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Trip Report Israel 2011 - Trip Report

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Let me begin by saying, our trip to Israel this year was one of the most transformative experiences we have had. Also, a big thank you to all the people in the forum who helped by giving suggestions and ideas for our three week vacation. Here we go, I hope you enjoy this report and reflections on our experience.

The flight to Israel was extra long because we used miles for one of the flights, which took us through a seven hour layover in Zurich. A lot of people suggested not leaving the airport, so we used the time to hang, read, surf the net and rest from our long flight from San Francisco. We arrived in Tel Aviv at 0330. We arrived on Shabbat, which we probably won't do in the future. By the time we got our luggage, freshened up and talked with our daughter at school, we caught a cab to our hotel in Tel Aviv. We arrived just in time for the hotel cafe to open for breakfast.

We decided to spend the first two days in Tel Aviv before moving on to Jerusalem, not knowing how much we would love the city. We stayed at this wonderful small hotel, The Dizengoff Suites (http://www.dizengoffsuites.co.il/), located at Dizengoff and Gordon Streets, in this very hip and youthful neighborhood. The hotel first floor is occupied by this great little restaurant, Cafe Marco. They serve delicious breakfasts and wonderful dinners. Breakfast is included with the room. The room was incredibly clean, new fixtures and very spacious. The bed was very comfortable. The staff was very helpful and friendly. They had to change our room after one night and so they gave us a bottle of wine. The hotel is an ecologically sensitive establishment.

After having breakfast we walked to the beach, which was only three blocks away. We could see Old Jaffa in the distance, so we decided to walk there and explore the old city. Then we had lunch at this great little place on the boardwalk, Honey Beach. They had the greatest hummus in the world. From there we walked to another great neighborhood, Neve Tzedek. It was not only Shabbat, but it was also Purim, so the streets were filled with kids and adults all dressed up in costume. We were told to go to this restaurant, Suzana, which was very busy. We actually went back there at the end of our trip. We thought the food was just so-so, but it is a very happening place, with outdoor seating.

We walked back to our hotel, passing the American Embassy, but decided to not cross the street and step on American soil at the moment. After a short nap, we had dinner in our little hotel cafe and it was absolutely delicious.

The next day we went to the Carmel Market and then to the Museum of the Diaspora at Tel Aviv University. The market was a lot of fun, very busy and there were some great photo opps. The museum was incredible. It was a great way to start our vacation to learn about the history of our people and how they have moved from hear to there, all over the world. It really put our trip into context. Sunday night we had delicious falafel at this great stand about a block away from the hotel. Each night we took a long walk in the neighborhood exploring Dizengoff and Ben Yahuda streets.

Monday, we checked out and took the train to Jerusalem. The train was full of kids and families still in their Purim costumes. When we arrived in Jerusalem, we caught a cab to our hotel, the Jerusalem Inn. The great thing about this hotel was its location. Just off Jaffa Street, it is centrally located to the old city as well as other sites around town. We are big walkers, so this was a perfect location for us; walking distance to the old city, market, university, Nachlaot, etc.. The rooms are a bit weird, in that they have the toilet and shower, enclosed in glass actually in the room; which made things very cramped. Because we were staying for a week, we asked for a larger room and they obliged. The staff was very friendly and helpful. They arranged for our day trip to Masada and the Dead Sea. They don't have a restaurant on site, but they used this wonder cafe around the corner, Rachela, for breakfast, which was included in the rate. Rachela really knows how to put together breakfast. It was absolutely delicious. It was our favorite meal of the day. Plus their coffee was excellent. Another plus about the hotel was the free wifi. It came in very handy so that we could keep in touch with our girl back home.

On a related topic, we tried something that we have never done before. I took sample photos with my iphone each day and posted them on Facebook in the evenings so our daughter and friends could see what we were up to. What a wonderful way to stay in touch with others. Friends remarked that it felt like they were on vacation with us. It was a really cool use of social networking.

