Notes from trip to Israel and Jordan

Jun 2nd, 2018, 05:09 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
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I first had shakshouka here in NYC. Loved it. Then had more of it when we were in Israel. Not sure about it being "an acquired taste" as it's a variation on eggs, spices and tomatoes cooked together. What could be bad? But of course, each to his/her own.
No one should have any qualms about visiting Israel IMO as far as safety is concerned. I felt safer there than I've felt in many other places, including Europe. And if you wait for news reports that all is now at peace in the area, you'll never go. Israel is a well functioning country. Unique for sure in the ME.
Dianedancer is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2018, 07:16 AM
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Following this very engaging report.
Fra_Diavolo is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2018, 12:07 PM
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continued... the Wall in Bethlehem

Before our Bethlehem taxi tour ended with the driver dropping us off in the souk, he drove us around a segment of the separation wall ( the wall between Palestine occupied territory and Israel ) for an up close view of graffiti art. I should say that there’s more “art” in this wall compared to the former Berlin Wall. The graffiti were not painted randomly without much concept or thought. They were, for the most part, thought out with some decent art renderings and a clear message of Palestinians’ common sentiment about their situation with Israel. We asked our driver to drive slowly so we can take decent pictures of some of the interesting segments.

We we pulled in to an unused and abandoned looking gas station with the vintage bubble top gas pumps where there is a ramshackle type store that calls itself a graffiti museum. In front of us is a segment of the wall that has Israel’s PM Netanyahu wearing bright red lipstick and a flower tucked behind his ear and Trump having a warm and cozy moment, and some written commentary to go along, many are written in English. We are standing in front of the graffiti that read “ Make hummus not war “ about 500 yards from one of several Israel watchtowers that punctuated the wall that stretched for several miles (kilometers) like a period in a long sentence. Imagine a mini version of the Great Wall of China and Berlin Wall combined. I cannot tell from where we were standing if the watchtower was manned and if the guards are ok with artists using the wall as their canvas. It’s obvious that many artists update their work to reflect current events.

This stop is very interesting as we walked along some 300 meters of the wall to “admire” the art, read and digest the accompanying messages. We were also introduced to the work of a known/popular/famous (?) graffiti artist named Bansky. Embarrassingly, we have never heard of this artist but that doesn’t mean anything because we are not into graffiti art.

The graffiti museum is actually a graffiti wall souvenir store in disguise and another shopping opportunity ( not ours but the taxi driver’s ). The store sold the usual t-shirts, mugs, keychains, and everything Bansky. I’m sure our taxi driver and the shopowner were both disappointed because we didn’t make any purchase and our tour is coming to an end.

As as a funny aside, when our driver was aggressively encouraging us to go inside the museum, the shopowner who clearly were pals with our driver, kept saying “welcome, come in, bansky, bansky, bansky” - I thought bansky was an Arabic or Hebrew word for something. I only realized that bansky is actually the name of a person and an artist who painted an iconic image of a man in the act act of throwing a bouquet of flowers instead of bomb Lol !
takemewithu is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2018, 12:30 PM
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My post above is again cut off and is missing several paragraphs. I’m not sure what I’m not doing right in posting. Seems to happen randomly. If anyone reading this or any of the Fodors moderators can please help - thanks !
takemewithu is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2018, 03:48 PM
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We were dropped off at the souk and hubby gave our driver a $50 bill. Our driver held the bill close to his face as if analyzing its authenticity. He declared that the bill is no good and he wanted a different bill or the equivalent in shekels. Hubby told him, the bill came straight from the bank and the other bill is the same and came from the same bank. He grumbled as we walk away and he drove away.

