Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Dream Vacation

Se since we recently returned from a family vacation, and we have so few of them, it is essential that I over analyze my experience and take from it every potential teachable moment that I can. One thing which I can get in the "know thyself" realm is 'what do I actually want from a vacation.' This is not to say that I was disappointed by my recent adventure overseas, but if I can be so bold as to imagine the perfect setup, I think I should. This way, I know on future trips when I am being let down.

OK, so my perfect vacation. And please, no one take offense.

1. No kids. I love my kids but a vacation means I stop having to worry about anyone other than myself. Does this mean 'no wife'? I'm not sure. A vacation with her is fun and we share so much but the truth is, we also have different interests and priorities (all in a healthy way) so there is much to be said for a vacation on which I am truly alone.

Different people enjoy different types of experiences. Some like being alone and some hate it. I think that when you see my itinerary, it will become obvious that being alone and doing nothing for long stretches doesn't faze me but it might not be something others enjoy.

2. Location -- this is a tough one. I hate air travel and sea travel, and if I have to drive somewhere then the trip is not relaxing. I also don't want to deal with natural disasters when I'm there. I want warm sunny days (79 to 87 degrees, please, low humidity and a light breeze) and cool but comfy nights (no lower than 65 and clear, almost no breeze). I think that, maybe, Florida via train is an option. Just not during hurricane season.

3. I want access to scads of kosher food. I want a Jewish community that can feed me and then leave me the heck alone. Kosher room service is a plus.

4. Accommodations -- a hotel. A fancy, schmancy hotel. I'm talking wifi, phone in the bathroom, welcome basket, free robe fancy. I want a suite with big screen TV's, a couple o' bathrooms maybe with a whirlpool or the like. While the idea of a villa is attractive, I would prefer being in a nice building with a central lobby where I can sit with a paper and a cuppa and watch people. People I don't know and don't have to talk to. I want there to be an outdoor pool I can sit next to and a heated indoor pool (heavy on the chlorine...none of those salt water pools) I can swim in (not so much swimming laps as jumping in and diving down to pick up toys from the bottom).

5. I need a car. And valet parking. I don't know why, or if I'll use it, but I need a car.

6. During the day I want the option of walking or driving (under 15 minutes travel time) to some sort of attractions -- museums, stadiums, concert venues, monuments, scenic sites, parks and like that but I don't want to stand on long lines in the sun, watching loads of children drip ice cream on my feet. Some days, I just want to stay on the balcony of my room (add "balcony" to item 4, please) and some days I want to go into the pool for 5 or 6 hours. Make sure there is a book store nearby. Real books. Not a religious book store, and not one that sells three books, 45 tourist souvenirs and soda. I want the option to do something or nothing.

My goal, clearly, is to read, eat, swim, walk, watch TV/films (make sure there is a movie theater in or near, and a bowling alley while you are at it) and generally soak in the experience. Very little talking or interacting. Close but far, quaint but modern, big but small.

and if you can make it free, that's be just skippy.
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edit, a little while later -- i'd like to have a bunch of friends on the same vacation, all interested in being left alone. that way we can have a poker game in the evenings or a steak eating contest during the day and then go back to ignoring everything.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I was wrong

There. I said it. I was wrong and I'm not too proud to admit it. I freely admit that I was wrong about digital photography.

We just came back from vacation and I have been going through the pictures. We took (I think) 5 cameras, all digital. Let's crunch the numbers.

I have reviewed the 544 pictures I kept from my little Canon Powershot. 544 pictures. In the olden days, that would mean over 20 rolls of film -- to carry, to load and reload, to worry about taking through the x-ray machine, to have to take (and pay) to get developed. That's substantial. And since I have them on the computer, I can manipulate and share them, and even print them out as pictures or as part of a photobook.

Julie's fancy camera (the Canon Rebel T3) was useful for multiple shots and artsier photos...over 1100 of them. Think about another 40+ rolls of film and not knowing if the pictures taken are any good. We must have deleted another couple of hundred as we took them. I was concerned thatt he film SLR would still have an edge over digital because of the speed and options, but the Rebel, while not quite as simple as the controls on my old Canon AE-1, did some great work, even for the formal shots. The higher megapixel count allows for post shot zooming and blowing up. Not yet on the level of a solid bit of film, but soon that will be standard as well.

I haven't been through the girls' cameras yet, but the idea that each can have a reasonable quality camera and take pictures without any worry over wasting film makes taking pictures an incredible educational opportunity.

I honestly didn't think that the quality would go up, price down and learning curve be so scalable so quickly. I'm glad I was wrong. Digital is a pretty neat thing.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Home, sweat, home

We awoke in Israel, and spent Thursday buying stuff. Julie got a ride to Talpiyot and took Maddie as they went to the Emanuel factory and then to the mall for lunch, while I took Talia back to Cafe Cafe -- she had pizza and fries and I started with crispy eggplant stuffed with cheese and served in a cream sauce, followed by a toasted Italian sandwich (mozzarella, red peppers and something else which I forget but not tomatoes on a flat sesame seed pita/roll). Talia had a Belgian waffle and I had coffee. We were stuffed. We walked to Machane Yehudah so Talia could find some gifts. When Julie called to ask where we were, we told her to come to the shuk and we'd find her. A needle in a hay stack, but it actually worked. We kept walking around and we found her! And then we spent half an hour in a candy store.

We walked out and about, down King George (plus some side streets) and came back up through Ben Yehudah so we could hit all sorts of stores one more time and eat some more Moshiko's felafel. We made it back to the house at 7:30 which left us and hour and a half to finish packing. I had found a guy driving an actual minivan cab and set up to have him come at 9PM for (what I thought was) a 1AM flight. He showed up on time and we had a great ride. If you need the name and number of a quality Israeli cab driver with a minivan, let me know. On the way, I realized that the flight was at 12:30AM but I didn't let that panic me. We still got to the airport with 2:45 to spare.

Then the lines began. First there was the line to get to general check-in so that our backs to be checked could get a security tag. Julie had to get the VAT back on all she bought so that was another line. Then another, longer line to actual check in. There, we were told that our checked bags were too heavy (we tried to balance them but it didn't work out). Our carry-on baggage was also deemed to be too heavy so we had to go to another security line before getting our boarding passes so that we could have that same security check in to add our 2 other bags to the "checked bags" list. Then back to the check in line for boarding passes. Then, into another room for a security check and passport stamp.

After the passport check we were herded (and I use that word intentionally) in a room with the metal detectors. There were no lines or guidance. Just everyone from every current flight leaving the airport in one room moving somewhat forward. People who were running late for one flight asked to jump ahead in line. But there was no line. For an airport which has such tight security and professionalism, this was insane. And the clock kept ticking. Suddenly, we weren't so ahead of the game. We made it through the metal detectors and still had to go towards the gate and stop in the duty free/VAT area to get the VAT money. At that point, our flight was already moving from "boarding" to "last call." We RAN to the gate. Have you ever seen those families running through the airport? We were that family. And just to clear up your thoughts -- we were there on time, even for a 12:30 flight. The lines were crazy and everything went wrong on line. But we were there in time, dagnabit. Stop judging.

We ran to the gate (which was, of course, the one farthest away) and when we got there, we asked if we were last. The woman smiled and said "no". The woman next to her, in Hebrew said "they are last." Just so happens that we speak enough Hebrew to know that we were on everyone's not happy list. As we ran down the tunnel, people were asking us our name to confirm who we were. We made it on board and settled in to the 777 and then all of us on that flight sat around and waited another 30 minutes till we could leave.

The flight started fine and after our mystery sandwiches, everyone settled in to a movie or tv show or sleep. Then, once everyone else was comfy, the turbulence began. Not only was I crazy nauseated, but I was also pretty much convinced that I was going to die. I don't like flying. I like turbulence even less. On the plus side, I was able to make space for another meal rather effectively. Julie calmed me down so I could get a little sleep but the whole experience was rather, well, unsettling.

