs and even kill Palestinians on the West Bank.

Furthermore, on Hamas TV, leaders are viewed telling the Palestinian people not to listen to Israeli warnings to evacuate. While Israel informs civilians to evacuate, even advising them where to go to find safe areas, Hamas tell their people to stay at home. Is there another army in the entire world that notifies people when they are about to bomb an area?

Hamas’s actions beg the question: what have they done for their own people on a grand scale? How have they created opportunities for them to thrive? Have they preached peace and coexistence? The answer is much like Al Qaeda: they are not interested in creating only destroying.

What would politicians in Arizona, Texas and California do if Mexico were shooting rockets into Scottsdale, Houston or Los Angeles? You can bet it wouldn’t last almost ten years. More like ten hours, before the USA would unleash whatever force was necessary to protect the citizens of Arizona, Texas and California.

Would America keep the water and the electricity on for a people that were attacking her? Would anyone blame America for protecting their own people and showing strength? Would we care if the rest of the world disagreed?

No, we would care about one thing, and one thing only: protecting American’s and doing the best we could to minimize innocent civilians deaths.

Make no mistake: Hamas is the same entity as Al Qaeda, dedicated to destruction of western values and freedom loving people. If only the world would consider more thoughtfully who the real enemy is here.

USA TODAY: Travel to Rome, Italy

Civitavecchia & Rome, Italy

Masada Siegel, Special to USA TODAY 3:16 p.m. EDT July 1, 2013

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if you just have a day and are a first time visitor to the eternal city the must-see places are the Colosseum, the Forum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. From Rome’s cruise port, Civitavecchia, take the fast train to the main station Rome City Centre, Termini Station. From there, either take the metro or cab it to your starting point. Taxis are extremely expensive, but worth the cost if your time in Rome is limited. View the ride as part of your tour since the cab will drive past many iconic sites.

Tip: Reservations for everything from museums to restaurants is a must and the more you arrange in advance the better.

Adventure

If adrenaline-pumping adventure is on your list — and you already know how to ride a motorbike — rent a scooter and explore the city. If you have never maneuvered a motorbike, Rome, with its chaotic traffic and sometimes aggressive drivers, is not the place to start. OnRoad is one of the companies that allows you to reserve a motorbike online. Be sure to bring your driver’s license and passport with you when arrive for your scooter.

You don’t need any experience to glide by the Eternal City’s sites on a Segway. The three-hour tours start with instruction and continue with a follow-the-leader, single-file sightseeing past the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Orange and Rose Gardens as well as other sites. Companies include Italy Segway Tours; book ahead.

If intrigue excites you, see the Castel Sant’ Angelo. This towering cylindrical building, initially commissioned by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum, now serves as a museum. It was also used by popes as a fortress and castle. The Castel connects to Vatican City via the Passetto di Borgo, an elevated passage that on several occasions served as an escape route for popes in danger.

Entertain Me

Every night is a party in Rome, especially in Trastevere, home to myriad bars and restaurants and streets filled with twentysomethings. Start in Piazza Trilussa at Enoteca Ferrara, a wine bar, café and restaurant. The wines are excellent as is the selection, but items are pricey. If Italian opera, ballet and concerts are more your style, check out Teatro Dell’Opera Di Roma for a selection of options such as the ballet Giselle and the opera Samson and Delilah.

Family

History comes alive at Palazzo Valentini, a museum housed in two patrician villas. Using multimedia technology, the facility recreates an ancient Roman home. Through clever light shows the bare stones morph into mosaics, baths, furnishings and even a kitchen. Buy tickets prior to arrival as the English tour sells out days in advance.

Villa Borghese, one of the largest public parks in Rome, has museums, a theatre, a lake as well as numerous fountains. From both the garden and the Borghese Gallery, noted for its works by Bernini, Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael, offer splendid views. For another great city view, climb the 320-steps in the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. (Children must be at least 8-years-old). As you hike higher, the walls narrow, slanting downwards, so that you must walk single-file and hold onto a rope. The reward, is the breathtaking, literally, panorama of Rome.

Foodie

When in Rome, taste some of the bites locals enjoy. From Aroma, located on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel Palazzo Manfredi, indulge with both a view of the Colosseum and the culinary creations of Chef Giuseppe Di Iorio. Good bets include the homemade fusilli pasta, Kobe beef and medallions of monk fish. Meals are pricey.

For a midrange palate pleaser, dine at La Taverna del Ghetto located in the Ghetto. Try the carciofi alla giudia, or fried artichokes and the meat-filled ravioli. Save room for the delicious desserts. For cheap eats, especially with children, Roma Sparita, a kid-friendly restaurant in Trastevere, attracts locals and tourists. The place is best known for the tasty cacio e pepe, noodles with cheese and pepper.

Luxury Lover

If money is no object, there are plenty of ways to spend it in Rome. For fabulous shopping, go to the Spanish Steps and replenish your closet with everything from gorgeous leather shoes to stunning suits and dresses. Prada, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Hermes are among the luxury brands sold in the area.

