Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Back in Israel June 2017

Almost 2-1/2 years after my first trip, I'm back in Israel again. This time it's a family trip -- Mike, Kate, Sam, and Nancy. Actually, I didn't blog while we were there (June 4 to 11) -- the WiFi in our Jerusalem hotel was spotty and we did more things in the evening, so I never got around to it. So this is being written almost a month after we got back. When you click on the links to the photos, it takes you to that day's album. If you click on the first photo, you can go through each photo and see the captions.

Day 1 -- Sunday, June 4 
We had a late Saturday night flight (about 10:45 pm), arriving in Israel around 4 pm on Sunday. Got through Immigration and customs easily -- luggage didn't take too long. Our cousin Ahuva had arranged for a taxi to meet us -- which he did. We made it to our hotel, Little House in Rehavia where Kate and I stayed on our first trip, by about 5:30 pm. We unpacked a little and Kate, Sam, and I took a quick walk to the edge of the Old City to show it to Sam. Interesting posters reflecting a recent visitor to Israel. And then off to dinner at Ahuva and Jon's apartment. As it wasn't Shabbat, you'll see a photo of us with Ahuva.

One of the fun things in our hotel are the posters with inspirational sayings. I took photos of many of them. Probably my favorite is "Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day."

And then to sleep -- it was a long day.   Photos Day 1 

Day 2 -- Monday, June 5 
Yay Israeli breakfast! All sorts of salads, yogurt, bread, etc. Nancy, Kate, and Sam set off for the Old City, starting at the Tower of David. I'd pre-purchased combo tickets for the museum and the Night Spectacular (light and sound show) which we will attend in the evening. We'll be meeting up with our Rabbi and her family -- she's on Sabbatical and they have been living in Jerusalem since January. The Tower of David is an important historical and archaeological site. Within its ancient guardrooms, the museum tells the 4000 year old story of the city. It focuses on the central events that took place in the different periods of Jerusalem's history and on the sanctity of the city for each of the three monotheistic faiths. (This was summarized from the brochure.) It was a lot more fun climbing around outside than our last visit -- no rain or snow making it slippery. Of course it was hot. 

From there we did the southern Ramparts Walk -- along the top of the wall running around the Old City. The young man at the ticket counter looked at Kate and Sam and said "18 Shekels". Then he looked at Nancy and said "You're old; I think there's another word for that. 8 Shekels." I decided for a savings of 10 Shekels, I wouldn't correct him but accept his translation of Senior. (At the time of our visit a Shekel was worth $0.28). It was an interesting walk -- fantastic views of the city but hot and there were stairs. We did have a nice view of the Armenian section of the Old City. And it ended near the Dung Gate, which brought us into the city near the Kotel -- the Western Wall. It was fascinating to see an artificial turf soccer field amidst the ancient buildings. I will have to admit that I don't really find the Western Wall spiritual and amazing, knowing that many of the people there would not be happy about me praying there [since we came home, Prime Minister Netanyahu reneged on his agreement with the Women of the Wall to allow for an egalitarian place of prayer at the Wall]. You can see women hanging over the divider in order to watch a Bar Mitzvah on the men's side.

The area with the columns is the Cardio -- the main thoroughfare from the Romans. Lunch was at our favorite grill -- Shwarma and falafel and grapefruit juice. We wandered around the Jewish Quarter. Note the Israeli soldiers who were visiting the Wall. Eventually we found our way back to the Jaffa Gate (by the Tower of David) and strolled back along the outdoor Mamilia Mall. We stopped for some "medicinal" gelato (it was hot -- we needed to cool off). You will see a photo of the street entertainer -- an older, Chasidic Jew who was initially playing "Let It Be". Next song was Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry". And the last we heard was Lead Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven". I was muttering, these are so not your values. I can only assume this was a child of the sixties who moved to Israel and became religious.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Mike was on the outdoor deck on our floor of the hotel (see the photos of the kumquat trees and flowers). Later we met Rabbi Debra and daughter Hannah Mathilda at a restaurant in Mamilia Mall. Sam tried the fish special for the evening (look at the size of the lemon), Nancy had a salad and, of course, a mint lemonade smoothie. And then there were the desserts. As we walked to the Tower of David, we were joined by Rabbi Debra's husband Craig and their son Emmett (he had a piano lesson earlier). Didn't think to take photos of them. Did get some photos of the full moon over the Tower of David (no photos allowed during the Night Spectacular). Here's a link to the Tower of David. And here's a link that describes the Night Spectacular -- you can click on a short video with excerpts from the show.

