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October 11, 2006

Israel 2006, are you crazy?

Israel 2006, are you crazy? Yes, standard question asked upon telling people we're going to Israel in November. Are we crazy, I don't think so but then again I guess everyone has their own definitions of crazy.

Why Israel? Because daughter, Becky, became a Bat Mitzvah this year. We gave her a choice, large wasteful party or trip. She chose trip and because suprisingly I've raised a good Jew, she chose Israel. Can't lie, I'm 100% behind her decision.

Since we leave in three short weeks, and I haven't blogged in a while, I'm just going to give you a quick catch-up on our plan.

We're not paying for airfare; Chris cashed in frequent flyer miles and after much back and forth with Continental (perhaps fodder for another entry), we're flying Newark - Atlanta - Tel Aviv and reversing it for the trip home.

We're barely paying for hotels; Chris also cashed in miles but because of miles we're limited on hotel choice.

In Jerusalem, we're staying at the Renaissance Jerusalem Hotel. We had enough miles for 2 rooms, four nights, I believe and ended up spending about $240 to purchase miles for the fifth night of our stay.

After Jerusalem, we're heading to a kibbutz in the Galilee, Hagoshrim. If you visit the site, beware the music. We'll spend two nights here. No miles for this stay, and don't ask me how much per night b/c I do not know; it's part of our package. Package, you ask? Yeah - more on that later.

Finally, after the kibbutz, we're heading down to Tel Aviv for our last three nights at the Tel Aviv Hilton. We cashed in miles for two rooms, three nights. We'll have almost a full day our last day, as our flight back to the states does not depart until 11:30 from Tel Aviv.

One thing we did learn from doing our hotel bookings, these "American" properties, like in in Europe do not have quad rooms. Can't speak to whether or not it's that way throughout the country.

Okay - so that's the skeleton. I'll get more of the details later.

Let's Play Catch Up

Israel 2006, are you crazy? Yes, standard question asked upon telling people we're going to Israel in November. Are we crazy, I don't think so but then again I guess everyone has their own definitions of crazy.

Why Israel? Because daughter, Becky, became a Bat Mitzvah this year. We gave her a choice, large wasteful party or trip. She chose trip and because suprisingly I've raised a good Jew, she chose Israel. Can't lie, I'm 100% behind her decision.

Since we leave in three short weeks, and I haven't blogged in a while, I'm just going to give you a quick catch-up on our plan.

We're not paying for airfare; Chris cashed in frequent flyer miles and after much back and forth with Continental (perhaps fodder for another entry), we're flying Newark - Atlanta - Tel Aviv and reversing it for the trip home.

We're barely paying for hotels; Chris also cashed in miles but because of miles we're limited on hotel choice.

In Jerusalem, we're staying at the Renaissance Jerusalem Hotel. We had enough miles for 2 rooms, four nights, I believe and ended up spending about $240 to purchase miles for the fifth night of our stay.

After Jerusalem, we're heading to a kibbutz in the Galilee, Hagoshrim. If you visit the site, beware the music. We'll spend two nights here. No miles for this stay, and don't ask me how much per night b/c I do not know; it's part of our package. Package, you ask? Yeah - more on that later.

Finally, after the kibbutz, we're heading down to Tel Aviv for our last three nights at the Tel Aviv Hilton. We cashed in miles for two rooms, three nights. We'll have almost a full day our last day, as our flight back to the states does not depart until 11:30 from Tel Aviv.

One thing we did learn from doing our hotel bookings, these "American" properties, like in in Europe do not have quad rooms. Can't speak to whether or not it's that way throughout the country.

Okay - so that's the skeleton. I'll get more of the details later.

October 18, 2006

The Guide

So I think I mentioned in the previous entry that since we're not paying for airfare or hotels, we decided to splurge on a private guide. What I didn't mention is how we found our guide.

Back in 1986 (87), when my parents took me to Israel as a college graduation present, my Mom had a friend who as a side business, organzied trips and tours to Israel. She arranged for our hotels in Israel, our stay in a kibbutz and our private guide who drove us around the country. I was totally uninvolved in the planning of that trip; I just showed up. So as far as I could tell, everything went fine.

Fast forward to about nine months ago. I thought it would be neat if we could get the same guide for our trip, as my parents and I used twenty years ago. So I contacted my mother's friend. At first we thought we were all set, but then a few weeks later, he backed out. He had sold the car he used for groups and didn't think the five of us would be comfortable in his car.

Not a problem, my Mom's friend said, she also works with an agency in Israel, and it will be a bit more money but we could go through them. Inundated with Bat Mitzvah planning, and who knows what else, I agreed. I have a sense of forboding about that decision, as a potential mistake on my part. Why? Well because I didn't do any cost comparison and I feel perhaps we are paying a bit two much. Second, because I like to plan trips. I like to plan them down to the minutest detail and not having control over this situation is driving me bonkers.

