Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Our trip to Israel - Part 9

Springtime in Tel Aviv!

Fantastic Weather, Great People, Terrific Food, Living History . .... and the Beach!
Dancing on a Saturday Afternoon on the Beach Promenade, Tel Aviv.  When you get a chance to dance on the Beach, why, you really have no choice . . ... you must!
Renting a bike and riding around Tel Aviv and then to Jaffa Port - piece of cake!  So much art, history and beauty to be seen.  Hard to believe it's our last couple of days!
Looking back on the 'New York City of the Mid-East' - Tel Aviv, Israel.
Shalom, for now.  We'll return.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our trip to Israel - Independence Day!!

Independence Day means Airshow at the Beach, Dancing, and a Nationwide Party!!  Beautiful day!
Everywhere along the Beach Promonade is a party.
This is a great day to tour Independence Hall. We met a very nice modern Orthodox family.
Is it time to go shopping?  Well, some people can't imagine a time when it's not . ...
Then we run into some Anti-Fur, Anti-Canadian Seal Hunt Protesters . . ... say what? Right in downtown Tel Aviv. Free Speech and all, it makes me want to stop and discuss their views with them. Donna's dragging me away, saying, "Just leave it alone, we're on vacation!" Hilarious, these kids have no idea what it's like to be hungry and cold on 'The Rock' of Nfld.
All in, a fabulous day, and the night!!  Left the camera at home...  Fun, Food and Dancing!

Our trip to Israel - Part 7

Now we're on a roll! Bunked up at the Bell Boutique Hotel just a block from the beach in Tel Aviv, we're where the action is!  Okay, it's a little noisy, but we're here to see it all.  Our first stop today is the Better Place Visitor Centre - this electric car project is Amazing!  We were allowed to test drive one of the new electric Renault sedans, very quiet, luxurious and fast!  Whooo Hoooo!!! 
Then it's off to the Latrun Armored Museum.  Huge display of tanks from every era of Israel's history.  Soldiers only too happy to show off their vehicles and practice their English.  Again, we left our deets when they said they'd like to come to Canada when their military service time is over.
This day was also Memorial Day, and everywhere we went we were able to witness the reverence Israeli's have for their war dead.  Latrun was no different, as these young men stood at attention beside their 'Wall of Remembrance' during our visit.
The Latrun Trappist Monastary is right across the road, and Ayalon (Canada Park) is a beautiful big acreage for picnics and camping just north a couple of miles across the main highway. 
Then it's a short drive to the Ayalon Bullet Factory Museum, where 8 meters underground, just before 1948 war of Independence the kids at the Ayalon kibbutz produced over 2.4 MILLION rounds of 9mm ammunition right under the noses of the British.  Fantastic tour and story, lots of time for questions and to marvel at what these early settlers accomplished.

Our trip to Israel - Part 6

As the rockets rain onto Israel from Gaza again today (more than 75 in the last 3 days) I'd like to share with you my trip to Sderot.  My Missus stayed in Tel Aviv that day, shopping and touring with Toby.  I rented a Nissan Juke (hilarious if you speak Hebrew, Juke means 'cockroach') and drove first to the not yet completed Women of Valor Center in Nitzanim. 10 heroic women, including Mira Ben-Ari stayed behind to fight the Egyptian invaders on Jun3 7, 1948. 
After a chat with the new curator about opening dates, fundraising and the work left to be accomplished, I'm 'riding da Juke' south to Sderot.  Thomas is waiting at the Sderot Media Centre for my noon arrival.  After introductions my journalist's tour begins at the Police Compound, where we're examining casings from rockets which were recently fired into Israel from Gaza.
Sderot is the town with the most bomb shelters per capita . ... in the world.  Every home has one, every bus shelter IS ONE. The children's school has a bomb shelter built over it, every business and public building has one.  Some of the best new music to come out of Israel originates in Sderot, bands use the bigger shelters as practice spaces during the attacks.
We took a trip to 'Journalist's Point', where you can see into Gaza. Imagine, living next to a group of people who fire rockets into your neighborhood from this far away EVERY DAY AND NIGHT.  It's law that you mustn't wear your seatbelt and you have to keep your car window open so you are able to stop your vehicle, get out quickly and lay on the ground when you hear the 'Code Red' siren. 
Stopping into the Sderot Magen David (EMS) stn we took a tour of the first rate ambulance service that cares for Israelis in the area.  What a terrific, friendly & brave bunch these Pararamedics are - this was the first EMS station I'd ever seen that had a bomb shelter in it.
So after a drive to the Gaza Checkpoint (no pictures allowed for good reason) we tripped back to Sderot and had a late meal of pita w/ 3 kinds of hummus - Delicious! This 'working man's cafe' was a perfect place to relax and talk with the locals after this tour. "Why do you stay here if it's so dangerous?", I asked one couple. "Because this is our home, we will never leave.", she said. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Our trip to Israel Part 5