Photos Day 2

Day 3 -- Tuesday, June 6
Sam started the morning with a run -- he'd gotten directions to an old train station where the tracks had been converted to a walking/running path. Another yummy breakfast and then we took a taxi to Yad Vashem (the Israeli Holocaust complex). Unlike some other recent visitors, we spent the entire morning there. We all went through the main exhibit, the Holocaust History Museum. It's a long hallway with nine galleries on either side that tell the story of the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective. The chronological and thematic narrative is punctuated by a look into the world of Jews who lived -- and died -- under the Nazis and their collaborators. The exhibits incorporate a wide variety of original artifacts, testimonies (videos and written), photographs, documentation, art, and multimedia displays. (from the brochure) No photos were allowed but at the very end of the hallway is a beautiful view over the valley below -- a reminder of life. We also went through the children's memorial (again no photos allowed), which is hollowed out from an underground cavern. It's dark inside, children's photos show briefly, there are "stars" (lights) representing the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered, and you hear the names of the children with their ages and country of origin. Definitely a chilling experience. As I remarked on my first visit, here they do not speak about people being killed or dying -- they were murdered. We did enjoy coffee "smoothies" (or as they call it, iced coffee) before Mike took a taxi back to the hotel and Nancy, Kate, and Sam took the Light Rail to Machane Yehuda -- the Market.

First stop was for lunch at a very nice Lebanese restaurant. We took the waitress's advice and each ordered a different dish she recommended. Needless to say -- one dish was large enough to feed all three of us. My favorite was the rice dish Sam ordered -- the spices were incredible. My dish was good. Kate's roast eggplant with falafel was huge (there are photos). We then found the spice guy we'd discovered on our first trip. He gave us sample of all sorts of things to try -- another meal. Sam bought some spice mixes for a friend who likes to cook and some tea mixes. Nancy bought tea mixes and crystallized ginger (sweetened with date honey not sugar so there aren't any sugar crystal -- but the ginger is really, really strong!) and dried litchi. We also stopped for Etrog mint lemonade at the Etrog Man's stand. Then we wandered back along Jaffa St., eventually found Ben Yehuda St. and its pedestrian mall. Cool things that we saw (and that are in the photos) are a Trompe-l'œil mural, sign for a Kosher McDonalds, and the 24/6 Market (of course it's closed for Shabbat). Monday evening, Hannah Mathilda told us about a less than great poem she saw in a poetry contest. We found banners/signs hanging along Ben Yehuda St. with poems from the contest (I was going to link to the website but it doesn't have anything about these poems only others). And then back to the hotel. Later in the day, Nancy and Kate joined Ahuva at the dedication of a sculpture of an olive tree -- a joint project between an Israeli artist (a friend of Ahuva) and an Arab artist. The mayor of Jerusalem did not show up, but one of his Commissioners did. On the walk back we saw the Belgian consulate and the street that Prime Minister Nethanyahu lives on. We attempted to have a light dinner (salads, veggie sandwiches) at Shush Cafe (down the block from our hotel). There is no such thing as a light meal.