Monday afternoon we did our first trip to the old city. Before we left home, I downloaded these audio tours of Jerusalem (http://www.jerusalem-oldcity.org.il/pages_e/List_of_Tours.aspx). So it was like having our own private guide. On Monday, we did the tour of the Jewish Quarter. On Tuesday we also went back to the old city, taking the Ramparts Tour. Both times we visited the Kotel (the Western Wall), which was a very moving experience. Tuesday night we ate at this great restaurant, Kadosh (http://kadoshcafe.rest-e.co.il/). Just a few blocks from our hotel, it had the most delicious salads. Everywhere we ate, they would put freshly baked bread on the table. I think the constant walking keep most of the pounds off, but it was the most bread I have ever eaten in my life.

Wednesday was a very unusual day, but a learning experience nevertheless. The day started off with an audio tour of the really interesting neighborhood, Nachlaot (http://www.nachlaot.com/). There are 100 synagogues in the neighborhood. It was the first place where Jewish people lived outside the walls of the old city. From there we found the Mahane Yehuda Market (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahane_Yehuda_Market).

It was around noon by the time we were finished with the market. By this time, our daily pattern was to leave our hotel after a mid-morning breakfast, and stay out until 4PM. Come back for a nap and then go out for dinner. So we were thinking about having lunch and then walking up to the university museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, which involved passing the central bus station, but Mindy was feeling very tired, and in her words, having a weird ominous feeling. So we walked back to the hotel, thinking we could go out again around 2:30. Around 2:00, I woke her up and she was still very tired, so I just let her sleep. I figured, we are on vacation, no need to be anywhere. So I surfed the internet on my ipad. Around 3:10, I heard this huge explosion. There was no doubt in my mind what it was. I kept checking the Jerusalem Post, and within two minutes, there it was; a bomb went off in front of the central bus station. Just a few block from where we were earlier, and where we might have been if we followed through with our plans.

As new accounts came in, it was clear that it was an act of terrorism. Several people died, and scores were injured. This type of terrorism had significantly decreased after Israel built the wall/barrier between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Before then, these explosions were almost a daily occurrence. Ironically, in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, we never felt safer in a foreign country; Israel for the most part doesn't have street crime like in the US. So when this occurred, it did shake us up. Our immediate response, was to notify all our friends and family, who knew we were in Jerusalem, that we were safe and sound. We found out later that day, that when an explosion occurs, people's phone go off all at once, with friends/family calling to make sure they are Ok. When they answer, the caller just hangs up and goes to the next person. That night, we walked around and saw people at bus stops, looking a bit scared, but brave just the same. Israeli's move on, they don't let the terror stop them. One person compared it to our reality of earthquakes in the bay area; they are arbitrary, a part of the reality of living there; and you just hope your time isn't up when it happens.

The next day, we took our day trip to Masada and the Dead Sea. It's definitely a doable trip in one day. Though, if you want to do serious hiking in Masada or Ein Gedi, you may need more time, so an overnight may be a better way to go.

On Friday (the day of the Jerusalem marathon), we finally made it to the Israel Museum (http://www.english.imjnet.org.il/htmls/home.aspx) to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit and the Second Temple model. From there, we returned to the market to buy food for Shabbat dinner and Saturday lunch. Friday night we went to the Central Synagogue for services (it was actually a mistake, we were thinking that it was the Sephardic Synagogue, but we stopped a block to early - oops). Saturday, we went back to the Jewish Quarter for another visit to the Kotel. This time leaving written prayers for our good friends and family in the cracks of the wall.

Sunday it was off to Eilat and our two-day tour of Petra. Eilat was like being in Hawaii, in a good way; warm balmy weather, sandy beaches, big hotels and lots of shops, restaurants and markets along the boardwalk. We stayed at the Dan Panorama, which was a very nice hotel; just a block from the beach.

