No. of Recommendations: 7
Lubeck/Travermunde, Germany – June 10, 2012

We took the ship’s shuttle bus to Lubeck. Most shops were closed because it is Sunday. The original Germanic waves of “boat people” who sailed out of the Baltic, landing in Britain at the end of the Roman Empire and elsewhere were from its south shore – places like Anglia, Saxony and Jutland (the original Anglo-Saxons). The Vikings of the turn of the millennium (plus/minus a couple of hundred years) radiated outwards from the northern Baltic. Lubeck (originally a Slav city, founded as Liubice – pretty place - around 800). In 11432 Count Adolf II of Schauenburg was bvulit a settlement for Christan merchants here, borrowing the name of the earlier (destroyed) town. Soon this was Northern Europe’s most powerful port and the capital of the Hanseatic League from the 13th century on. This association of merchants picked up the slack after the Vikings, but were located in the southern Baltic. Their hold on the area was so strong that Lubeck’s imposing multi-towered city gate (the Holstentor) was built for show rather than defense. Much of the center of this city consists of medieval buildings (and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site). We walked to the Puppet Theatre Museum (TheaterFigrenMuseum) which is home to the world’s largest marionette collection (I guess it has to be somewhere). The ornate City Hall (Rathaus) is not much further up the street. Many of the other Hanseatic towns have copied their City Halls from this one. Across the street we stopped for a nosh at Niederegger’s, famous for marzipan since 1806. The marzipan and beer were good, but the strudel was a poor copy of what we’ve had in the past in Austria (moral is: order what a restaurant is famous for). We then walked a block to the Church of St. Mary (Marienkircke), built from 1200-1350 and is an outstanding example of the north German architectural style known as Brick Gothic (Backsteingeid) and its twin towers soar over the street. Just as Lubeck’s Hanseatic merchants decorated their homes and civil buildings to show off their wealth, they decorated their grand churches – perhaps as a kind of futures contract with the hereafter.

From Lubeck we took the shuttle bus back to the ship and then another one to the nearby town of Travermunde. Travemünde is a borough of Lübeck and a sea resort which is very popular with families and where daily passenger and cargo ferries leaves to Scandinavia & the Baltic states (and where our ship is docked). Originally Travemünde was a small fishing village but its position at the river Trave & the proximity to Lübeck let it grew to a smaller harbor town. If Lubeck is the West German potential of the nearby, originally East German, Rostok, the Travermunde is the West German equivalent of nearby Warnemünde and is a slicker modern beach resort. Despite it being Sunday, nearly all the stores are open here and the major street is for pedestrians only. Interestingly, Lubeck/Travermunde is the only place I was not able to find free (or even cheap) Wi-Fi. The only internet connection I found was in a sleazy internet café which seemed to cater to guys looking for porn (the wife dragged me out before I got much of a peek).
Kiel Canal, Germany – June 11, 2012

The 60 mile long Kiel Canal is 338 feet wide and 37 foot deep and seven high bridges span the busy channel. Ours is one of the few cruise ships today which can still fit in the canal (though its narrow enough that it feels like we can reach out and touch passersby from our veranda and we had to lower our mast to fit under the bruidges). Originally built for military purposes, the canal was enlarged prior to World War I to accommodate larger modern ships. Connecting Kiel (we enter the canal by passing through the Kiel-Holtenau Locks), gateway to the Baltic Sea and Brunsbuttel on the Elbe River (we leave the canal by going through the Brunsbuttel Locks and into the North Sea), it transverses fairly flat farmland. An interesting spiral rail viaduct was incorporated to allow passage of larger vessels.

Amsterdam, Netherlands - June 12-13, 2012
We are tossed ashore in Holland like simple jetsam by the Prinsendam. We take a taxi to our home for the next couple of days – the Hotel Pulitzer on Prinsengracht (which architecturally looks like a string of 17th century town houses – which were retained as the hotel was built out to comprise much of a city block). This is a pretty ritzy joint in central Amsterdam located where the Jordaan and De Negen Straatjes areas meet. We got a decent price on the room, but while it had every imaginable bathroom amenity, it was basically a small garret (though the bed was comfortable). The floor plan requires a GPS to navigate as it wends through the buildings and the concierge’s attitude makes the word obsequious an understatement (most Americans associate concierges with teenage kids who are in training for the front desk and can use Google rather than “real” concierges who wear the crossed golden keys .