Day 3 photos

Day 4 -- Wednesday, June 7
Sam started the morning with another run -- through the large park near us. Mike and Nancy took a taxi to the Israel Museum and met Kate and Sam who walked there. Once we were inside, we agreed on the time to meet in the gift shop and Mike and Sam went off on their own while Nancy and Kate stayed together. We saw three interesting special exhibits. The first, No Place Like Home (sponsored by Ikea, big banner in the gift shop), looking at different rooms in the home as well as typical objects used in untypical ways. (see the photos) Next was Ai Weiwei's exhibit Maybe, Maybe Not. From the museum's description: "For the first time in Israel, a solo exhibition by multi-disciplinary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who addresses such timely issues as human rights and freedom of expression, as well as attitudes towards migrants, labor, and mass production." He was in the news this past year because Lego wasn't going to sell him Legos for one of his projects (they said they didn't want to promote protests), so people from around the world sent him Legos. You'll see in the photos that one of his displays includes a large number of ceramic sunflower seeds. As Kate said, only in Israel would there be a sign cautioning people to not try to eat them. The next special exhibit was "In Full Color: 60 Years of Design by Dan Reisinger". From the museum: "An extensive survey of the work of the prolific graphic designer, Dan Reisinger, whose impact on Israel's visual language continues to be felt in our time. Reisinger's designs reflect both aesthetic developments and the evolution of Israeli society." Among other things, he did extensive design for El Al airlines. Besides photos from the exhibit, you'll see in the photos the perpetual calendar I bought in the gift shop. We also went to the exhibits of synagogues from around the world including India. The exhibit we missed was Cats and Dogs -- based on things we bought in the gift shop, it looks like it was a lot of fun. 

We all had lunch at the museum (interesting salads and sandwiches) and Nancy, Kate, and Sam had coffee smoothies. Mike then took a taxi back to the hotel while we went across the street to visit the Rose Garden. The last time Kate and I were here, there was snow (an entire 1 to 2 inches!) which kept the museum closed and brought everyone out to build snowmen. It was fun to see the roses without the snow. As we were walking along by the Knesset (the Israeli equivalent of the US Capital Building), Nancy was surprised to smell lavender. She discovered the "shrubs" along the sidewalk were actually lavender plants -- WOW!

At one point in the park, we saw a very different looking bird (Kate described it as having chopsticks for a beak but a crest like a blue jay or cardinal). It was a Hoopoe -- the national bird of Israel. I took some blurry photos but here's a link to an article about it so you can really see what it looks like. We also got to see a group of Israeli soldiers picnicking and relaxing in the park. On our walk back to the hotel, we passed the Monastery of the Cross (very old, it's name reflects the legend that the wood for the cross associated with Jesus came from trees in this valley).

Back at the hotel we finished packing and then waited outside for our taxi to take us to Tel Aviv. I neglected to take a photo of Mike's suitcase carefully tied onto the luggage rack on the trunk of the taxi. It made it to Tel Aviv.

It was delightful to be back at the Lily and Bloom Hotel that Mike and Nancy stayed at at the start of our synagogue trip to Israel. We were greeted with cool glasses of water, the lady at the desk not only accompanied us up to our rooms but manhandled my suitcase. After we settled in, we walked the few blocks to Rothschild Boulevard and met our other cousin, Lois, at our favorite restaurant, Rustico. We had a lovely anniversary dinner (yes, 47 years). Mushroom pizza for Kate, fish special for Sam, Nancy and Mike both had the mushroom risotto. Then Lois took us a few blocks up the street and treated us to gelato for our anniversary.

Day 4 photos

Day 5 -- Thursday, June 8
The breakfast spread is far more extensive here -- you can get custom made eggs, coffee, espresso, cappuccino, tea, and more. The evening before, the helpful lady at the front desk printed out train schedules to and from Akko and told us to ask at the desk the next morning for a taxi to take us to the nearest train station. Once we decided which train we wanted (Nancy, Kate, and Sam), we asked for a taxi. The man at the desk said as it was rush hour, we'd do better going up to the corner and taking the sherut (a sort of mini-van/mini-bus). He did write the name of the train station in Hebrew on a piece of paper for me. It was quite the experience -- apparently they run on a very tight schedule so you're expected to jump on and sit. Money for fares gets passed up to the driver and change passed back. I was surprised to get a handful of change back -- I thought the fare was 6 sheckels so gave him a 20-sheckel bill. It's actually 5.90 sheckels so I got back 2 sheckels plus a bunch of agrot (they're like cents, 100 to a sheckel). I've yet to have figured out how to spend agrots. We easily made our train (were able to buy our tickets with our credit card from a machine) and found seats together. I took photos from the train -- we passed by the Tel Aviv University station, Haifa, a lot of interesting scenery (including the Mediterranean on our left), and finally reached Akko.

