Of Hotels in Arad

We stayed at the Inbar Hotel for our trip to Arad and the Dead Sea and it had its fair share of peculiarities. The hotel room itself was just fine–comfortable bed, nice bathroom, plenty of hot water. There was actually a bathtub, but the hotel thoughtfully leaves out the stopper so that one can’t actually take a bath. Actually this seems to be an Israeli custom. Our sink in our apartment also has no stopper which makes it inconvenient to shave (in the case of the bathroom sink) and inconvenient to wash dishes (in the case of the kitchen sink). This seems paradoxical to me since using a stopper for these activities allows for the use of much less water. But I digress–back to Inbar Arad.

The most peculiar aspect of the Hotel Inbar is that it styles itself “Inbar Internet Arad” . But there is no access to the Internet from any of the rooms and guests have to purchase Internet access at additional cost (which can only be accessed from the lobby and dining room). There is a computer terminal in the lobby, but if you need something printed, the only way is to email the person at the front desk who may be able to download it to the hotel printer.

Breakfast at the Inbar is the usually expected (and much anticipated) feast. To the left are the hot dishes–Shakshouka, hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs (oddly named “hard cooked”), strudel and french toast. Nearby, hot cereal with a variety of toppings (ground cinnamon, etc). Then come the cheeses–about 10 varieties. In the middle, a variety of fish dishes, fruit compotes and cold cereals. On the right, about 20 kinds of salads. The only drawback was that the staff couldn’t seem to keep the hot dishes hot. But I doubt anyone left hungry. I discovered that I could make a delicious breakfast sandwich by splitting a roll and filing it with scrambled eggs, shakshouka sauce, yellow cheese and Israeli salsa (chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumber in a light vinagrette).

When you get a key to this hotel (and I suspect its generally true), in addition to the key there is a large white plate (about the size of a credit card). This must be inserted into a slot near the door in order to turn on the electricity in the room. I guess that prevents guests from abusing the lights. I think someone told me it was primarily designed to prevent the use of the air conditioner when guests are not in the room.

For reasons I didn’t understand, there is a lovely pool which is open only in the morning when most guests would be wanting to tour.

If this sounds “bitchy” its not intended to be so. We enjoyed our stay in the Inbar and would gladly stay there again.

Arad 12/28/09

Another minor travel snafu–no trains to Beer Sheva!

As it turned out, there were buses to Beer Sheva right outside the train station, so we actually arrived in Arad on schedule.

There isn’t much to do here in the off season. Hard to find transportation or organized tours. The hotel seems nice enough, but the staff are pretty clueless as is our experience in the rest of the country.

Ephy tried to take us to the site of my Arad school (thirty five years ago), but he confused WUJS with the Jewish Agency, so it was a nice walk to nowhere.

There is a “Visitors Center.” When we got there we found it closed for the afternoon siesta. Eventually we got in and discovered that it was mostly a sales shop for Dead Sea products. Arad is now where many of these products are manufactured. Although the first person I encountered was of no assistance, we were eventually introduced to a woman who was knowledgeable and helpful! She even knew where the old WUJS Institute was located, so I still plan to see the site of my youthful wanderings.

Siesta sounded like a good idea, so I am writing this after a nice nap.

Tomorrow we hope to find our way to Masada.

Jerusalem 12/27/09

I’m actually writing this in the lobby of the Inbar Hotel in Arad on the 28th. Just to create a few notes about the past 24 hours or so.

We spent the 27th in Jerusalem. We arrived via Sheirut, walked to the Damascus Gate and bought the “combo pass” to the Roman underground, Ramparts walk, and the Davidson Center Archaeological Park. The Roman underground was probably more interesting for me than Ephy or Terri, but the Ramparts walk was fun for all and the Davidson Center was a hit for everyone. I got some fantastic photos of the southwestern and southern temple mount enclosure walls (some to be posted later). Terri pronounced this the most emotionally moving and satisfying part of our journey’s thus far, and we overheard Ephy telling his friends that it was “very cool.”