We landed in Newark by around 5:45 and made it through the customs, passport control, security, baggage claim, immigration and getting to our car within 45 minutes. Then, the drive home so we could start laundry, unpacking and readying for an apparent hurricane on its way. So now I'd like to move from the play by play to the color commentary.

I love Israel. Let's start with that. But I am a spoiled American. I like things the way I like them. Houses, streets, drivers, cultural norms...all of it, I like as it is. And while I respect and admire those people who can up and go and live in Israel, I just don't know how to do it. Maybe if we had huge amounts of money and could afford to buy an apartment in a luxury condo or buy a home in a tree lined, not hilly neighborhood somewhere, then maybe. But aside from the spirituality (which, yes, is palpable) and the ease of eating out (which is great but guaranteed to drive one bankrupt) there is so much that just isn't in my comfort zone. And that's ignoring the bureaucracy and the paperwork. There are so many things that I am just used to.

We have already told the girls that if they want to go back and study or go for a summer then great. But if they move there, while that's all well and good with us, and we visit, we are staying in a hotel and coming over during commercials. And I can't be sure I can stomach the flight without scads of Xanax or stronger.

I was torn when I got off the plane -- what would I say if someone at the various check points said "Welcome Home." Would I say "thanks" as I kiss the ground and use money I understand, look at the temperature I understand, watch the traffic I understand, the television shows I understand etc, or would I say "well, I'm back, but Israel is my home." No one said anything but I'm still all confused. If you'd like to simplify things by giving me millions of dollars and inventing a teleportation machine, then I'm game.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'll be brief about most of Wednesday.
Woke up, drove over to the Avis return place on King David Street. Got gas, circled the block and tried to find where to return the car. The gas station guy gave me standard Israeli directions (the kind which assume you already know the answer and are just asking for directions in order to engage another human, not to learn anything) and when I called the phone number, I was connected to the Avis desk in Eilat. His response was "no, this is Eilat" click.

Eventually I got through to the Jerusalem desk and their directions were a touch better. Apparently, all you have to do is replace "straight" with "sharp, hidden left" and the whole language makes sense.

I returned the car with little fanfare (which is ok, because it is a little car). I found a cab to take me back to the house and then we all saddled up to walk over to the light rail. Jerusalem is just starting to run its light rail so as part of the testing period, the trip is free. This means that EVERYONE is riding it for no real reason. They push their strollers on and take their extended families on just so that they can get somewhere, cross the tracks and go back. The trip, itself, is slow but not wholly uncomfortable. At Har Herzl we found the one sign to Yad Vashem and walked down. There is no admission fee (though I did try to pay the security guard...I see a guy stopping people so I figure...hand him my credit card. At this point, whatever) but the maps cost a few bucks. They aren't very good maps but at least the pictures are in English.

Yad vashem needs no discussion. It is a comprehensive, moving and important visit. The kids didn't "get" everything, but I am glad they walked through it.

We took the shuttle back to the light rail, crammed inn along with the 17% of the nation's population, and rode back. We got off at Machane Yehudah, walked in a bit, around a bit, and then worked our way to Ben Yehudah street. A few stores later (over priced skirts, under priced liquor and shoes but at 2 different stores) we started back to Machane Yehudah. Candy and souvenirs and we made it back to my sister's house just in time to get picked up to be driven to dinner in Talpiyot.

In Talpiyot, we went to a "steak-a-ria". Lots of skewers of stuff on the menu, and they serve with never ending lafa and salads. Very impressive even if the food itself is nondescript. Final good byes and we made it back to home base to collapse.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

near vana

When I woke up this morning, in a hotel bed in a foreign country, I almost forgot that I had no way of getting back to where all my stuff was. When that memory set in, I went to call the rental agent to find out what the deal was with my replacement car. He said there was no replacement car. He encouraged me to call any other car rental service and get a car from them and he assured me that I would not be charged. Let me point something out --- I found this out by calling him. He wasn't exactly falling over himself to let me know that I had no car. Customer service reps all over the world are hurting right now.

So, down to the front desk I go to try and get some contact info for other rental places because, you remember, I'm a tourist. I don't live there and don't know the local resources. The front desk woman got me a few different numbers and she worked out a system. She would dial and then hand me the phone so i could struggle with the language. She didn't speak on my behalf, or try to help set anything up. She handed ME the phone. 3 places had no cars. Finally, Avis said they had one. Smaller than what I had, and more expensive, but a car. So I asked where the Avis place is. Big mistake. The directions were the combination of every phrase I have learned is a trick.

"Right down the hill, then go right, everyone knows it, it is right next to a pharmacy only 5 minutes away, ask anyone." I'm a tourist -- maybe a map would be appropriate? Oh yeah, the maps are missing streets and no one actually knows where things are. So I took a walk. After a few false starts and semi true middles, I reached the Avis desk. A few tense minutes later, I was winding my way back through the streets to the hotel to pick everyone up, check out and get to the water.

We drove over to the Gai Beach water park and met with our Efrat friends. First, we parked on an empty side of a mountain and crossed the street to pay our money and get in. We snagged the last two umbrellas and got ready for the water. I took a quick dip in the overcrowded wave pool and figured I'd ride out the day in the shade. That worked well for a while...light chit chat and a bunch of people watching. Then it was pointed out to me that there was also the beach on the Galilee. I didn't realize that we had access to the beach from the water slide area. Much of the next few hours was spent on a perfect day, lazing in the water. It was as close to relaxing as I have been in a while. Truly spectacular weather, no big waves, the water was the right temp (and fresh water). I could imagine staying there for 8 hours for a number of days in a row. Who needs anything else. I assume the kids had fun on the water slides who who cares. I was happy.

They closed at 5 and kicked us out so we made plans to drive in a convoy up to Beit She'an for dinner (lunch had been snack foods which we packed and lots of water). So we drove up to the tiny "mall" in Beit She'an and went to the McDonald's there. The Chicken Selects were a bit peppery but very nice. My concern was that evening was approaching and I didn't relish the thought of driving my little rental car through the West Bank after dark. I did it anyway (with my friends leading the way). It was a bit scary, and we took streets through the city which got us a bit lost. But we made it back. Tomorrow I have to return the car, get back here and then walk to the light railway to head to Har Herzel.

I am still somewhat relaxed, my hair is frizzy and grayer and the last thing I ate was in a cardboard box. I started the day with no car, did some swimming, and now I am going to turn in. Any questions?

Monday, August 22, 2011

What goes up must call a cab

Strange days, indeed. Today was a day which pointed out the ridiculous, the sublime and the ridiculous. We got up this morning and busted our tushes to try and get out of the hotel quickly. We had been reassured that the trip from Tiberias to Tzfat ("Zefat" for some reason, on signs) was 20-30 minutes. I guess Israelis compute minutes on the Celcius scale. It took us 30 minutes just to get on the road. But we zoomed up, and up on route 90. Eventually, we hit route 89 and took a left. A left in Israel means a right around a circle until you are headed to the left. Makes perfect sense. We went up higher along roads untouched since sheep and goats blazed them thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, these particular goats and sheep were stupid and drunk and couldn't walk a straight line so the road took all sorts of weird twists and turns and at the end, I still didn't know who done it.

After an hour of traveling 30 kilometers (computed as the crow staggers. It doesn't include the extra 400 kilometers of vertical climb) we started seeing signs. We were told that there would be clear signas to where we were going, but that's another famous Israeli phrase. "Follow the signs" means "there will be one sign. Establish a telepathic link with it and you'll be fine." We got pretty lucky and found the world's smallest parking lot and parked in it. We met our guide, Jeff Katz and started walking through the Artists' Colony. Some art I get, some I don't. Some I like, some I don't. In fact, my appreciation is reflected in the price - I like expensive stuff because that's the only stuff worth liking. We saw some synagogues and heard some stories. The girls were hot but only somewhat bored so we were doing OK.