We’ve been to the city a number of times over the years so we may not get to some of the ”must sees”. From a food standpoint, while I’m not overly fond of most Dutch food (which is pretty heavy and resembles German food), I like Indonesian food and the rijsttafel version common here (about a dozen appetizer sized plates of different dishes) is great. We had ours for dinner at a place called “Puri-Mas” on a side street off the Leidsestraat and I think it was a good choice (cost was about 40 euro with drinks, but rrijsttafel is almost always overpriced). The dishes are lined up on the table from the blandest to the spiciest (though, by true Indonesian standards, even the spiciest is pretty tame and the style is designed to be palatable by merely mortal Dutchmen). This week was the beginning of the herring catch and the marinated raw fish are sold as snacks at a kiosk on Raadhuisstrat, next to the Westerkerk (they were to die for). While I’m not a big fan of Dutch cooking, their split pea soup is great, as are their “French Fries” – generally served with mayonnaise in a conical cup (try the ones at Manniquin Pis on Damrak 41, near the Dam Square which commemorates their Belgian origin).

Lively and lascivious, Amsterdam has a unique atmosphere that makes a mockery of the caricature of the 'conservative Dutch'. Radiating out from Dam Square, the historic center of the city is ringed by quaint canals and cobbled streets, and throngs with bicycles, tourists, houseboats, students and street performers. Amsterdam wears two faces: on one, it smiles and beckons hedonistic youth with its notorious Red Light District and liberal view of marijuana use; while on the other it offers discerning travelers some of Europe's finest museums and art galleries. While we have a Starbucks on each corner, Amsterdam has unique and iconic coffeehouses instead. These include “brown” cafes which serve coffee and “green” coffee shops which cater to those who want to partake in some marijuana or a pipeful of hashish. We had our breakfast each day (a tuna/cucumber/tomato on whole wheat roll, another with salmon salad instead and a couple of good coffees, all for about 13 euros) at a brown coffee shop on the corner near the hotel.

While the majority of the population is still characterized by the tall, blonde and blue eyed Dutch, a large portion of the population consists of Indonesians (which run the ethnic gamut from Malay to Chinese), north Africans and sub-Saharan blacks.

For the tourist, one of the joys of Amsterdam is its compactness. The old part of town is a pleasure to explore on foot, strolling across ancient bridges and down narrow lanes past gabled houses, and dropping in to browse inviting souvenir boutiques crammed with blue and white Delft china and wooden clogs and tulips. Pavement cafes and cozy bars offer rest and refreshment. An alternative is to take a circular canal-boat cruise and see the city from the water, peering in on the lives of the locals who live on houseboats lining the waterways. When wandering around, expect the unexpected such as the Kalver-Toren flower market on Singel or the Speiglkwartier (Mirror Quarter) antique district along Niew Speigelstraat. (Speaking of mirrors – we found an incredible shop showing hundreds of gilded 18th and 19th century French mirrors by the name of Anouk Beerents at 467 Prinsengracht, www.

We took another of the, now familiar, free three hour walking tours guided by a student. This one was not as good as the previous ones have been (or maybe, due to familiarity with Amsterdam, I’m just jaded). The young lady spent a bit more time on the Red Light District and drug use and less time on other stuff than she might have, but ce la vie.

Anyhow, for those of you who are curious, the young ladies who work in the red light district rent their window (yes, window shopping is generally, but not always, a manly sport in this neighborhood) for 75 euros per eight hour shift (pimps are against the law, as is street solicitation). They charge 50 euros per 15 minutes for their services. They are registered as individual contractors, pay taxes and generally get a health checkup once a week. There are also a number of “clubs” where the costs for the young ladies may be cheaper, but the liquor prices seem to make up the difference.

Amsterdam is a city tied to the water. The canals of Amsterdam are incredibly beautiful and there’s nothing like seeing the city from a boat. You could book one of the big canal boat tours you see around the city or a “hop on/off one or you can hire a private boat tour for less (complete with guide) around the Red Light District. Or you can rent an foot powered peddle boat and drive yourself around. Another view of the water can be had by boarding one of the free ferries located behind the main train station. We took the far left-hand one to IJPlein which gives you a 15 minute run through the harbor (and another back – stay on the boat as they run every half hour and you’ll end up waiting – ask me how I know : -). There is a cafe' by the name of Wilhelmina Dok nearby with a deck facing the cruise terminal. A great place to sit and have a cup of coffee and a brownie. There’s not much to see at the other end (well, unless you find a graffiti covered submarine interesting like I did), but the harbor is littered with tall ships, antique stem vessels of all sort and assorted other unexpected naval paraphernalia.