Akko (also known as Acre) is in the northern part of Israel, on the Mediterranean Sea. See Wikipedia page showing location on a map of Israel. We'd been told it was a relatively short walk from the train station to Old Akko. It would have been if there had actually been signs pointing the way (I'm convinced the taxi drivers stole the signs.) Kate was happy as we passed a fire station. Sam and Kate's instincts were good -- walk towards the water and then turn right to get to Old Akko. That was working fine -- we got to the water. Unfortunately between us and Old Akko was a naval base. We didn't think they'd let us cut through so we had to partially retrace our steps. Eventually we got there and found the ticket booth where we could get a map in English and combo ticket for a number of the attractions (we skipped the Turkish Baths), which included a ticket for the restrooms. Here's a website for Old Akko which is a good supplement to my photos. Old Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a mix of many religions (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Baha'i). "The important land routes meeting here are the north-south one following the coast and the road cutting inland; Acre also benefits from one of the very rare natural harbours on the coast of Israel. This location helped it become one of the oldest cities in the world, continuously inhabited since the Middle Bronze Age some 4000 years ago." The Crusaders were here, the Ottoman Empire was here. During the British occupation of Palestine, they converted the old fort to a jail. Among the inmates were members of the Jewish underground fighters. While trying to dig an escape route, they discovered the underground Crusaders Citadel. You'll see photos as we wandered through the Citadel. Near the end, instead of a gift shop, there were crafters booths. Of course I gravitated to the glassblower. I picked out a pretty pair of glass earrings which Kate and Sam got for me as a belated Mother's Day present.

We then wandered through the Okashi Art Museum (he only sounds Japanese, he was an Israeli who did incredible landscapes). Then we wandered through the various markets and found a place for lunch. I was instructed not to make eye contact with the cats who were hoping to share. During lunch, Sam was asking Kate for various phrases in Hebrew. At one point he asked how to say "too much food" -- but then said, "trick question, there's no such thing as too much food in Israel." The Templars' Tunnel took us down to the waterfront. Eventually we were able to make our way back to the Underground Prisoners' Museum. As it is run by the Israel Department of Defense, security was a little tighter getting in. It was fascinating, sad, and uplifting (for those who've read Exodus, the prison break is an important part of the story). We saw more old walls, wandered the ramparts, saw lantana bushes (here in NJ we're lucky to grow them in small pots!), and finished up at the Treasures in the Wall museum. I thought it was going to be artifacts found while they were restoring the old walls. "Acre's Treasures in the Walls museum presents life in the Galilee during the 19th and early 20th centuries through crafts, art - even children's books." I especially took photos of old glass.

We strolled back to the train station, bought our tickets and something cold to drink, and headed back to Tel Aviv. The train had more passengers -- lots of soldiers heading home for the weekend (they get Friday and Saturday off). My favorite was the young man in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops with a huge gun hanging over his shoulder. Also the young woman in uniform with a Victoria Secret's bag.

We took a taxi back to the hotel, cooled off a little, and then headed out to dinner. Our helpful people at the desk made a reservation for us at a Georgian (as in Russian) restaurant. It was quite the adventure -- they didn't open until 8 pm (which is when we arrived) and were only just starting to fill up by the time we left. As usual, way too much food. Mike also had a good day -- he spent part of it at the beach relaxing and part of it on the outside deck at the hotel.

Day 5 Photos

Day 6, Friday, June 9
After another yummy breakfast, we set out for Independence Hall. We joined several tour groups for the presentation on the declaration of Israel's independence, Friday, May 14, 1948. At the time the building was the original Tel Aviv Art Museum (the artwork in the photos are reproductions -- the originals are in the current museum). We heard a recording of the original broadcast and sang along to Hatikvah. Very, very moving. From there we had hoped to visit the Haganah Museum (one of the underground Israeli defense groups). According to our map, it was only a block or two away but we couldn't find it. Finally I went back into Independence Hall and asked the man at the desk where it was. He gave me directions (across the street, up a block) and then said "But it's not open on Fridays."

