31 October 2013

ISRAEL: DAY ONE

When I landed in Tel Aviv, I was exhausted, confused, nervous. My mind was filled with questions:

  • Where do I find a taxi?
  • Where do I buy a sim card?
  • Should I get a sim card for my phone, or does Paul already have one for me?
  • He probably has one but how do I know for sure?
  • How do I get ahold of Paul to find out about the sim card?
  • Where do I go to get shekels?
  • Will the taxi take credit cards? I don’t have any shekels.
  • Where do I go to get shekels?
My mind was going in a million different directions and, after a sleepless, 11-hour flight, I was as emotional as a pregnant woman – not that I would know. As I came around the corner from immigration, grabbed my bag and entered into the Israeli world where hundreds of people were gathered to welcome loved ones, I felt completely alone in a place where my language was not assumed to be the standard.

I glanced at the crowds of people as I desperately searched for signs to lead me toward currency conversion counters and sim card providers while I debated what I actually needed. Then, a blessing beyond belief appeared from the crowd. Paul slowly caught my eyes and wandered toward me. I fell into his arms, held him tightly, let out the biggest sigh of relief and began to cry – just a little – on his shoulder telling him over and over, “I have never been so happy to see you in my entire life. I was lost here, so alone, I had no idea what to do….Thank you…”

He arrived in Tel Aviv a few hours before I did and decided to take a taxi to the airport to meet me. I cannot explain how amazed and just how grateful I was to see him – and his shekels and the sim card he had already purchase for me.

“I’ve got something to tell you that will make you even happier,” he said as we walked outside. “I cancelled our tour tomorrow.”

“Oh thank God,” I announced.

Not that I wanted to waste a day in the Promised Land, I was just really looking forward to an opportunity to sleep in and go at our own pace. We rearranged our three tour days and instead planned two days of tours before Paul was to leave on Thursday.

Monday morning, after arriving at our hotel around 1:30 a.m., we slept in. We had breakfast in the hotel and then we just wandered around. We walked the streets of Tel Aviv, following a walking tour app Paul had on his phone – except he forgot to actually follow the app and we really just ended up walking around a neighborhood until we found a shopping mall.

The streets were quiet on a mid-day Monday. Most of the shops were open but none were crowded. The buildings were what I imagined, whiteish, all similar in construction and fa├žade, preserving the old-world feel in a city that is anything but modern. Most of the buildings are unkempt on the outside and likely older on the inside.





Our hotel, with its $450 a night price tag, was not worthy of the Marriott name and, though it was beachfront property, was not worth the price tag either. Our room looked like it was decorated in the 60s and time just froze.

The doors in the hallway resembled what I pictured to be ship cabin doors.


Inside, fake woods and dark green carpet (at least it wasn’t shag) greeted us.


There was no thermostat, only three switches on the wall for the fan; off, low and high were indicated on each switch. Paul’s favorite feature was the radio.


We opened the sliding door and stepped out onto the balcony to breathe in the Mediterranean Sea and were surprised to see a used coffee mug on the ground next to one of the plastic chairs.

The view was great; we had a view of the city to the left and the sea to the right.


Early evening, we set out to watch the sun set in Jaffa, the oldest village in South Tel Aviv, said to be settled by Noah’s son, Japeth, who built the city after the great flood.


Jaffa is a beautiful old city built of stone. Many of the homes and businesses have preserved the structures, melding old-world construction with modern art galleries, restaurants and craftsman shops.

Casa Nova, a restaurant






The city is full of narrow passageways that wind up and down stairs and around corners. At times I felt we were inside a maze and I was excited to see what was around each corner, whether another passageway, a beautiful shop or a dead end awaited.




I have never been to Europe and have never explored ancient cities like Rome where the history just exists. Standing in front of a building considered “new construction” knowing that the building is still older than the country in which you grew up is a crazy experience. We walked by one restaurant in a building that was 400 years old – older than the original colonies. Archaeologists have determined that Jaffa has been inhabited since times near 7,500 B.C. That’s a lot of history!

After being driven up the stone hill, we made our way to the top to watch the sun fall beyond the historic structures including St. Peter’s Church, built in the 19th century.





Tel Aviv, in the distance

We continued to walk around the gardens before winding our way through the maze to the shops and restaurants, stopping to gaze at monuments, signs and an archaeological dig site. We just had one problem – neither of us understands Hebrew so we really had no idea what we were looking at most of the time.

Monument - the sign was in Hebrew so we have no idea what it is

Archaeological dig location - remnants of an old temple, I think

 We decided to have dinner at a Trip Advisor-rated seaside restaurant called The Old Man and the Sea. We sat meters from the boats and watched the sun duck behind them as we perused the menu. 





Our waiter was a true salesman who took it upon himself to tell us what we wanted and, though we tried to interrupt him to ask each other questions, we just spoke to each other with our eyes until he had finished.

Paul decided on the grouper, one of his favorite fish, while I chose a mixed seafood platter. Immediately after the waiter left, we were presented with flatbread that had to be at least 12 inches in diameter. Before we could break bread, another man approached carrying a jug of lemonade garnished with mint.

As we began to tear the flatbread, another man came rushing over carrying a cafeteria tray filled with small bowls, unloading them one by one. My eyes grew larger and larger as he continued to place each dish in front of us. After eight or 10 dishes were placed and even more awaited on the tray, I looked at Paul and exclaimed, “I think we’re getting all of these!” Sure enough, we were being presented with the famous 20 salads.


That’s 20 separate dishes that included hummus, pickled vegetables, carrots, beets, tomatoes and basil, egg salad, tuna salad and tabbouleh. They were all amazing.

Shortly after, our seafood arrived. Paul was presented with a fish the size of his plate along with some potato wedges and a bit of lemon. My plate was filled with mussels, squid, shrimp and small crab. 



We ate until we could not reasonably eat anymore for fear of overstuffing ourselves.

“When did we get another flatbread?” Paul asked.

I turned and looked at Paul’s side where our mostly-eaten flatbread sat with a newly-placed second giant flatbread. We had no idea someone even approached.

Just when we thought we were done, a man came to stack all of the plates and 20 salad dishes with all of that left-over food and take them away and another brought us one more dish containing five small honey doughnuts called sufganiyot. Of course I had to try one, so I did. Fried honey exploded in my mouth. The treats were definitely rich so I could not handle more than two.


After a walk down a few more old streets where I really felt as if I had gone back in time, we found a cab and headed back to the hotel. And so ended the first day, and it was good.








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