Now that I’ve been back in the states for two weeks, it’s time to finally blog about my trip to Israel! As you know from this post, my parents, brother, and I traveled to Israel to visit my grandparents in June. It was my fourth visit to The Holy Land as an adult, the last in 2010, so it was high time for another visit. My grandparents are in their 80s and 90s and still kickin’ it – more on that later!
Part of the reason I’ve delayed writing this post is that I’m overwhelmed! I left the photo-taking task up to my Dad and brother (no suprise there), and they did a great job, providing me hundreds of photos from which to choose – big thanks! After much debate, I’ve decided it would be easiest to share my experiences by breaking up the trip into categories. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do the trip justice, but I’ll do my best. Enjoy!
No suprise that I’m starting with the food! As is the case with any trip, the food was a major highlight for me! I could do a whole post just on the food, but in the interest of blogging time, I’ll do a post in a post right here.
First, I’ll start by giving a major shout-out to my Safta (Hebrew for grandmother) and her cooking! Perhaps the best example of her cooking skills happened the night of our arrival. Tired from many hours of traveling and hungry for some real food, this first meal hit. the. spot! Safta served a classic “light” Mediterranean dinner of quiche, Israeli salad (a staple – mostly tomatoes and cucumbers), homemade baba ganoush / hummus / matbucha (a tomato and roasted pepper spread of sorts), falafel, this amazing cauliflower dish – and more! For dessert, her homemade strawberry sorbet and my Mom’s favorite, rose cookies! It was all so fresh and flavorful. This was the first of many of her meals!
Other meals of note include the breakfast that my Mom and I ate at least five or six times at nearby Cafe Viola! Safta told us about this amazing cafe a few steps away from our apartment (we rented an apartment that was ~10 min walk from my grandparents). It’s actually called Cafe Dam Square (like Amsterdam), but Safta called it Viola (its previous name) and that name stuck with us the whole trip. My brother and Dad joined a few times too, but my Mom and I are the real creatures of habit in the family 🙂
Since our apartment was not in a touristy area, the menu was completely in Hebrew – good thing my Dad joined us the first day! We basically had the same breakfast every day, called the Israeli breakfast: eggs, Israeli salad, cheeses, tuna, olives, wheat bread (which they referred to as “black bread”), plain yogurt with muesli, and cafe americano. It was so healthy and filling without leaving you with that uncomfortable greasy breakfast feeling courtesy of my beloved eggs / hashbrowns / bacon (which I got promptly upon my arrival at the Philly airport). We ate outside on the sidewalk (the weather was in the low 80s the whole trip – felt almost cool at times!) and had the same waitress almost every day – she was so kind and friendly and excited to test her English skills! It was very pleasant.
One other meal worth noting is less of a meal and more like street food – Sabich! Think Mikey’s Late Night Slice, except healthy! Sabich is similar to the classic falafel pita sandwich, except instead of falafel, the main ingredient is eggplant. The pita gets stuffed with the best roasted (maybe lightly fried?) eggplant slices ever, and your choice of hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, pickles, onions, hard boiled egg, parsley, hot sauce, and a mango curry sauce.
At first, my Mom was not interested (a nice way of putting it) in trying Sabich, as she doesn’t care for hard boiled eggs and thought she “had” to get them. But after learning that she could omit them, she declared that Sabich was one of the best things she’s ever tasted (as Laurie Chait can do best). As for me, I tried the hard boiled egg the first time, but discovered that I too enjoy it better sans egg, hummus, and parsley – keep it “simple”. The warm and cool flavors meld together perfectly to create something that is really quite memorable. Equally as memorable is the man who serves the Sabich – his name escapes me, but as the owner of the roadside stand he is there night and day to serve the never ending line of customers, and always with a smile on his face!
Ramat Gan / Givatayim / Tel-Aviv
The best part of the Sabich stand? It was located directly on the ten minute walk between my grandparent’s apartment in Ramat Gan and the apartment my family rented in Givatiyam! Both are “suburbs” of Tel Aviv. “Suburbs” in quotes because while that’s what they technically are, both Ramat Gan and Givatayim feel more like bustling cites than quiet suburbs. My Dad grew up in Ramat Gan in an apartment not far from the one my grandparents now live (and have lived for the past 40 years), and says the city has developed a lot since he was a kid. It’s now full of high-rise buildings, grocery stores, shops, cafes, etc. My grandparents take the bus and walk everywhere, which keeps them young 🙂 This is the view from the roof of my grandparent’s apartment building – they live on the fourth floor (I think?) and have one quarter of the roof as their own. It’s breezy and beautiful – a real perk.