See here's the thing. Chris is Catholic, so unlike other Jews, we don't want a trip solely devoted to Jewish historical/theological sites, we want a mix. When I expressed it to Mom's friend, well, when I express any concern to Mom's friend, I get a standard don't worry response. Sorry, that doesn't cut it for me. I worry. Specifically, when I mentioned our desire for what we would like to do and see, and our desire to not be run ragged, I get the "You'll work it all out with the guide when you're there." Except, I don't know this guide. I don't know if it's a man or a woman. And I don't know how knowledgable this guide is about things, not "Jewish."

As a matter of fact, other than a tentative itinerary sent to me months ago, which looks like a pretty standard itinerary and a phone number for the woman who runs the agency, I have no information. I do not know the company's name, I do not know the guide's name, and I have no way of getting in touch with anyone Israel-side if something should go wrong, or if we get delayed.

So, as I'm sitting here writing this, I'm getting more and more perturbed. So you know what, I'm going to call her and get a bit more information out of her b/c I just am not comfortable having so little control over this situation.

Anyway, at this point, I'm not going to tell you what we paid, b/c if people read this and tell me I way overpaid, I'm going to feel horrible. So let's do this. I'm going to list what's included in our price. Feel free to comment as to what you think it's worth.

  • Executive Escort Service through Ben Gurion Airport
  • Transfer from BGA to our hotel in Jerusalem
  • Eight days private guide with car (itinerary to follow in anothe post)
  • All entrance fees
  • Two nights at Hagoshrim, including two breakfasts, and two dinners
  • Transfer back to Ben Gurion.

So that's it. Itinerary to follow as well as any other information I receive.

October 20, 2006

Our Itinerary

Wednesday November 1st
Depart for Israel (EWR - Atlanta - Tel Aviv)

Thursday November 2nd
Arrive Tel Aviv (about 6:00)
Transfer to hotel in Jerusalem

Friday November 3rd - Old City
This morning we will stroll the Old City. You will become the most recent pilgrims to walk in the steps of those who came before us over the centuries - where the prophets brought their spiritual message to the people, where David played his harp and Solomon composed the Song of Songs. Your path continues through the Christian, Moslem and reconstructed Jewish quarter. A special point of interest in the Jewish Quarter is the “CARDO” the recently unearthed ancient marketplace. Meaning, “HEART” of this ancient Byzantine - Roman city. While in the quarter view the most exciting and newest discovery in archaeology today - the Herodian Mansion, dating back to Herodian time, visit the Burnt House.

On to the Western wall, which became the focal point of the Jewish religion after the Second Temple was destroyed. Over night in Jerusalem.

Saturday November 4th
Free day
Overnight Jerusalem

Sunday November 5th - New City

Drive to the Hadassa medical center, visit the stained glass Chagall windows, and then we visit Yad-Vashem, the memorial to the six million innocent victims of Hitler’s vicious extermination machine. On to the Military Cemetery on Mount Hertzl to pay respect Israel’s heroes. View the Knesset, the seat of Israel’s Parliament, visit the Supreme Court building, and then visit the remarkable Israel Museum and the Shrine of the Book the house for the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Monday November 6th - Masada and Dead Sea

Early morning departure to Massada, ascend the cliff top fortress by cable car (note from Kim - I want to climb), as you explore the ancient remains of fortifications, King Herods palaces, storerooms and baths, you will hear about the spirit of the last Jewish defenders. These Zealots held out three years against the legions of Flavius Silva and chose to die as free men at their own hands in preference to Roman slavery. From the top of Massada the outline of the Roman encampments are still visible below. Descend by cable car.

Stop at the desert oasis of Em Gedi with its lush greenery and cool water falls. We will be able to appreciate the unique and flourishing flora and fauna of this area and you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a few beautiful Ibex and Oryx hiding in the surrounding mountains. Hike deeper into the coolness of this desert oasis to enjoy the rush of cascading waterfall in all its nature beauty. This is where King David hid from King Saul during Biblical times. While at Em Gedi visit the ruins of the ancient Synagogue recently opened to the public.

Continue along the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth; let the buoyant waters support you as you relax on your back and think of nothing else but the sea and salt all around you.

Back to Jerusalem for an overnight

Tuesday November 7 - the Jordan Rift

This morning we travel through the fertile Jordan valley to Beit-Alfa. View an ancient Synagogue one of the finest mosaic floors in the world has been found.continue to Belt shean, discover the recent excavations dating back to the Roman - Byzantine times. Amongst them unearthed - the theater, which was the main cultural and entertainment center during that period and accommodated 10,000 people.

At the foot of Mt. Gilboa is a beautiful park, Gan-Hashlosha. The garden includes a natural swimming pool still designated by its Arabic name: El-Sachne - the warm water, this is a delightful place where if time allows there may be time to take a dip in the waters. Approach the 12 century fortress named by its French Crusader builders, Belvoir, (beautiful view), for its command a panoramic view over the surrounding Jordan valley and Mountains of Gilad.