By booking private tours of popular sites, you skip ahead of even those waiting in priority lines, a prime way to maximize shore time and pick the focus that interests you. Among the possibilities are personalized tours of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica; a tour of the Borghese Gallery and gardens with an expert in Baroque art; a sightseeing drive through Rome in a vintage Fiat 500 manned by your chauffeur/guide. Viatour is among the companies offering private tours. For a pre- or post-cruise treat, the Palazzo Manfredi hotel offers guests Lamborghini rentals.

Romantic

There are countless opportunities to take those quintessential photos of streets lined with cafés, windows filled with flowers and lovers walking hand-in-hand. Stroll the Piazza Navone, known for its three fountains, including Quattro Fiumi (Four Rivers) for which Bernini was commissioned on the occasion of the Jubilee of 1650. Today artists display and sell their work in the Piazza where you can enjoy an authentic Italian coffee, gelato or glass of bubbly at one of the many outdoor cafés. In Trastevere, pause at 34 Vicolo del Cedro to meet artist Mohssen Kasirossafar, often seen with his cat on his shoulder. His musical instrument shop carries lutes, guitars and harps. Then find your way to Piazza Santa Maria Trastevere and see the church. For a romantic lunch, cross the bridge by Piazza Trilussa and go to Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi, Via Santa Maria del Pianto 9A/11, a wine and cheese shop that is also a restaurant. Share a cheese platter, salad and bottle of wine and discuss your favorite Rome moments.

Wallet Watcher

In this walking city, the best way to explore is to wander. Arm yourself with a map and start on the cobblestone streets of the Ghetto. Grab a slice of pizza while you walk towards Campo de Fiori, a piazza in the historic center of Rome with an open-air market filled with flowers, fruits, pasta and olive oils.

From there, stroll to the stunning Piazza Navona, which is surrounded by kid- friendly ice cream shops and on sunny days filled with artists selling paintings and prints. Find your way to the Pantheon where the entrance is free and the view priceless.

Then look for the signs that guide visitors to the Trevi Fountain where if you like what you see in Rome, toss a penny over your shoulder into the fountain to ensure you will come back.

–Masada Siegel is a freelance journalist and author of “Window Dressings” which can be found at masadasiegelauthor.com.

Toronto Star: Two Ways to see the Wonders of Hong Kong

HONG KONG—From high to low, here’s how to see and stay and play in Hong Kong.

Accommodations:

High

The Peninsula Hotel built in 1928 is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel and is a mix of colonial and classic, but with all the modern amenities and breathtaking views of Victoria Harbour. Buffet breakfast is served daily in The Verandah. Price for adult is $37 and $26 for children. Rooms from $640 a night. peninsula.com. Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.

Low

The Salisbury Hotel, also known as the YMCA, is a two minute walk from the Peninsula and It boasts the same spectacular views for a fraction of the price. A buffet breakfast is available from 7 to 11 a.m. and prices start at $9. The rooms are clean and the beds comfortable. Single room from $130. ymcahk.org.hk. 41 Salisbury Rd., Tsim Shat Tsui, Kowloon.

Shopping

High

Check out Shanghai Tang’s new flagship store on Duddell Street. It is located in a three-story building, dubbed as the Mansion. This luxury brand is known for a modern take on Chinese clothes, and the store itself is as well-designed as the products. In 2013, year of the snake they are selling a new purse, the “Shangri-La” Python Satchel for $1,883. 1 Duddell St., Central. 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. shanghaitang.com

Low

City Super is an international gourmet market selling everything from Korean Kimchi to high end cupcake papers, cheeses, wines and sake. The panda rice ball maker ($13) lets you shape rice balls like a panda’s head. The sake gift set starts at $42. citysuper.com.hk. IFC Mall Level 1 Shops 1041-1049, Central, Hong Kong. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Dining

High

Step back in time and enjoy the classic afternoon English tea at the Peninsula Hotel. Indulge in the crumbly scones mixed with melt-in-the-mouth pastries. Experience the ceremony of a traditional tea while listening to live classical music. Reservations suggested. From $68 for two. Served from 2-6 p.m. daily. Peninsula Hotel, Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Reservations: 852-2315-3146 or at peninsula.com.

Low

Hong Kong restaurants located in the Central area are expensive, try Tsui Wah for a tasty meal without spending a fortune. The extensive menu, ranges from toasted sandwiches to noodles, fried rice, and Malaysian curries. Mains from $8. 15-19 Wellington St., Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong. tsuiwahrestaurant.com

Masada Siegel is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona

WEDDING TRAVEL: TORONTO STAR: SAY I DO WITH A DESTINATION WEDDING

Wedding Travel: Say I do with a destination wedding in Arizona, Hawaii or Europe
Planning on a romantic destination wedding? Try saying your vows in Scottsdale, Hawaii, or Scotland. Or try a cruise wedding.

The decision to have a romantic but casual beach wedding will set the stage for all the wedding decisions to come, from the dress to the decor.

By: Masada Siegel Special to the Star, Published on Fri Mar 15 2013

Planning a wedding is one of the most stressful events in a woman’s life. It is challenging to organize the big day in your own city, let alone plan a destination wedding. However, if your dream is to get married outside in November or plan an intimate event just for close friends and family, there are a myriad of options and ways to turn your dreams into reality without completely losing your mind.

Where you decide to say “I do” will determine every aspect of your special day from the dress to the decor. So the first decision is the location. Does the desert with its golden sunsets appeal to you, or are you more of a beach person?

