Sunday, Sunday, what did we do on Sunday?
That’s the problem with these trips, days start to blur together. Okay, we know Moshe picked us up at 9:00 because he does so each morning. Ah, first we went to the Ayalon Institute. I was nervous about this as it was an underground bullet factory used by Jews pre-Independence (they had arms but needed ammunition for the upcoming war). I feared the girls would be bored.
About five minutes after we arrived in the small gift shop area, they led us to another building where we saw a movie on the factory and the War for Independence. Have I mentioned that the Israelis are really into the audio-video presentations? Every site we visit there seems to be a movie or computer presentation or something, which actually Sammi enjoys much more than walking through museums.
After the movie (which some late arrivers disturbed – the problem with audio visual presentations), we were led on a tour. Okay – let me tell you a bit of background. Prior to the War for Independence (not ours, Israel’s), the British controlled Palestine and were severely limiting the ability of the Jews from arming themselves for the war everyone knew was coming. That’s why they had secret facilities for building guns, and in this case bullets.
The machines used in this facility were purchased in Poland before WWII and actually sat in a warehouse in Lebanon until after the war when they could finally sneak them into the country. The factory itself was on a working, agricultural kibbutz located right near a British base. It took three weeks, but the Jews dug a hole atop the hill on which the kibbutz rested, lined the hole with cement walls and subdivided it. They then located a secret entrance under the laundry of the kibbutz, and another larger entrance under the oven of the bakery (they only used this latter entrance to get equipment down to the factory). Forty five former members of a Jewish scout group were recruited to run the factory. While they lived on the kibbutz (but pretended to work off-site), they would sneak down into the factory each morning and leave each evening. Two women worked in the laundry and only one knew of the existence of the factory below while the other didn’t. Actually most of the members of the kibbutz did not know about the factory under their feet. The factory workers referred to them as “Giraffe” because they could see what was high up but not what was right under their feet. As time went on though, more and more members did eventually find out about the clandestine and dangerous operation that existed beneath them. Once Israel declared its Independence, the factory was moved above ground to Tel Aviv and the scout members left to form their own agricultural kibbutz a short distance away.
Anyway, after the movie, we were taken down to the actual factory below ground, which was really cool to see after learning about it from the movie. I think the entire visit lasted about an hour.
Underground Bullet Factory - Ayalon Institute
We had about an hour before our appointment at the winery, so we stopped at Aroma in Bet Shemesh for lunch. Aroma (I may have mentioned) is a chain of coffee shops/cafes around Israel (they have free WiFi by the way). It was inexpensive but good and fortified, we headed out for our next stop, Ella Valley winery.
The girls played scrabble while Chris, Moshe and I imbibed some of their delicious wines. I need to get my tasting notes and will probably do that in a separate post but needless to say, we walked away with three bottles of wine and some olive oil.
Ella Valley Vineyards
After tasting the wines, we walked the small grounds for just a bit, admiring the assortment of tropical birds they owned and of course Becky tried to get them to say, “Obama.”
From the winery we headed to Soreq Cave. Soreq cave was discovered in the 1960s when an explosion in the nearby quarry exposed the cave filled with Stalactites and Stalagmites. We arrived about 3ish maybe, and waited about twenty minutes for our guide (you can only enter the cave with a guide). It’s 150 steps down to the cave entrance and something like another 140 steps within the cave (and then of course another 150 steps back to the top). But of course, once you get down to the cave entrance, first you must see a movie about the cave and how stalactites and stalagmites are formed. I Have to tell you that presentation left a little bit to be desired though we did have a laugh poking fun at the overly dramatic music they used to accompany it.
After the movie, the guide led us through the caverns pointing out the different formations and shapes. No pictures were allowed until the very end, and then she sort of rushed us out of there (we almost had Chris locked inside).
A Curtain Where Stalactites and Stalagmites Meet
Just as we reached the van, the sprinkles of rain started, so our timing was good as we made our way back to Tel Aviv. Originally, the plan was for us to head to Jaffa for a bit before our 6:30 reservation at Blackout but the girls didn’t feel the need to see Jaffa again, and they wanted to relax a bit before dinner, which was fine with us, so we got back to the hotel about 4:30ish or so.
I know I mentioned this but one of the perks of Chris being a super-duper Hilton dude (though he’s not as super duper as he once was), is that we get access to their Honors lounge where we get free drinks and snacks throughout the day. So most days, we would pop in there at the end of the day for a drink and some snacks before dinner – today was no exception.
About 6:00 we went downstairs to get a cab to take us to Blackout in Jaffa. Now Moshe had offered to stay with us and drive us there but we told him not to worry, we would get a cab. The only problem … we assumed this was a well-known destination (a center for the hearing and site impaired) but it’s not. And not the bellman, the conciererge or the cab drivers seemed to know where it was located. Finally, a cab driver said he knew, and then once we got in the cab, and started on our way, he asked us where? Chris was not happy. We had the number though, and as he drove us toward Jaffa,t he driver called the center and got directions, so no problems. Israel is a lot like Italy, things seem to always workout.