A staple of Israel, and noticeably our neighborhood, were the cats! There were cats EVERYWHERE. And although they are mostly strays without a true home (Susan is a lucky girl…), some of them are quite well fed. Not pictured is the man who was watching this man feed these cats – he was NOT pleased. Apparently not everyone loves the cats…
A few times, the four of us piled into my Saba’s car and drove to the beach – a pastime we all love. The drive to get to the beach, however, was another story! Now I understand why my Dad drives like a maniac – it’s in his genes! In fact, he displays a remarkable amount of self-restraint when driving the tree-lined streets of Bay Village. It’s an understatement to say that driving in Israel is INSANE. I regularly felt like my life was on the line. There really aren’t lanes, motorcycles weave in and out of traffic (as do cars), and people generally just do whatever they want – traffic laws be dammed.
Happily, once at our destination we were greeted with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, of which “we” failed to capture any pictures. Just take my word for it – it was beautiful. The beach itself wasn’t as nice as our beloved Anna Maria Island, but who’s complaining? And if you’re bored, you can borrow a book from this awesome “library” right on the beach!
Going into this trip, I didn’t think we’d travel much, if at all. We’ve all toured the country multiple times, and we wanted to spend lots of quality time with Saba and Safta. But D (my brother) convinced us that we needed to do at least a little traveling. After all, in Israel you can pretty much go anywhere in under 2 hours! So on Monday of the trip, we got up, went to Viola, had ourselves a hearty breakfast and set out for the day. We spent most the day in the old city of Jerusalem, wandering the Jewish and Christian Quarters. On my Taglit (Birthright) trip in 2007, we didn’t visit the Christian Quarter – go figure – and I found it to be incredibly beautiful. This photo was taken inside the Jewish Quarter, and overlooks the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall) and the Muslim Quarter. Side note: make sure to bring a cardigan or scarf when you visit the Wall – I was forced to wear a nasty wrap to cover up my scandalous shoulders and chest! #rebel
After D wandered around some more and my parents and I relaxed a bit at Aroma – the Starbucks of Israel – we headed back to Tel Aviv. But not before stopping first at the Mount of Olives, with the most breathtaking view of the Old City of Jerusalem:
I can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said about the Mount of Olives, but suffice it to say it’s amazing how much history is in one small place for so many people. Case in point, while we were there there was a tour group of Christians from South America, who had made the journey to a place that was equally holy to them as it is to Muslims as it is to Jews.
The Dead Sea
The other place D really wanted to go was the Dead Sea. After some debate, we decided that not only would we go to the Dead Sea – we’d spent the night in a nice hotel at the Dead Sea! Mainly because my Mom and I wanted to enjoy a nice, cool, unsalted pool in addition to our dips in the salt. That, and we wanted my Dad to be able to fully enjoy himself, and not have to think about driving back home at the end of a sun-soaked day. After reading numerous reviews, we settled on Herod’s, and although it was a bit on the pricey side (most places were), we all decided it was worth it. It was so nice to take a vacation from our vacation and just chillax for 24 hours!
Not only is the Dead Sea one of the saltiest bodies of water on earth, with almost 35% salinity, it is also the lowest place on earth. Those mountains in the distance are Jordan. We really had quite the view from our hotel! Between the salty water that is so good for your skin, the cool and beautiful pool, the tasty food, and the general feeling of being at a nice resort, spending the night at the Dead Sea was an excellent call. Good job, family!
And last, but definitely not least, my grandparents:
Although my Saba and Safta visited every summer of my childhood, sometimes for as much as a month or more at a time, I sometimes really wish that I got to have a “normal” relationship with them. You know, going over to grandma’s for dinner every Sunday, shopping with her and my Mom (my Safta has good taste!), just generally spending more time together. But, alas, that’s not the way it happened, and I’m grateful we were able to see them as much as we did growing up. And now, as an adult, I think I appreciate my relationship with them even more. They are both so SENSIBLE – it’s really incredible! And not once on this trip – or ever – have they asked me when I was getting married, or why I hadn’t found a man, like many of my friends’ grandparents. On the contrary, they think I’m great just as I am!
(Side note: at 95, my Saba still goes to the gym three days a week – and WALKS to and from! If that’s not a good example, I don’t know what is.)
My Safta is warm, easy going, kind, and fun! And my Saba is good-natured, thoughtful, and resourceful. And they both raised my Dad to be the wonderful man and father that he is today! I love you both very, very much, and I’m so glad we got to spend some more time together. Until next time!
Laila Tov, everyone! Good night!