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Trip Report (cont.): After celebrating 50th in Paris, 8 nights in Israel (4/6 - 4/14)

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Continued from the Europe forum:

http://fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35124782

Combining a sightseeing trip with visiting family is always a challenge, especially when the family has small kids. So we had several things we wanted to try to do on the Israel portion of the trip, but couldn’t count on many of them happening. Planning was quite a challenge, and we tossed around several itineraries before settling on this one. I kept telling Jessie that no matter what we do she’ll get a flavor of the country, and we just have to count on going back (and back again) to cover the things we miss. As it turned out, we did miss some things I was really hoping to get to (Dead Sea, Tzvat, etc.), and had minimal time in other places (only a couple of hours in Tel Aviv, only a couple of hours in Haifa), but all in all we had an excellent trip.

4/6 continued: Our flight to Israel was very nice, and the service was excellent, especially considering how there were only 4 of us in the first class cabin.

The tears started to well up as the shore of Tel Aviv approached. I’ll never forget my first flight to Israel, in 1977, when the whole plane broke out in song as the plane touched Israeli soil. But even in a quiet first class cabin the emotions are strong, even for someone like me who isn’t very religious.

While we were standing at the door waiting for it to open, the purser said that there’s a power outage at the airport and they can’t get the dock to the plane. While waiting for them to wheel a stairway up, we notice that the power was restored and finally were able to exit.

Ah, back in Israel.

I can’t explain why, but part of what I love about this country is the chaos/order paradox, and our entry was no exception. Being waved to the Israeli-passports-only window only to find that the computer is down and we have to wait even longer than if we stayed in the foreign passport line. Getting to the Sixt rental car booth, waiting 15 minutes while they figure out why there’s no car assigned to me even though they have a record of my reservation. Being told “of course” when asking for a car with a trunk instead of a hatchback by 3 different people, only to end up with a hatchback. Finally getting a car with a trunk after persevering. Waiting another 15 minutes to get out of the garage while a car and a truck face off, refusing to back up to let the other pass.

Instead of being frustrated, we were bemused, and I felt like Jessie was getting an appropriate introduction to Israel.

We arrived in Jerusalem, and had a general idea how to get to the Dan Panorama hotel. Despite the fact that both of the maps we had had little to no relation to the few street signs that we saw, we somehow managed to find our way there through force of will.

We were pleased to have an old city view from our window, and the room was very nice. Also, although I had just joined the e-Dan club, we loved that they left us a complementary fruit basket, box of chocolates, bottle of water, and free bathroom kit bag.

We decided to head out for dinner, not being sure where we were going to go. We didn’t have the energy to venture out beyond the neighborhood, so we just walked up the hill. We saw the “Cup ‘o Joe” near the Great Synagogue, and I remembered reading about it on TA so we went in. When we sat down at a largish table, I tried out my minimal Hebrew and asked the host “ze beseder?” He asked us if we were only two, and when I said “ken” he pointed to a corner table and asked if that was ok. I responded “beseder.” I was amused when they brought us Hebrew menus, as I had mentioned to Jessie before we left for the trip that if you only learn two words in Hebrew, “Ze Beseder” should suffice.

The restaurant/café seemed like the perfect first night spot for us. The customers were all Israelis as far as I could tell, with a lively atmosphere and friendly staff, and the food was simple but excellent (I had onion soup and cheese toast).

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    4/7 Jerusalem

    Woke up realizing that I was coming down with a cold. Started taking yin chiao (Chinese herbs), but had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to beat this one.

    Went down and enjoyed the excellent breakfast buffet. Called my nephew to arrange an afternoon meeting, then we walked up to the laundry recommended on TA (Merkaz Laundry on Keren HaKayemet, about 5 blocks from the hotel). The guy at the counter was very friendly. We dropped off our clothes and walked over to Ben Yehuda street, then down Jaffa, then down King David. I realized I forgot my kippah, so we returned to room to pick it up before heading to the Old City (I didn’t want to wear the cardboard ones they hand out at the Wall).

