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basingstoke2 May 25th, 2013 08:07 AM

17 days in Israel our way
On this forum I posted some pre planning for the Israel part of our trip and appreciate all of the feed back received. This trip was part of larger trip that began in Provence, France, continued in Israel and then ended in Switzerland and Italy.

We had spent quite some time in Israel where I was working on a project between 1973-75 and we were anxious to see the changes that happened since and revisit some favorite places. In addition, my wife during this past year discovered some first cousins that she never knew about who it turned out lived in Israel, made contact over the internet and was anxious to meet her new family members, one who lives on kibbutz Ein Dor. Those considerations in part dictated how we broke up our trip.

We began our trip in Provence, France - I have a TR about that part in the Europe Forum. One reason we did that is that it is a place we have never been and also, we did not feel like sitting in a plane for the entire time it would take to Israel. Been there, done that, did not like it. We found a good price on a flight to Ben Gurion from Nice and that was perfect. The flying time was about the same as from Wash DC to Miami. One complication was that while we were in Provence a strike was announced at BG for the day we were to arrive in Israel. Lucky for us, it was resolved the day before we were to leave.

We returned the car at the airport in Nice and walked the short distance to the terminal. I should have mentioned that when we tried to pre check in the day before, it would not work. I kept getting a message that we could not check in because of our baggage. Huh!! How does Air France know if we even have any? I made sure we were first when the check in desk opened and it was a good thing that there were several because we were there a good half hour. First, they could not find our reservation, even using both our file number and ticket numbers. Then, when they found it, they claimed that we would have to pay to check our bags - about $100 each. I pointed out on the confirmation that I had with me the words "one free" under baggage. I also pointed out that I had confirmed that we get a free bag each when I purchased the ticket. We bought the ticket from Air France but it was issued by their partner Delta who sent the original confirmation. I made sure to call Air France at the time and get a confirmation from them as well and it was a good thing since the file numbers differ and the Air France desk at Nice did not recognize the Delta file number. In any case, both confirmations had the magic one free bag words. Air France claimed it was a mistake because the low fare that we paid did not qualify for free luggage and the code on our boarding pass confirmed that. However, I noted that the words in English on both confirmations trumped a code known only to Air France and after consultations with supervisors and several phone calls they relented and let our bags pass sans payment.

This flight had quite a few passengers that were originally booked on El-Al out of Marseilles and had their flight scrubbed because of the strike at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.

The flight to Tel Aviv was without incident - they even had the special meal ordered for DW. Considering at the airport they did not even think we had a ticket, that was a surprise. The only negative, and that was no fault of the airline, is that the guy in front of me reclined his seat and kept scratching his head, stray flakes drifting into my drink. Yuk.

We arrive on time in Tel Aviv.

Next: We pick up our car (they try harder????) and drive to Netanya

colduphere May 26th, 2013 11:45 AM

Hi Basingstoke - that luggage argument would have driven me around the bend. Sounds like you stayed calm.

basingstoke2 May 26th, 2013 04:50 PM

Hey cold - what are you doing this far afield?

colduphere May 26th, 2013 05:26 PM

I check to see who else has visited Jordan as we were just there. It was fascinating staring across the Dead Sea at Israel. Next time we will do the reverse.

basingstoke2 May 26th, 2013 05:59 PM

Here's looking at you

basingstoke2 May 27th, 2013 11:21 AM

I am double posting the Israel portion of the TR, on the Europe Forum where the TR began and this forum, more specific to Israel.

That Air France "discussion" was an open ended one. There was still the question of what happens on the way back. It gave me something to work on while in Israel.

We arrived at BG airport in the early evening descending through a yellow haze, picked up our now free luggage and went to the try harder place to get our rental car. I had to keep in mind that this was the first day the airport had been open since the strike was settled and they might still be shorthanded. The try harder desk was a mob scene but hey, we belong to the Wizard club so could go to the special window, except there was no one there. In fact, there seemed to be only one person working that is, there were more than one person behind the counter but only one was working with customers and he was not a happy camper. Customers were irritated and cranky. Finally getting my turn at the counter, I signed for my car. In the meantime, DW was trying to get her SIM, supposedly one that would work in Israel, to work without success. She needed to call Yosi, the guy who was to meet us with the key to our apartment to let him know we would be somewhat late. Finally she gave up and went to the TI counter where the nice lady also could not get her phone to work but called Yosi on her own cell.