What about a romantic city? Places to consider for an outdoor winter wedding would be Arizona, Hawaii and the Caribbean. If old-school charm is a desire, perhaps Florence, Italy. For a fairy tale come true, a château in France or Scotland might be the perfect place. And for those who want an extended party, getting married on a cruise is an option.

Outdoor Spring Wedding
Scottsdale, Ariz., has an average of more than 300 days of sunshine yearly, so the odds are in your favour for a picture-perfect day. Getting married at sunset on a golf course with purple mountains glowing in the background is a spectacular way to walk down the aisle.

The Hyatt at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale offers fantastic views, delicious food and helpful staff. The resort has outdoor pools, hot tubs, waterfalls and a man-made beach. hyattregencyscottsdale.com.

Scottsdale also offers wedding guests plenty of activities. They can hike nearby Camelback Mountain, shop at Scottsdale Fashion Square and take in native American culture at the Heard Museum.

Art Lovers
Florence is an over-the-top romantic city. There are endless museums as well as spectacular backdrops for photos. It is a unique city because it hosts stunning and historic locations for many religions. For instance, a Catholic wedding can be celebrated in one of the Renaissance churches, while a Jewish wedding can be held at the Great Synagogue of Florence, which was built in a Moorish style and is one of the most beautiful in Europe.

The Lungarno Hotel Collection has a wedding team that can arrange all the details, from the religious to the reception. They can also help with photography, floral design, music, accommodations, wedding party and a gala dinner. lungarnocollection.com

Princess Bride
For the bride looking to create an elegant wedding, the Château de Challain located in the Loire Valley region in France will wow the imagination. It is the venue of choice for any bride wishing to live out a fairy tale, as it appears to be straight out of a storybook.

The château can be rented out to host a wedding and also provides fabulous accommodations; wedding guests can continue to feel like royalty while sleeping in an ornate canopy bed in a tower. Wedding ceremonies at the château often conclude with fireworks. châteauchallain.com

For an intimate affair, Balfour Castle located on Shapinsay, one of the Orkney Islands, is just a short distance from the north-east coast of the Scottish mainland. It’s a dreamy choice, with its own, tiny chapel and receptions held in the elegant dining room and conservatory. Castle accommodations include a bridal suite and rooms for another six couples. balfourcastle.co.uk

Beach Bum
Hawaii might be one of the easiest places to plan a destination wedding. Many hotels have entire staffs devoted to planning weddings. The packages are all-inclusive and the resorts provide detailed websites with photos of venues and menu choices.

Couples can tie the knot by waterfalls, the ocean and in coconut groves at the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, which is nestled on 12 oceanfront hectares on the Kohala Coast of the Island of Hawaii. fairmont.com. Another option is the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Maui. They offer wedding packages for intimate ceremonies of two to four people all the way up to 500 people. ritzcarlton.com

Adults Only
The Caribbean offers endless beaches, tantalizing choices for fine dining, luxurious spas, golf courses and plenty of water sports. An ideal place to say “I do” is at the adults-only Royal Suites Turquesa by Palladium in Punta Cana Dominican Republic.

The resort offers a variety of wedding packages with options to personalize them. Also they have a free wedding website where family and friends can make a contribution to the wedding day itself or for the couple to enjoy their honeymoon with tours or upgrades. royalsuitesturquesaresort.com
Bridesmaids and Mermaids

Getting married at sea is fabulously romantic and a way to keep the party going for a few days. Holland America offers a plethora of options ranging from a marriage ceremony on board, on an exotic Caribbean island beach or on top of a majestic Alaskan glacier.

Packages include a personalized ceremony, flowers, a cake and wedding certificate. However, co-ordinators will customize the couple’s special day according to their wishes. It’s an ideal way to extend the party and celebrate with families as well as the bridal party. hollandamerica.com

Masada Siegel is a freelance writer based in Arizona.

Destination Wedding Story in Toronto Star March 2013

Wedding Travel: Say I do with a destination wedding in Arizona, Hawaii or Europe
Planning on a romantic destination wedding? Try saying your vows in Scottsdale, Hawaii, or Scotland. Or try a cruise wedding.

The decision to have a romantic but casual beach wedding will set the stage for all the wedding decisions to come, from the dress to the decor.

By: Masada Siegel Special to the Star, Published on Fri Mar 15 2013
Planning a wedding is one of the most stressful events in a woman’s life. It is challenging to organize the big day in your own city, let alone plan a destination wedding. However, if your dream is to get married outside in November or plan an intimate event just for close friends and family, there are a myriad of options and ways to turn your dreams into reality without completely losing your mind.
Where you decide to say “I do” will determine every aspect of your special day from the dress to the decor. So the first decision is the location. Does the desert with its golden sunsets appeal to you, or are you more of a beach person? What about a romantic city? Places to consider for an outdoor winter wedding would be Arizona, Hawaii and the Caribbean. If old-school charm is a desire, perhaps Florence, Italy. For a fairy tale come true, a château in France or Scotland might be the perfect place. And for those who want an extended party, getting married on a cruise is an option.