    On my sister-in-law’s recommendation, we walked through the Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighborhood on our way to the old city, which was just around the corner from the hotel. This is a beautiful old neighborhood bursting with flowers. The houses have all been fixed up, and we got the impression that it’s a fairly desirable place to live.

    We walked through the Jaffa Gate into the old city. As we walked through the Jewish quarter we noticed several Israeli groups (soldiers finishing their training and school groups, both young kids and tons of highschool kids). This could be par for the course, but my impression was that the school groups coincided with the last week before Pesach break.

    As we got closer to the wall, we ran into several tour groups as well.

    One thing all the groups had in common: As they walk down the street, nobody notices whether anybody is walking towards them, let alone budges to move out of the way (Israelis and foreign groups as well). At least we gave the high school kids something to giggle about after we tried to navigate through their masses.

    We went to the Wall and separated (the wall is segregated by gender). I put my kippah on and went up to the wall. There was a group of small boys at the wall, being lectured by their teacher on etiquette. A few women were looking over the fence at the men’s side, and my assumption was that they were their mothers.

    I walked into the tunnel to the left of the wall and looked down at the illuminated excavated portions, which seem to go down for a few dozen feet below ground level. It’s so fascinating and poignant to be among such old buildings only to find out that they were built on top of older eras of the city.

    When I met up with Jessie, she pointed out something I’d never observed before, which is that the women walk backwards as they leave the wall, not turning their back. There was a large group of very young school girls walking backwards as she pointed this out.

    I met up with my nephew and sat in Bloomfield Park, near the hotel. For reasons I won’t go into, this was our only meeting on this trip. It was an awkward and fairly painful meeting, where we discussed the impasse that lead to this being our solitary meeting.

    After getting our laundry (barely made it by closing time), we decided to eat at a place a block away from the hotel because I clearly lost the battle with the cold. We ended up at Olives and Fish, which we felt was an overpriced tourist trap. The food was ok, but just ok (my lamb chops were 80% fat). As far as I could tell the restaurant was all foreign tourists, and I think it would have been unpleasant even if I wasn’t coming down with a cold.

    I should have consulted TA at the hotel first, as next door was a restaurant that gets high praise, Paradiso. But the way I was feeling I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it.

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    4/8

    Woke up with a sore throat, but didn’t feel as bad as expected. After breakfast, we headed out to Yad Vashem. I asked directions from the hotel clerk, and should have recognized the warning signs when he made it sound so easy. We followed the directions, but the street we were on discontinued despite the fact that the line on the map indicated that it went straight through to the museum.

    One thing about driving in Jerusalem (as well as many other Israeli cities): If you miss a turn, you almost never can just go around the block. Instead, it’s like Alice through the looking glass, and good luck figuring out how to get back to where you went wrong. Somehow we managed to find our way to the museum after circumventing the western edge of the city a few times, but not without some frayed nerves.

    The last time I was at Yad Vashem was 30 years ago, and much has changed. A new building, designed to give you a bit of hope after going through the gauntlet of history, but also the exhibits themselves are different (now including a lot of interviews/narrative history). The children’s memorial is not to be missed, and was a powerful way to end our visit.

    We found our way back to the hotel without much problem. My niece, her husband, and 2 year-old daughter showed up at our hotel for a very nice reunion. We then went to my cousin’s house and visited and had coffee with her as her daughter played with my grand-niece.

    We had made a reservation at Tzachko for 8:30, but didn’t leave my cousin’s until after 8:00. We knew that our plan to drop the car off at the hotel and take a cab wouldn’t pan out, so we decided to take our chances and drive. More mad hatter’s tea cup ride, but I guess we managed to get into the flow of Jerusalem navigation mishegas, as neither one of us ended up in tears or shouting. The maps (we had two) again rarely if ever conformed to anything we saw on the streets, and the signs pointing to Mahane Yehuda didn’t ever indicate if we were getting close. But at one point Jessie saw that we were in the general vicinity, so I grabbed a parking spot and we began to move towards the restaurant on foot. Thanks to Daphne’s (TA contributor) instructions I recognized a key street name, so we made it there only 15 minutes late. We didn’t know we were there right away, though, as the awning was now blue instead of yellow, but the atmosphere inside seemed to indicate we were in the right place.