Contract in hand, we found our way to the car pick up place - quite conveniently located in fact, to await the group 4 chariot that would take us to our studio apartment in Netanya. We were brought a Mazda 2 that in addition to being unwashed - perhaps never washed, looked like it was purchased used from the rent a wreck people. Looking around, it did not seem as others were faring better and since the car was running, we packed in and left.

The drive to Netanya was not difficult and our GPS worked well (this was to be an aberation). I was amazed at the difference in the road system since we were last there some 37 years ago. What had been some simple 2 laners now rivaled the best the interstate system had to offer. Passing Tel Aviv we were impressed with how it had grown into a BIG city. We also quickly had our first experience with the modern Israeli driver, who drives one hand on wheel and one hand on horn. Sadly, this was to be a theme.

Yosi was there waiting and we unloaded our luggage and I parked in the unpaved lot across the road. The building looked ok and there was a 24 hour convenience store with an entrance from the building lobby. The building was the Carmel Residence Hotel. Yosi introduced us to our studio that was to be home for the next 3 nights and it was OK. We went down to the store to pick up some overpriced supplies for breakfast and such, opened our window and were greeted with the sound of surf, a welcome sound. Although dark, we could make out the ocean.

Next: I search of a really good falafel and lost in Kadima.

Hannah_reads_for_fun May 28th, 2013 04:06 AM

Enjoying your report :)

basingstoke2 May 28th, 2013 08:09 AM

Thank you Hannah

Getting on with this decidedly non European part of the trip, we awoke to the sound of surf and sure enough, we had a wonderful view of the sea from our window. The building of our studio is on Netanya's seafront promenade, however the nearest beach area is about a 5-10 minute walk - still, very nice. Our intention was to use Netanya as base and it worked well for that.

We spent the morning walking on the promenade along the sea. Perfect. What would one want for lunch on their first day in Israel? Falafel of course, so we were off to try to find just the right place and we did just that. After driving around somewhat blindly, we found a small market area (it was around the corner from police headquarters in case anyone else wants to find it). Small market places often have the best falafel and we saw a very small restaurant - 2 tables inside and another 2 outside, that seemed to be the homemade falafel place we were seeking since all of the fixin's that can make falafel a culinary adventure were there on display.

The elderly lady who ran the restaurant and did the cooking spoke no English. I mentioned that I had spent considerable time in Israel some 37 years ago and at that time I became fairly comfortable with the language but except for one occasion in Antwerp of all places, did not have an opportunity to speak it during all of that time. I did study up with some CDs for a bit before the trip and it began to come back. This, at the falafel stand was my opportunity to see how much, if any, useful Hebrew I remembered and I surprised myself as it came flooding back after all those years. DW and I chose one of the outside tables with our loaded falafel - it also came with a gratis plate of various pickles, olives and two types of eggplant. Just as we started in, a British gentleman came up to the counter but speaking only English, was unable to order - the restaurant did have other items written on a board and he had no idea what he was looking at. He was about to leave unfed when confident of my new found linguistic skills, I offered to help and he ended up with the meal that he wanted. I must say that I felt very good about myself at that moment and was most likely insufferable for awhile. That by the way was the best falafel I have ever had or will have had on the rest of the trip.

That evening we were to visit for the first time one of DW's new found first cousins. They lived in Kadima, a town not far from Netanya. Our GPS got us to the town, but could not find the address. I parked and asked DW to call them and again, the phone would not work, that after she had spent an hour with the tru-phone technical help earlier that day. Not to worry said I. Across from where we parked there was a large empty lot and there was a block party going on with a big bon fire - a custom of the holiday of Lag B'Omer that was coming up in a couple of days. I asked around for help and found a fellow willing to use his own cell phone to call DW's cousin - it turned out the fellow spoke English pretty well too. Her cousin came, together with her husband, son and son's wife, so we got 4 new relatives for the price of one. That was wonderful. From there we all went to dinner at a very nice place were on the advice of Ari, DW cousin's DH we all ordered the smoked eggplant dish and it was delicious. I washed mine down with Beera Sh-chora as did Ari and Ron, his son. That is a non alcoholic black malt beer that is very tasty and a great companion for smoked eggplant. Ari is (or was) a professional volleyball coach and at one time was a member of the Israel national team. Everyone spoke some English and we had a fantastic evening.