We had lunch at this hole in the wall, no name eatery in the souk area that had a strategically placed chicken rotisserie in front. Several cornish-sized chicken in various shades of golden brown turning in the spit were too inviting to resist. There were 3 tables inside and we were the only dine-in customer. The owner was doing brisk business with take out orders. We shared a whole chicken and chose our sides from the glass case. The owner in between customers chatted with us and not long after, another gentleman who was his friend, joined in the conversation and intermittently translated for both sides as he spoke very good English. We talked about his business and living in Bethlehem. He didn’t think that things will get better, at least not in his lifetime. This sad thought would linger in my head for a few days. Our meal was 80 shekels, hubby handed the owner a hundred and we thanked him for a very good and satisfying meal. The rotisserie chicken was indeed very good - moist and full of flavor from all the spices he used. He, the friend and his 2 sons who are helping in the back posed for a group picture with us and brown bagged some sweets for us to enjoy on the ride back to Jerusalem.

We wandered around the souk, checked out what the stores are selling and bought an inexpensive wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off my face because I forgot to bring my sun visor. It was around 4 pm when we hailed a taxi to take us back to border crossing 200 just a short distance away. There were day workers with work permits to Israel coming in as we walked towards the long hall with metal guardrails that led to the immigration booths. We prepared to show our US passports and the small piece of paper that is our Israel visa to the immigration officer but we were totally ignored like we were invisible. Not even a wave thru, nothing ! Is that how good they are with screening people? They can tell... I did read somewhere, a while back that Israeli’s are very good at screening people that come in to their country - El Al, their flag carrier has not had a single terrorist attack and so does the Ben Gurion Airport.

We emerged at the Israel side and just a few hundred feet is the bus stop where the Jerusalem bus is waiting for passengers. We boarded and paid our 7.90 bus fare per person ( or maybe 8.90, less than 10 shekels definitely ). We enjoyed our bag of sweets from the chicken eatery and in less than an hour, we were back in Jerusalem near Damascus Gate.

We entered the Old City via Damascus Gate and located Lina’s Restaurant in the Muslim Quarter to try the hummus for dinner. Lina’s according to some serves the best hummus in Jerusalem. Lina’s hummus was indeed very good and inexpensive as the serving portion is big enough for 2 people to share. Or maybe it’s just our perception because we were still a bit full from the chicken lunch in Bethlehem. From Lina’s, we walked back to our hotel and I picked up a big bag of Bamba for later in the evening, just in case i feel like snacking on something. We spent the rest of the evening watching TV and the preparations for the upcoming US Embassy inauguration in Jerusalem.

Next: early mourning visit to Holy Sepulchre Church, Tower of David, Mount of Olives
takemewithu is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2018, 04:27 AM
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We set our alarm for 5:30 am and were out of the hotel around 6 am, arrived at the Holy Sepulchre Church by 6:15. The chapel where Jesus’ burial site was located hadn’t open and there were around a dozen hardy pilgrim-tourists like us waiting for the caretaker to open the small door, also called the humility door, that would lead to the holy site. We waited for about 15 minutes, there were ledges against the walls to sit on. In less than 10 minutes, we were in and out of the holy site.

The church was nearly empty which made the visit more of a spiritual experience. Next we climbed a steep spiral staircase that in my estimate was the height of 1 floor up - this was Golgotha ( gospel translation: skull hill ) the hill where Jesus was crucified. In the Bible and the many other visual representation of this scene that I have seen, Golgotha was up on a hill and depicted like a desolate place. In the chapel, the distance to the spiral staircase going up to Golgotha was about 200 feet and we have to use a lot of our imagination on the hill setting. The exact spot where the cross stood according to Christian tradition, is marked by a hole outlined with a silver star. Pilgrims line up and kneel before this exact spot to touch the hole. There’s been a lot of debate on the exact spot and location of the cross but pilgrims accept this as THE holy spot of Jesus’ crucifixion. There was a small pilgrimage tour group at the chapel when we arrived who had a Catholic priest accompanying them. We were fortunate to join this small group for a quick mass in English, officiated by the accompanying priest. Divine providence ! This group was from Virginia, USA. We finished our tour of the church by 7:30 am and headed black to our hotel for breakfast. When we left the church, there were still very few people inside and no crowd gathered outside. The shops and souvenir stores haven’t open yet either.