For lunch, we ate at Cafe Isadore. Talia found a plain toasted bagel and Maddie had a bagel with butter. I had a quiche of sweet potato and onions and each of us also had a green salad. Very nice. Not fancy and their credit card machine didn't work, but it sufficed and the courtyard was cool and pleasant. Next stop was pottery with Batya Erdstein.

There, the girls learned how to throw a piece of pottery on a wheel while I climbed the 300 or so steps to try and find a bank so we could pay her. Thing is, many banks are closed for siesta in the mid afternoon. I stumbled into a money conversion kiosk and paid the premium for money there. Then back down the stairs to watch the girls make stuff. The activity was fabulous, Batya is very nice and we all left with a piece of art which we created. We piled back into the car planning to find a beach and stick our toes in the Kinneret (Galilee). On the way, we stopped for gas and I used the self serve. We got back on the road and the car started making weird noises and responding poorly to the accelerator. After 7.5 kilometers, I had to pull over and the car simply stopped working. is it possible I put in the wrong gas? I guess. But there were no particular signs saying that I was using anything other than regular ol' gas so who knows. We pulled over and tried to figure out what to do. I'll streamline the story by listing the process:

1. we called the "24 hour emergency number" only to be told that it was for use after hours. It was still before 5 so we were directed to call the rental office.
2. We got an English speaker on the phone and explained the situation. He said he'd get right back to us.
3. He didn't, so Julie called 10 minutes later and got snapped at by a woman who said they were "working on it."
4. We waited another hour and then called back, only to hear the recording that the office was closed.
5. We called the 24 emergency number and heard an answering machine telling us to leave a message.
6. Tried another of the 24 emergency numbers and got a guy who said he couldn't help, but I should call the manager at the other number. I told him I had and it was a machine but he insisted that the manager was there now.
7. The manager ended up being the guy from step 1. He said that he'd call us right back.

side note -- I am an English teacher in a high school. I am not a mechanic. So when the various people asked me repeatedly "what is wrong with the car" I couldn't really answer other than "it no make moving".

another side note -- I pulled over right next to the marker indicating the entrance to the city. From this side, there is a single road which enters; it is marked by a giant stone etched with the words "welcome" and a smaller stone marker indicating where Israeli forces entered from the north in the 1948 war. Remember, there is only 1 entrance from this direction. And yet no one with whom I spoke had any idea where I was. I detailed the road number and he signs and markers, but got no where with people who actually live in the town.

8. Eventually, after a series of back and forth calls and attempts to explain, we were told that the car would get picked up and a replacement car provided in 4 hours. We had already been on the side fo the road in 95+ degrees for 2 hours. Four more hours. We were encouraged to get a cab and get back to the hotel. We didn't have the number of a cab company handy and the local cabs do not have their phone number on the side. We had to call a friend who found the number and called it in, while we flagged down cabs and tried to press drivers into calling ahead for us.
9. Cabs showed up eventually and we returned to the hotel. It took 5 more calls for the mechanics to find the car. They confirmed that it did not start.
10. As of now, I still have no car. We are supposed to drive back to Jerusalem tomorrow (and we wanted to stop at a water park on the way -- both will be tough without a car).

Final note -- do I feel bad if I broke the car? Nope. I paid extra to remove the deductible on the car so I'm just cashing in on my investment. Nyah nyah.

For dinner, we had planned to go up the hill (our hotel is 60 percent of the way up the hill) to a pizza place just to celebrate our being alive. It took some work but we were advised to walk DOWN the hill to another pizza place since we wanted to be down the hill anyway to walk on the Boardwalk. We were told that the walk all the way down is only 15 minutes. That should have been a red flag. I am disillusioned about the Israeli notions of time and space. Their idea of "15 minutes" is completely skewed. It may be that they didn't beat the Arabs in any of the wars, they just gave the Arabs some directions. So we ate at "Bereishit Pizza." We ordered the XL Pizza. XL is Hebrew for "medium sized and not very good." No menus, no prices, no side dishes, no options. Just poor pizza. We continued town the hill and I marveled at how the ice cream coolers had Ben and Jerry's, Nestles and Stolichnaya. Second dinner was a mediocre felafel at a place smack dab in the midst of the tourist area.

We made it to the Boardwalk, watched the light/water show at the Tiberium, and then argued about what to do next. Boardwalks are not interesting to everyone especially after the day we had. They were crowded, loud and over priced. Lots of fun. We all stuck it out though there was plenty of whining involved, but when we tried to get a cab to drive us back up the hill, none could be found! So we figured that while we looked, we could start walking. We ended up schleppping all the way back to the hotel.

So in total, we have no car, no plan, no energy and are running out of money.

I love Israel, but this trip is testing me. Julie is being a real trouper helping organize and arrange. Talia is having some fun as is Maddie, but each positive is offset by a negative. I'm gaining weight because I eat when I am frustrated, but when I'm not frustrated, I eat. Tomorrow, maybe a water park, eventually back to Jerusalem.

In theory, at least.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

for the want of a parking spot

It is now a little while later. I happen to know this because I wrote the post about arriving in Tiberias a little while ago. Therefore, it must be a little later. I want to put some thoughts down about dinner and what I have learned about the cultural idioms in Israel. First, dinner. We ate at a restaurant called "Galileo." If you are ever in Tiberias, eat there. Twice, at least. Instead of appetizers, we got loaves of bread with dipping sauces. Yum. Julie got salmon, which she said rivaled Benny's, Maddie got the schnitzel, Talia and Mikki shared the sirloin, and I had the entrecote steak. This is apparently a popular cut of steak here. Who knew. The beef was a tad salty and a little undercooked, but yummy. For dessert, the table had assorted chocolate things and I had fruit sorbet and fake vanilla ice cream. Hoe runs all around. We spent 15 minutes patting our stomaches and complaining how we couldn't move. In fact, I still think, 2 hours later, that I could throw up and still be full. Maybe that isn't the most appetizing thought, but there you have it.

Now, we had heard that there was a promenade downtown, and a laser light show. So we asked Mark our waiter, and I leanred another important Israeli phrase. So far I have:
"Ask anyone" = "good luck. no one will help you"
"five minutes away" = "half an hour if you are lucky, 25 minutes if you are a world class athlete"
and now
"plenty of parking" = "plenty of cards already parked so there are no spots for you"

The thing is, as much as we are in a relatively "big city" (relative to my living room, I think) this town is pretty small in some senses (sight and touch, for example). There is a single main road leading in and through, with 1.5 lanes in each direction. If something gets stopped up ahead by a traffic light or a goat, you just sit. There are no alternate routes. So as we slowly drifted through town with 4 lanes of cars working their way through 1.5 lanes of street, we couldn't get anywhere near a parking spot no matter what assurance we had that there was "plenty" of parking. So we gave up and mace our way back to the hotel. I see that as a victory; I found the hotel in the dark. There has to be some reward for that. So the girls are upstairs in the "suite" (a bedroom, and another room with a trundle couch) working on sleeping arrangements and I am trying to collect my thoughts in the lobby. Tomorrow we head norther, Miss Tesmacker. I expect to be hungry again next week.

Life in a northern town

I find myself now in Tiberias (Tveriyah for those in the nu), in the lobby of the Prima Galil Hotel. Interesting journey today.

Step 1, send Julie and the girls out to the shuk in Jerusalem to pick up "breakfast" (fruit, bourekas and bamba).