Next: We surprise ourselves with an unexpected trip to Jerusalem.

colduphere May 28th, 2013 02:13 PM

Great rental car story Basingstoke. A friend of mine just had the same experience in Tel Aviv. It ended with the sole employee saying "if you don't want the car we're giving you the guy behind you will take it. So take it or get out of here!"

basingstoke2 May 28th, 2013 04:43 PM

Cold, that experience sounds about right from what we saw. Next posting I will describe our experience in changing cars.

A few photos taken in Netanya. The first is the view from our studio window, the second a home that we found interesting and attractive, #3 a sabra plant. Native born Israelis are called Sabras. The fruit is tough and prickly on the outside and sweet on the inside. The symbolism seems to fit - at least the first part. #4 is a view from the promenade and #5 is a Netanya beach.

I can't really say we were taken with Netanya, it is not really our kind of place, we prefer smaller and less crowded towns. The architecture there is nothing special, the beaches being the main attraction.

ZeebraStripes May 28th, 2013 09:46 PM

Nice pictures, weather looks great down there.

basingstoke2 May 29th, 2013 06:53 AM

Thank you ZS - the weather was fine in Israel our entire stay.

Moving on, we had planned to visit some of my family members in Jerusalem during the time we were in that city but at the last minute found that most would be out of town during the time we would be there, so we decided to drive to Jerusalem and see them leaving from Netanya. My cousin in Jerusalem is one of the ultra orthodox families there. He is American by birth and went to Israel in the mid fifties to work on building the Hadassah Hospital - he is a civil engineer as well as an ordained orthodox rabbi. He met a young lady there, married and never came back. He is about 80 now and has perhaps 100 descendents - perhaps more. An interesting guy, he is also an archeologist and was deeply involved in the digs and discoveries at the Western Wall. He lives in the Sanhedria section of Jerusalem. I donned the uniform of the day for the trip - black pants, white long sleeved shirt, black yarmulka. I was unable to grow a beard in time, so still most likely stood out from the male crowd. We had a nice visit avoiding the controversial topics of politics and religion.

The drive up to Jerusalem took about an hour and a half on modern roads- a far cry from what I had experienced 37 years ago. The road we were on, Highway 6, was an electronic toll road and since I was driving a rental car, did not know how I would pay the toll and what the fine for non payment would be. I found out later that our rental car would bill me for the tolls plus a one time service charge of 15 shekels - about $4 good for the entire rental period. We have yet to receive the bill, so I will wait and see what it actually is.

Jerusalem has grown enormously both in size and population from my memory and the drive approaching the city was spectacular. Driving through the city to Sanhedria we met with heavy traffic and a constant cacophony of car horns.

On the way back to Netanya, our car started to make a loud sound from one of the wheels sounding not unlike a flat tire. I pulled over but all of the tires seemed alright. I did notice at that time that the try harder car agency had all of the wheel covers attached to the wheels with nylon cable ties which would have made changing a tire an interesting proposition.

We limped back to Netanya with the noise continuing - it was related to the wheel speed - and called the agency when we got there, it was already fairly late at night. The mechanic came out and said I should arrange to trade in the car in the AM - the Netanya office would open at 8 AM but I should wait until 10 so my car would be prepared which is what I did, but when arriving at the Netanya office of try harder, there were no cars available. They made a few calls and said there would be a car waiting for me in Hadera, about 15 minutes away. NOTE for all those visiting Israel. When asking how long it takes to get to a place, the answer will invariably be "15" minutes.