We were left with a few hours before the Young Judaea gala dinner. Terri was fascinated with the idea of seeing Mea Shearim, so she purchased a skirt and kerchief in the Old City and we took a cab to the district. Along the way I picked up a nice but overpriced kippah. We had our stroll (signs posted everywhere telling us we weren’t wanted) and then after striking off in the wrong direction, took a cab to the central mall where Ephy ran into a bunch of his friends. We stayed there sipping coffee until it was time for the dinner, and then it was off to a wonderful evening of entertainment.

The meal was in a restaurant called “Tajin” in the Talpiot district. The restaurant serves Moroccan style food and I don’t think I’ve ever been served so much food at one meal. It started with salad courses, then appetizers including meat pastries, then a meat dish of some sort which I thought was the main dish. Nope. After that, they served the best couscous I have ever tasted, seasoned rice and skewers of shish-kabob. Throughout the evening a talented Israeli singer provided various Israeli hit tunes, folk music and dance music with the usual eruptions of line dancing. There were more courses of food to come, but unfortunately we had to get back to Tel Aviv, so we took our leave a little early.

Shabbat Activities 12/26/09

Terri and I finally got to haYarkon Park this morning. Its a park along the Yarkon river which flows right in front of our apartment building. We walked the mile (mostly within the park) to the Museum of the Land of Israel. The brochure estimates that you can see the entire museum in 3 hours, but that must just be a quick walk through. It took us about an hour and a half just to see one of the 12 exhibit halls and walk through the archaeological dig of Tel Qasile. The exhibit building we visited was the museum of ethnography and folk art. It contained ketubot (Jewish wedding contracts) from all over the world and back to the mid 1700s, and Jewish artifacts of almost every kind such as Torah scroll bindings, kidush cups, and candelabra. At the back of the museum is a fully restored Torah ark from an Italian synagogue that was nothing short of breathtaking.

We had a lovely lunch in the museum’s restaurant (I had fattoush, Terri had a sandwich of walnut bread, goat cheese and roasted vegetables). Then it was back to the museum. I spent most of the next two hours in the numismatic museum, Terri lost patience with me and struck out on her own to see the Dekel gallery next door which featured a history of Tel Aviv. After that we just had time for a quick walk through the remaining exhibit halls–one each for copper, glass, philately, and ceramics. Guess we’ll just have to make another trip.

We walked home through throngs of people using the park. There were people playing soccer, people on bicycles, people in boats on the river, people walking their dogs (there’s even a dog-training area in the park). I had hoped to take a Shabbat nap, but Ephy and Terri had other ideas. We discovered that there would be a 4:20pm showing of the new movie “Sherlock Holmes” so off we went to Diezengoff Center. We took a Sheirut (shared taxi) and the driver told us when to get off. Unfortunately, Ephy misunderstood him and off we went in the wrong direction. But we corrected ourselves in time and got to movie house with time to spare. The movie was just a trifle–the most interesting aspect was to see an adaptation of Conan Doyle to the modern graphic novel. But it was fun.

As we emerged from the movie house, Tel Aviv’s streets were filling with people gathering to celebrate the end of the Sabbath. We had a pleasant dinner in a cafe on Bograshof Street. Terri had vegetarian ravioli and salad, Ephy the chicken schnitzel and I had a very flavorful roast beef sandwich with a great sauce and roasted vegetables. The waitress was a completely ditzy woman of obvious Russian ancestry. She insisted on speaking to us in heavily accented English. Everywhere around us was the life of this wonderful city. We saw a “black hat” young man out with his family. He in his formal black coat and broad rimmed hat, his wife in colorful overcoat and wearing a blond wig, and their six children, all girls. They crossed the street to await a bus–Terri’s comment was that even if the family could afford a car, they don’t make them big enough in Israel for such families. Just across the sidewalk from where we were seated, a homeless man with fairly demonstrated mental illness sat on a bench and ate a supper of noodles. The poor are always with us and I wish there was something we could do for them and in particular for this gentle soul.