Drive to Kibbutz Ha’Goshrim. Over night in Kibbutz Ha’Goshrim.

Wednesday November 8th - The North

This morning we drive to Safed one of the Four Holy Cities according to tradition. Absorb the mysticism of this town known for its Cabalistic atmosphere. In this town ancient synagogues and modern galleries exist side by side in pure harmony. After breakfast we drive to the Dan River. Walk through the beautiful nature reserve at Tel Dan, one of the sources of the Jordan River. Ascend the Golan Heights passing former Syrian army headquarters and positions over looking the Galil. Drive through the Druse villages to the town Katzrin, one of the settlements on the Golan Heights. Kayaking in the Jordan River.

Return to Ha’Goshrim. Over night in Kibbutz Ha'Goshrim.

Thursday November 9th - The Beauty of the Coast

After breakfast we drive to upon National park, visit the newly excavated Jewish town dates back to the Mishnah lime. Visit the Roman Villa and its mosaic floor and the Water System.

Arrive in Haifa, view the Bahai Gardens and visit the Bahai Temple, (if open). Drive to the panorama on the top of Mt. Carmel.

Continue to Caesarea, the ancient Roman city, built by Herod the Great and once the seat of Roman rule. Visit the excavated half-moon theater, a little way on hugging the seashore lays an aqueduct once used for conveying the city’s water.

Drive to Tel-Aviv. Overnight in Tel Aviv

Friday November 10th - Tel Aviv & Jaffa

After breakfast we drive in the main streets of Tel Aviv, drive along the Rothschild Boulevard, whether you call it Bauhaus or International Style architecture, Tel Aviv is still the only city in the world that houses such a large collection of buildings designed in this style.

Visit the Independence Hall located in the house of Meir Dizengoff, the first Meyer of Tel Aviv. Hear David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister, announced the Declaration of Independence on May 14th 1946. VisitNeve Zedek — one of the first neighborhoods built in Tel Aviv during the early 1900’s which has recently undergone extensive renovations with much of its early architecture restored to its original glory. In the center of Neve Zedek stands the Susan Dallal Cultural center for Performing Arts. Built in the site of the first girl’s school in Tel Aviv.

On to the Hertl street, Carmel Shuk, (market place) a bustling open Bazaar filled with spicy and mysterious aromas and lots of colorful wares for sale, take a stroll along the Nachalat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall.

Drive on one of the oldest streets of Tel Aviv, Allenby street. On to view the man auditorium — the home of the famous Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, nearby is the Habima theater building. Arrive at the new “Golda Meir” cultural center view the Opera House and the Tel Aviv Art Museum. See the city getting ready for Shabbat.

Overnight Tel Aviv.

Saturday November 11th

Free Day
Overnight Tel Aviv

Sunday November 12th

Free Day.
Late night depature - Tel Aviv - Atlanta - EWR

Monday November 13th

Arrive Home.

October 27, 2006

It's Time For Everyone's Favorite - Packing Lists!!!

Ah yes, the favorite part of everyone's vacation packing. Well, we're not packing yet but as always I figure I better write down what I intend to bring. Now if it all fits, well that's another issue.

So I'm going with the black shoe theme again this year and since what I've read indicates Israel is a much more casual country than say France, England or Italy, I feel comfortable bringing some jeans. I also don't mind the bit of extra weight they bring b/c 1) now that I'm smaller, I figure my jeans weigh less 2) Chris will be along to help :D.

So here we go:

Clothing - Pants

  • Stone pants (assuming I got that stain out of them in the wash)
  • kacky pants
  • black pants
  • black jeans
  • blue jeans
  • Kacky Capris

A note on the pants, I will be wearing one of these (probably the jeans) on the plane. Second note, subsequent to this and after checking the weather reports, I think I'm bagging the capris.

Clothing - Tops

  • Yellow 3/4 length top
  • Paris looking top (don't ask)
  • New black turtleneck
  • New Red V-neck top
  • Short sleeve - blue shirt
  • Short sleeve - red shirt
  • Red Turtleneck w/ black print
  • Coral cable sweater
  • Other funky top (same type as Paris type I told you not to ask about)
  • v-neck Black sweater

Clothing - Exercise Gear

  • Two pair shorts (peach & dark blue)
  • White Rebock shirt
  • White Rebock Shirt w/ orange trim
  • 2 sports bras
  • Black walking shoes (yes they don't match but I can wear them during the day with my normal clothing)
  • 2 pair exercise socks

Miscellaneous Clothing

  • Socks - how many pairs?
  • Bras
  • Underwear
  • bathingsuit
  • Sandals
  • Black boots
  • Leather Jacket
  • Black blazer (maybe)
  • Pjs (2)
  • Izod anarak (sp)
  • Make-up
  • hairbrush
  • toothbrush
  • deoderant

