Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sweet Home Alabama

We got home on Tuesday afternoon and Brian arrived on Saturday. I had time to do laundry and go kayaking on Saturday morning with Sue, Bob and their kids who were visiting from New York. 

We enjoyed spending time with Brian and were invited to two Passover Seders where we ate, drank and did a lot of laughing. On Sunday Brian and I went on a dolphin watch and saw so many dolphins from our zodiac. It was just us with Captain Matt and we had a great time.

On Wednesday we went to Charleston and the three of us took a carriage ride around the city.

Saw the beautiful old buildings and picturesque mansions.

Then we had lunch at Hyman's, a city landmark, and walked through the City Market to do some shopping. Brian left on Friday morning and I am looking forward to his next visit.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Going Home

Our last day in Israel is bittersweet. It has been a long trip, almost a month, and now it is ending. Today is just for us and we have several things on our agenda. It was another gorgeous sunny day as most have been. We went to breakfast and sat outside soaking up some sun and fresh air.

Then we walked along the Tayelet, promenade, bordering the beach and Meditteranean sea. There were many sunbathers, joggers and bicycle riders. We saw groups playing volleyball and passed a huge lap pool with every lane filled with a swimmer.

The sights and sounds of Israel are amazing. The flowers seem brighter here and they fill the air with their fragrance. Bakeries are everywhere with beautiful loaves of bread on the shelves and magnificent aromas wafting out into the street. Near the sea you can smell the water, although Jeff says it is rotting seaweed. Every sense seems heightened here and  I love it all and will miss it so.

After we walked a long time we headed inland to see the Agam fountain in Dizengoff Center.

The whole area is tacky, but the colorful fountain is a landmark. There is shopping all around the city and this area has large complexes and lots of people milling around. We walked again this time heading to the Carmel Market. This is a huge place with clothes and home goods in the front and food stands after that. I had my last glass of fresh squeezed orange juice for this trip. I bought some halvah to take home since it is impossible to find near our house.

Walking again we headed to Jeff's schwarma place. He liked it so much he was determined to try it again. We passed through the old Neve Zedek neighborhood seeing many historic houses built by the early immigrants. Finally found the place and Jeff enjoyed the lamb schwarma almost as much as before.

Next adventure was finding a bus to the Museum of the Diaspora. This great museum is located on the campus of Tel Aviv University in Ramat Aviv, a suburb just north of Tel Aviv. Jeff used his phone app to find the correct bus and where the closest stop would be. Worked like a charm. We rode out to the large campus and found the museum with no problem. Signage is very good in Israel.

Spent a few hours walking around the permanent exhibit which we remembered fondly. It starts with the destruction of the second temple and follows Jewish communities around the world. One area has large models of synagogues from around the globe. Rituals, holidays and everyday life in varied communities are shown. We enjoyed  a music presentation by Leonard Bernstein and several other videos and movies. All in all we found the exhibits a bit tired and shabby. A few displays were broken or not lit and it was difficult to find your way around. Still happy that we went. Afterwards we walked on the campus watching the students lounge on the lawns and we admired several large sculptures. Got the bus back to our hotel.

Now we rest a bit and then it is time to pack. We took everything out of our suitcases and completely repacked. Hoping our checked bags will not be overweight. Took a short walk for dinner and I had Hungarian blintzes. I had been looking at this place every day and thinking I would like it. Turned out to be kosher and dairy so Jeff was not interested. I had eggplant and cheese inside fluffy blintzes. It was piping hot and delicious and served with a small salad. Jeff had pizza on the run as now it was getting late.

Back at the hotel we gathered our suitcases and Jeff went to collect the car and fill it with gas. We drove to the airport, returned the car and took a shuttle to the departures terminal. There we waited in the security line for about an hour. Finally got to our gate, onto the plane and here I am at 6:23 Israeli time. We are on Delta and it is a nice plane. Jeff and I are in the window, middle seats and had dinner on board. Very few religious people on board and no one praying in the aisles, yet!  We have taken naps and each watched a movie. Only six more hours to go!