Step 2, walk to the car rental place (find it by accident) and rent a car. Note to you world travelers: carry your passport with you. I didn't. They don't like that. But I rented the car (Class G, not the original class F, because I wanted a trunk, not a tiny car with a hatchback. I also got a peppier engine (I have ALWAYS wanted to say a "peppier engine." Having said it, I realize my life's goal was a lie)). And I paid to remove the deductible. If I could have paid a surcharge to have people stop using the metric system, I would have paid it. I had a quarter tank of gas at the start, and no sense of how far I was going, or how far that would get me. Miles RULE! Kilos stink.

Step 2.5 -- find my way back to my brother-in-law's house. Pure luck. Pick up wife, kids and our extra guest for the trip and try to figure out how to go. Remember, we canceled the trip to Netanya so instead of driving west and then north, we went east to the Dead Sea, then north on rte 90, following the Jordan border. The boards are terribly marked and with constant construction, the trip is fraught with uncertainty. We also had to stop at a checkpoint and I was nervous. I know I pose no threat to anyone, but do THEY know that?

Step 3 -- stop at Gan Garoo, the Australian animal preserve (and by that, I don't mean jelly) near Beit She'an. We stumbled into it as the signage is poor. We paid way too much and got to romp in the 100+ degree (FAHRENHEIT, that's right, not "Celci-anything") heat with lazy and bored kangaroos. The giftshop was also pretty beat, so we left after an hour. Back towards the north we went.

Step 4 -- try to find the hotel once we reach Tiberias. The GPS was worthless (which is ok, since it isn't ours), the maps were useless, and the people at the front desk (who barely spoke English) couldn't direct us either. We found the hotel totally by accident. The "valet" parked my car so I have to go find it so we can go out to dinner. The younger girls tried out the pool, and Maddie discovered the television. We have made contact with tomorrow's tour people and we will head to Tzfat at first light or 9AM, which ever is later.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Horses

We had an interesting shabbat in Efrat and I want to reflect on it in a bit, but first, I want to talk about what irritates me. Shocking, I know.

I am a creature not necessarily of habit, but of pattern. I like to set up a plan and stick with it. So when, during the course of our stay, everybody says "oh, you HAVE to go to XX" I tend to tune it out. i have a plan. I have been working on and living with the plan for months now and have made it available for public comment repeatedly. Last minute changes are a real bother to me. The plan is rock solid and changes mean rippling effects which only I, it seems, worry about. Names of places to visit "along the way" take time, planning and money. When are they open? What time do we have to be any where else? Where will we eat? How much gas will it take. I'm skittish enough about driving on a clearly marked route. Spontaneous side trips drive me batty. If people care enough about a trip, they will plan well in advance so we can relax and just DO without thinking. Tomorrow, we will be driving up north to Tiberias (not by my choice, but I was told that this was a trip we "had" to take so I set it up). Driving in a foreign country is rattling enough. I need to focus on that and remove other concerns. Having names of places to stop, or side roads to try will not work out well for me. I don't change anything midstream if I can help it.

The central point of our trip to Israel was to stop off at the orphanage for which Talia raised money in order to have her meet people there. I emailed and called the local representative to set this up. And when it turned out that this date was during the orphanage group vacation, I took it in stride and asked if we could stop by anyway to meet with someone. Sure, they said, and took down the date. When I called last week to confirm I thought of it as a courtesy. Imagine my surprise when the director acted like she didn't know what I was talking about and said that she will not be in the office on the date that we were supposed to come. This is not a good way to settle my nerves. And it made Talia sad. So, executive decision time. The route north is changing and instead of swinging out west to go to the coast, we are heading east and north and staying on the interior. I hope I can do that and not end up in Afghanistan or something. I am worried about the walk to get the car from the rental place...I will be a wreck when I see a sign pointing to Arab controlled villages.

Another thing which irks me is being a guest. I don't like unfamiliar surroundings because I am worried that I am getting something wrong. Going in to a synagogue at which I am a guest drives me crazy. Am I dressed wrong? In what order do they say things? What tunes will they sing? Where should I sit. I am better sitting in my own house. Agoraphobia has a romantic allure. Hotels are OK because there, EVERYONE is a guest and a stranger. But sitting amongst locals makes me feel like I stick out. Driving a rental car will be the same.

So shabbat in Efrat had its nice side. we saw friends who moved and the kids had a real blast. But during the afternoon, when 30 people all got together I realized that had I been amongst this group in Teaneck, I would walk away. All the more so when I don't know a bunch of people. I also felt freaked out at night in a "settlement" -- it was dark and my imagination got the better of me. Who knew who or what was creeping in the darkness. I enjoyed seeing friends but wanted to get the heck out. One important point -- we are not moving to Israel any time soon. So when the conversations are all about moving in, and adjusting, we (and by we I mean us) don't react well. I respect the people who move to Israel, I really do. But there are myriad things holding us back and we have too much of an insight into the demands and tribulations and our own limitations to decide to move. Not everyone cares that we think this and insists that we move. Not cool.

So tomorrow, we drive, and where we end up and what time we get there is totally confusing for me. We may have one of Talia's friends as a guest so the child isn't bored. We may be meeting people up there. We may go to a water park, a crocodile refuge, a kangaroo encounter (for realsies, even) or a cave. The kids may be bored or may have a blast. I'm all a tumult not knowing what will be thrown my way but everyone else seems to be in a wonderful mood.

Bah, humbug.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On the Other Side

We stumbled into an invite to Efrat for Shabbat. We were supposed to see all the friends who abandoned us during Friday, but seeing how Talia has been sad about what we have scheduled, we were pressured into staying for Shabbat so she could spend more time with the friends who abandoned her.

So we got picked up this morning and packed small bags into a car. Off we went to Efrat. It is currently over some line or another. Look, I'm not big on politics or geography but to fight over this land seems silly. There are established neighborhoods and long, winding roads. Plus, lots of completely uncultivated areas. To say that people can't find space to live peacefully here is kooky. But enough of my naive ramblings. Let's get back to what annoys me besides "everything."

We dropped our bags off at our friends' house and almost immediately went out to the local winery for lunch and a tour. Tour is a bit of an overstatement as all we saw was a bunch of metal vats in the huge garage. Some 40,000 bottles of wine are produced there and the owner has a really sweet Nash Metropolitan. I tasted a little wine. It was yummy but I was expecting a long walk through rooms of casks with varying flavors and vintages. In effect, I was expecting to get snoggered.

The food was really good. The adults mostly ate at the buffet (fresh bread, souffl├ęs, salads) plus I had a double espresso. The kids had either fettuccine (how do you spell that? this computer doesn't have spell check built in) Alfredo or pizza. Both were fabulous. And we bought some liquor just to make sure that we had some liquor.

The community of Efrat is built on 7-8 hills. This means that someone can live in the same town and yet be nowhere near you, or live around the block and be a 15 minute walk uphill. Everyone here is in really good shape. I hurt all over. The parts that aren't expanding with the meals are throbbing from the exertion. And for every thing that we see as a real plus to living here, there is something that seems really annoying(the residents have to take their garbage to a dumpster a block or two away).

We stopped at a Rami Levi (like a Pathmark) on the way back and stocked up on milk in a bag and Parmesan cheese. We are going to get ready for shabbat -- this means, no doubt, that I had better start doing my stretching exercises so we can walk around the corner.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

one step forward, two back (oh, and a few hundred down)

Today was a real breakthrough day - we left Jerusalem and tried an entirely different mode of vacationing, and to some degree, it really worked. Now, the details.