Breakfast, as I described earlier, had the same offerings. We just varied our food selection so we don’t get sick and tired of the offerings. I had a dairy theme for breakfast today - yogurt, muesli, fresh fruit and 2 orders of cappuccino. Hubby had smoked salmon, white cheese and truffles and baguette. Hubby said there were no bagels which he would have preferred to have with his smoked salmon. Maybe “lox and bagels” are an Americanized Jewish creation that we just assumed to be an authentic Jewish from Israel creation.

After breakfast, we napped for about an hour before heading out again to visit the Tower of David. We were back in the Old City and joined the English tour led by a volunteer guide who used to live in New York. She was very knowledgeable and engaging and spoke with a discernible NY accent, despite having lived in Israel for the past 15 years. Throughout our 7 days in Israel, we encountered many former US residents who have moved to Israel. Our server at the hotel breakfast a guy in his late 20’s, a shopowner at the Machane Yehuda, a musician we met at the evening show the other night and many others we encountered - former US residents.

We took a taxi to go to Mount of Olives and visited the pilgrimage sites, including the Garden of Gethsemane and the Jewish Cemetery. As with the other sites, we had to use a lot of our imagination to match the sites with the visual rendition or description of these holy sites. Garden of Gethsemane for instance, the place where Jesus was arrested before he was crucified the next day, is just a large olive tree grove. The spiritual experience is more from being and standing on the same spot where Jesus had been and possibly walked on.

We we took another taxi to take us back to the Tower of David through the Armenian Quarter. We joined the English tour led by a former NY resident who spoke with a discernible NY accent despite having lived in Israel for 15 years. After the tour, we were ready for lunch. We had lunch at the Italian restaurant along Mamilla outdoor mall. Hubby and I shared a pasta dish, pizza and salad. Entire meal was 200 shekels.

After lunch, we went to the Jewish Quarter and visited some ruins. Later, we headed to the Western Wall and Dome of the Rock to experience the scale of this much photographed landmark. There were people praying on the Western Wall, the men’s area was segregated from the women’s area. It wasn’t as crowded as some in some of the pictures I have seen. The golden dome is quite a sight in size and scale and shone brightly from the midday sun. We decided not to take the Hezekiah tunnel tour as we didn’t want to get our feet and footwear wet, as something that could happen when walking through the tunnel.

We’ve done a fair amount of walking today. We went back to the hotel to relax before heading out to Machneyuda Restaurant. Our hotel’s concierge was able to get us a reservation for tonight at 8:30 pm.

Next: dinner at Machneyuda Restaurant
takemewithu is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2018, 06:54 AM
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"We joined the English tour led by a former NY resident who spoke with a discernible NY accent despite having lived in Israel for 15 years. "

No one loses their native accent if they've moved to a new country after approximately age 11. That's just the way it works. I've worked with people from all over the world who want to improve their pronunciation of American English and it is very, very difficult even with my help (I'm a speech-language pathologist), and many months of them practicing. As an adult, the brain is almost closed off to new speech sounds, sound combinations and differing inflections and stress.

Keep going with your trip - you're doing a great job.
Dianedancer is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2018, 07:20 AM
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"We joined the English tour led by a former NY resident who spoke with a discernible NY accent despite having lived in Israel for 15 years. "

No one loses their native accent if they've moved to a new country after approximately age 11. That's just the way it works. I've worked with people from all over the world who want to improve their pronunciation of American English and it is very, very difficult even with my help (I'm a speech-language pathologist), and many months of them practicing. As an adult, the brain is almost closed off to new speech sounds, sound combinations and differing inflections and stress.

Dianedancer, Fascinating!