Amsterdam, as a city, was shaped by the damming of the Amstel River (hence its name) and the pursuit of its most labor intensive project – the re-routing of the river into a series of semi-circular canals linked (like a half bicycle tire) with a series of spokes. It is these canals which allowed easy transport of goods to bring the city to its apex in the 17th century. Every house along the canal has a boom with a hook for a hoist sticking out from its roof (which are still used to life large object into the windows of the various floors). The Dutch have always shown a great deal of tolerance for religions, ideas, drugs or whatever – just as long as each group brought money to the table and increased the general prosperity. Holland was finally humbled by the ganging up of their enemies – who included just about everyone as they had not only out-traded everyone else, but had a tendency to use their superior numbers of ships in a way that was indistinguishable from state sponsored piracy. They got involved in a triangle trade for slaves and ended up swapping New Amsterdam for Surinam (apples for eggs?) with the British. Anyhow, we all thank them for their legacy of incenting tradable corporate shares and the wealth generated four hundred years ago is still evident.

Holland has the highest per capita ownership of bicycles in the world (there are supposed to be more bicycles in Amsterdam than there are people). You can’t believe how many there are until you look at the tens of thousands of them at the parking lot near the ferry. Apparently theft is a big problem as the locks and chains used to secure them look like they are worth more than the bikes. It is said that the canals are six meters deep. The first two meters is mud, the top two is water and the in-between two consists of bicycles. Every year, about 20,000 bikes are pulled from the canals, cleaned up and sold at auction for 5-10 euros and many (most) of the bikes on the street seem like they have been cycled through the canals. Stealing and re-stealing of bikes is apparently some sort of sport and bikes are chained to any object or fence that hasn’t moved in the past hour. Crossing the street in Amsterdam is not a source of terror because of cars (though these seem to back down streets as often as going forward, at least they are careful), or the multitude of trams (though getting hit by one of these would be a show stopper, at least they are predicable), but what makes the hair stand up on my head are the swarm of silent two wheel killers whose large (Holland is the tallest of the European nations with an average male height of about 5’ 10”) pilots are too busy taking on a cell phone to control their bike effectively with their other hand and whose brakes are probably non-existent because of spending a few months under water.

For those who are earlybirds (we opted out this time around), there is the daily flower auction in Aalsmere. I highly recommend this to anyone who can get up this early without becoming homicidal. The bus from Amsterdam Central Station leaves at about 6:30 and the current price is about 3.50 Euros per person each way. Entrance to the Flower Auction is currently 5 Euros. 7 Billion cut flowers and 150 million plants pass through the facility each year and the self-guided tour is extremely well done. Photography is definitely allowed. There is also currently a once per decade flower show going on elsewhere in Holland, but it would take too much time out of our short stay, so again we will be missing it.

When we return in August, we plan to take a candle-light cruise on a salon boat from the late 19th/early 20th century for a 2 1/2 - 3 hour evening cruise through the canals when the city becomes magical. Price for this will be about 25 Euros/person. Snacks and your first drink are generally included. The salon boats are beautiful and outfitted with modern facilities (Restroom, wet bar, etc.). Roles will be reversed with the local tourists snapping pictures of us. More about this in the future (when we return in August).

The Van Gogh Museum is located in the museum district near the fashion street (think Chanel, Armani, Bulgari, etc., etc.). The museum features many of Van Gogh’s best works of art alongside an excellent biography of his life. The museum is laid out in chronological order starting with his earliest works. They also have paintings by other famous artists like Monet, Manet, and Matisse. The Rijksmuseum is located right next to the Van Gogh Museum (and is my personal favorite). Although it is constantly under renovation, the museum still features an extensive Rembrandt collection, and you’ll be able to see the famous painting, The Night Watch. Besides Rembrandt, there’s also a good collection of other classic Dutch painters. A couple of blocks from the museums is Vondel Park which is filled with people. Amsterdam’s largest and most popular park is a great place to walk, bike, people watch, or relax, especially after a visit to a local coffee shop.