We had arranged to have a gentleman with a car pick us up and drive us to a couple of sites in the Dead Sea area. He would pay for gas and get us oriented, but wouldn't be a proper guide so the cost was reduced (and we didn't have to rent a car or pay for gas). He showed up promptly at 9AM and so we started getting ready. Out to the car and after a couple of fits and starts, we were on our way, with light clothing, hats, and bottled water galore. We drove out into the desert past Bedouin villages, army checkpoints, "settlements" which were 50,000 residents strong and up and down many hills. Eventually, we made it out to the flat area around the Salt Sea. We saw the Jordanian mountains across the water and saw the palm trees tower above us in their straight lines. It was really nice -- we were sitting, not walking, there was AC on in the car and we were on time. After about an hour and a half we approached Masada, the fortress made by the Chashmonaim, improved by Herod and ultimately, a site of a last stand by Jewish rebels. There is an underground garage so we set up down there, took the elevator up and I realized that I had left the SD card out of my camera.

I went ionto the gift shop to buy another and bought a cup of coffee there also. The coffee you can buy in some rest area is fresh and freshly ground just for your cup. It is better than 95% of the cups of coffee in the US and relatively cheap. Darn fine cuppa, that! Kudos, European tinged culture.

I then bought tickets to the cable car up and down the mountain, plus admission to the museum (not because I had ANY hpe that the kids would appreciate it, but because with it came the electronic audio tours headsets so the girls might know what they were looking at). The fact is, I was hoping that between the utter size of the place and the history (as presented in another poorly dubbed movie...everything has a mini movie here) the girls would be affected in some way. Didn't really work out, sadly. The walk across the hall to the cable car was enough to inspire grumbling, and the sun up top really brought out the whining. It was too hot, too boring and most of all, too hot and boring. Julie and I tried to walk around, take in the unbelievable view, see the remnants of a 2000+ year old fortress. The kids worked hard at complaining. They were more successful than we were. We reduced the number of parts we would see so that we could achieve our more modest goals and then splashed ourselves with the last of our water and went to the line for the return cable car trip. The line was a few HUNDRED people long and the cable car had just left, without ANYONE on board. This was concerning. Word on line was that there was something wrong with the cable cars so no one was being allowed down on them. The lines was in the sun and we figured that if we had to wait in the sun with no clear end time in sight, we might end up killing the children. Society frowns on this, apparently, so we opted to force them to walk down the snake path. Remember, these are the kids who don't like to ride escalators because they are afraid. We feel like we have to slip tranquilizers in their food if they have to go on monkey bars. And here we are insisting that they walk down the side of a mountain on roughly hewn stone stairs with a precipitous drop on one side and wall of rock closely felt on the other.

Maddie and Julie went ahead because Maddie is squarely in the age where she feels invulnerable and Julie wanted to keep an eye on her. I stayed back with Talia who is afraid of heights, depths and most other dimensions. We walked VERY slowly and I gave an inspirational speech the whole way down. By the time we were half way down, the cable car started operating again. By the time we were two thirds of the way down, we saw that the line had disappeared and we would have been riding down, instead of turning beet red and damaging our knees. By the time I was almost down, I realized that I had left my driver's license at the top as collateral for the 2 audio tours hardware still safely stored in our bag. So when we finally got down, I got back on the line for the cable car, went up, retrieved my license, waited another 15 minutes and came back down. That extra time had allowed me to get a deeper shade of red and the girls to get ice cream.

We headed back into the car and out on to the road.

A serious sidebar. When we got back to the car, our driver told us of the terrorist attack today in Eilat. I stay out of politics and try to be understanding and see all sides of conflicts. But this in unacceptable. That anyone, anywhere isn't up and shouting about the depravity and inhumane behavior evidenced here is disgusting. There is no excuse for this and it cast a pall over the balance of the day for (I would hazard to guess) the entire country. And for certain families, sadly, that pall will extend for years. My heart goes out to them, and every time I see a soldier walking around here I have an incredibly deep sense of awe and respect. Even when people think they are safe here, there is a threat that some animal will do something animalistic, and it is the police and soldiers who protect all of us from terrorism, every day, all the time. So is it an inconvenience to walk through metal detectors and have my bag checked repeatedly? Yes. But I cherish every time as a chance to say thank you to a soldier who is out there protecting me.

We drove out towards Ein Gedi, found some parking there and went for a bit of a nature hike. Talia felt emboldened by her success on Masada and led the way, bounding up and down steps that had me pausing for sanity. We got drenched in the series of waterfalls along Nachal David (the route we took as we thought a 60 minute hike was better in the heat and with the kids than a 4 hour hike). The kids weren't enthused about any more walking, but with each waterfall, Ibex or Hyrax sighting, they got excited. A few shades of red later, we emerged. Tired, relaxed and mostly happy. Our driver then drove us back through the area and back into the hills while updating us on the news reports. When we got back we discovered 2 things -- one, that there is a giant concert going on in the Sacher Park just down the block (band on stage, giant screens, pyrotechnics...the only thing missing is 2 hours of music I know), and two, that Pizza Hut is kosher, and delivers.

My sister went online and placed an order for the girls. Seven minutes later, the motorcycle arrives and the delivery guy brings in the pie and the garlic bread. He was a bit confused as to why we all insisted on photographing the box, but whatever.Julie and I took the evening to walk up the block to Benny's Fish, a landmark institution. e had a choice of 2 close by fish restaurants, but I wanted to try the classic. Appetizers were mixed -- Julie got a "vegetable soup" which seemed very much like a Parve chicken noodle soup. I ordered a "techina salad" assuming thatthis was a green salad with techina on it. It was a bowl of techina. But really really good techina. I dipped the complimentary garlic pita in and was in heaven. She had a piece of grilled salmon as her main, and I ordered the filet of sole in cream sauce. What I got was a tempura battered and fried filet of sole in a cream sauce, topped with slivered almonds and served with lime wedges. Unbelievable. Julie said her might have been the best piece of fish she has ever had, and mine was out of this world. All in all, a great ending to a really tiring, but not so bad day. Chalk this one in the "draw" column. Maybe is isn't a total "win" but it is certainly not the "loss" that we have been running into.

The drunks are leaving the concert, and walking past the house singling their drunken songs. In Hebrew. My legs are sore (from right to left) and my sunburn is starting to come out and make itself known. But I'm burping up Benny's and that can't be bad.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Right of Waterway

While I know that I have to detail all that we did today, I want to take a slight detour and first go through my reflections on the people around us at this morning's activity.

You pathetic bunch of idiots.

There. I feel better.

We started the day with a long walk down to the "City of David" to walk through Hezekiah's tunnels. The actual city of David is outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem and had a complex aqueduct built to protect the flowing spring water. The directions we got were incomplete, the road markers were wrong and the phone help I solicited didn't get us where we needed to go. So we showed up a few minutes late, in time to hear a Charleton Heston impersonator dubbing English onto a Hebrew 3-D film about the tunnels. Nausea set in, and after an excessive morning walk, it was unwelcome. After the movie, our group worked our way down a whole lotta stairs, pausing whenever we were directly under the sun in order to have our tour guide say the exact same stuff about springs, military sieges and biblical references. It was hard to hear him, but it became more difficult when other groups and individuals started floating by, talking at full volume and blocking the path. You see, this place, with all of its daily visitors, doesn't have a real schedule for tours. Sure, we had a reservation for the 10 AM movie/tour, but family tours, individuals, groups and other sanctioned tours seem to have reserved all the spots between 10:01 and 10:30. I was even asked to serve as the group's "last man" so we could be sure that everyone was included before the tour guide started to bore us, but i had to wait while a personal tourguide had completed talking to his family group because they were also now part of our group.

After a while, we finally made it into the tunnels. The ceilings were VERY low, the walls, VERY narrow and the overall experience, not so much scary as annoying. I was in front of a group of English pre-teens who sang and shouted the whole time so I dealt with this by lying to them often ("hey...there's a steep drop right ahead -- look out!"). Even when we got out of the tunnel, and wanted to leave, the tour guide couldn't just point to the exit so we could make our next appointment. Instead he said that he had "just one more thing" to mention. He must have discussed the meaning of "just one more thing" with my kids...