Miscellaneous

  • Plug adapter
  • Sleep masks
  • Books - The Grass Crown, Death in Springtime, the Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night and Staying Dead
  • Headphones
  • Ipod Charger
  • Splitter for headphones
  • Advil
  • Cold Medicine
  • Kids Cold Medicine
  • SlowTrav Hats
  • Guidebooks - Insight Guide, Foddors
  • Small journal
  • Sammi's water bottle holder
  • Camera battery charger

Daypack

  • Camera
  • Ipod
  • Journal
  • Fountain Pen
  • Toilet Paper
  • Tissues
  • band-aides
  • Blister blockers
  • umbrella
  • Money
  • Credit Cards
  • Passport

Sammi's Stuff

  • 5 pair jeans
  • 10 assorted tops
  • 10 socks
  • 10 underwear
  • 2 pjs
  • flip flops
  • 2 bathing suits
  • sneakers (wearing)
  • raincoat
  • Jean jacket
  • hair accesories

Becky's Stuff

  • 3 Hoodies
  • Jean skirt
  • "ortho" skirt - she calls it that b/c she looks like an orthodox Jew when she wears it
  • 2 bathing suits
  • 2 pjs
  • undewear
  • bras
  • socks
  • 5 pair jeans
  • 1 pair corduroy
  • Corduroy capris
  • Assorted tops (8 - 10)
  • Vans
  • Flip flops

October 30, 2006

Let the Packing Begin

Well, my room looks like a laundry basket exploded. We have four, almost distinct piles in our room now, one for each of us containing all our clothes for the next two weeks. What a flippin' mess. I finished all the laundry today, so other than Becky's corduroys, I gave her special dispensation this evening, everything going with us has been washed.

We have four suit cases. Three 22-inch, and one bigger one - I think 26 or 28 inch but I'm not sure. I'll pack two smaller ones and then the bigger one. If the remainder after those three can fit into the third 22-inch, that's what we'll use, if not, we'll move up to the rolling duffle. All these will be checked. Each of us will also have a carry-on and a personal backpack or in Chris's case, his briefcase b/c he's going to bring his laptop. I agreed to the laptop, because I will be allowed to use it daily to update our blog - so remember to check in starting Thursday night. I'm hoping to get a bit up here each and every day.

I'm feeling better about the whole guide situation too, recognizing that a good chunk of the problem is my control issue and the other chunk the fact that I didn't do any comopartive shopping. But after doing a bit of research, I don't think what' we're paying is totally out of line.

Oh and hey, a member of SlowTalk invited us to her house the Saturday we're in Tel Aviv which we're all looking forward to immensely. Plus, Rain's father in-law, A, and his wife, S, live in Jerusalem. She's studying to become a rabbi and they've invited us over for havdallah on this Saturday and for dinner afterwards. Also looking forward to that too. It should be an incredible trip!

October 31, 2006

Jerusalem Restaurants

Okay here's the list I compiled from recommendations on the SlowTalk Message Board, Frommers, Fodors, Egullet, Chowhound and Haaretz, among other places.

Abu-Shukri
Arabesque at the American Colony Hotel
AMIGO EMIL
ARCADIA
The Armenian Tavern
Aroma
BAROOD BAR/RESTAURANT
CACAO
CAFE PARADISO
Catit
Cavalier
Darna (Moroccan)
Dolphin Yam
Doron Falafel
Eldad Ve'Zehu (French)
Fink
FOCACCIA BAR
HENRY'S CAFE
Ima
Kan Zeman
La Guta
Mahane Yehuda (in the market - kebab place)
PAPA ANDREA'S
Paradiso
Philadelphia
SEA DOLFIN (is this the same as Dolphin Yam)?
Shakra
Shalom Falafel
Shegar Restaurant (Ethiopian)
Sima
SPAGETTIM
T’Mol Shilshom
YMCA Restaurant (Le Tsriff)

Abu Gosh

Caravan Inn

Tel Aviv Restaurants

Aldo
Amore Mio
Baraka
Barbounia
Batya (Batia)
Bellini
Benny Hadayag
Big Mama
Boccaccio
Brasserie
Bruno
Carmella Benahala
Chaim Nelu
Dita
Dixie
Dr. Shakshouka (North African)
Erez (Carmel Market)
Forelin
Fortuna del Mar
Giraffe Noodle Bar
Goocha
Imoma
Kimmel
Manta Ray
Max Brenner Chocolate Bar
Mifgash Habalkan (Balkan)
Mul Yam
Olga’s (Balkan)
Olive Leaf
Orca
Orna and Ella
Osteria da Fiorella
Pasta Mia
Pastis (Provencale Bistro)
Piccola Pasta
Pronto
Raphael
Rustico
Sea Bass
Shipudai Hatikva
Shimon (Carmel Market)
Souflakis (Greek)
Shtsupak
Tahal
Tapeo
Yama
Yehuda Avazi
Yehuda Halevy
Zion (?)