Outdoor Spring Wedding
Scottsdale, Ariz., has an average of more than 300 days of sunshine yearly, so the odds are in your favour for a picture-perfect day. Getting married at sunset on a golf course with purple mountains glowing in the background is a spectacular way to walk down the aisle.
The Hyatt at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale offers fantastic views, delicious food and helpful staff. The resort has outdoor pools, hot tubs, waterfalls and a man-made beach. hyattregencyscottsdale.com. Scottsdale also offers wedding guests plenty of activities. They can hike nearby Camelback Mountain, shop at Scottsdale Fashion Square and take in native American culture at the Heard Museum.
Art Lovers
Florence is an over-the-top romantic city. There are endless museums as well as spectacular backdrops for photos. It is a unique city because it hosts stunning and historic locations for many religions. For instance, a Catholic wedding can be celebrated in one of the Renaissance churches, while a Jewish wedding can be held at the Great Synagogue of Florence, which was built in a Moorish style and is one of the most beautiful in Europe.
The Lungarno Hotel Collection has a wedding team that can arrange all the details, from the religious to the reception. They can also help with photography, floral design, music, accommodations, wedding party and a gala dinner. lungarnocollection.com
Princess Bride
For the bride looking to create an elegant wedding, the Château de Challain located in the Loire Valley region in France will wow the imagination. It is the venue of choice for any bride wishing to live out a fairy tale, as it appears to be straight out of a storybook.
The château can be rented out to host a wedding and also provides fabulous accommodations; wedding guests can continue to feel like royalty while sleeping in an ornate canopy bed in a tower. Wedding ceremonies at the château often conclude with fireworks. châteauchallain.com
For an intimate affair, Balfour Castle located on Shapinsay, one of the Orkney Islands, is just a short distance from the north-east coast of the Scottish mainland. It’s a dreamy choice, with its own, tiny chapel and receptions held in the elegant dining room and conservatory. Castle accommodations include a bridal suite and rooms for another six couples. balfourcastle.co.uk

Beach Bum

Hawaii might be one of the easiest places to plan a destination wedding. Many hotels have entire staffs devoted to planning weddings. The packages are all-inclusive and the resorts provide detailed websites with photos of venues and menu choices.
Couples can tie the knot by waterfalls, the ocean and in coconut groves at the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, which is nestled on 12 oceanfront hectares on the Kohala Coast of the Island of Hawaii. fairmont.com. Another option is the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Maui. They offer wedding packages for intimate ceremonies of two to four people all the way up to 500 people. ritzcarlton.com

Adults Only

The Caribbean offers endless beaches, tantalizing choices for fine dining, luxurious spas, golf courses and plenty of water sports. An ideal place to say “I do” is at the adults-only Royal Suites Turquesa by Palladium in Punta Cana Dominican Republic.
The resort offers a variety of wedding packages with options to personalize them. Also they have a free wedding website where family and friends can make a contribution to the wedding day itself or for the couple to enjoy their honeymoon with tours or upgrades. royalsuitesturquesaresort.com

Bridesmaids and Mermaids

Getting married at sea is fabulously romantic and a way to keep the party going for a few days. Holland America offers a plethora of options ranging from a marriage ceremony on board, on an exotic Caribbean island beach or on top of a majestic Alaskan glacier.
Packages include a personalized ceremony, flowers, a cake and wedding certificate. However, co-ordinators will customize the couple’s special day according to their wishes. It’s an ideal way to extend the party and celebrate with families as well as the bridal party. hollandamerica.com
Masada Siegel is a freelance writer based in Arizona.

Getting the “Royal” Treatment

Getting the royal treatment

Italy, Slovenia and Croatia by cruise ship offers wondrous sights.

Masada Siegel, Special to cjnews.com, Wednesday, August 9, 2011

Venice is one of those dreamy cities filled with blue-green canals, quaint bridges, magnificent art and outdoor cafés. Every sense is seduced, from the scent of freshly baked pizza, to the sight of people gently floating by on boats, ships and gondolas.

We wandered through streets lined with glassware, masks and bakeries. In every direction, a new secret path to take, each appearing more enchanting than the one previous. It was a challenge to decide where to let our feet take us.

Somewhere, on one of the twisty roads leading to another small bridge, a gondolier was singing in the distance. My friend Kathy, who had joined me on this adventure, smiled and said, “Do you realize we are in Venice, Italy? Should we go find that cappuccino I’ve been dreaming about?”

This was Italy at its finest, the cool, crisp air blew against my face, and the lapping waters of the canals sounded like music. But the best was yet to come – a floating palace awaited us. No need to roll my large suitcase onto water taxis or over canals.

Royal Caribbean cruise line is all about the “royal” treatment. Our stateroom welcome included a bouquet of red roses and a heaping platter of fruit. Every day, we were surprised with overflowing plates of chocolate and cheese, not to mention a menagerie of creatures, like elephants and bats, which had been created out of towels to greet us upon returning from off-ship adventures.

The ship, Voyager of the Seas, accommodates more than 3,000 passengers, and the choice of on-board activities is endless, including ice-skating and rock climbing. Fancy eateries abound, and there’s even a Johnny Rockets restaurant. The stops included Kuper in Slovenia, Dubrovnik in Croatia, and Bari, Ravenna and Venice in Italy, and the ship provided myriad choices for excursions, while more independent travelers could tour on their own or hire a guide.