We made it out and paid for a mini van to drive us back to the starting point so that we could walk to the Dung Gate and to the Square to snag a quick lunch and meet our afternoon guide, Donna. She started us off with a little museum about the First Temple period, and helped the girls write their names in Ancient Hebrew. This, while not a particularly useful skill, went over really well, and this activity and the really cool video we saw in the air conditioned theater was the first time that we truly enjoyed learning stuff about stuff. The afternoon was looking up.

Donna then drove us up to Ammunition Hill and we ran in to catch the last movie of the day -- it was an incredibly powerful and inspiring movie which was connected to a model/lightshow on the floor depicting the events of June 1967 leading up to the capture of Jerusalem. We then went out and split into two "teams" to explore the trenches and get a sense of what the Israelis wdere up against in the battle against the Jordanians. The Israelis won quickly as Maddie, when she was going to get a hiding space, smacked her nose against one of the metal walkways and started bleeding. She has a bump, a mark on her nose, and headache but this has been perfectly reflective of the entire trip. Find something the kids might like and it gets smacked in the face. On the plus side, as we left, the security guard gave us all free ice pops! So we're going back tomorrow to see if I can break a leg.

Our next drive was to Mt. Scopus and then to the Mount of Olives. We saw incredible views, let the girls get a camle ride and watched in horror as our tourguide did a poor job of driving. There was intense traffic on the way back -- both lanes of the road were log jammed and Jerusalem isn't know for "alternate routes.

Our last decisionm of the day was dinner. We were eminently unsuccessful at reaching any agreement, so we ate in 3 separate restaurants, none of us having what each intended at the outset. It was a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ars (not so) gratis ars

Today was to be, as advertised, an IMPORTANT day on our trip because we were scheduled to go to the museum, and museums (musea?) are full of important stuff. So we hiked down Bezalel, walked down a few blocks and crossed the street to begin our ascent to the hill housing the Israel Museum, the Shrine of the book and the Knesset. A late start and the generally foul mood of the children really got things off nicely. Free admission for the kids should have been a boon but instead we were met with "we could NOT go for the same money". We let the children hold our Audio Guide hardware and that bought their silence for 5 minutes. In the main exhibit hall, we looked at skeletons, spears and combs from thousands and millions of years ago (one wonders what the religious authorities felt when finding out that the displays would focus on a decidedly anti-biblical explication of fossils etc). Between dodging the huge Israeli tour group and trying to satisfy the interests of the kids we lost ground rather quickly. By the time we were looking at the Life cycle exhibit we had lost child number 1 to the allure of lunch. Child number was close behind buoyed only by the hopes of a slab of meat for lunch. We dragged them through the 19th century display and into the modern art section (Duchamp, you scamp) and rewarded them with a hot pretzel. This didn't get us any more time and it only showed weakness to the kids. They punced and at the first sign of our wanting to look at another room they flipped out. And when we walked out of the cafeteria to look for a meat restaurant, that only got one child crazed and the other frustrated. The meat place was prohibitively expensive so we figured it made more sense to be disappointed by a cheaper place than by a more expensive one.

I ordered a grilled eggplant with cheese sandwich. I assumed it would be grilled and made melty and crunchy. Not so much. Kid 1 ordered a lasagna expecting pasta, sauce and cheese. She didn't expect eggplant and sweet potato and very little pasta. Neither of us was especially happy. Kid 2 ate her pizza (after removing the cheese)and then we left, still feeling hungry and crabby. We indulged kid 2 (who had said that museums were fine with her; she wasn't poorly behaved but was just putting on a brave face. Number 1 was no longer trying. We stopped of in the Kids' Education Center and kid two did an activity surrounding identifying parts of an ancient Tel. I sat around and through pebbles at the other kid. Lolts of fun. Eventually, I convinced everyone to join me for a very brief look at the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Aleppo Codex was there as well so for me, this was a real high point. The kids were happy that we were out of the heat, and that I promised to be done quickly. They then stared at the Israeli Snack Machine for another 5 minutes and whined about it.

Off to the giftshop so I could hold all the bags and be bored again. Choruses of "can I get this?" hit me so often that I think I oked a purchase for someone else's kid. Or OF someone else's kid. The details are hazy. The next fight surrounded how we were getting back home. Walking was not a fan favorite but we pushed it down their throats and the eventually signed on. We stopped off in the park for a relaxing sit and whine and so that the children could feed the feral cats who surrounded us. Back at my sis's house, we made plans to go out to the Chutzot Hayotzer, the artists' fair. Number two was dead set against it so tears erupted again. She agreed to go as long as she could play the entire game under protest and get traded to another family after next season. Another compromise was that we took a cab down there. We were assured that all we had to do was get into the cab and any cabbie would know where the art festival was. Last night, we were assured that "everyone" would know where the restaurant was and yet no one did. One of those no ones must have been driving the cab tonight because he hadn't a clue about where to go. I like to think of it as a Crap Fair but that's isn't nice, because the prices were not fair. Did I mention that it cost our family 185 NIS (about $51) just to get in and have the chance to spend more money? Sheesh.

The festival was a huge number of Israeli craftsmen plying their wares, a HUGE row of kosher restaurants cooking food, and then a huge international pavilion. Slovenia was NOT represented. Sad, really. Slovakia was there. Some of the stuff was so authentic that even the China stuff wasn't made in China. I ate a baked potato with cheese and mushrooms, and had a Tuborg Red. Good stuff. The others ate whatever food those people eat. The throngs kept getting throngier and we decided it was time to leave. Julie, Nomi and cousin Rafi and I walked back so that:
1. our kids could catch a ride
2. Julie could get food from Moshiko

We eventually wandered in, realizing we are almost tapped on cash (and too many places don't take credit cards) and that we are tired. But still eating way too much. My ring no longer fits. I have moved into gaining weight in my fingers. I'm sure there is more, but I have to be up at a reasonable time tomorrow.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Climbing the Walls

Ahh Monday - you trickster of a day. You give us hope and you deliver us mixed messages about the rest fo the week. And we fall for it each time.

It is currently sometime early Tuesday morning and I can finally try to put down some thoughts about Monday. I haven't tried to sleep yet so I don't know if I will be a zombie tomorrow or not. Watch your local news for updates.

Today, we had the opportunity to be led around the Old City of Jerusalem by an actual guide. He's like a book but with legs and not as cheap. We met Patrick Amar (kudos to him by the way -- if you are looking for a guide, he's incredible; as Talia put it "you're the first person not in our family to put up with us for so long.") at the beginning of Mamilla, a pedestrian walkway with such important historical sites as the Gap. Who can forget the incredible biblical battle between David and Goliath through the aisles of Super-Pharm? So we looked at stuff and bought nothing.

Into the Old City we went, by way of the Jaffa Gate. We decided to start the day with a tour of the wall of the Old City (the Rampart tour between Jaffa and Damascus gate). Talia didn't like the heights, or the slippery rocks, or the heat, or the data being thrown her way. But she did...um...well, she pretty much hated it. Let's move on.