Jaffa

Abulafia Restaurant
Cordelia
Simtat Hazechuchit
Etzel Pini BaChatzer
Pu'a

WINE BARS

Il Barbaresco
Ish HaAnavim
Mokambo
Yo'ezer Wine Bar

November 1, 2006

5 Hours and Counting

Okay, the bags are almost completely packed. We went with two small and two large plus a carryon for each of us (Chris and I will have two carry-ons). I just printed everything off the computer and now need to put it in my little binder. We called the credit card companies and had them put notes on about our travel (of course this always takes longer than expected). Got a last minute request for some Chanukah candles from the store in S'fat from Bobbi.

Need to shower, get dressed, and run to Barnes and Noble for a last minute book purchase for Becky and to BB&B to get a gift to bring. Also need to zip up the bags and move them downstairs so Anna can clean up here. Gosh, I think/hope that's it. See you all in Jerusalem.

November 3, 2006

We're Here!

Okay – quick update b/c, as we’ve discovered, things in Israel work on Israel time, which means the Business Center with Internet access in the hotel isn’t necessarily open from 8 until 8:30 as advertised. As a matter of fact, we’re not exactly sure when it’s open contrary to what the front-desk says. So this is an e-mail update to the blog, written off-line, and quickly uploaded because we only have dialup access at the moment.

Speaking of Israel time, did I mention, that as before you travel to Italy, and check strikes, you should do the same for Israel. There’s nothing like landing and the first words you hear once you deplane are, “You are not going to be happy to hear this but you cannot get your luggage.” Actually, all things considered, we were very lucky. As part of our tour service, we had “VIP” airport service in Ben Gurion. Normally, that would mean we would be met near immigration and ushered through there and Customs with an escort; it’s supposed to speed the process. In our case, do to a baggage handlers strike, our escort met us at the plank-way, whisked us into a waiting van on the tarmac and drove us to the Lost and Found ahead of all the other exhausted travelers. What we found out at Lost and Found was basically … nothing. They didn’t take any information and only gave us a phone number to call in order to check the status of our bags the next morning and sent us on our way.

We got cash from the ATM (receipt in Hebrew – very cool), met our driver and our escort bid us farewell after commenting, “I hope you have your luggage before your return to the states.” Great. Okay – we’re in the van, and though we have no clean clothes, yes for the first time, we didn’t pack a change of clothing in our carryon bags, we’re on our way … we think. Why did the driver follow the road to Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem? Hmm, maybe he knows some shortcut. After all who am I to question? But as we get closer to Tel Aviv, question we do only for all of us to realize, the driver was told the Renaissance Tel Aviv not the Renaissance Jerusalem. No biggie, a u-turn, and we’re on our way – again.

About 7:30, we finally arrive at the Renaissance Jerusalem. Check-in goes smoothly, and we head up to our two adjoining rooms, after the front desk clerk tells us the strike may last days, great. We have no bags to unpack, so now what? We try to get in touch with the tour agent, to see if the guide will be able to take us back to Ben Gurion at some point to get our bags. We’re having no luck with the phones. We want to call the states, but can’t The number AT&T gave Chris to dial the states did not work. Oh this is looking real good. Then, the phone rings, in the kids room, yet answer it they do not do, so Chris makes a grab for it and it’s Esther, the tour agent!!

Okay – we now know our guide’s name, he will meet us in the morning at 8:30. He will do whatever we ask, though she wishes we wouldn’t use our time in such a manner but what to do? She does tell us though that it’s not a full strike but a slowdown and the latest round of negotiations was making progress. See these aren’t strikes like Italy, the ones that last a day or four hours, these are like US strikes. They last, and last, and last.

Not much left to do but get the kids some dinner. Afterwards, Chris dials through most of the different set of number for information and Delta at the airport trying to track down the progress of our luggage. At 9:00, they still haven’t unloaded it. We watch Bridget Jones 2, in English, with Hebrew subtitles. Becky and I try to figure out which word is “F***” in Hebrew. At 10:00 Chris calls again, our luggage has been unloaded and we can get it! Chris, in a wave of determination and resolve I have not seen him apply to anything accept his running, heads out, with 700 shekels in his pocket. Two hours later he returns, with all four pieces of our luggage!

Anyway – other than the luggage fiasco, which ended okay and cost us about 400 shekels (less than $100), all our travel worked fabulously. We caught an earlier flight to Atlanta (for fear of Thunderstorms), the girls reacted as we predicted they would when they realized we were in First Class – Becky quietly overwhelmed, Sammi jumping up and down, squealing, and everything else ran smoothly.

Our guide, Besha (Beja – I need to have him spell it for me in Hebrew) is great, a really nice and interesting man, hand-picked for Chris. Like Chris, he’s a runner. As a matter of fact he’s one of the top runners in Israel – nice body ;).