I had to drive back to my studio, gather up DW and luggage and limp to Hadera getting there about noon where indeed there was a car waiting for me, also looking like a used car buy from rent a wreck but at least washed. After the agent noted the numerous scratches and dents we took off for next stop, Ceasarea, a popular tourist destination that our Garmin apparently never heard of, but after some driving around and using a real map, we found it anyway.

Next: Locked up in Ceasarea and Zichron Yaakov, our kind of place.

Elkaz May 29th, 2013 07:50 AM

NIce reports. Sorry you had car trouble.THEY should have brought the vehicle from Hadera to Netanya. The idea that you could have been stuck on the road with a broken vehicle is unconscionable. The reason you couldn't find Ceasarea in your Garmen is that there is no one correct way to spell it in English. It was problem some transliterated spelling of the Hebrew, Cesareya , BTW this is one problem with using English language GPS systems in Israel.

Also, are you positive the highway 6 surcharge is only 15NIS. I am under the impression is is 50NIS or about $15. ( just so you know if you get a bill reflecting that I am correct--although I hope I am wrong)

AlexA May 29th, 2013 07:57 AM

Great detailed report!

"NOTE for all those visiting Israel. When asking how long it takes to get to a place, the answer will invariably be "15" minutes." Absolutely true!
An older version of directions used be "just keep going straight until the end"

Note for future travelers, location name searches are problematic in Israel if you're tryng to do it in English, Caesaria might have been something like Qesariyya in the GPS. Israel is notorious for inconsistent transliteration into the Latin alphabet. Two road signs in a row will have different versions, sometimes street signs differ even when they are just across the street from each other!
If you have a general idea where a place is, it helps to zoom into your map/app/GPS and see how that device lists the name of the place. Then you can set the navigation to get there!

Basingstoke2 and others, most car rental places charge 50 shekels, not 15 as a service charge for using route 6. Technically they charge for each calendar month because that's how they are billed and how they reconcile the accounts. So if a trip happens to straddle 2 months and you use the road in each--even if only a day in each month--you may get stuck with a 100 shekel fee ($25+)

basingstoke2 May 30th, 2013 06:39 AM

Elkaz and Alex, of course you are right about the difficulty and inconsistency in transliterating the Hebrew to the Latin Alphabet, but even in considering that factor, some of the spellings that were on our not inexpensive Garmin SD card were off the wall. For example, every sign, every map I have seen spells Hebron beginning with an H. Garmin spells it Khebron. Many other names that Garmin uses are spelled differently than they are in most maps and different from ANY of the road signs that I saw. Even when spelled correctly, there were a lot of places that Garmin just could not find - our new cousin's address as an example and it is not a new place. It also would put us into bus lanes, tell us to go the wrong way on busy one way avenues and approaching Haifa on our way to Zfat took into the Nesher employee parking lot. I think it is safe to say, that Garmin has some work to do.

Continuing with the TR, after picking up the exchange car in Hadera we found our way to Ceasarea. Wow, has that place changed since we were last there! Paying our admission fee we walked in, marveling at the changes and since it was a good time for lunch, stopped at one of the restaurants that cluster around the sea. The one we chose is called (I believe) Port of Call. We found a table with a great view and ordered Mezza - an assortment of middle eastern salads - for two and it was very good. I have a link to photos below and the ones showing the boat beached in front of a building and the one of the beach were taken from our table.

Finishing lunch we were off to explore. In the photo with the boat, the building behind has a small interactive museum and an informative movie about the history of the city. Both very worthwhile. Ceasarea was built by Herod and was quite the place in its time and one of the key ports of the Mediterranean. It has a Roman theater and a chariot racing course. There is lots to see for archeology buffs as well as folks who just like beautiful places with nice shops and restaurants. I was told that admission is free after 5 or 6 PM so one might want to check on that.

We went to see the Chariot course and Roman theater as well as some interesting mosaic floors, all in the photos. One goes through a gate to get there - that is key. I guess there was a sign about the hours of that part of the ruins but we did not notice as did lots of others. After a couple of hours exploring, we walked back to the gate and it was locked. We remembered another gate at the other end, quite a good walk, and it was locked too. We were locked in, as were about a dozen others. We formed a "band of brothers" and together looked for a way out. Standing at the gate and shouting was useless. Several of the thin folk who did not mind getting dirty were able to wiggle under the fence. The rest of us explored and we finally found a place along the sea where we could climb over rocks leading to a low stone fence to climb over, and then we were out. For awhile some of us were thinking that spending the night would not be very pleasant.