We got down at the Damascus gate, and walked up a bit to Hezekiah's cave. Hezekiah had a cave apparently. He didn't have a housekeeper. So we left. We went back towards the gate but first had a chance to see a real live olive tree. It had olives on it and everything. By everything, I clearly mean "olives." We walked into the Damascus gate and through the Muslim Quarter. Talia wasn't enthused about that. We made it through and went through part of the Christian Quarter as well. Talia was less scared but no more interested. We made it through 2 different shuks and then stopped for breath. For lunch, we stopped at the Ma'afa Ne'eman, a bakery with foccacia and mini pizzas and sandwiches. So Talia got a donut. I accidentally ordered two espressos. Julie went elsewhere and got a felafel -- we are trying a bunch of different felafels. The one last night ("Shalom") was spicy but flavorful. The one today was less impressive to me but the kids liked it. Dumb kids. While Talia and I ate, Julie and Maddie went to the Hadaya store because women love that sort of junk...pieces of metal with engravings on it. I don't see it myself, but hey, maybe that's why I'm a guy. After lunch (and finding out that my credit card was frozen so I couldn't buy anything else on it) and bathroom breaks we moved into the Jewish Quarter. We saw the Churva Synagogue from the outside, the Ramban Synagogue from the inside, and 4 other Sephardic Synagogues at which the curator told Julie that her skirt was too short. We wandered around and heard the stories of the Chasidic Synagogue and we saw the Karaite Synagogue. It was all fascinating to me so the kids really hated it. We made our way into the Aish Hatorah building and blessed the air conditioning. It was enough to make us want to convert to whatever Aish was selling. From there we saw the kotel. Downstairs was next and we went out, first, to the Davidson Archaeological area. There we saw excavations including around the south wall, and then we went inside for a short movie about the experience of visiting the temple 2000 years ago. It was poorly edited and light on character development with some glaring plot holes, but the special effects were great. As was the A/C.

We parted ways with Patrick at the Western Wall and while the kids prayed and stuffed notes in the crack of a wall (please say they wished for a bajilliion dollars...please say they wished for a bajillion dollars) I prayed and picked up my tickets for the tunnel tour under the extension of the wall. While the tour was underground and therefore a bit cooler, it was also a tight squeeze in a humid space with all the allure to a (pre) teenager as the Libertarian National Convention in a non-election year. When we got to the end (in the Muslim quarter) our guide explained that we would not have a military escort back to the Western Wall so we could either go back through the tunnels on our own and exit the way we came in, or go back through the Muslim Quarter by ourselves. We voted 2-1 (Finland abstained) to exit and walk through the Muslim Quarter. Talia was NOT happy about this and made that known often. On the way, we made plans to go out to eat. And we let Talia choose.

Talia loves the beef so she chose a restaurant known far and wide (that is, by one very fat customer in America) for its steak. It is called El Gaucho. We found its address and tried to get a cab to take us. When we explained where we wanted to go, he refused to drive us -- he told us it was a very short walk. Now I'm no businessman, but if we are willing to pay, why decline? The answer? It would have taken him longer to navigate traffic there and back than was worth it since he already had a really good parking space. So we walked, and it was not so far. Of course, we didn't realize that the name "El Gaucho" is Argentinian for "your map is wrong and you'll never find the place." When we finally stumbled upon it, we were asked if we had a reservation. We said no and prepared to leave, but the waiter pulled some imaginary strings and got us a seat in the almost empty restaurant.

The service was wonderful, as were the fries. The steak was run of the mill steak but the servings were small compared to the equivalent orders in the US. We all left feeling a bit hungry. On the whole, I wouldn't recommend the place. There are places where you can waste less money on a similar piece of cow. We actually decided to stop for more felafel on the way back. Problem is, the felafel stand we were shooting for required that we go past a women's clothing store. 45 minutes later we finally headed out. This felafel, Moshiko, was wonderful. You should go there. Now. And bring me back more.

We stumbled back home and I skyped Visa. They explained that not only was it strange to see charges from Israel, but there were also a bunch of online purchases. I didn't know what the purchases online were so this confirmed that my card has been compromised. Yay...a quick check of email and like that, and we are headed off to sleep. In tomorrow's chapter, we walk to a museum. No way the kids won't love THAT.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Street fare, Mall fowl

Just to finish up on Saturday night, I took the girls to the local cafe. A cafe is not quite a fancy restaurant, not quite a pizza place and not quite a coffee bar. It has a little of everything. The one we went to was (and is) called "Cafe Cafe." Apparently, there is a shortage of names here, so they simply reuse words to express complex ideas. The food wasn't bad, in fact, the girls LOVED their personal pizzas and the Belgian waffle (the list of what was in it was so big that Maddie got full just reading it). I loved my beer. And then my milkshake. Sleep was hard to come by. But, behold, it was the second day of our trip.

This morning, I awoke extra special early, mainly because I didn;t want to and the fates would think it funnier this way. So I did some reading, waited for Mr. Sun to poke out his shiny head, and then played with the niece and nephews. The rest of them decided that our morning walk would turn into a late morning stroll. We went out a bit after 11 and headed a few blocks over to the shuk (pronounced shook, but spelled completely differently). While there I found that the indoor bazaar (spelled bizarre) had only 6 different stores, but 800,000 iterations of each. The smell of fresh old food was overpowering. The kids found a candy store and proceeded to beg for money to buy stuff easily accessible at home. But with more cachet because it was sold in Israel. We escaped the indoor portion, and wandered through the outdoor shuk and the pedestrian (and I mean pedestrian) mall of Ben Yehudah Street. We were required by law to stop into EVERY jewelry and artwork store, and at least 75% of the clothing stores even though we had no particular need or plan to buy anything. We wandered until we found a restaurant that didn't offend too highly (we chose "Luigi" which was a bit more formal than a simple cafe, but still, a lighthearted romp through the senses) and then we swooped in. The best dish was the gnocchi with a rose sauce (color, not flavor). I had an iced coffee and some soup. Nice work, that. After lunch, we continued wandering around, and stopping in places which charged too much for the kinds of stuff that we are hoping won't mortify our friends when we say "isn't it nice? we thought of you when we bought it." As we walked back, we stopped off to hear the world's worst Elvis impersonator sing for change. Not American change -- he returned the quarter because he said he couldn't use it. He also said he was from Hollywood. I'm sure that they are glad he from there and not simply there anymore.

During the trip, friends called and asked to meet us in the mall. Thus a plan was born, a plan which involved my driving a car. We came back to my sis-in-law's and stowed our gear, got directions, bribed the GPS machine so it would work, and prepared for our assault on the mall. I'll skip the traffic because I view the traffic as a good thing. It forced everyone to slow down to the level I was ready to drive at.

The mall was (and is) a mall. Let's start with the positive. I ate at McDonalds. That was interesting. The Texas Burger was ok, not great and the fries were way too salty. Also, I couldn't hear anyone talk. My Hebrew is just barely passable when I can hear what I am responding to. In this case, I fell back on English quickly, and fortunately, the entire food court was there with m. There were loads of choices, most of which served the same things, but the idea of eating in a McDonalds was too enticing. It scratched an itch -- if that's what non-kosher eaters value then I can understand why NASCAR racing is so big. Lots of bluster and smoke, and nothing interesting really there. But when you get to the end, the exhaust fumes are overpowering. Hey. Don't judge.

The girls wan't "Happy Meals" not because they had any interest in the food, but because the idea of getting a Smurf stuffed toy along with salty fries and premade chicken nuggets was too tempting. I don't feel the need to eat at a McDonalds anymore, so this was a real victory. The bucket list has been updated.

The rest of the mall is the same as any other shopping mall. Too many clothes, shoes and jewelry stores and not enough space for the husband/father to take a nap. The allure of everything's being kosher was powerful, but it was offset by the state of the bathrooms. Not so much clean. It is comforting to know that even when I don't really speak the language, I can be bored and annoyed in a foreign mall. And no, it isn't a local mall and I'm foreign. I am an American and it is foreign. True fact.

We worked our way out and drove back (the GPS, staying happily about 10 seconds behind reality) and are now winding down. By that I mean I am taking all the pictures off the various SD cards while the wife has the kids at the park.

Tomorrow, our touring begins early so I hope we sleep this evening.