We had a great day today – which I hope to get into more detail about later but we covered Mt. Olives, David’s Tomb, the place of the last supper, the garden of Gethsemane, the Jewish Quarter, especially the Cardo, where we made some serious contributions to the economy, the Kotel – but we’re going to insert our prayers on Sunday, the Arab quarter where we found some of the best baklava ever, the Christian quarter, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Afterwards, we headed to the big food market in Jerusalem, whose name escapes me now. Love this place – the most amazing chocolate croissants, good Schwarma, Falafel and fries, (yeah, yeah, it’s all about the food for me), and after our 8:30 am departure this morning, we returned to the hotel about 4:00. Tonight we’re heading to Three Arches for dinner (in the YMCA), and tomorrow we’re on our own. We’ll give the kids an easy day, with a slow morning and the Israeli Museum in the afternoon, then Havdallah and dinner with Mike’s Dad and wife.

Sunday we start early at 7:30 – on tap – Yad Vashem, a tour of the tunnel that King Hezekial (I think) used to link Jerusalem to its water spring (in case of siege), and a tour of the tunnels under the Western Wall.

November 6, 2006

So Far....

Things have been great!

A quick update though b/c we never did get access in our room and I am using the very expensive terminal in the laptop (well it will be very expensive if it's really 50 cents a minute as opposed to 50 aragot (i.e., half a shekel)).

Anyway - Saturday we let the kids sleep in while Chris and I worked out then we were off to the Israel Museum. Sammi is definitely not a museum person. We did not have a guide Saturday and it is close enough to the hotel to walk, so we did - beautiful day. Didn't see the bread exhibit though - sorry Chris. Becky loved the garden of twisted metal - do not ask but she can be a very funny kid.

Afterwards we went to A&S for havdallah service and dinner. Two more student-friends of S joined us - very nice evening, very good dinner. Havdallah is a beautiful service. I hope Barry gives Sammi credit for it ;).

A walked us over to Ben Yehuda street afterwards and of course, we once again made our contributions to Israel's economy. Mom, got you your chanukah present :D. Was that thinking ahead or what??

Yesterday (Sunday, though it felt like Monday) all day - very long day, was a good day. Started bad though with a typical Becky meltdown but an eventual recovery - thank god! Weather no good though - cold and rainy. We headed to Military cemetary first - paid our respects to Yitzak (sp) Rabin and Golda Meier. Then on to Yad Vashem. Sammi is a much younger ten year-old than Becky. OH, and she has trouble with bathroom stalls - don't ask. I think YV should be left for the end of the day as it does sap your strength but we recovered.

Given the cold weather, couldn't convince the girls to give Ezekials (or is it Hezekials) tunnel a try (the ancient tunnel - like 2800 years old, that connects Jerusalem to its spring outside the walls). You have to walk through waist high water at parts. So we regrouped and headed for lunch at some roadside place in Latrun. Our Guide is a tank commander so we couldnt' have had a better guide for the tank museum than him. Something totally not on the beaten path but we enjoyed it. They're amazing, and luckily the rain had stopped so all that fresh air did us good.

Minature Israel is nearby - so we might as well stop. Cheesy but heck, we were there. Then back to Jerusalem. We spent some time in the Jewish Quarter again - back to Cardo and more "contributions". Oh Amy, that reminds me, Bible Lands was closed on Shabbat - hope you don't mind but I made your contribution at Yad Vashem. After shopping, it was back to the Wall, where we took the 6:00pm tour of the underground tunnels that run alongside it - very interesting and amazing. So close and yet so far. Oh and hey there's nothing that's going to wake you up like the sound of gunfire as you enter the plaza in front of the Kotel. Actually, it was firecrackers and we were the only ones who jumped (I need a shaking head icon here) but really everything feels incredibliy safe.

Dinner was at Sea Dolphin (aka Dolphin Yam). Expensive but very good - best calamari maybe ever - yeah it's not kosher. Enjoyed a great Israeli Gerwurtzdaminer (sp) along with it. Everyone liked it so much, we're going back tonight.

In a short while, we're off to Masada and the Dead Sea. Hope you all have a good day.

What We Learned Today

Going up Masada is much easier in the tram than climbing. Same for coming down.

The desert is not always hot.

Marmots are much cuter in the wild than in Chinese restaurants.

Crabs live near desert waterfalls.

Sammi is part ibex.

Playing in mud is fun but you better clean your ears good.

Even Chris, with no fat, floats in very salty water.

Man can live on hummus and pita alone (or in Sammi's case, pringles chips and chocolate rughlah from Marzipan).

November 8, 2006

More Stuff

Well, we're in the Galilee now, at Kibbutz Hagroshim. so tell me, is there such a thing as a "non-kosher" or "non-orthodox" room? Making love in these beds is like making love during an earthquake - you have to watch out about falling in the crack!

Best quote yesterday, from Sammi, "If tomorrow's breakfast is pareve, I'm just going to eat the bacon." Someone better tell her that pig isn't kosher (don't worry we did) and she meant fleishick (yeah, you spell that). Yes, poor Sammi could not find a thing to eat on the dinner buffet last night - a meat menu. We're hoping for dairy this morning. The best thing I can say about kibbutz food is that it's abundant and sustainable.