Israel has been at war with their enemies for years, long before 1948.  This rich and tragic history of struggle and triumph has built into the country and her people an indomitable spirit and a passion for living in the moment.  Ammunition Hill was a Jordanian Police training facility before June '67.  More IDF soldiers were lost here than in any other single battle during the six day war.
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum.  The Hall of Names.  The Railcar.  The 'Rightous Among The Nations'.  As the last direct victims of the concentration camps pass away, this monument lives and breathes their plight with truly beautiful and horrific displays.  This is one of the top 5 sites to see in Israel. Plan to spend several hours here, and do not miss the Children's Memorial.

Irgun Museum in Tel Aviv. "Every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state."
The Irgun were an offshoot of the Haganah, the precursor to the IDF.  The Irgun were Zionists who felt the Haganah were not adequately defending Jewish interests in the region.  Critics of the Hagana leadership slammed the lack of weapons and the Hagana policy of restraint in not fighting back. In short, these fighters were bad-ass arab killers, they were not interested in negotiating any kind of 'false peace' with Israel's enemies. 

Operation Black Arrow:  1955 - Extensive infiltration of fighters from Gaza murdering Israeli citizens near Rehovot.  IDF soldiers destroyed their camp and wiped out their Egyptian reinforcements. Another historic example of what happens when you push Israeli's too far.

Our trip to Israel Part 4

Is it time to talk about the food yet?  OMG the food in Israel is fantastic.  Breakfasts at every single place we stayed was magic.  Lots of fresh veggies, spicy yogurt and fruit, and 'Shakshuka' - a hot breakfast of salsa-style tomato & peppers with an egg cooked in the center.  The huevos rancheros of the East!  One of our favorite restaraunts in Jerusalem was Pasha's, at 13 Sheikh Jarrah.  We absolutely destroyed and entire table filled with delicious kabob and side dishes.  Smoking is OK, and after dinner relax with some shisha!.
Part of the reason the food is so good has to be because it's so fresh!  Local produce is delicious, and the spice market is the envy of every cook I know!
Be sure to stop at any of the fresh juice street vendors, and the tables filled with nuts and nougat. The perfect pocket snack for an urban day hike.
When you're out and about you're going to run into a lot of soldiers.  These young men and women are from all over Israel, most speak excellent english, are very friendly.  We found they were always terrific ambassadors for Israel, and enjoyed chatting with us.  No soldier will ever accept a ride from other than official gov't vehicles, as the risk of kidnapping is still very, very high.  Cafes, pedestrian malls and public transit were the places we always found a friendly smile and great conversation with these young adults.

Our trip to Israel - Part 3

Okay, is it possible to visit Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found), Masada and the Dead Sea all in the same day?  Yes.  Is that the best way to enjoy these historic sites?  No.
Even if you are familiar with the literature, photos and movies, to really experience and enjoy these important places you've got to take your time.  See Masada in the morning (when it's cool) and the Dead Sea Experience in the heat of the afternoon.
Trip into occupied territory, anyone?  We were in a cab back to our hotel one afternoon when Khalil (email: offered to take us to Bethlehem.  $400 NIS includes transportation and tour guide through the Church of the Nativity.  Khalil phoned Khalid enroute and he met us at the Church.  Small groups with an experienced guide often get to go where larger groups cannot .... and the intimate nature of a smaller group befits this sacred place.
After our tour, we of course were escorted to a 'friends place' where the famous Arab hospitality and haggling over souvenirs began.  Some baklava and sweet mint tea, lots of laughter and probing conversation finishing with shopping bags filled with local olive wood handcrafts.