After dinner Ephy headed out to visit with his friends and Terri and I took the Sheirut home. We stopped at one of the 3 grocery stores near our apartment, this one is called “Super Baba” (they’re all Super something or other). We stocked up on beverages and Terri’s beloved Elite chocolate.

Tomorrow its back to Jerusalem for a day’s tour followed by the gala dinner for parents of kids in Year Course. We will almost certainly be coming back too late for me to blog, so this will likely be it for a day or two.

Good Bus Drivers and Not-So-Good

We had a modest agenda for today–spend a little time in Yaffo (Jaffa) seeing the things that we just passed by last week. Well, the best laid plans…

First of all, our beloved son didn’t arise until after 10am. Terri and I finally headed out on our own and had breakfast at a new place (for us). Terri had hot cocoa and pastry, I had cappucino and pastry, both were excellent and reasonably priced.

Following breakfast we headed for the supermarket to purchase the makings of Shabbat dinner. We had a couple of near misses–Terri asked for 5 kilos of chicken breasts, but the astonishment of the deli saleswoman informed us that we had made a mistake and we quickly modified that to 1 kilo (2.2 lbs) for the three of us.

Upon returning home and stowing our groceries, Ephy was willing to leave the house. We headed downtown which is in the direction of Yaffo and got off the bus at Diezengoff Center. There we paused for a delicious felafel lunch. This place had little paper plates for taking as much salad as one pleased, so the lunch was particularly tasty and healthy–well as long as you keep the salty things to a reasonable level which I’m probably not capable of.

Ephy heard from a friend and decided to strike off on his own, but he put us on a #19 bus telling us that it would land us right in front of the famous clock tower of Yaffo. Well, no. The bus probably did pass within a mile of the clock tower, but we never saw it. I realized that we had to be beyond Yaffo as I we passed quickly into some sort of overpass. I wanted to get off the bus to catch a return bus on the other side, but I couldn’t see where the return side might be. It was soon clear that we had entered Bat Yam (the city immediately south of Tel Aviv/Yaffo) and I motioned to Terri that we needed to get off, but she refused. Still trusting in the wisdom of our son, Terri was convinced that the bus would make some sort of loop back to Yaffo. After another few stops continuing towards Rishon LeTzion, she finally went to the driver and managed to communicate the problem. He advised her to get off the bus immediately.

We crossed to the other side and awaited a bus back. The number #18 arrived first. We showed the driver our bus pass, and he immediately pronounced them invalid for our area. “That’s only good in Tel Aviv!” he said. I replied that we were in Bat Yam by mistake. He replied, and I must say in a pretty nasty tone, “A mistake is one or two stops. Here you are practically in a different city. You have to pay.” Well, it was a small amount of money, but we had paid for a day pass so I was pretty irritated. Anyway, we paid and off we went north.

After about 15 minutes of our northward procession, I mentioned to Terri that a bus stop was marked for the #25 which is the bus that goes to our apartment. Terri noticed that the intersection was Rothschild and Balfour and said that we must be back in Tel Aviv. I was dubious as it didn’t look like Tel Aviv to me. But we got off the #18 bus and left our cranky driver and climbed on to a #25 bus that arrived soon after. He looked at my pass and said, “That’s only good in Tel Aviv!” I looked at the passenger behind me and he said “You’re in Bat Yam.” I explained what happened to the bus driver, and this one was sympathetic, so Terri and I enjoyed the return trip to our apartment without the need to pay yet another fare.

Yaffo will need to await another day.

After cleaning up a bit, we headed for one of the few Conservative (Masorati) synagogues in the area. Services were very enjoyable. After arriving home, Terri and Ephy cooked a delicious dinner of salad, chicken schnitzel, herbed potatoes and challah. We had an inexpensive but tasty Israeli wine and despite the various tribulations we knew that in some sense we were indeed home.