We walked back to our car and were off to Zichron Yaakov where we were to spend the next week, and it was wonderful. In Zichron, we rented a small apartment called Holiday House by the Nature Reserve and arrived there very late in the afternoon on a Friday leaving the problem of where to eat.

Next: Adventures in Zichron Yaakov and beyond - way beyond.

basingstoke2 May 31st, 2013 05:42 PM

We planned a full week in Zichron Yaakov, a charming town towards the north of Israel but south of Haifa. Several major highways pass nearby making it a convenient jump off point for exploration. Our stay was at a place called Holiday house by the Nature Reserve. It is an apartment semi attached to a private home that the owner built for her mother (in law?) who later decided she wanted something larger, so this became a holiday rental apartment. It has its own private entrance and is sufficiently separated from the main house so that one has a feeling of privacy. It backs to the nature reserve and is on a residential street that would be about a 15 minute walk (see, I'm doing it too) to the part of town where the shops begin.

The apartment is one smallish bedroom with a queen sized bed - the bedroom doubles as the shelter - and a nice living room with two day beds and an equipped kitchenette with a full sized fridge. The policy there is kosher/dairy for those using the kitchen.

The bath has a rather unusual folding shower arrangement that actually works quite well and is efficient and comfortable. There are ceiling fans in both rooms as well as AC and both rooms have a flat screen TV. Altogether, a pleasant and comfortable set up. We were greeted by a large bowl of assorted fruit on arrival, and that was a good thing because it was Friday evening and we were concerned about finding a restaurant that was open. Driving up into town we saw that everything was closed as we expected but a little more driving to the center of town we found a long pedestrian street lined with restaurants that were very busy, so all was well. For some unknown reason, we chose Chinese but it was pretty decent. Stomachs full, we stopped at an ice cream shop and bought a 1/2 liter since we were expecting another of DWs new cousins, the one who lives on a kibbutz, to visit. She turned out to be a terrific guide to Northern Israel and with her we visited the Golan Heights, almost Syria, a boutique chocolate factory, Hula Lake, Utopia, and a number of other places. We visited on our own Zfat, her kibbutz Ein Dor, and spent some good time in Zichron seeing two museums, the Carmel Winery and had lots of fun and good shopping on the pedestrian area.

Next, more on some of the above.

Hannah_reads_for_fun Jun 2nd, 2013 12:57 AM

Looking forward to hearing more about your Zichron trip-- I had a really lovely time when I was there for an evening about a month ago, and I added it to my "places to go back and visit properly" list :)

basingstoke2 Jun 3rd, 2013 11:23 AM

Thank you Hannah -- I will try to roll some of our week in Zichron into one post, perhaps not in order. The day following our arrival in Zichron, DW's kibbutznik new cousin came over to visit. We went over to the pedestrian area for lunch, each having St. Peter's fish that was very, very good - a treat for all. I washed it down with a new favorite drink, a lemonade slush with a base of chopped mint. After lunch we drove to a place new cousin suggested - one that is not really on the foreign tourist path - a place called Utopia Orchid Park located on Kibbutz Behar in the Sharon region of central Israel. If you are in Israel and a fan of orchids or enjoy flower photography, this is your place. The Orchids, some 20K of them are indoors in a climate controlled environment, there is an aviary there as well. Outside are formal rose gardens, dancing fountains, a maze, cactus gardens, etc. It is a very pleasant way to spend a day. I will bet most tourists do not even know the place exists.