    Our meal was one of the best I’ve ever had, and the gnocchi starter was the best I’ve ever eaten. However, when we were finished, I asked the owner for a card and he said he had something to tell me that I wouldn’t like: They were closing in a week. He said that it isn’t economical to keep a restaurant like his in business, and that good restaurants are closing all over the world.

    How sad.

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    4/9

    Woke up with a full-blown cold, although not debilitating. I’ve had pretty good luck over the years with staying healthy on my trips, so I guess my number was up. But it turned out not to be the kind of illness that would spoil a trip, which I’m grateful for.

    So we decided against a planned day trip out of the city and instead to take it easy. Nevertheless, we did end up doing a lot of walking around Jerusalem, so not so easy.

    Although I had been to Israel several times, I never really experienced Jerusalem outside the Old City and some of the religious neighborhoods, and was determined to get a better sense of the city. We explored Emek Rafai’im street and really enjoyed it, with some very appealing cafes, shops, and apartments. We also wandered around Rehavia for a bit (a nice, upscale neighborhood with some great looking houses).

    We took a nap for a while and then went out to get some dinner. Walked up the hill to “Link” bar and restaurant, which was a very nice bar (unfortunately my cold forced me to resist joining the drinkers). My minestrone was excellent, and we each had burgers that were very good.

    4/10

    We checked out of the hotel and headed west. Stopped at the Latrun monastery per my sister-in-law’s suggestion. Unfortunately Frommer’s was wrong about the hours, so we arrived just as it was closing for lunch (noon). We walked around the grounds a bit and then decided to head out for a quick visit to Tel Aviv.

    Because our ability to visit Tel Aviv would be limited to a couple of hours before picking up my niece at school and driving her home, we decided to head to Sheinkin street and swing by the beach afterwards. Somehow we managed to find our way there without too much problem (other than having to take a blind guess as to which off-ramp to take), and found a parking lot a couple of blocks away. Some compare Sheinkin to Haight street in San Francisco, I guess because it has a certain hipness to it, but it seemed uniquely Israeli to me. We did really like the street, and felt like we were getting a bit of a taste of Tel Aviv despite the short time. I had a smoothie, and then we picked a sidewalk café and had lunch (“Sus Etz”). I had Spaghetti Bolognese and Jessie had tomato, basil, and cheese toast. The pasta was good, and it was a great spot for people watching.

    We headed to the beach, which was very nice but the day was too warm to spend much time there without going into the water. Next time we’ll try to stay for a couple of nights so we can swim and see more of the town.

    My niece called to explain where to pick her up, which made no sense according to the map. We planned to ask someone and hope for the best, but then she called a half hour later with specific instructions that finally made sense. Other than not being able to make a left turn on one crucial street and having to go 15 minutes out of our way to get back to the spot, we managed to pick her up at the designated bus stop.

    We took my niece’s advice and drove highway 2 up the coast, which was very congested and slow, but we managed to get to Zichron OK.

    We got to the Eden Inn and eventually checked in at the rate that I had arranged for, but not without the clerk’s resistance and my perseverance. When I first made the reservation I had called after hours (it’s hard to call between 9 and 5 from San Francisco). The clerk didn’t want to make a reservation, but decided to go ahead because of the time change. But something didn’t seem quite right (Friday night’s rate was nearly three times as much as the other nights), so I called back around midnight the next night and straightened things out. [Friday had been so much higher because of a plan for orthodox families who have four meals at the hotel and check out after sundown Saturday night, but this wouldn’t apply to us]. The reservations agent said she didn’t need to fax or email me a confirmation, that I just need to give my name.