 We went through Neve Tzedek, the first Jewish settlement in Tel Aviv. It's now full of art galleries and restaurants. From there we went through the Old Train Station -- now shops and restaurants, stopping for something cold to drink. (Did I mention it was really hot?) And then we reached Jaffa Port and Old Jaffa. There are beautiful views of Tel Aviv from the top of Old Jaffa. This was Nancy's third time in Old Jaffa and finally the Wishing Bridge was open! We wandered through the area where the artists shops are, stopping at several favorites. Nancy got another "soft painting". We visited with Kineret Meron, daughter of artist Michal Meron. Nancy's synagogue has a beautiful illustrated Torah done by Michal Meron. Kineret was excited to hear that -- we were considered guests and given cold water to drink and a snack of nuts and dried fruit. Kate visited the Michal Maron gallery in Venice and got to meet Michal's husband as she was in Israel at the time. When we were in Israel, Michal was in Venice. We each bought a few prints.

Then back down to the port area and lunch at an outdoor Greek restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean. Lots of food. We headed back to the hotel. Things were busier than usual as the Tel Aviv Gay Pride parade took place earlier in the day. There were lots of people enjoying themselves. Dinner was interesting (a polite way of saying not so great).

Day 6 Photos

 Day 7, Saturday, June 10

 Sam started the day with a run along the walkway along the beach. After another good breakfast, Nancy, Kate, and Sam walked the pedestrian walkway on Rothschild Boulevard to the other end. This led us past the complex with the concert hall and theater (Les Miz!) and eventually to the Tel Aviv Art Museum. Unlike my last visit, we entered through the annex and found a fascinating exhibit on "Constructive Responses to Natural Disasters". There were displays for Hurricane Katarina, the Tsunami in Japan, Haiti earthquake, and others. There are many groups and organizations working on how to better respond to these types of disasters and help the refugees. Kate, who has a certificate in Disaster Preparedness and Response, really liked this and was able to get a book about the exhibit in the gift shop. Then we got to the museum proper and enjoyed the artwork, especially the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists (including Marc Chagall!) We went out through the main entrance to the sculpture garden (note the cat who found a nice shady spot to nap). We found a nice place for lunch (mint lemonade!) and then we went to the beach. We didn't rent lounge chairs, just walked down to the water and got our feet wet. Then some cold drinks (in beer cups!) -- mint lemonade slushy for Nancy, passion fruit slushy for Sam, and a coffee slushy for Kate. Our last dinner in Tel Aviv was back at Rustico (having cleverly stopped by in the afternoon to make a reservation). Mushroom risotto again, Kate and Sam shared a pizza, a dessert that could have fed dozens of us (focaccia bread spread with Nutella and mascarpone cheese and baked). And then it was back to the hotel to pack.

Day 7 Photos

Day 8, Sunday, June 11

 A nice big taxi that fit all of us and our luggage. We'd been warned to get to the airport early to get through security. We made it through so early the United counter wasn't open yet. Eventually we were able to check in and check our luggage. Then back through Immigration. We spent time in the Dan Club (the El Al club, part of United's Star Alliance). Then some more security and finally on the plane. It's a longer flight back (going against headwinds). I watched Moana (delightful) and the very first Star Wars (to me it will always be "the first" Star Wars movie). US Customs wasn't too bad, the wait for our luggage wasn't awful. We made it home! As usual, it took a while to get my body back in sync with the time zone.

It was a good trip. Got to see family again. Revisited things we'd enjoyed in the past. Added some new places and experiences. Still have things we didn't get to see. I hope my next trip is in the spring -- no snow, flowers, and not as hot. (Kate says Purim is a wonderful time to be in Jerusalem, so that may be what we aim for.)