Where to Find Pots in an Israeli Apartment

Our landlord Eli stopped by for a few minutes to deliver a light bulb and we took the opportunity to ask him if there was a better skillet in the apartment than the one we were using. He looked at us and said, “Did you look under the bed?” With that he went into the bedroom and lifted the mattress foundation. Under that were pots, pans, plates and silverware. Now we know!

Getting into the Groove in Caesaria 12/24/09

Happy X-mas to those who enjoy that holiday. We finally seemed to hit some sort of stride today with a good mix of tourism and enough local knowledge to truly enjoy the day.

After a slow start we breakfasted at our local haunt and headed for the train station. This time we arrived just in time to hop on the local to Benyamina which stops in Caesaria. Alighting in Caesaria, we took the one taxi that was waiting by the station and soon arrived at the “National Park” which is what Israel seems to call just about any location of significance from a simple monument to a vast forest.

Caesaria was an artificial town even at its inception. About 24 BCE or so, Herod ordered an artificial port to be created out of nothing. Fourteen years later, it was finished–a marvel of the Roman Empire. It soon became the largest port in the eastern Mediterranean and featured a theater, amphitheater and hippodrome. There was a palace for the governor, fancy Roman baths and, of course, shops. A few centuries later the Byzantine Christians erected a Church. The Arabs took over in the mid-600s. In the early eleventh century the Crusaders conquered the area and held it for about 200 years. In the late 1200s the Mamelukes overcame the Christian inhabitants, killed them all and completely destroyed the city. It was empty for 6 centuries until resettled in the mid-1800s by of all people–Bosnian Muslims who had been invited there by the Ottomans. In the late 1800s Baron Rothschild purchased the land and eventually a new Jewish population moved in.

When you approach Caesaria, you first see a reconstruction of the Crusader entrance. The ticket booth for the main entrance sits before the bridge that crosses a deep moat. Once inside, the most touristy part of the park is before you–a place of restaurants and shops all tastefully arranged in a central plaza. The visitors center is very nice and provides audio/visual aids in variety and in a variety of languages. We enjoyed a short film and slide presentation.

After I get home I will update this article with some of the photos I took of this remarkable place.

After about 4 hours of peering at the layers of habitation showcased in this park we were ready to head home. We reversed course–taxi, train, bus. This time, though, we continued past the University Station to the Central Train Station where we could take the number 5 bus back to our digs. We’re now awaiting the arrival from Arad of our son after which we will hopefully have a pleasant dinner on a fine night in Tel Aviv.

A Visit To Haifa 12/23/09

We arose not so early and headed for the north Tel Aviv train station (University station). It would have been smooth sailing except that yours truly didn’t remember that the Nehariya train goes to Haifa, so I ignored the first train that would have gotten us there. An hour later we were on our way.

We arrived at Haifa to the breathtaking view up the steep hill of Mt. Carmel. We took a taxi to the top (pausing at the the Terra Santa monastery long enough to determine that it was closed) where we had the incredible views down of Yafe Nof (“Beautiful View”) Street. We entered the top of the Bahai Gardens (security guards very pleasant and helpful). But we could only descend two levels before a locked gate prevented further descent. As it turned out, the gardens are closed on Wednesdays. Another triumph of trip planning!

Undeterred, we headed off on Yafe Nof to Nasi Boulevard and ate lunch at the first clean looking Felafel store we got to (“David’s”) and it was the best we have had so far this trip. Lots of good, fresh salads and interesting sauces to add. From David’s, we took the Carmelit (Israel’s only “subway” which is more of an underground cable car) to the bottom of the hill. From there a taxi to the National Maritime Museum which hosted several good exhibits. Exiting the museum as it closed, we headed back up to the top of the hill–in fact, just a few steps from David’s–for a dinner at the Dante Alleghiri Italian Restaurant, recommended in Frommer’s Guide.