Great TR and very helpful when thinking about a trip there. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.
yestravel is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2018, 10:10 PM
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The only thing I noticed that’s written in just Hebrew with no English translation is the store and restaurant receipts. Maybe it’s a paper space thing. mbgg might have an explanation for this.
I think that all of the restaurants are using the same computer program for their billing and it only works in Hebrew. You can always ask the waiter for an explanation f you think that there is an item listed that you didn't order or if a price doesn't match what you remember from the menu.
mbgg is offline  
Jun 5th, 2018, 03:17 AM
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takemewithu is offline  
Jun 5th, 2018, 04:07 AM
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Dinner at Machneyuda...

Thanks for all your comments and insight.

Thanks to our well connected concierge for getting us a dinner reservation tonight with only a few days notice. He said Machneyuda can get booked out for more than a week sometimes.

We were seated 15 minutes after our 8:30 pm reservation. Our expectations are high for,a memorable meal and this place did not disappoint, albeit at a price. Here’s a quick score card:

Ambience: industrial chic, trendy, high noise level
Menu: seafood, beef, pasta, eclectic
Food: very flavorful, cleverly presented and plated
Cost: about 300 shekels per person for a 3 course meal

We shared an order of seafood bouillabaisse. The broth was creamy and in it were shrimp, mussels, calamari and fish chunks. It was very delicious, and we’re ready to be wowed with our entree orders. I had grilled seabass with vegetables, drizzled in a tangy sweet sauce served in a metal baking tray and beautifully plated and delicious. Hubby ordered lamb t bone with bone marrow cut crosswise served with roasted pumpkin and onion served in a wood plank - also beautifully and cleverly plated. I cringed as hubby scooped up and enjoyed the jiggly fat from the bone marrow and reminded him to take his Lipitor everyday. For dessert, we shared a Bavarian cream cake served with a caramelized whole banana cut crosswise ( their take on bananas foster ) The texture of the caramelized sugar that covered the banana complemented the smooth and creamy texture of the Bavarian cream cake. The chefs here not just serve delicious food, they also present the food in a creative, visually appealing way. Hubby and I appreciate artistry in our food.

Our dinner tab was 550 shekels including tip. I asked our server if I can purchase the old, beat up looking Turkish coffee pot our bill came in ( I’m thinking bud vase for our breakfast table ) She looked around as if making sure nobody heard her and told me I can have it to remember our dinner in Jerusalem by. I slipped 50 shekels into her hands which she initially mildly refused. She eventually accepted after I insisted. We both came away quite pleased with this “little trade”.

We walked back to our hotel, happy and well fed. For hubby, it is atonement for the grease fest on the bone marrow he finished, all by himself.

Next: New City, Israel Museum, Knesset
takemewithu is offline  
Jun 6th, 2018, 04:48 AM
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After breakfast, we took a taxi to Israel Museum. The museum tour in English will start in 2 hours so we earnestly began our self guided tour of the different sections ( prayer niches from various countries, interesting Judaica ). The museum had well presented displays and an audio guide is available. The layout was also very easy to navigate because everything is on one floor - no stairs to climb. We’re somewhere in the middle when it comes to pace for museum visits - not too fast and not too slow. We do take time to absorb and read up on things that interest us the most such as paintings and works of art by old masters and would give other exhibits that mildly interest a walk thru. Unfortunately, we did not get to visit the art collection which had works by Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh and other masters because we used up the time we had before the start of the guided tour.

Our tour guide led us outdoors and explained some of the sculpture and symbolism behind some of the structures. We also walked past a scaled model of the old city. And finally we were at the museum, the building that had a roof that looked like an inverted cooking vessel, where the Dead Sea scrolls can be viewed. The background and explanation behind the scrolls were very thorough and we were given some time in this dimly-lit museum to view some of the original scrolls on display. The guided tour ended here.

Our immediate dilemma at this point is : should we go back to the main museum to view the paintings, have lunch or proceed to Knesset which is within walking distance. Whenever hubby and I are faced with a dilemma involving food, food always wins. It was past 2 in the afternoon and we were already really hungry. We had lunch at the museum restaurant named Mansfield whose menu I checked out while hubby was standing in line earlier to buy the museum tickets.