Closer to our hotel is the Anne Frank House. While the Jewish History Museum does a more thorough job of relating the events in Anne Frank’s life and the Holocaust, seeing this place for yourself is still worthwhile. You basically do a slow walk through the house. But make sure to get there at 9:00 before the crowds show up or in the late afternoon after they leave (I also think you can schedule an appointment over the internet and avoid the line completely). Being in her room with nobody else or few people is a chilling experience. The Jewish History Museum, often-overlooked tells the history of Jews and their prominent and influential position in Amsterdam. The exhibit on World War Two does a great job of highlighting Dutch complacency, resistance, and guilt over the Holocaust. The Waterlooplein flea market was once a fixture of the old Jodenbuurt (Jewish Quarter). Not much of the Jewish community survived the war, and neither did much of their neighborhood (it was re-built after its destruction to supply firewood during the cold winter of 1944 on designs submitted by architecture students during the 1960’s who were doing a bit too much experimentation with drugs. The poor designs caused a change in the law which says that all construction has to be compatible with Amsterdam’s existing appearance). There's still a flea market on the square, though, and plenty of grungy stuff to buy.

Also near our hotel is the Jordaan Area. This heavily residential area is one probably the most missed attraction in Amsterdam. Although it’s right near the city center, hardly any tourists enter this maze of restaurants, cafes, and stores. Make sure you walk around. It’s peaceful and a great place to avoid the mass of tourists crowding the main streets. Across the Prinsengracht are three sets of three streets each called the “De Negen Straatjes” (the 9 streets) which are full of quaint and interesting shops. One that caught my eye makes various enamel on metal nameplates for houses on 410 Singel ( I can especially recommend the chocolate pastry shop named Pompadour ( at 12 Huidenstraat and 148 Kerkstraat. We shared some sort of a 4 inch honey caramelized almond disk covered in chocolate (2.50 euro) and picked up a pastry consisting of a pile of honeyed nuts and cherries sitting on a disk of marzipan which in turn sate on a chocolate covered cookie (3.50 euro and worth every penny of it :- ).
Behind the Damm Square (with its glamorous Hotel Krasnipolski) is the Red Light District. Though much tamer than it has been in the past, the Red Light District is still an interesting area. You’ll find all the seediness you’d expect. Just don’t take pictures of the girls in the windows (unexpected damage to you and/or your camera could quickly take place). If you want to visit the Red Light District, morning is the safest time (it gets a bit rambunctious at night). Most of its weird folk have crashed for the day by morning and there's an air almost of innocence to the place, which occupies one of the prettiest parts of the Old Center.

We walked about 12 hours a day in Amsterdam and my knees are feeling it (should have biked), but likely that would have been suicidal here). We finished the day off with a meal at then very modern Brasserie Harkema at 67 Nes. My wife’s fish was very good, but my lamb was more like tough mutton – oh well, the setting was cool (with the mirrors and glass walls labeled as I guess people made a habit of trying to walk through them). Holland is playing football (soccer) against Germany today (I now have a pull-on orange wig) and were losing 2-0 while we were walking the empty streets back from the restaurant. Holland scored their first goal and the town erupted with cheers which could be heard from blocks away. Germany is favored, but I’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the final score (over open faced fish sandwich for breakfast I found that NL lost by 2-1; a sad day indeed for the locals).

The above barely scratches the surface of Amsterdam – one of my favorite places.

We just found out from our “travel partners” who we are meeting up with in Israel that they have been bumped from the King David Hotel during our Jerusalem stay because Putin will be taking over the facility. We haven’t heard anything yet, but will call when we get to Israel tomorrow.

Tel Aviv, Israel – June 14-18, 2012

Well, it’s off to take a flight from Schiphol Airport to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on El Al. Schiphol Airport was a zoo. We got there a couple of hours before the flight but were taking El Al, which means that you get to chat with a real security officer (with mirrored sunglasses and frizzy hair) who takes real interest in his real questions rather than the bored lady you show your driver’s license to when you fly in the States. You then check your luggage (this is actually much faster than in the old days when they also went through the luggage you were checking looking for bad stuff). After that we joined the general mob of about a thousand people going through passport control. Since we came in on a cruise, we never got an entrance stamp, so they never stamped us out of the EU either (so much for extra passport pages). After that, it was time for my full body scan and their pulling my carry-on’s apart to confiscate a highly dangerous 1.5 inch long knockoff of a mini-Leatherman buried deep in my electronics bag (no comment here). We made the flight with a few minutes to spare.