    When I checked in, the clerk only had a record of the original reservation and no record of the ultimate rate I had reserved. Luckily I had the name of the woman I spoke to on the phone and the clerk called her and it got resolved.

    The room was spartan, to say the least, but it would suffice, especially considering the price ($105 including breakfast for 2). We could have stayed with my niece for free, but preferred a hotel so we could have a bit of down time, and didn’t want to splurge.

    We had take out Chinese food for dinner at my niece’s apartment, quality time and OK food.

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    4/11

    Had breakfast (not as nice as the Dan, but still decent), and went to Cuccina Bar for espresso after (the coffee at the hotel is horrible).

    Went with my niece and grandniece to the Kibbutz where she works, Sdot Yam, to see the animals she works with, and watched my grandniece commune with the baby animals.

    Went to the beach at Caesaria, near the aqueduct. The weather seemed perfect (70s with a nice breeze). My grandniece went into the water for a bit, then we separated. Jessie and I walked along the aqueduct, then went to Old Caesaria and had lunch at the Port Café; very nice setting overlooking the harbor. We picked out some beautiful roman glass earrings for Jessie, and then we explored the ruins.

    We went back to Caesaria to have dinner with my niece and her husband (“Crusaders” restaurant in English, but Zalbanim in Hebrew). The food was excellent (I had shrimp, of all things, Jessie had a whole white snapper, and we had some amazing humus for an appetizer), and the setting was very nice, overlooking the harbor.

    My niece rode with us so she could pay for gas with her credit card and we’d pay her back. It was Shabbat, so we could only use self serve, and I had discovered that there is still a 19 shekel limit on US credit cards at the gas pumps (as I had discovered on my last trip).

    4/12

    Espresso and breakfast at Cuccina Bar again. I took Jessie down the Midrahov (walking street) for the first time, although most of the stores weren’t open yet. But we found a wireless hotspot, so we sat on a bench and checked email and weather.

    Had Shabbat lunch at my niece’s husband’s family (parents, sisters, grandparents), delicious traditional Moroccan-Jewish cooking.

    Jessie and I decided to take a short day trip to Haifa and Ein Hod. We drove to Haifa and got a little lost on the way to the Carmel (of course!). Took the turnoff for “Carmel,” but after the exit there was a fork in the road and Hebrew-Arabic (not English) signs telling you which way to go. Of course, no way back to the starting line, so we found our way up the hill and to one of the main roads anyway.

    We didn’t have much time to spend in Haifa, but wandered around the Carmel for a couple of hours, giving me vague déjà vu for the three months I spent at a University ulpan in 1979. We walked along Hanessi street, then the Louis Promenade, which offers great views of the harbor and the north. Unfortunately the Tikotin museum of asian art was closed by the time we got there (one of my favorite spots, although it was just a tiny storefront in 1979). We also stopped by a children’s park (“Gan HaEm”) which was a nice respite.

    Then we headed south to Ein Hod, an artists colony that several people had recommended. We arrived after most of the galleries had closed, but we really loved the town. Very pleasant, beautiful gardens and homes, lots of public (and private) art. Next trip we’re determined to stay a night or two at one of the bed and breakfasts there.

    When we got back to Zichron, the Midrahov was in full Saturday swing. We took a walk and went into a couple of shops, including my favorite, the arts and crafts collective. When I was here three years ago for my niece’s wedding, I regretted not getting some pottery I saw there, and was thrilled that Jessie shared my enthusiasm for it. We decided to come back before leaving to pick something up.

    Dinner with my niece’s family, then went back to the Midrahov to have ice cream after dinner at a great place just past the end of the walking street (sorry, don’t remember the name).

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    4/13, last full day.

    Got up early, had breakfast, and made coffee at my niece’s (too early for Cuccina Bar’s espresso).

    We drove to Arad to visit our sister-in-law’s parents. The drive was pretty harrowing, especially since we were nearly rear-ended three times by drivers who had no concept that traffic may slow down or stop, even when we got off the 6 and onto roads with traffic lights. I have no idea how we escaped one of the near misses, as the the truck that had been tailgating us for the 3 miles came within inches of crushing us when he failed to noticed that traffic was stopped for a stoplight until the last minute (or he noticed and was overconfident in his brakes?).