The food was as good as the guide book said and an excellent value. There was a delicious house made bread stuffed with vegetables. Terri had the market salad, salmon over gnocci and vegetables and a pear torte. I had a  beef carpaccio with arugala followed by steak with meat stuffed tortellini. Desert was hot cocoa cake topped with vanilla ice cream. Both of our meals were off the prix fixe menu for 90 NIS or about $25. Highly recommended!

After dinner we boarded the Carmelit for another trip down the hill. It was a nice little walk to the train station–this time we boarded the correct train. One almost misadventure–it wasn’t clear when we arrived at North Tel Aviv whether there were any buses still running! But we did get one of the last buses out of there and arrived home in good time.

All in all, a wonderful day!

Tel Aviv Day 12/22/09

Bet haTfutzot (Museum of the Diaspora)

We’re starting to get the hang of life in Tel Aviv. We found our way to the correct bus stop and purchased two all-day passes. Then it was a quick ride up to Ramat Aviv and the campus of Tel Aviv University where I spent a full academic year (1973/4). I’m afraid I see more and more evidence that I have aged, but it is striking to me when I arrive somewhere I should know and nothing looks familiar. I did remember the street on which I had rented a room in an apartment–Brodetzky. Its perhaps not surprising that I don’t recall much of the campus since there has been quite a few changes there.

On the campus of the University stands Bet haTfutzot, the Museum of the Diaspora. I had seen it once before when it was brand new and something of a technological marvel. It’s a museum without any original exhibits–everything is either audio/visual, facsimile or recreations. A few of the religious artifacts may be authentic, but most are not. In spite of the artificiality, this is a moving and vibrant museum. As I viewed it this time, I realized that the Internet has replaced some of the need. The slide shows and short films that were so marvelous to me back in the day could now be placed on the Net to good purpose and there would be no need to see these things in the museum. The recreations and facsimiles, on the other hand, retain their existential power. It is still better to see a scale model of the complex of buildings used by the Vilna Gaon than it is to see a slide or a film of the same scene. Some of the scenes are half scale, and a few are full scale recreations. Due to my interest in model trains, I found the level of craftsmanship and detail of these buildings nothing short of marvelous.

The other thing that is a bit odd about Bet haTfutzot is that it is actually a museum of everything that is not Israel. The term “Diaspora” refers to the Jewish communities of the world, not Israel. So this is a museum where you can discover the medieval communities of Algiers and Colchin (India), view  a scale model of the Frank Lloyd Wright synagogue of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, or listen to Jewish music from just about everywhere except Israel!

Terri and I spent 5 hours exploring the museum and we finally had to leave without seeing all that we thought might be worth seeing.

A short trek across campus took us to a student restaurant. The place features discounted food for enrolled students–unfortunately I had left my 1973 student ID card back in Ann Arbor–it might have been worth a laugh to present it to our waitress who probably wasn’t born until 10 years after that. Terri had a delicious qinoa with roasted vegetables and I had what was labeled a chicken sandwich. My sandwich came with fresh home made whole grain bread, a delicious red pepper sauce and a fresh green salad. The prices were a little high, but I guess no worse than what I’m used to on the Ann Arbor campus and the food was better.

Exploring Old Tel Aviv

After a brief return home during which Terri whipped up a dinner of eggs and veggies we decided to take a walking tour of nighttime Tel Aviv. Back on the same 25 bus that started from Ramat Aviv and we were soon at the intersection of Allenby and Rothschild. Another couple of blocks along Rothschild took us to Hertzl Street where we met our guide Doron. Doron was a fount of information on the buildings in the area. He took us first to the old Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Tzedeq, showed us the site of the first all-Hebrew school in the country and spun tales of the days of the founders of the city. Unlike other areas of Israel, practically nothing in Tel Aviv antedates 1909 so the history lessons are a bit shorter and more colorful than they are in other places. We learned a lot about the Bauhaus and eclectic architectural styles and the importance of facing balconies to the west to catch the cool summer breezes. We also heard a bit about a character who made multiple sex changes and probably more gender shifts, a wealthy prominent citizen whose beloved took two years to convert to Judaism only to lose her life to a bee sting a few months after marriage, and a woman who confessed to stealing 250 million something–I couldn’t quite catch what unit of currency.