The next day we were on our own and took a trip to Zfat aka Safed, a city in the Galilee known as one of the holy and mystic cities of Judaism. Our trip there was an adventure, due mostly to a very confused GPS. Eventually we were on the correct road driving in the Galilee and passing many Arab villages along the way. What we did not consider is that it was the weekend of the holiday Lag B'Omer, a holiday where it seems the entire ultra orthodox population of Israel makes a pilgrimage to the tomb of the sage Shimon bar Yochai on Mount Meron. We soon met a police roadblock diverting all of the traffic on the road into the parking area for the pilgrimage. The only problem with that is that we did not want to be pilgrims on Mt Meron, we wanted to be tourists in Zfat. Entering the parking area I gathered up what Hebrew I had in me that day and explained to the guard that we did not want to be here - we wanted to go to Zfat. He told me, and to my delight I understood, that the road to Zfat was closed and the best way to get there was to get on the road to Tiberias and from there Zfat is not far and that is what we did, eventually arriving at our destination. It was not at all as I remembered it. It used to be somewhat of an art center but now it seemed to be just another crowded place. However exploring around we found the ancient synagogue where the sabbath song "L'cho Dodi" was written, a song that describes the sabbath as a bride and is found at the beginning of Friday night services at most Jewish congregations of all types. The synagogue is in very good repair and still used. The interior has some beautiful wood work. I will post photos. From there we found the artist colony area of my memory, just not where we remembered it to be. There were many galleries, craft shops and Judaica shops as would be expected and it was a very nice place to spend a few hours. We bought some gifts there and I bought a new shofar (Ram's horn) for myself. It is my seventh but trying it out in the shop it was a beauty with a fantastic sound. There are a lot of shofars out there for sale, but only a very few are really good. I can't wait to use it this coming Rosh Hashona where I am the ba'al tekia (aka shofar guy) at my synagogue.

We drove back to Zichron through Tiberias driving along most of the lake's shoreline on that side and it was a beautiful, scenic drive.

Next: On the Golan Heights - we experience war and peace in real time

basingstoke2 Jun 4th, 2013 10:24 AM

A few more photos. These are all taken at the Utopia Orchid Park. Enjoy the flowers!

basingstoke2 Jun 6th, 2013 04:14 PM

A few other places we visited while in Zichron were Nazareth and Akko aka Acre. Our visit to Nazareth was limited to the Church of the Annunciation and although not Christian, it was a moving experience. The courtyard is filled with mosaic artwork, each panel contributed by a different country in their own artistic styles. Both the exterior and interior of the church are beautiful. While there we heard singing coming from the upper level and went up to see where it was coming from. There was an Asian - I think Korean - pilgrim group holding a service with their own clergy. We sat and listened and their passion was palpable. I also had a nice conversation with a monk about the annunciation and its meaning that put everything that I saw into perspective.

Akko is an old crusader stronghold and has antiquities dating back to that time. There is a fortress wall along the sea. It is a place that we had been before so did not revisit many of the attractions, however our stay there was special. It was a Greek (I believe) Orthodox holy day which seemed to be the equivalent of Palm Sunday and there were crowds of people in their finery outside of the church and strolling about. The small children were dressed as for communion. But foodie that I am, the best part was the discovery of an amazing ice cream shop - I do not know the name but if you are ever in Akko, seek it out, it is near the Crusader Tunnels just off the parking lot. It is the only ice cream place there so you can't miss it. What makes it so special? The quality of the homemade ice cream in extraordinary flavors - cardamom, dates, fig, passion fruit, sesame, (tasted them all) and best of all, rose. The owner told me that he makes it all and uses only the freshest natural ingredients - the rose being made from fresh petals and not rose water. It was delicious and had a fabulous fragrance.

We spent an entire day in the Golan Heights which is a spectacular area with even more spectacular views. One though was a sobering experience. DW's cousin brought us to a scenic overlook and when we arrived we saw a Israeli news crew set up - interesting, we wondered what they were doing in that seemingly peaceful place. Our ears soon told us. Off in the distance we heard the constant sound of artillery and looking into the valley we could see the Syrian flag flying in the distance. Down below was the city of Qunitra and two UN peace keeping force camps. Other than the news crew, the overlook was idyllic with an elderly Druze gentleman selling apples and honey. Other than the sounds of artillery it seemed idyllic down below too, cars moving along the road, fields and farms, yet we knew that there were people suffering and most likely being killed within earshot. A sobering juxtaposition of war and peace.

Next: Some more about Zichron Yaakovand on to Jerusalem.

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