Hubby and I had salmon plate that came with boiled potatoes and vegetables - healthy and a good balance to the calorie-laden dinner last night. The meal was also very good and I’m not surprised. We have had good meals in the past at museum restaurants and cafes. Lunch was 140 shekels, including coffee.

After lunch, we walked over to the Knesset before they closed for the day. There were no sessions today that the public can watch and we barely have an hour for the visit. We were able to view Chagall’s work and installations before closing. The Bible Lands Museum was also within walking distance from the Knesset but we decided to give it a pass and just head back to our hotel to rest before heading out to dinner and enjoy the nightlife in Jerusalem.

We had light dinner of salad and sandwich at Aroma Cafe in the Mamilla Mall then we were back in the Ben Yehuda Street, the pedestrian street where the light rail train passes, to enjoy the street scene with our coffee and dessert. We walked passed an interesting store, Kippa Man, that sold kippas (duh!) of every kind - crocheted, satin, printed with sports logo, some with humorous and catchy slogans. We were out until past 11 and families with young children and baby strollers in tow, are still very much out and about for a stroll like in many European countries. This always fascinates us - how they can stay up so late during work days and go to work or school the next day.
takemewithu is offline  
Jun 8th, 2018, 10:52 AM
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Today is Friday and our last day in Jerusalem. We are headed next to Tel Aviv for 2 nights. In a few hours, Shabbat starts and we have planned to be in Tel Aviv by 1 pm before everything in Jerusalem shuts down. We met a couple from the US a few days ago, during breakfast at the hotel, and they are going to Tel Aviv too the same time we are. We agreed to hire a private transport to pick us up from the hotel and drive us to Tel Aviv at a cost of $120 which we will split.

After a leisurely breakfast, we packed our things and met with our carpool couple in the lobby. As we stepped out, the streets around WA, the busy intersection between Mamilla Mall, The Citadel and Waldorf Astoria were decorated with banners and US and Israel flags. The US Embassy in
Jerusalem will be inaugurated on Monday, May 14. We lingered in the lobby with our carpool couple, for a while waiting for our private transportation. The red carpet is rolled out and ends in a Waldorf backdrop for photo opps and interviews with VIPs. There’s clearly a lot of activity at the hotel as it prepares to welcome VIPs, a very likely choice for American dignitaries as it is a US brand hotel.

A limo pulls in and the finance minister of Tanzania is welcomed by selected hotel staff, some photo opp with the WA backdrop and he heads towards the elevators. We didn’t dar# ask who else is coming because that will clearly be confidential. Not long after, our humble ride arrives and we’re off to Tel Aviv on a beautiful, cool and sunny day. We should be in Tel Aviv before Shabbat starts this afternoon.

Next: first day in Tel Aviv
takemewithu is offline  
Jun 16th, 2018, 04:59 AM
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Still following along! Still loving it! Such great detail. Food and eating are a big part of any trip for us so thrilled that you are a foodie and including such great descriptions. This is a TR to bookmark and print.

Looking forward to more!
Lolazahra is offline  
Jun 21st, 2018, 03:07 PM
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Thanks Lolazahra for following along. I was away for work and didn’t post for a while...

Trip to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem took about an hour. We were dropped off at Hilton Tel Aviv where we will be staying for 2 nights.

We we took the cab to Hakosem for lunch. We would have walked, it was probably just a little over a mile from the Hilton but we wanted to get there before it closes early for Shabbat.

Hakosem is a small, unpretentious falafel roadside eatery along King George St (Shlomo Hamelech). It has a few earring tables in front which is really the sidewalk in front of it. You can see the kitchen and the meals being prepared when you walk up and place your order. We ordered the falafel plate, which included falafel, salad and fried eggplant for 44 shekels each. A side order of falafel is 1 shekel per piece, we ordered 4 pieces.