The St. Peters fish with the mezze yesterday in Capernium and the falafel at Bet Shean didn't suck though. Which reminds me, other things we learned yesterday:

Stairs at a Tel are meant to be climbed.

Once you ascend said stairs, the only other thihg to do is come back down.

Fresh dates aren't wrinkly.

Ancient Synagogues that lay mosaic floors don't always put the name of each donor. Perhaps there was once a plaque on the wall?

Tourist vans can easily be turned into ancient Roman chariots for joy riding through ancient stadiums.

Samaria, a beautiful place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.

Sammi has lost her tile rummy edge. Tile rummy is universal among Jewish travelers.

French, Indian, Korean and Japanese visit Israel. Where are all the Americans? Well, not true, the bible belt is heavily represented.

Everything is negotiable accept the beautiful an expensive menorah your daughter wants to buy.

On tap for today:

A hike to the source of the Jordan river. (We've discovered that the benefit of a private guide is a fluid itinerary. He incorporates, on the fly, a lot more things that interest the kids, that we might not do otherwise).

A tour and tasting at a winery (about that private guide - it works for adults too ;D).

Kayaking on some river.

On tap for tomorrow (Thursday)

A visit to Z'fat and a visit to Caesarea (sp) - hopefully we'll get to Haifa too.

That's it for now. Hard to believe we're more than half over.

November 9, 2006

Galilee and Golan

What We Learned Yesterday:

How to patrol the Lebanon border

Land mines aren't fun

Druze make excellent tea but the baklavah is better in Jerusalem

Not all kosher wine tastes like prune juice.

Shwarma good!

Sammi can live on chips, ice cream and chocolate eggs.

Never wear jeans while kayaking.

Kim can't steer for shit (as Becky says).

Becky brusies easily.

360s in a kayak - never good.

Those large objects by the falls are rocks - you should try to avoid them.

Two yellow 12s are hard to get rid of in Rummycube.

Best quote of the day from Elan, our guide, "It's hard to be Brittany Spears."

November 10, 2006

On To Tel Aviv

Well, we're arrived in Tel Aviv last night (late almost 8:00), and I have to say the Hilton definitely deserves it's reputation as one of the top 5 Israeli hotels. The poshness of the place combined with the little perks Chris gets for being a super-duper member makes it a nice way to end our trip (great views from our room, and we were greeted by wine, chocolates and a plate of fruit). Oh and it's a non-kosher room!!!! ;D

I enjoyed the kibbutz but didn't get to spend a lot of time enjoying its environment as we were on the road a lot. Loved having an electric pot in the room to make coffee, and the wireless access in the lobby. Unfortunately, we didn't get to try the local restaurants b/c we're cheap and ate in the kibbutz dining room since it was included in our room rate. Another someday we'll return thing.

Okay - so yesterday - we didn't learn a lot but what we did learn, wow!

First, I'm a good shot! Chris was a little nervous after he saw me fire off that uzi (and hit the target 20 out of 20 times) but Becky scared us both; so good, she kept shooting through the same hole on the target over and over again. Yes we went to a shooting range!

Learned how they hand-weave tallit (or is it tallot - can never get that plural thing straight) and why b/c of that they're so flipping expensive! But worth it and yes, I finally bought one! It's beautiful and they're weaving it just for me and I should receive it in about 40 days (yeah!). If someone reminds me, I'll take a picture of it and post it.

Spent a good amount of time in Z'fat - learning a bit about Kaballah but mostly shopping - definitely made some major contributions to the economy but no candles (sorry Bobbi - I'll look for some in Tel Aviv). Suprisingly, none of the ones we saw there appealed to me.

After Z'fat time for an executive decision, our original itinerary called for way too many things to do in the day and I always knew it would be exhausting (yes Doru, nothing about this trip has been slow), until lunch yesterday. We blew off the B'hai gardens, Ceasaria (sp), and Acko (sp), and instead spent the afternoon with a Bedouin family, enjoying a home-made lunch. OMG moment as plate after plate arrived - just fabulous! Needless to say we rolled out of there as the sun was setting and headed to Haifa.

Spent just enough time in Haifa to admire the view and stop in "the best" falafel place in the Arab quarter in case we wanted a late night snack later. Eilan, insisted, even two hours cold these would still be the best felafel we'd ever have - he wasn't too far off - they were darn good. Chris still insists the Falafel at Bet She'an tasted better but that this made up for it in the quantity of the felafel - I liked this stuff. Yes, can you believe it, after that huge lunch, we still munched on falafel in our room late last night - I'm still stuffed!

After Haifa, it was on to Tel Aviv; the girls shared a pizza and chocolate soufle from room service while Chris worked out and I went in search of a cash machine (found a gelato place too ;D).