The first evening, we set off accompanied by a spectacular sunset while cruising down the enormous Giudecca Canal. According to many, Giudecca means “the Jewry.” Hundreds of people gathered on the top deck of the ship to see the splendors of St. Marks Square and the city of Venice as we silently sailed into the night.

Our next day started early in Slovenia, and began with a downpour. Regardless of wet feet, Kathy and I ventured into Kuper and found a quaint café off the main square, where we proceeded to escape the rain, indulge in coffee and enjoy the free wireless Internet.

The sun started to peek out just as our private tour guide, Alen, picked us up and whisked us through the spectacular Slovenian countryside. The Soca River was unbelievably aqua-blue and we were astounded by a huge waterfall flowing out of a mountain of sheer rock.

Slovenia, a country of two million people, is so pristine, it seemed to be a Hollywood set. The views were breathtaking, and Alen’s driving at breakneck speeds, about 200 kilometres an hour, left me breathless.

We drove through the windy roads of the Slovenian Alps, snow on the ground in areas, and the steep mountains, which were littered with flocks of sheep. One feisty fellow made a beeline straight for us. He seemed to have a hankering for cameras and kept nudging me to take his photo.

Lunch was at Milka, a restaurant in Kranjska Gora, overlooking a white snow-capped mountain and a sparkling blue lake surrounded by green grass dotted with flowers. The delicious food and warm atmosphere of the restaurant contributed to the magic of the day.

Grinning, Kathy said, “Slovenia is just as beautiful as Switzerland; this must be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.”

Our day concluded with a stop at scenic Lake Bled and a drive through the Italian port city of Trieste, just across the border from Kuper in Slovenia.

The evenings on the ship added to the adventure and included Broadway-style shows in a theatre that holds hundreds of people. Then there are the endless meal choices and bars and there are bands playing in seemingly every corner.  The attention to detail was exceptional; it was hard not to grin at the smile-inducing sculptures fashioned out of various melons and fruit.

The next few stops were in Italy, and one of the excursions possible from Ravenna was a trip to Florence. It’s a bus and train ride away, but well worth the effort.

The Italian Jewish community dates back to 161 BCE, when Jason Ben-Eleazar and Eupolemus Ben-Johanan came as Judah Maccabee’s envoys. Jewish merchants, doctors and bankers started settling in Florence in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

The Great Synagogue of Florence, built between 1874 and 1882, was designed in a Moorish style; the design is a mix of traditions of the Islamic and Italian worlds. Every inch of the synagogue is decorated with mosaic and marble, and the internal walls are painted with intricate designs. It successfully survived the Second World War, though there were attempts to destroy it. For a time, the Nazis used the synagogue as a warehouse and as a stable, and bayonet marks are still visible on the doors of the holy ark. Before the fascists fled Florence, they mined the synagogue with explosives. Fortunately, the partisans were able to defuse most of the bombs. One gallery fell, but was replaced.

A wonderful way to experience the synagogue today is to attend services. As well, the second floor hosts the Jewish Museum of Florence, whose exhibits include Torah scrolls, ketubot and a variety of silver Judaica.

Leaving Italy, the adventures continued in Dubrovnik. While the beach is the ultimate Dubrovnik destination, with its clear-blue waters, another piece of Jewish history is just steps away. In the rebuilt old city of Dubrovnik is Europe’s second-oldest synagogue.

The Dubrovnik synagogue was built in 1652 in the Italian Baroque style. The sanctuary is divided by three arches and is decorated with ornate fabrics dotted with gold. The chandelier is particularly striking. The synagogue suffered severe damage to its roof during the Yugoslav shelling of Dubrovnik in 1991, but was eventually repaired. In the early 2000s, the first floor was converted into a museum chronicling the local Jewish community and honoring members of the community killed during the Holocaust.

When you leave the synagogue, be sure to catch a glance at the brick wall outside, as it says, in Hebrew, “Bless you when you leave.”

The cruise ship itself was dreamy; I especially enjoyed my balcony, reading and writing, staring at the endless blue of the water, and the one day we had on board the ship was relaxing. I ventured to a yoga class at the day spa and attended the ice-skating extravaganza, featuring Canadian, Russian and American skaters. Tears welled up as I watched this visual masterpiece. I was so impressed, I saw it twice the same day!

Early the next morning, as the sun sparkled on Venice, the ship glided by the new levee system being built to protect Venice from its rising waters. The day started with a Royal Caribbean excursion to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and a glass factory on the island of Murano, home to the exquisite Murano glass and a famous gondola ride.

Later in the day, we boarded a bus – a waterbus – to Venice’s Jewish Quarter, which was once the ghetto. We toured the Jewish museum and explored the stunning synagogues, many of which are from the Renaissance era. Each one is built to the style and taste of the community that built it, but a general Venetian influence is apparent. The famous architect Baldassarre Longhena, who designed many churches, restored the Spanish synagogue, for example, which is spectacular.

The community has erected a memorial to victims of the Holocaust, and art galleries filled with unique pieces of Judaica, such as dreidels and mezuzot made of Murano glass, and a kosher restaurant are open for business.

As I wandered back toward the ship, I bought a pink mask. There was going to be a masquerade ball for the last night of the cruise. The sun had started to set and a golden glow danced over Venice’s waters. While the adventure was over, the party was just beginning.