Back in South Carolina and it is so good to be home. There is nothing that compares to sleeping in your own bed. We were thrilled to see Sirius and he was so happy to greet us and go home. He must have had fun running with the dogs and is now ready to retire to his couch and snuggle in our bed. He did come home with hookworms and a few ticks, but that is all fixed now.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Under the Boardwalk

Woke up in our comfy Tel Aviv Hotel. It is called the Port Hotel and near the port, north end of the city. Also one block from the beach with the Tayalet, promenade, that goes all the way to Jaffa.

We went for breakfast and found a delightful room with indoor and outdoor seating. Nice display of foods and we were happy. We got in the car and drove a half hour to Netanya. We were surprised to see how the city has grown.

We walked along the main street with shopping, cafes and tons of people.

There are wide plazas and colorful flowers are planted in beds, pots and planters. Fountains spew precious water and there is even a panda jumping pillow for the kids.

At the beach end we walked along a promenade that looks over the Mediteranean. There are more flowers and cafes here.

The city is built high on a cliff with the beach below. A large elevator is ideally located near the action to take you down to the beach.

We met Hana here and proceeded to a shady cafe on the beach. 

All around us were families, teens and everyone else enjoying the hot day and many were swimming. A father and son were playing kadima near us. This is the popular Israeli paddle and ball game and you always hear click, click, click on the beach or at a park. Lots of bikinis and speedos. Hana said there is a separate beach for religious people further north where they can swim on separate days.

We enjoyed sitting and talking, and, of course, eating. With only one day left I have a lot of hummus and tehina to eat. Afterwards Hana drove us to our car and we all went back to her apartment. It has been so many years since I have been there and it looks the same. Meir had driven in and was there to greet us. He is taking his mom for some medical tests tomorrow.

We spent a short time talking and then had to drive back to Tel Aviv. Traffic was heavy, but we kept moving. Saw this bird in the grass, a common myna.

After a short rest the phone rang and it was Hannoch and Shulamit. They had driven in separately to see us one last time on this visit. They suggested we walk a few blocks to the old port which is now a renovated entertainment area. Apparently it is the newest place to be in Tel Aviv and we didn't even know about it. They have taken the abandoned warehouses and turned them into chic restaurants and boutiques. There were people everywhere walking, talking, riding bikes, jogging and eating. There was a special place for kids with a carousel, crafts  and superheroes.

We walked a bit and people watched. Shulamit and Hannoch had picked out a tapas place for dinner. We sat outside watching the sun sink into the sea and shared some interesting "small plates." 

Hannoch had been on a 12 day business trip to the US since we saw him and we wanted to hear all about his adventures. We had a few stories to share also. After a long time of chatting we enjoyed the sunset and found the best place for gelato to finish off the night.

L'hitraot. Goodbye for now dear friends.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Am I Blue?

We love our Hotel Blue in Eilat. It is small and quiet and the staff are wonderful.

We got up late, packed and set out to drive to Tel Aviv. We got a few feet when another guest sitting on the porch motioned to us that our tire was flat. And yes it was very flat. So we call the car rental and went round and round about them fixing the flat. Turns out they are closed all day for Shabbat and do not cover flat tires. Finally they agreed to send someone. In the meanwhile Jeff and Gabi, the hotel clerk, took out the spare tire and were amazed to find the jack handle, but no jack. Gabi actually had his girlfriend drive over with a jack, but the mechanic was on his way so we waited. When the guy got there he pulled all the plastic out of the trunk and found the jack tucked away. Who knew? Anyway the tire was changed and we will have to fight with the rental company when we get home if we are charged.

So now it is noon and we set off. The drive is fabulous as we head north along the Jordanian border and then head west driving through the Negev. Scenery is beautiful and kept changing. We saw several military installations with firing ranges for tank training and more. The road was full of hairpin turns and we climbed up mountains and went down the other side. About 2:00 we arrived at Mitzpeh Ramon, a huge crater we had visited in 1990. Since then the area has grown and become a popular tourist site. Many buildings have been added and a swanky hotel has rooms overlooking the canyon, each with a private swimming pool. We had lunch in a cafe overlooking the canyon and several adult ibexes walked past with their babies trailing behind.