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It is a few hours later than when I wrote this and I'm rereading this to see if the entire McDonalds episode was a dream. It wasn't because I barely slept. But I wanted to add in a note. There are typos in these posts. I'm on vacation, using a netbook that I have to share, and only typing when I am tired and bleary eyed. Excuse the typos -- in fact, please see hem as something endearing which accentuates the authenticity of the experience.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

posting the wall

On Friday, I decided to wander over to the Western Wall during the afternoon so I could really get in touch with the spiritual heart of my visit. I took a little bit of cash, and headed out. Well, it wasn't that simple. First I had to write down directions. I gave up when their started to be more turns than I had paper and I looked at a map. On a map it doesn't look lke a horrible walk. But a map is flat. Jeruslaem? Hills. The trip was actually uphill, both ways. Also, I tried to look all sorts of cool and no-touristy, but there must have been a sign on my back because as I got closer, the pan handlers zoomed in on me like moths to a tourist who hates moths. I hate moths. I was tapped out of cash before I got to the wall. On the way back, I tried al alternate route. It was also uphill, but at least it had no sidewalks, so I had that going for me. I made it back just in time to be out of breath for the rest of the day. We cleaned up for dinner and made shabbos. I fell asleep many times before dessert, and then again once or twice afterwards.

Today was shul in the morning, some lunch and then a nice nap. I started reading a book and then guests came by. We played with the children till shabbos was over and my feet and back have recovered from yesterday's walk.

More updates as events warrant.

Friday, August 12, 2011

the Holy Blog

I am writing this from somewhere else as I am not at home right now. Well, I'm home, but not my home. I, and the family, have made the trip to Israel. I'd like to reflect on the trip thus far.

The car service showed up and we were immediately transported into the Israel experience as our driver spoke little besides Russian. Thirty minutes later and we found ourselves at scenic Newark Liberty airport. The crowd was sparse and we breeezed through a variety of checkpoints, even when a good looking security guy had to scrawl something on my passport. We made it to gate 62 and waited there until the lovely disembodied voice invited us to preboard. Since we actually boarded I fear we failed at preboarding, and will have to go back and do it again.

Our seats were economy. Economy means little. And they were. We had personalized video screens so we didn't have to share in the communal experience of ignoring what was airing; we could criticize and ignore on a more personal level. One of the screens gave constant updates as to our location, speed and other statistics so anyone who was writing a book (or a blog) could take notes and report faithfully. According to the statistics, we were running at 650 MPH and that stands for meals per hour. There were lots of those. We got a snack, then a chicken dinner, then coffee, then ices, then breakfast. Yum. For breakfast the glatt kosher 8 egg omelet was nicely offset by the low fat cream cheese. I gained three pounds on the plane. I really respect how they waiting until right after breakfast was served to hit the turbulence.

The technical info also pointed out that the temperature at 33,000 feet is -52 degrees, but I don't know if that accounts for the windchill factor. Before breakfast, the steward(ess) brought around the hot towels. That took me back to the good old days. A hot wash-n-dri in a squished seat reminded me of long car trips and handy wipes fresh from the glove compartment. Yay. While I was eating, I read the duty free catalog. I found that I can buy duty free Legos. never again will I be saddled with excessive taxes. Instead, I will make international flights so I can pay less for Legos.

Strange thing about time zones...today is my birthday, but my birthday never started. I just turned around and it had already been my birthday for 5 hours. Weird. This is why I hate time zones. CF earlier post.

I'd like to send a shout out "thank you" to the guy in the seat in front of me. he helped me confront my claustrophobia by keeping his seat in the lean-back position for the entire flight. I enjoyed not being able to breathe, and trying to focus on a video screen 3 inches from my nose. That plus the tiredness which came from the wonderful strategy of "let's not sleep the night before the flight so we can sleep through the flight" which didn't work at all has given me nausea from right to left.

Anyway, then we arrived at the airport in Israel. When we got to the front of the immigration line we were tempted to answer the question "do you have anything to declare?" with "Yes! That was a ridiculously long line." The line seemed almost like, even though the airport has been in existence for a while, and they KNOW the schedule, they are caught by surprise by the number of people who need to be checked. When we got to the curb (our bags were the last ones out) there wasn't a taxi that could fit all our bags. Strange...people must have come in before us. And we had 3 fewer bags than our allotment. But it worked out when the taxi we jammed into had a GPS which had no record of the street we needed to get to.

So, the wife has gone out to buy beans, I am still confused about what day it is, and all is right. Till tomorrow, no doubt.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Not easily offended

Sometimes I have to sit and think for a while to decide exactly how offended I am by the stupidity of someone else. Being offended allows someone else a level of control over me and it grants to some other person or institution the legitimacy to be taken seriously. If I could simply ignore something because I dismiss it as stupid or, at least irrelevant.

So I have been thinking about whether I'm offended at something and I think that I have decided that I am. Not because I think the person who said (typed it) but because the statement has the potential to be taken by other idiots as a reasonable comment. And that's what afears me.

I don't know if you are aware of what has been going on in my town/county, but the cost of private school is very high as is the cost of living and many of the private schools have to offer scholarships to the students who cannot afford to pay full tuition. This rankles those who pay full tuition, as they see their money being used to support others who needn't go to the school in the first place. The central argument is "if you can't afford to live here, don't take charity -- move."

So on one of the blogs where the posts are less important than the comments (a condition, thankfully, not evident here) a person posted a comment stating how he made the sacrifice of having to become a lawyer in order to ensure his children's education. Anyone who took a job paying less than 6 figures doesn't deserve any help. His words were "I would have loved to have been a [fill in the blank] and only made $70 or $80k but I didn't b\c I am a man who pays his bills so now I toil away 24/7 so that leeches can get discounts at school ".

I don't think I have ever* been so offended in my life. Let's parse his dumb comment and I'll show how the veneer of a reasonable position masks some of the most ego centric, self congratulatory junk I have seen.

1. Assumption 1 -- people choose their careers

ok, this is somewhat true. I did choose to be a teacher (after I chose 2 other things and they didn't work out) and people often pursue callings and could have pursued others if they chose to. But I am no good at math. That's a fact. I am actively bad at Chemistry. Could I have chosen to be a doctor? Could I have chosen to be a professional ball player in order to pay my bills? The fact is, we are guided by interests and by ability (I believe that even learned abilities rest on the shoulders of innate strengths). Could a surgeon have chosen to be a successful lawyer or did he have a knack for science. I faint at the sight of ketchup so medicine wasn't in the cards for me.

2. Assumption 2 -- people choose careers thinking ahead to private school tuition

on the blog site, a couple of people have insisted this to be true. I don't believe it. I don't believe that a sophomore in college would choose to go to law school because he knows that in 10 years, the cost of private school will be difficult to afford if he follows his heart's passion and becomes an fireman. If someone was so much of a martyr, not only do I propose that this person will be an inferior (depressed) lawyer but I would suggest that if his foresight and therefore goal dictated going into a field for its ability to pay private school tuition, he either could have become a Wall Street tycoon or a plastic surgeon and raked in more than a lawyer, or become an educator at the school where his future children would attend so as to get substantial tuition breaks. Either way, his martyrdom was poorly done.

3. Assumption 3 -- People who make 70-80 k aren't men who pay their bills

Sure we are. we just work hard to lower our bills. Not everyone who makes under 100K needs tuition assistance, and not every bit of tuition assistance comes from the school's scholarship coffers.

4. Assumption 4 -- Lawyers are unhappy being lawyers, people who make less are happy doing other things

Sometimes people are happy with their careers. Sometimes not. Sometimes even people happy with their careers are not happy with their jobs. Sometimes, people feel limited by their jobs and/or careers but have no alternative. I don't think that the guy who pumps gas or serves dinner at the family restaurant necessarily jumps out of bed and is all excited about how fulfilling his work is. Nor do I think that most lawyers hide under the covers because they despise what they do and chose the career even though they knew it would stink.

Leaving college, I had planned a career as a lottery winner. It didn't work out. I didn't have the chops to be a spaceman/rock star/fireman/baseball player. So I went into a field where I had skill and interest. Sorry that it doesn't pay as much as the always lucrative but never satisfying field of law. Jackwagon.