Masada Siegel can be reached at fungirlcorrespondent@gmail.com.

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AN UNLIKELY ADVENTURE- PETRA JORDAN

AN UNLIKELY ADVENTURE—- PETRA, JORDAN
Masada Siegel, Special to cjnews.com, Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Tags: International News

Masada Siegel in Petra

Venice, Calif. — Zar, one of my best friends, stared at me, wondering if I had been hiding under a rock and not heard the news for weeks. He said: “Absolutely not, you are not going, and certainly not solo.”

I responded cheekily while Matt and Kathy stared at me over brunch at Rose Café in Venice, Calif.: “Yes, I know about the Arab Spring, but it is summer. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry I’ll check to make sure there’s no revolution before my trip.”

Years earlier, my friend Justin showed me pictures of a place so majestic, so magnificent, I knew I had to see it with my own eyes. It took me a few years to finally get back to the region, and when I finally arrived to Eilat, Israel, the night before my adventure, I became ill. Instead of seeing an ancient city hidden for centuries – Petra, Jordan – I visited the emergency room. I was determined that this time nothing was going to interfere with my dream, not even a revolution.

Masada, Israel

This summer, I was in Israel, and the travel gods were taunting me yet again. I was at my favourite place on the planet, my namesake, Masada, and I was stuck with the most unpleasant group of tourists. (The two oldest members, in their 70s, were the menschen of the group.) Not only were most of them grumpy and unpleasant, but a few were downright mean.

Sometimes miserable situations can actually lead to positive ones. At least that is what my mom has told me numerous times. Although when in the midst of a situation where you happily consider pushing nasty people off a mountain, it’s hard to imagine.

I kept to myself, took photos and tried to absorb the positive energy of the mountain while avoiding the negativity emanating from some members of the group. The desert light bounced off the blue Dead Sea. The mountain was stark but stunning.

On the overlook where you could see Herod’s palaces, I noticed two blond women. They offered to take my photograph. I accepted and chatted briefly with Janet and Jen and snapped a few photos for them, too.

On the cable-car platform down the mountain we met again. Jen lives in Israel, as her husband works for the U.S. State Department and Janet was visiting her. Somehow our conversation veered to another magical, historical place, the place of my dreams, Petra, Jordan. I mentioned I was going later in the week, and Janet said she was interested in joining me on the adventure. We exchanged cards and promised to be in touch.

Border crossing

Janet and I met on the plane in Sde Dov, a small regional airport in Tel Aviv. She was the last one on the plane. Janet apparently told security: “I am travelling with Masada who I met at Masada and we are going to Petra.” Needless to say, they most likely thought she had lost her marbles and proceeded to thoroughly investigate her!

We arrived at Eilat, and our tour company, Eco Tours, whisked us away straight to the border. Janet grinned. She’s a relaxed traveller and had no idea what I planned. She had called the tour company and said: “Book me on whatever Masada is doing.”

The Israeli tour company Eco Tours is known as one of the best. The company customizes tours in Israel, Jordan Sinai and Egypt. In Jordan, it works with a counterpart that is also well organized and helpful.

After leaving passport control on the Israeli side, we started to walk to the Jordanian side. Janet said: “Do you see all barbedwire fences? There are minefields on both sides of the crossing. This is so odd. I feel like I am in a movie.”

Jordanian soldiers with automatic machine guns checked our passports and a man name “Light” met us at the border and helped us with the formalities of entering Jordan.

Mohammad, our driver, was waiting in a black Mercedes. We drove past Aqaba, past a new hospital being built, an army training facility and then through countless kilometres of desolate desert until we arrived to Petra. On the way, our driver pointed out a mountain named Jabal Harun. It’s 1350 metres high and on the top is a white domed mosque. Built in the 14th century, it is believed that Moses’ brother Aaron is buried there.

Petra, Jordan

Petra, a mythical city, was unknown to the western world until 1812, when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered the ancient city carved into the red rocks. The city was established around the sixth century as the capital city of the Nabataeans, a tribe that turned the city into an important link on the historic spice route extending from India to Syria to East Africa.

It’s easy to see why Petra became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. The magic of generations past seems to whisper to visitors as they walk through the entrance to the city, or the siq. It’s a narrow gorge, more than one kilometre in length and surrounded on both sides by soaring, 80-metre-high cliffs.  There is also a sophisticated water conduits system that runs through the siq, and ancient works of art decorate the tall, majestic narrow passageways.

Walking through the narrow passageways, I felt like an ancient explorer. I was mesmerized by the phenomenal colours and formations. At the end you see the first glimpse of the breathtaking Al-Khazneh, known as the Treasury.

The Treasury, carved out of the reddish-pink rock, is a massive façade 30 metres wide and 43 metres high. It was carved in the early first century, and was used as the tomb of an important Nabataean king.

Petra was conquered and re-conquered by many different groups, each one leaving different marks. For instance, in 106 CE, the city was incorporated into the Roman Empire. The Roman influence is evident through many aspects, but especially through the broken Roman columns found on one of the boulevards called the Colonnaded Street. There is also a mosaic at the Petra Church, from the Byzantine time, made of stone and glass cubes and featuring Greco-Roman designs.