I saw some neat birds.

We hung out for a while and then got back in the car. We passed by Avdat, an ancient city which is now a national park. It is actually on the Nabatean trade route and was the stop before Petra. We had explored there on our last trip. We did make a stop at Sde Boker. This kibbutz is where David Ben Gurion and his wife Paul retired to after so many years of public service. We visited their graves in a scenic park overlooking the desert.

Jeff and I did a selfie using the timer.

Back in the car again we drove north passing by Beer Sheba and finally to Tel Aviv. We are checked in to our hotel and walked to a nearby place for something to eat. We sat outside along the Mediterranean  and Jeff had pizza with corn on top which he is beginning to like. I had carrot cake with hot tea which was just perfect.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Wadi Rum

Wow! Today we awake in a most beautiful place, Wadi Rum. Famous scenery was used in the movie Lawrence of Arabia and the battles were fought here. I actually climbed a nine story sand dune that is in the movie. Now I will have to watch it.

Our accommodations were very comfortable and we are in shade this morning and quite chilly until the sun came over the mountain. I am probable the only person ever to sleep with a CPAP machine here. I schlepped it with me across the border with a battery pack. Funny that no one ever mentions it, except at the Savannah airport. So in the pitch dark I had my trusty little machine blowing air and giving me a good night's sleep.

I got washed in our modern bathroom building with rose colored tiles on the walls and flush toilets in large stalls with toilet paper until it ran out. A nice breakfast was set out with more Bedouin tea, pita, cheeses and jams. Afterwards the French group set off to the visitor center, a two hour walk and their luggage was taken by truck.

It is impossible to measure distance out here as it is so vast. I could see occasional walkers and Bedouins traveling by camel in the distance. I sat on a bench watching the incredible scenery and an occasional bird. There were tiny white flowers blooming in bunches scattered in the red dirt. The mountains and huge rock formations kept changing color as the sun moved across the sky.

We were alone now with the Egyptian cook and the owner of the camp.

We waiting until 10:30 when our guide arrived with a new tire on his truck and two benches set up in the back. A woman from our Petra tour group was with him and she had spent the night in a hotel in Aquaba. We set off on our tour. Jeff and I opted to sit in the back and get the full experience. It was amazing! Unfortunately there was little commentary, but the scenery made up for that.

We made a few stops. First we got to a tent with a parking area and other jeeps and trucks with tourists. We walked down to a cave created by erosion. We climbed up the stone steps and walked in a bit. From here we passed a mountain with a sandy slope on one side. The sands were in four distinct layers, each a different color. So beautiful! Next was the adventure phase as we got to this high sand dune set against a huge rock. I decided to climb it along with our other traveler.

The red sand was very soft and came right up over our shoes and inside. It was a steep incline and we moved to the edge of the rock where we could hold on and pull ourselves up. At the top it was cool with breezes blowing over the summit. The view was great. Jeff and the guide figure it was about nine stories or 30 meters. Across the valley was a huge mountain with a white top. It is the second highest mountain in  Jordan. Coming down was much easier than going up. You simply dug in your heels and let gravity do its thing.

Pouring the red sand out of my shoe.

Last stop was a spring that supplies drinking water and water for the sheep. There was a hose coming down from the spring which runs all year. A large stone trough was near the bottom for the sheep to drink. They get snow here in the winter and there is a steady, but small water supply. We did not climb up as the people coming down said it was not worth the effort. We did see a large tree which was a unique sight and much needed shade.

Now we went into the village where most of the workers live and a taxi picked us up to return us to the border. We were supposed to get a tour of Aquaba and it lasted about... Oh wait, we just drove through. Fine with us as we were anxious to leave. We walked through the Jordanian customs and to Eretz Israel. Felt so good to be back! The Israeli tour company arranged for a cab to take us to our hotel which was looking really good.