The falafels were very good clearly justifying its claim to being the best falafel in Tel Aviv - a claim also made by Frischman which we did not get to try. The falafel was crunchy on the outside and creamy and smooth inside that has just the right amount of saltiness. The fried eggplant was also very good with the same crunchy outside/creamy inside texture.

The tables led were all occupied when we arrived but the turnover was quick so we managed secure a table quickly. There was a line of about 10 people deep, mostly take out orders, but like the few dining tables set up, the line moved quickly.

After the satisfying and relatively inexpensive meal for Israel ( 92 shekels or about $25 ), we walked towards the beach and planned to walk back to the hotel. I find food and restaurant meal prices in Israel on the slightly expensive side compared to similar food and places in California. The meals we had in Jordan were also a lot cheaper - just a general observation...

The walked north along Tel Aviv beach and enjoyed the lively beach scene. There were people playing volleyball and all kinds of beach sports, along with families, couples and tourists who are out for a beach stroll.

We had a quiet evening at the hotel lounge as Shabbat falls upon the city. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day, we will be joining a walking tour of the Jaffa districtin the morning.
takemewithu is offline  
Jun 21st, 2018, 03:43 PM
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Today, we joined the walking tour of Jaffa offered by Sandeman which meets at the clock tower at 10 am. The walking tour took us to the interesting old neighborhood of Jaffa. Across from the clock tower is a former prison that was recently converted into a boutique hotel. Along this street are small shops and restaurants but for now nothing is open and the area looks forlorn, being a Saturday morning.

We went through the winding small alley, up and down many steps in the neighborhood. Some of the interesting stops are Simon, the tanner’s house ( a biblical figure ), the “hanging” orange tree. The tour lasted for 3 hours but we hardly noticed because there were a lot of stops where we can sit for a few minutes while listening to Avi, our tour guide. Avi, like our Sandeman guide in Jerusalem, was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Avi is an elderly gentleman who genuinely like to show tourists around his hometown. The quality of Sandeman guides, based on these 2 walking tours we joined is really good, considering they are a “free” tour. Upon the recommendation of Avi, we had lunch at a beach side seafood restaurant called The Old Man and the Sea.

The Old Man and the Sea is a very popular beach front restaurant with extensive fish and seafood menu. When we got there, the line was very, very long and we almost turned around to go to another retaurant. I’m glad we stood at the side for a few minutes while I searched for another seafood restaurant on my iPhone - we noticed that the line moved quickly. So we decided to go back and get in line. The wait time was no more than 10 minutes.

The selection is mainly on the main entree as the sides ( all 15 of them, I counted ! ) are all standard consisting of appetizer-sized plates. The sides serving is big enough that we didn’t ask for refill. The sides consisted of guacamole, tahini, falafel, some green salad, potato salad, cauliflower - served like kimchi offerings in a Korean restaurant. The sides come with the entree order and they don’t charge extra for them. The fish and seafood are sold by weight and the server can recommend the right size for your party. We ordered a kilo size grouper which we ordered grilled. It came in big oval platter and was served with fries and lemon. For dessert, we ordered the fresh pineapple served with a big dollop of slightly sweet, mousse texture cream and sprinkled with caramelized sugar grains. It was very delicious and complemented the fish we just ate. Cost of entire meal with dessert is 400 shekels.

Hubby and I voted this as our best meal in the entire trip.

Last edited by takemewithu; Jun 21st, 2018 at 04:42 PM.
takemewithu is offline  
Mar 10th, 2019, 09:44 AM
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Awesome trip report!!!

Please... next time... take me with u!!! Love your style of travel and reporting! Thanks for sharing.
want2go is offline  
Mar 12th, 2019, 08:23 AM
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All over Israel the dinners, sometimes lunches come with sides that are part of the meal and are not charged extra for. They're called "mezze".
Dianedancer is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2019, 02:37 PM
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Thank you for all of the details! I am considering a trip in 2021 and this will be very helpful.
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