There was even a Jewish/Israel connection. In the entrance of Petra, there is the Obelisk Tomb, which originates from the four obelisk-shaped steles crowning the monument. They are believed to represent the souls of the dead. Interestingly, the obelisks are called “nefesh,” a Hebrew word that means the soul and breath of life of a person, their essence.

While the history of Petra is mysterious still today, papyri discovered in the caves of the Judean Desert reveal that Petra had a senate and archives, and that it was visited by the Jewish inhabitants of the province.

Janet and I wandered for hours, into caves, atop hills, and into rooms that were once tombs brilliant with colours. We braved the 800-step climb through the afternoon heat of 40 C to see the “Deir,” also know as the “Monastery,” another magnificent sculpture built into the rocks, at the top of a mountain. The views seemed endless, and the architecture unbelievable. It was easy to imagine the busy merchants and the hustle and bustle of a city teeming with people. While now a place primarily for tourists, its energy makes history come alive.

Petra was more magical than I imagined. It took years of perseverance, luck and timing. Even the misfortune of illness and terrible travel companions all led up to meeting a great person, Janet, to join me on my adventure.

As we left Petra while the sun was setting, glowing over the reddish pink buildings, we stopped and watched the colours change. Janet turned to me and said: “Wow, what an adventure. Meeting you was a gift.”

I grinned and replied: “And thank you. This unlikely adventure, totally random meeting, made this trip even better then I could imagine! I love it. Sometimes dreams really do come true in the most unusual of ways!”

Fungirlcorrespondent@gmail.com

Denali National Park- Alaska on Yahoo

Alaska is filled with beauty- but you have to plan well if you want to see Denali National Park as the rules are changing on how many and how people are allowed to see the park…. Click on the link below…..

Yahoo News- On Camera Story- Denali National Park, Alaska

Life is Full of Surprises!!!

Life is full of surprises
By MASADA SIEGEL, Special to cjnews.com
Monday, 18 April 2011
Whoosh was the sound as the bat hit the baseball, which was rapidly headed in my direction. The crowd watching spring training baseball jumped to their feet, hands reaching toward the heavens.

Room at the Four Seasons at $16,000 a night

It was a storybook spring day, with the bluest of Arizona skies. We sat on a hill in the green grass, surrounded by the intoxicating scent of orange blossoms, while the trees gently swayed with the breeze.

Chris turned toward me and asked, “Where do your stories come from?”

Laughing, I said, “You see that ball. Half of my stories come out of left field. Life is full of surprises.”

His blue eyes twinkling, he playfully touched my baseball hat and said, “Tell me a story.”

Giggling, I leaned back in the cool grass and said, “A few weeks earlier, I was in Italy, on my annual Roman holiday to see good friends Elena, Ramy and Sergio. Yes, sightseeing, shopping and simply enjoying life was on the to-do list.

Florence, a magical city, was calling, so while I was bleary eyed and jet lagged, I hopped on the train and watched the cityscape turn into the rolling hills dotted with flowers.

The broad avenues were lined with shops showing the latest fashions. It was mesmerizing peering into windows filled with leather purses, sparking jewelry and glamorous clothing. The streets twisted and turned into cobblestone alleys. Everywhere you looked, from the displays in windows to the statues, was filled with phenomenal artwork.

I arrived at my palazzo. Yes, I have a vivid imagination, but no, I was staying in a place fit for a princess, with rooms ranging up to $16,000 (US) a night.

Lobby at the Four Seasons [Masada Siegel photos]

The Four Seasons in Florence was once home to the Medici family, specifically Cardinale Alessandro dei Medici, archbishop of Florence, who soon became Pope Leo XI. Walking in the hotel was like wandering around inside a painting.

A short walk from the hotel was the kosher restaurant, Ruth’s. I had been there two years earlier. In my exhausted state, I wanted to sit down and enjoy a meal, as I often eat on the run.

Alas, I walked into the restaurant, but every table was packed.

The manager, Simcha Jelinek, kindly told me to come back in 10 minutes. Wandering around outside, I asked an Italian woman for directions. She did not quite understand, but an American woman walked over and said, “Hi, I speak English. Can I help you?”

Ana, who was originally Brazilian, had lived in San Francisco, was recently divorced and was doing her own version of the book Eat, Pray, Love. Intrigued, I invited her to lunch. She told me about her adventures, and when she asked me what I did for a living, I said, “I’m a journalist – I write.”

As we were leaving, at the entrance, I stopped, dumbfounded and blurted out, “Oh my God, that’s my story.”

“What?” Ana said.

It was the fourth time I walked by the restaurant entrance, and just then I noticed that a story I wrote, 48 hours in Florence, which was published in the Jerusalem Post, was posted under the restaurant’s sign.

At that moment, Simcha was walking out, and Ana said to him, “Do you know – she’s the author of this story.”

He was so excited. He hugged me and kissed my check and said, “What a wonderful story – I gave it to the synagogue and to the other restaurants you wrote about in the neighbourhood.”

Frankly, I was stunned, never before having seen my story posted in a restaurant, no less in Florence, Italy. What made it even more special is that it was under the name of the restaurant, “Ruth’s,” which happens to be my mom’s name.