After the talk and walk concluded, we caught the number 4 bus back to our part of the city and ate ice cream at an outdoor cafe watching the many people still out and about close to 11pm.

Yes, we’re starting to get the hang of living in Tel Aviv!

Jerusalem Musings Solstice 2009

Terri and I had no trouble arriving in Jerusalem in time for the plans of the day. We took a Sheirut (shared taxi) to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, and then another Sheirut to Jerusalem. We wanted to take the Jerusalem circle tour (a bus ride around the city with narration), but I managed to miss the Jerusalem Central Bus Station stop thinking that it would be the last stop (it wasn’t) on the Sheirut route. So at 10:30 we found ourselves on Latin Partriarchate Rd in the Old City. We wound our way to the Jaffa Gate and discovered that we could hop on the Circle Tour bus there, so we did. The bus itself is a bit of a disappointment. Slightly shabby with truly minimalist and stupid narration (surprising number of errors in the historical reporting), but you are traveling through Jerusalem, so it was worth the small price.

We arrived at the Central Bus Station where we were told that there would be a break until 1:30pm, so Terri and I wound up with our second day in a row of eating lunch in a Central Bus Station. This time I had the local equivalent of a potato knish. Very filling and tasty. After lunch, we returned to the bus where we found the bus driver trying a variety of methods to resurrect the computer that controlled the dumb narration. After 15 minutes of this he told us that we’d have to wait for a new bus and finally at 2:15pm we were back on the road with a bus that had a canvas top–actually much more comfortable than our first bus. Terri and I got seats on the top level right at the front, so we had a magnificent 180 degree view of Jerusalem as we ascended to Mount Scopus and down past the Mount of Olives to the Old City. At 3:30pm we were back at the Jaffa Gate. This time we took the traditional walk down David Street to the Street of the Chain, and a quick jog over to the Western Wall Plaza.

Here I was astonished at the changes since my last visit. Before the renovation of the Jewish Quarter, it seemed more open with vast views of the Wall and the top of the Temple Mount. I wanted to show Terri the western wall tunnels, but it turned out you now need to make reservations to see this, so that will need to wait for another day.

From the Wall we wandered over to the entrance to the archaeological park. For the second day in a row we had to decide against entering a museum because we had arrived too late in the day. We will definitely be going back at a more reasonable hour. From there we headed through the Dung Gate and had a view of the City of David dig. We re-entered the old city and made our way through the new Jewish Quarter. A yeshiva student tied a red ribbon around my wrist. I let him do this thinking I might actually be able to engage him in some conversation. This turned out to be futile, so off came the ribbon. I also avoided the appeal for “charity” as well as a few dozen other beggars. Our travels back took us to the excavation of the Cardo (the east-west thoroughfare of Roman Jerusalem). And we were delighted to see near there an excavation that revealed some material dating as early as 7th century BCE.

As the sun set we departed the Old City and walked along Jaffa Road. The road is in quite a state as they seem to be installing a light-rail set of tracks down the middle of the street. Before long we arrived at Ben Yehuda Street and I was in for quite a shock. The last time I was in Jerusalem, this was a bustling street. It’s still busting, but now it’s a pedestrian mall! There were people everywhere, shops, expensive restaurants and much street life. Up the mall to King David Street and I saw that my once-beloved felafel stands were no more. But Terri and I dined in a lovely little Italian restaurant. She had pasta with Tuna, I also had the pasta, but with roasted vegetables and pine nuts in a light olive oil sauce.

Sated with food, we took a cab to the Sheirut stand, back to Tel Aviv (with a delay for a massive traffic jam) and then the sheirut back to our neighborhood.

More time for the museum would have made this is a great day, but as it is, we are learning to cope.