Three Days in Eilat

I’m writing this sitting on a lovely balcony overlooking the city of Eilat and the Red Sea. Terri, Shoshana, Karl  and I elected the less expensive but not at all unpleasant route of vacationing in an Israeli “youth hostel”.  I put “youth hostel” in quotes for the obvious reason that even Sho and Karl would be stretching the notion of “youth” much less Terri and me, but the Israeli Youth Hostel association is happy to host us old fogies as long as there is sufficient room.

A room for four, including breakfast, is about the same cost as the hotel room for two we had in Arad, and this place is in its own way magnificent. The rooms open to interior corridors that then open to this wide public balcony with fabulous views towards the hotel district and out to the sea. The breakfast isn’t quite as good as what we had in Arad, but it has fresh, healthful food so there is nothing to complain about. Well, maybe the coffee. 🙂

The weather in Eilat has been fabulous. Crystal clear with temperatures in the mid-80s. We arrived last night about 9pm after a five hour bus ride from Tel Aviv. We didn’t know much about how such a long distance route would be handled. They actually provided two rest stops where we could use the facilities and purchase food. At the second, unfortunately, there was such a mob scene that we had no time to get any food. But that just meant we would be pretty hungry when we did find a good restaurant in Eilat.

As I said, we arrived about 9pm and after a brief get-acquainted session with our new digs, we headed out to the restaurant recommended by our host called Pago Pago. It turned out to be a floating sea food restaurant in the heart of the hotel district, but that was just fine with Terri and Karl. Shoshana and I ordered chicken and Thai vegetarian salad respectively. Terri had a local fish and Karl the sushi banquet. Everyone was very happy. The French onion soup was particularly good. I also had my first sushi—one of the vegetarian varieties made with egg.

The evening cooled down nicely and we slept without need of an air conditioner.

After the perfectly serviceable hostel breakfast we headed for the wonderful coral sea aquarium. The glass bottom boat was not operating on Sunday, but they explained that if we purchased the full ticket we could return on Monday for the voyage out into the Red Sea and enjoy the aquarium both days, so that’s what we did. The aquarium is beautifully done with a few nods to Disney. There is a film in which the audience moves (literally) into the action. The theme is a little hoaky and clearly kid-oriented, but our family is used to Disney, so I think we all enjoyed it. The techs held a number feeding demonstrations throughout the park, so we went to the shark, turtle and various other fish feedings. Most of the exhibits were signed in both Hebrew and English.

The heart of the aquarium is a view of the coral reef achieved by walking down into an undersea observatory.  We spent about an hour marveling at the fabulous views of fish and coral.

After a quick snack we exited the aquarium and after a short walk discovered a shop that sold drinks and such right on a rocky beach. We dawdled there another couple of hours and everyone except me headed into the waters of the Red Sea. I did get my feet wet, but that’s about all I could stand.

From there a quick cab ride got us back to the hostel (I love traveling with four because that’s the point where the taxi is the same or even less fare than the bus). We dined at a Brazilian restaurant that featured unlimited portions of a variety of mostly kosher meats. The deserts that followed probably violated the spirit of the Law. But we’re on vacation in Eilat, after all.

Monday 1/11/10

We retraced our steps to the aquarium and viewed a few exhibits we had not seen yesterday, then it was “all aboard” for our one boat ride of this trip–the “glass bottom” boat view of the coral reef. Actually it wasn’t so much glass bottom as portholes-below-sea-level, but it was fun. Our guide Anat was young, serious and reasonably knowledgeable. She told us afterward that she acquired her knowledge “on the job”–but Karl was impressed enough to quiz her about the nature of what is killing the coral in some detail. Actually so much detail that the boat was in the process of casting off for the next group before we could get off. Terri and Sho were mildly annoyed at the “boys”–they thought we had got Anat in some trouble with management but I’m pretty sure everything was fine.

From there back to our favorite beach/lunch spot. Sho And Terri went for a brief snorkling session, Karl went out for about an hour. We had a nice lunch of hummus and Israeli style pizza. The hummus was served with zhug, my favorite salsa.

Then it was time for me to get in the Red Sea. I desperately wanted somewhere where I didn’t have to worry about my feet, so we agreed to go over to the public (sand) beach. When we arrived, on closer inspection there was broken glass everywhere, so I was sorry I had not gone in where they did. But getting in seemed mandatory so I slowly made my way across the sand in my new Crocs and then slowly entered the chilly Red Sea. Once I was all the way in, it was clearly not cold–just seemed that way due to the difference between the air and water temperature. Finally acclimated, I took a nice little swim that probably didn’t amount to more than a swimming pool length, but there I was.

That evening we set out for a restaurant called Eddie’s Hideaway, and hidden it was. First of all, we left early so we took a stroll through the hotel district not realizing that this would put us on the wrong side of Eilat’s airport. We briefly contemplated climbing the barb wire fence to cross the airfield, but the thought of being shot by snipers alleviated that notion. So we backtracked much of the length of the airport to get around the other side.

From there we climbed a steep hill past the Central Bus Station. Terri had done a great job of steering us towards the street (“HaAlmogim”). Even better, she realized at exactly the right moment we were lost and I entered a hotel to ask the clerk where the restaurant was. It turned out that Almogim Street makes a left turn. We had only passed the turn by a few steps and soon enough we were at the location described by the clerk–a little square with Eddie’s located at the end of the alley.

Eddies is outfitted nicely with a quaint bar and many tables covered with white linen. After drinks (I overindulged on two shots of Jameson) our dinners arrived. I had the pasta carbonera (yes, it was authentic, after all we were in Eilat). Karl had the meat lasagna, and Terri had the Denis fish, a whole fish served but without the head in deference to my silly sensibilities. At the moment I can’t recall what Shoshana ate. We split a wonderful apple concoction for desert. And then it was time to venture home. At least it was downhill!

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