    When we got within 20 miles of Arad the landscape changed dramatically to desert, with camels along the side of the road and Bedouin camps and villages along the way.

    We had a wonderful lunch with our sister-in-law’s parents, and was glad to have my niece there to translate as my Hebrew is minimal and their English even more minimal.

    The drive home was much less treacherous, probably because we were out of the morning rush.

    When we got back to Zichron, we went back to the Midrahov to do some shopping. We went back to the arts and crafts coop (52 HaMeyasdim Street) to buy the pottery, and were thrilled that the potter was taking her shift at the store that afternoon. Her name is Galia Jackson, and her work is beautiful, creative, and unusual. We bought one of her pieces, as well as a couple of stained glass hamsas. We also got a few things at other shops on the street (soaps, candle holders, etc.).

    A simple dinner with my niece and family and some sad goodbyes.

    4/14: leaving

    We had to check out at 11:00, and our flight wasn’t until 4:45. The weather had turned hot, so we just decided to get to the airport early and hang out.

    We drove down highway 6, but passed the airport after exiting looking for a gas station. We ended up heading north on highway 4 and getting off at the first exit, which happened to be the same place I filled up 3 years ago. He wouldn’t take my US credit card, and gave me 20 single Shekel coins for change. There’s got to be a better place to fill up a rental car before flying.

    Any suggestions?

    Returning the car was like picking it up. Waiting 15 minutes, finding out that someone who arrived later than me was checked in first, etc. But we had time to kill, so no big deal.

    We went through security without a hitch, only to find that we were too early to check in (check-in starts 3 hours before departure). Go figure. So we went out, had the security tags removed from our luggage, and sat for a half hour. I went to the airport post office to drop off my “Israelphone” cellphone, where they have a stack of prepared envelopes for that Israelphones, and then we went through security again (different woman). Of course this time they sent our bags through x-ray, and things weren’t quite as smooth, but we had plenty of time to kill.

    We both started silently crying after getting our passports stamped.

    After having lunch, we decided to spend our remaining Shekels at duty free. To our dismay, all the prices were in dollars, and they used an inflated conversion rate if you wanted to pay in Shekels. We decided to hold on to them for the next trip.

    After boarding, we discovered that we were the only two people in first class, and the rest of the upper deck of the 747 was empty.

    Despite having a cold the whole trip, and the falling out with my nephew, this was a wonderful and fulfilling trip. Can’t wait to return.

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    This an amazing detailed report and I will try to do the same. We leave next Saturday for Israel. 6 nights in Jerusalem at the Dan Panaroma, ( will ask for an old city view). Also joined the Dan club so looking forward to all the treats. We are with my brother and sister - law and have a guide for most of the time but really appreciated the specific information as I know the guide will do whatever we want since we are paying him.

    My husband and I have not been to Israel since 1986 so I know so much has changed. My borther and sister - law have been more recently but we are all excited.

    We will be there for Yom Hatzmot which should be exciting. The only down side is that I think every Jewish organization is taking a tour there this year so the city will be crowded.

    From Jerusalem we go to Tiberias and then the Upper Galliee with two nights at a Kibbutz, then to Tel Aviv, Eliat and Petra and then home.

    I am printing out your report so I can refer to it while on the trip.

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    Hey thanks, I'm flattered.

    Before my last trip in 2005, I hadn't been back since '87, so I know how you feel. I was pretty amazed at how much has changed in so many ways. Especially since the '87 trip was a brief trip for my brother's wedding, and most of my knowledge of the country was from when I spent the summer there in 1979.

    I do enjoy seeing the country through more seasoned eyes, and being able to have more freedom than my earlier trips (driving, eating at nicer restaurants, etc.).

    I look forward to seeing your trip reports. Have a wonderful time!

    Jim

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