At this center they have three “attractions.” One is a café where the hearing impaired work. Throughout your meal they apparently teach you sign language (but it’s not ASL it’s Hebrew sign language; until Sunday I had thought all sign language was the same). The second thing is a theater where the blind and hearing impaired put on a production. And lastly, is the restaurant, Blackout, where we were headed. Here, the room is completely dark and not the kind of dark that your eyes can adjust too, and the blind serve you your dinner.
Once we arrive, we check-in with the hostess and wait to enter. First though, she brings over one of four English language menus they have, and we tell her what we would like. It’s a kosher, dairy restaurant, so Sunday night, they had Gnocchi in a pistachio cream sauce, a salmon dish, a vegetarian pasta dish, and one other fish dish, which escapes me. The last option you can order is “chef surprise.” Chris and I went for that while the girls ordered gnocchi (Sammi sans sauce). For dessert they had ice cream, a phylo cigar with crème anglaise, hmm … can’t remember the other options and again, the chef surprise, which is what I went for.
Now they make you take off anything and everything that glows in the dark (e.g., illuminated watch hands), emits light (e.g., cell phones) or really creates light in anyway. There are lockers in which you can store these items. There’s also a sink where they recommend you wash your hands as many people break down and eat with their fingers (we were no exception).
Finally, in turn, you enter. So our group was the third to go (it seemed like they led the English speakers in first). You gather in a vestibule outside the main dining room and one of the wait staff arrives (yes, he was blind) to lead you in. You form a chain with him leading, and each of our hands on the shoulders of the person in front. Becky led the way, which was probably a mistake, as she’s directionally challenged (i.e., she has a hard time telling her left from her right), but somehow, in the pitch dark, Eleron (sp), our waiter, led us to our table and in turn, guided each of us to our chair.
Once we were seated, he showed us where our water glasses were located, where our napkins (mine went right into my collar – I’m lucky if I can get through a meal sighted without getting something on me, let alone without sight) were located and our utensils. He also explained how to pour the water (half a glass is best and you put your finger in to feel when the water reaches that point). Then he brought the bread, which was delicious.
First glass spilled – that would be Becky.
Next Chris and I ordered some wine. I tried to convince him that we should stick to white (less stainage) but he wanted red, so Barkan Cabernet it was. Eleron brought it over, and I held on to mine for dear life. Oh, I should mention, it was about this point that I finally opened my eyes. When we first entered, not being able to focus drove my eyes crazy and started to give me a headache. Finally, I was able to open my eyes, and they agreed to relax and not try to focus.
Next our dinners came. Service is definitely quick here but you know what, that’s okay. Chris got the fish surprise and I had the vegetarian surprise. I tried to eat with my fork but really had little luck getting what I thought was spaghetti to my lips (I kept stabbing and twirling and coming up empty), so instead I switched to my fingers. That’s when I realized I had mushrooms (I tasted those), peas (they were small and round), and what I finally identified as small cheese ravioli (square, with squiggly edges). Once I knew that, I was able to switch back to a fork and scoop. At the end, Eleron asked us to identify our meals, and I nailed mine but Chris thought he had a white fish when he really had salmon.
Kim's Dinner at Blackout
I have to tell you we laughed a lot during this meal. And apparently, Becky, in the dark, kept sneaking over to snag some of Chris’s fish because really, how was he to know? We also noticed that people seemed to speak louder as the night wore on (as if because none of could see, that meant we couldn’t hear either) and occasionally, you would hear shouts of “sheket b’vakashah” (please be quiet, in Hebrew). Another funny moment (as we were sharing food by delicately passing forks), was when Chris asked for some of Becky’s ice cream and she put it directly into his hand, no utensil at all (remember that scene in Wedding Singer with the meatballs?).
Another glass fell over (Becky again).
At one point, we noticed that someone smuggled contraband into the room and occasionally we would see a dull green flash of light from another table.
Other things I recall, the waiters wear these bracelets, or something that jingle (think like lots of bangle bracelets banging together) when they walk. Sammi thinks there was a bar between tables so that waiter knew which tables were which. The walls were made of concrete and the food tasted good. Oh, and you can definitely make out without your kids knowing ;D.
Eventually we called Eleron over and like he guided us in, he guided us back out to the vestibule, where we waited a few moments so our eyes could adjust to the light. Then we went back out into the main area of the center, retrieved our items, paid our bill and were served some delicious, hot tea before having them summon a cab to return us to the hotel.
It was an amazing experience; one that we would all recommend and wish to do again someday.