Chris started to laugh, “Wow, the most interesting things happen to you. You have great stories.”

I shook my head, “I didn’t chose to write, writing chose me. I just like stories, reading them, writing them, experiencing them.”

That reminded me of a recent conversation with actor and comedian Larry Miller, who is passionate about acting, writing and telling stories on stage.

Miller has appeared in more than 50 films and hundreds of television shows. One of the memorable moments early in his career was his role in Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.

He explained the importance of storytelling in Jewish culture. He said, “It’s because Judaism believes there is power in words. I believe with all my heart that Judaism is a word-oriented culture. It’s all about the words, sentences, inflections. It is so deeply ingrained in our people, it’s perfect.

“The Torah even stresses how important each word is. The concept of storytelling is as deeply Jewish as the commentary of the Torah.”

He grinned and continued,“ Everything I am – it’s like it’s tied up in a DNA strand, the concept of me being a storyteller without being Jewish is just impossible.”

Miller said that he doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that Judaism has such a rich history and places such value in communicating ethics and humour through storytelling, citing examples from the Torah,.

I nodded. It made sense. Judaism is a culture wrapped up in constant learning, and, most often, it is through stories that morals and meanings are conveyed.

Everyone’s words and actions reverberate around the planet, spinning like a baseball in motion, however, most of us never realize the results of what we do, for the bad and the good. Call it a coincidence, or a bit of divine intervention – either way, it makes one stop and take notice (OK, maybe after the fourth time of walking by my story).

So perhaps the lesson I learned in Florence was we don’t always need the power of a bat to hit a home run and change people’s lives, just the power of the pen.

Masada Siegel can be reached at fungirlcorrespondent.com

Sparkling White

Jpost-logo

Sparkling white

01/20/2011 22:47 By MASADA SIEGEL

Take a moment to notice, appreciate and enjoy. If you do, your own inner light will glow, and you might make the world a brighter place.

Lake Louise, Canada.
Photo by: Courtesy

The snow sparkled as it whizzed past my face and the light of little diamonds danced over the slopes. As I skied down the mountain, the wind pushed the corners of my lips into a huge smile. The air tasted as pure and sweet as glacier water. At any moment, I expected a Hollywood director to walk out of the trees and yell, “Cut!”

I skied over to the stands to watch the fastest women downhill skiers in the world whiz down the slippery slopes. I was in Lake Louise, Canada, watching the Women’s World Cup ski races.

As they raced down the mountain at breakneck speeds toward the cheering fans, I couldn’t help but think about the talent, hard work, dedication and determination it takes to be an elite skier. But it also got me thinking about the greatness in all of us, the untold beauty we hide in our hearts and the magical abilities we bury deep within.

I don’t know if it is life hammering people down, bad experiences or growing up, but many people tend to lose their magic, their optimism and get stuck in downward spirals of unhappiness.

But happiness is within. Israeli author and professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught a class on positive psychology at Harvard, explained that one of the ways to be happy is to “express gratitude whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people and food to nature and a smile.”

The great outdoors is filled with many adventures, so besides skiing I decided to go dog sledding in Lake Louise. While the weather was 10 degrees below zero Celsius, I braved the elements and went for a ride.

Black, white and brown barking dogs with bright blue eyes greeted me, but as soon as we started to move, their focus shifted and we smoothly glided over the pristine white snow. The air smelled fresh, and the green trees were blanketed with snow. I could hear the majestic quiet of the wind, and the blue-tinted winter wonderland seemed straight out of the pages of a novel.

So it came as no surprise to me that in a Gallup World Poll of 155 nations, Canada, Israel, Australia and Switzerland all rank as the eighth happiest countries.

I have been lucky enough to spend time in all of them, so the high ranking seems appropriate. All four are filled with natural beauty; three out of four have beaches good for surfing, snorkeling and frolicking in the waves. They all have picturesque mountains from Ayers Rock in Australia to Masada in Israel. (OK, so I am biased about loving my namesake.) The chocolate and skiing in Canada and Switzerland are both alluring and addicting.

Always one to try to surround myself with images of brilliance and people of good character, I spent time dreamily staring out my window at the famous Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise. My mind got lost in the grandeur of the glacier and the frozen lake where I skated earlier in the day. I saw the clouds roll away from the mountains and the rays of sunlight shimmer on the treetops. It was like watching the brush strokes of an artist in action.

Touched by the ultimate work of art, I wondered why nature’s beauty evokes strong responses, often bringing people to tears.

My conclusion: Nature is real, honest and straightforward.

Nature is not afraid, nor does it hide imperfections.

It is admired for its raw beauty, not criticized.

Nature rages and expresses itself with angry storms, and cries with torrential rainfalls. Nature blows off steam with tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanoes.

It got me to thinking, if people would shake their fears, share their hearts and be themselves, chances are they would sparkle and radiate light just like the snow reflects the sunshine.

Every day, in every place, nature’s gifts are evident: Whether in the pure white snow, spectacular sunsets, wide open fields, glorious mountains and endless oceans or simply in a flowerpot on your windowsill.

So while it’s easy to see the diamonds sparkle in the light of Lake Louise, there is beauty surrounding you too. Take a moment to notice, appreciate and enjoy. If you do, your own inner light will glow, and you might make the world a brighter place.

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