Today we explore Tel Aviv and Jaffa - maybe ending the day with a bit of kayaking in the Mediteranean though I promised Becky, she doesn't have to go in the boat with me.

I'll have one more update tomorrow but not sure about Sunday yet. After that, it's back to Jersey.

Running Out of Time

Well, here we sit in our room as the day winds down. We'll head for dinner in an hour and I am a bit sad as our trip will be over shortly and we said good-bye to our guide today, Eilon Beja. When you spend so much time together, it's hard not to think of him as a member of the family.

Today he took us to Independence Hall to start. I wasn't looking forward to this but it tunred out to be an incredibly moving experience. Talia, the tour leader, gives a great presentation and the film you see first is worthwhile too.

Afterwards, it was shopping, shopping and more shopping. First we hit the flea market in Jaffa, then the craft market in Tel Aviv and finished up with the food market - not as good as the one in Jerusalem but still interesting. Becky and Chris had more falafel for lunch while I enjoyed some Yemenise Beef soup from this divey place just off the market - very tastey very good. Also enjoyed some fresh squeezed pommergranite juice in the market - I need to get me one of those juicers at home!

After lunch we headed to Banana Beach. Eilon picked up his kayaks and the girls took off into the sea. They did great, each on their own kayak, I of course, had my heard in my mouth the entire time they were on the sea. And being the woos, well, lazy person I am, I sat on the beach and enjoyed a beer as I watched. Great beach - we may head back there on Sunday.

Eilon dropped us back at the hotel, we said our good-byes, and ran upstairs to the business lounge (free food and drinks for Chris the macher), and watched the sun set over the Mediterranean - very pretty. Some rousing games of Rummycube, and here we are.

Tomorrow we head out to see Dorit. Steve, I will call you at some point during the day to see if tomorrow evening is still a posibility or not. I think the girls may end up ordering room service, allowing us to have our one and only adult evening - still not sure. Can't complain though - after Becky's single meltdown last Sunday, it's been a fantastic week with them.

Funny to think you all are in the midst of your day as ours is ending.

Anyway, off to Manta Ray for dinner shortly. Shalom for now.

November 11, 2006

Our Last 36 Hours Begin

Well, it's real sad that our trip is coming to a close. I'm so glad that we're spending the day at Dorit's (very kind of her to invite us). It gives us one last special thing to do before we pack the bags and "kill time" until our flight.

We're not leaving the hotel until eight tomorrow night so I promised Sammi some last minute shopping tomorrow and if it's nice, some time hanging on the beach, playing RummyCube. So if anyone has any more shopping suggestions....specifically, she regrets not purchasing a mezzuzzah she saw on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem, so we're looking for those. Actually, she wants us to go back to Jerusalem for the day tomorrow, which if it's cloudy/rainy I may consider (but do not tell Chris).

Dinner last night was good. Hoping place right on the water. Chris had roasted scallops and shrimp, I had Croaker with pumpkin chutney and dijon potatoes, the girls had fried calamari. We all agree though that Dolphin Yam was better but Manta Ray was still good. We were all tired, so we skipped dessert and returned to the hotel.

Quote of the day, "Cats are the squirrels of Israel."

November 12, 2006

Our Last Morning

Well today we wake to the second worst day weatherwise of the trip but still can't complain. It's slightly overcast and hazy but still not bad. Perfectly fine for walking around Tel Aviv.

Had a fabulous time yesterday at Dorit's house. She and her family were warm and inviting and man can she cook! As Chris said, "She can put the bedouins to shame." It was great touring the Moshav and the area around and learning that really life (especially the politics of schools) isn't much different in Israel than in New Jersey.

We were so stuffed when we returned, we just hung out in the business lounge, drinking sodas, nibbling on Japanese rice snacks, and playing rummy cube. Sad to say, I'm still leading Becky and Sammi in our tournament by 300 points :D.

Afterwards, we all climbed into our bed, and watched Legally Blond on Sammi's dvd player, as Chris had never seen it. Finally got to sleep a bit after 11.

On tap for today - Chris went for a long run. The girls and I will have some breakfast and do a bit of packing (we have to be out of the girls room at noon but can keep ours until 4:00), and then what else? Shopping! If the weather clears a bit, we'll probably end the day on the beach before we grab a light dinner and head to the airport.

Eight Hours and Counting

Well, we made what I hope will be our final contributions to the Israeli economy this morning. A short walk down Ben Yehuda street produced a bracelet for me, a mezzuzah and scroll for Sammi, chocolate eggs, a necklace for Becky, some gifts for Chris's dad and aunt, a Bible for Chris, and another necklace for Sammi. We topped it off with some delicious gelato.

Oh and the sun burned off the haze so we have another beautiful day. Now, we're finishing our packing - surprisingly we don't need the extra suitcase, then we're off for some falafel and a few hours on the beach.

Unless Chris logs on later to do some work this probably will really be the last update until tomorrow. Yeah, I know I've said that before.

Have a good day all.

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