I travel a lot for work and so don’t normally get too excited about it – in fact it gets pretty old most of the time. Every once in a while however, I get a chance to go somewhere completely new to me and that gets rid of that blasé attitude in a hurry!
Last week I went to Israel – yes it was for work, but I was really looking forward to the trip – I love to experience the culture of new places and Israel has such a storied history.
I stayed in Tel Aviv, which is a lively modern city on the Mediterranean sea – sadly the hotel was not on the beach – next time LOL
I managed to get some sight seeing done in the evenings after work The team I was visiting took me out for a traditional hummus and falafel lunch on the first day Yum! A bit more hummus than I am used to eating in one sitting but it was really good.
That evening my traveling companion/co worker and I took a cab to Rothchild street to walk around and see some of the Bauhaus architecture that part of the city is famous for. This was a fun street to people watch on – lots of people out for a stroll, taking their dogs for a walk or sitting in cafes and restaurants. We ate at a lovely restaurant called Shulchan which is Hebrew for table. The food was absolutely delicious!
Monday night the Israeli team took us to dinner at Jaffa Port – Jaffa is an old fishing town that has now been incorporated into Tel Aviv – however it is a completely different vibe – old buildings with winding streets and stone plazas – I loved it and wished I had been able to spend the day strolling around and being a tourist. Again, we had a fantastic dinner at Kalamata with many shared courses sitting outside in the mild evening air.
Israeli food is a bit of a mix between a few different influences, Mediterranean, Arabic and of course Jewish. There are a lot of fresh vegetable dishes – I even ate beets for the first time in many years and actually liked them!!! I also was told to try a fantastic arabic dessert called kanafeh that has cheese , hair fine pasta (or perhaps pastry), pistachios and sweet syrup – it was as amazing as promised – I will have to see if it is possible to make it myself.
The next night I took the design team out for dinner and they recommended Kitchen Market in Tel Aviv port – completely different. Much more modern boardwalk along the sea and a lovely little restaurant above a farmer’s market. We watched the sun set over the Mediterranean and again had a dinner with many courses and some amazing desserts!
We saw the minister of Justice -Tzipi Livni – strolling along with her husband which was quite a surprise for everyone – she has been instrumental in the recent, but sadly stalled, peace talks that Secretary of State Kerry has been involved in.
On our last day, a couple of the Israeli team drove us into Jerusalem for a bit of sightseeing before leaving the next morning. It is about an hour away but traffic before the upcoming Passover holiday made it slow going. We drove through some of the ultra orthodox areas on our way which was a little rundown.
This is a topic of much debate and tension recently – my description of it is likely simplistic since I am no expert but the problem as I understand it, is this – For religious reasons these families do not believe in working in the secular world and want to practice their life of prayer in peace without any interference. However the challenge is they have little income, the government apparently has to subsidize them and they do not participate in Israel’s draft, citing the same religious reasons. There is a new law that is being passed to say that they must participate in the draft like everyone else. As you can imagine this is causing heated debate. I can see both sides points – on the one hand wanting to live according to your own beliefs, but on the other hand not wanting to subsidize people who do not have to make the same contribution to society as you must.
Once we arrived in the old city I was amazed to see so much history crammed into one relatively small place – this is the the most sacred place in a number of different religions and its often violent history makes it a truly fascinating place to be. It is a magnet for tourists and religious pilgrims from around the world. I could have spent a week there alone but I did my best to take advantage of the few hours that we had.
We took the underground tour that brings you down to the original street level of the Western Wall – we are talking built in Herod’s time!!! I can’t begin to describe how it felt to be walking on 2000 year old stones and touching the 2000 year old wall. We saw the old cisterns that provided water for the temple and the city above and heard about the history of the holiest place on earth. I am no stranger to history – growing up in Ireland it is common to see castles built in 1100AD etc but we are talking built in 70 BC – anyway you look at it that is really freaking old LOL
Once back out in the sunshine we visited the more visible part Western Wall – men and women are separated and traditionally you write a prayer or wish on a piece of paper and roll it up and cram it into the crevices in the wall.
We wandered around the market where I picked up souvenirs and gifts – you need to be willing to haggle big time here – fortunately I had some no nonsense locals to help me out with this LOL. I bought a beautiful necklace made from silver and 2000 year old Roman glass for myself. Not being religious, this was the perfect souvenir for me and I got it for less than half what he asked originally. Mind you, this elaborate, theatrical haggling session involved flinging arms in the air and walking out of the store because the price was so terrible, only to be chased after by the shopkeeper begging us to come back for a new and special deal that was putting him in the poor house – this happened three times – I kid you not! I was having a hard time keeping a straight face and would never have done that on my own.
On a high after my complete bargain, I picked up some beautiful hand painted Armenian pottery, some intricate mother of pearl inlaid boxes, hand carved olive wood boxes and a few other trinkets to give to friends and family.
We wandered around the streets and saw he Tower of David and a beautiful park with lighted fountain that the local kids where playing in, before having dinner at Eucalyptus in the Artist Colony. Again this was a tasting menu, comprised of approximately eleventy billion courses that went on for hours LOL. It was all fantastic but I could barely manage the desserts at the end. We had Maqluba as one of the courses which is apparently a special dish that you have to circle your hand above 7 times and make a wish before turing it out on a plate – it is mostly rice and chicken and quite good. The chef came out to chat with us and it was a great evening.
Finally we headed back to the hotel and a 4am start for the 28 hours trip back to the US. Next time I go I will tack a few days on so I can spend more time wandering around and absorbing all the history and, of course, eating at many more restaurants :)