Early morning morning, we were picked up by Desert Eco Tours and taken across the border to Jordan, and driven to Petra (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petra). Although the unrest of Arab spring had begun to spread to Jordan and Syria by then, most of the problems were in the north. But I have to say, I was very relieved to return to Israel the next day. Petra was incredible. If you go, you should definitely make sure you stay over night on a Monday or Thursday. Those are the nights of the candlelight tour. Its a magical and moving experience; walking in silence through the canyons (Siq) and sitting on mats and drinking mint tea at the Treasury (lit up by hundreds of candles), while listening to Bedouin music and storytelling. Wow, it was an experience of a lifetime.

On Tuesday, we returned to Eilat for another night a leisure at the Dan Panorama. We ate at a very tasty restaurant called Ginger, just about a few blocks from the beach. Living in the bay area, we are very spoiled when it comes to Thai and Sushi. We decided to go with Thai, and we weren't disappointed.

Wednesday, it was back to Tel Aviv to pick up a car and drive north. Although it always makes me a bit nervous driving in a foreign country, it was actually very easy in Israel. Sure, there are some crazy drivers, but it's no different than in California. All the signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English, so it was very easy to find our way. We drove north to visit Caesarea. From there, we drove to this wonderful artist's village, Ein Hod (http://ein-hod.info/), at the foot of Mt. Carmel, just ten minutes outside of Haifa. We found this great little guest house owned by these wonderful artists, Talia and Alex Arbel (http://www.zimmeril.com/site.asp?site_id=1542). It was so wonderful to stay there. We would definitely return for an extended stay one day. The three days we spent in Ein Hod we visited Haifa (Bahai temple and gardens; beach) and Akko. And of course, we spent one day visiting galleries around town. We ate breakfast at the Cafe Ein Hod which was wonderful, and dinner at Dona Rosa, a great Argentinian restaurant.

Late Saturday afternoon, after a great blown glass demonstration by our host, Alex, we drove up to Safed. There we stayed in a little guest house owned by Laurie Rappeport; in the heart of the artist colony. Laurie is very knowledgeable about Safed, in fact she works at the Tourist Office in the old city. Safed is a very religous, and mystical city. It is the home of Kabbalah; Jewish mysticism. The weather was pretty rainy during our stay, but we did get to visit the old city; Rosh Pina; the Hula Valley nature reserve, and the Golan Heights Winery and Holy Land Olive Oil factory. We had breakfast at a wonderful cafe Izidora. Also, we bought most of our gifts at this wonderful gallery in the Old City, Tzfat Gallery, 12 Caro Street. In Rosh Pina, we had dinner at a great restaurant, Auberge Shulamit.

Orginally, we planned to drive back on the day before we departed Israel, but at the last minute (probably because of the weather) we decided to leave a day early and chill out for a day and a half in Tel Aviv. We thought it would be nice to stay at the Dizengoff Suites, since we really enjoyed it at the start of our trip. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and this time went back to Neve Tzedek to eat an early dinner at Suzana. The following day, we took the bus to the University to go to the Palmach Museum. This is a very interesting museum documenting the Palmach rebellion that led to the formation of the state of Israel. In some ways, our trip had come full circle. Almost three weeks ago, we went to the Museum of the Diaspora, just a few blocks away. There were learned about the history of the Jewish people, and today, we are learning about the fight to create the Jewish state. The museum is very interesting, in that you walk through these rooms where you experience difference aspects of the rebellion, following a group of real people who fought for independence; its very experiential and moving. We were lucky to get in on the last tour of the day, so make sure you reserve a spot at least a few days before you plan to visit.

On the last night of our trip, we went to the beach and watched the sunset. Then we had tea at LaLa Land a cute restaurant right on the beach. It was a wonderfully romantic and restful way to end our trip. Israel is still in our hearts and minds although it's been over a month since we've been back. We are already thinking about our next visit. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions. Thanks for reading this rather long trip report.

We took about 2600 photos between the two of us, so it's taken quite a bit of time getting though them. You can find those galleries online at: http://danielsonkin.smugmug.com/Travel/Israel

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