Walked to the schwarma/falafel place for a quick lunch before they closed for Shabbat. Then we took much needed showers and slept. My feet were red from the sand still inside my socks which are also red. At night we drove over to the Tayelet, promenade along the water. All the big tourist hotels are here and one is more overdone than the next.

We strolled and then stopped for a light dinner where we sat on sofas facing the beach. Jeff had a burger and I had a fish stick appetizer which was pretty good fresh fried fish. Jeff made a new best friend. A feral cat with a funny mustache.

We sat a long while enjoying the night air and feeling safe and secure in Israel.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Silent Night

It is about 6:00 pm and we have gotten off the bus and into a Toyota pickup with two Jordanians. They are taking us to the Bedouin camp and soon we pulled over with a flat tire. They had no spare, so they flagged down another truck who helped out. Luckily it was two guys from their area and they had a tire and a jack. It took a while using rocks and a metal pipe to dislodge the tire.

Finally we had a good tire and started out again, it was dusky now and the scenery defies words. Take Bryce Canyon and Yosemite and put them on steroids and that is a beginning. Rock formations and magnificent colors were all around us as we rode in the back seat.

We got to a tire place and left our flat there and then drove past an elaborate building complex welcoming us to Wadi Rum. Next we we stopped in a residential area to pick up some firewood. There our driver said his younger brother would drive us as he had to make arrangements about a new tire. It was getting darker now and the brother looked about 12, but said he was 17. He was a decent driver and kept eating sunflower seeds or something that took his attention away from driving. Now we were in the Wadi Rum and there are no roads. Just miles and miles of dirt with ruts. I asked how he know where he was going and he asked, "Do you know how to get to your house?"

We did see some other vehicles with tourists which made us feel a little better and it kept getting darker and darker. Finally he stopped at Camp 1 to drop off the wood. There was lots of luggage there, but no people as they were out on a tour. The cook gave me some Bedouin tea which is dark and very sweet.

He showed us a dorm style tent and we were prepared to stay there. But no, we had to go to Camp 2 which is more special. Now it is dark and other trucks had on headlights, but not us!

We rode and rode and, eureka, he finally pointed to a huge rock and in front of it was a large camp. As we pulled up we saw normal looking people milling around and even a family with children. We were so relieved. They have electricity and real toilets and I am so glad I didn't insist on staying in the other place. We were shown to a hard sided tent set up off the ground with twin beds and lots of room. The sides of the tents are black and white stripes. The black is sheep wool and the white is camel hair. They are woven by Bedouin women. Each bed had a pillow and heavy blanket. The walls and ceiling inside had blanket tapestries while the floor was covered with mats. It is dark now and cold. The bathroom building has lights on, but no lighting in the camp area. One side has all the accommodations and the other side has several large tents and a fire pit with seating. 

We settled in and met the family who are Jordanians living in England. Lovely people. There is also a group of French hikers here and so friendly. We all met to sit around the fire which is acacia wood, and then walked over to a covered pit where they had cooked our dinner underground all day.

It was delicious, tender chicken with grilled tomatoes and onions. Everything was set up in the large tent which had seating and tables all around the edges. The dinner was fabulous.

First we had tea and then lentil soup with lots of lemon. They had real plates and silverware, but no knives. The chicken was good with rice, salads, mashed potatoes, hummus and tehina with pita. They gave us water and everyone talked and enjoyed.

The sky is so dark here that the stars jump out at you. There is a crescent moon and we enjoy star gazing with the assistance of Jeff's Star App. We are so happy and have never been in such an exotic place. We had talked about this and decided that Mombasa, Kenya, was our most exotic adventure, but this may surpass that. 

Now we are in bed and set up using our flashlights. The French group is singing and clapping around the campfire and we can hear them clearly. There is also someone singing in Arabic. Tomorrow we will have breakfast at 7:30 and our driver is coming at 10:00 to take is on a jeep tour and then back to the border crossing. The movie Lawrence of Arabia is set in this area and was filmed here. We kept meaning to watch it and hope to do so when we get home.

This is one day we will never forget.