We are traveling with the Dutch girl’s national volleyball team which consists of a bevy of six foot plus, blond, blue-eyed Barbie Dolls on their way to a European tournament held in Israel. El Al, having filled me with guilt (as any good mother would) is now feeding us that artifact of a coach flight long forgotten – the full hot meal (again as any good mother would).

Our idea of traveling light is almost working – we ended up checking the 22” rollers and lugging the “smaller” carry-ons (which are not light at all). We will have to re-think the distribution of weight to make this work smoothly.

After landing at Ben Gurion airport, our first act of business, after clearing immigration (this step consisted of an interrogation of unexplained depth – possibly to determine if I also had an Israeli passport – I don’t – but I make it a point not to question, joke with, lose patience with or otherwise disturb these people) and customs (this step consisted of walking through a door as part of a mob) is to hit an ATM and withdraw the max allowable (1,000 shekels – about $250US – to minimize bank charges). For simplicity’s sake, while the exchange rate is actually about 3.76 NS to the US dollar, on occaision I will approximate this to 4 when giving prices in USD (NS=New Shekels – in the past Israel has had their bouts of inflation and the monetary system was revamped by an order of magnitude more than once – different from in the US where the dollar stays a constant currency even though it may drop in value by more than a factor of ten over time) We’ll be here for more than two weeks and we’ll need some of the local currency, the shekel. Incidentally, this currency while not broadly traded, in a similar vein to the Norwegian Kroner, has been rising. It is not dependent on natural resources, but rather on the nation’s international trade, manufacturing, technological innovation and growth.

We make our way to the Sheraton Tel Aviv on Hayarkon Street on the beach. We decided to take the train (15 shekels or about $4 each) to the city center and then a taxi for the last couple of miles. The train was full of kids in assorted military uniforms and one cute young lady wearing short-shorts, a tee shirt, sandals and an M16 modified to paratrooper length. That said, we have seen far fewer firearms among the youth than on previous trips. We will be meeting up with a couple of Brits we’ve traveled with before (Med cruise, Vietnam and Cambodia and again in New Zealand, each other’s cities) for the rest of our stay here, but while they are in Tel Aviv, they are stuck at a wedding, so we are going solo. They have picked the rest of the Israeli hotels (and picked more expensive ones than I would have, but I figure you only go around once, so in for a penny, in for a pound and we’ll see how the other half lives). The Sheraton is located across a narrow street from the beach. They seem to have made an error and instead of giving me the usual room overlooking the parking lot, have given me a 12th floor room overlooking the beach as well as the City. On the other hand, I found out that I erroneously made a reservation for one adult (default on Sheraton’s web site) and have to pay a $20 per day premium for my wife (for breakfast).

Being a bit exhausted after our flight (with the time change, we got to the hotel about 6PM), we took the low hanging fruit for dinner and had two falafels with “the works” (mine spicy with sguge, an incendiary Yemenite chili paste and a side of vinegared hot chili peppers, and my wife’s not spicy. The filling included about six or seven different salads with humus and tahini sesame sauce along with a number of deep fried chickpea balls stuffed into a pita). These were about $3US each. It was a bit disconcerting to have it get dark by about 8:30PM after our time in the north of Europe. At 7:00 AM in the morning, it was still pretty dark outside. That said, it heats up quickly here and the temperature was about 29C (high 80’s F.) by noon. Tomorrow (and the rest of the week) are supposed to get a bit warmer to the mid 30’s (high 90’s F.).

Israelis are very security conscious. It’s not that they live in fear, but rather that they live with the unconscious situational awareness that is mandatory in a small country (about the size of New Jersey) where (though rarely) missiles could drop in without warning, an enemy army could try to take the one hour trip to bisect the country or a terrorist could try to upset the apple cart in any one of a number of ways. So the youth are trained in high school and then join the army, staying in the reserves after active duty. In the event of an emergency, nearly the entire population can be mobilized in a single day (which I saw take place as a drill about 20 years ago and it’s a pretty awesome event to behold). In order to retain this capability, all military on leave must have their weapons close at hand and all reservists must keep their military firearms at home. It is the norm to have bags searched on occasion when entering a shopping mall or other place of congregation. This is not so much an invasion of privacy as it is a way to feel safe (there are almost no violent street crimes or muggings in Israel).

We are going to be staying at a number of locations around Israel. We are starting in Tel Aviv, a place of beaches, nightlife and general joie de vive. We will then be heading to the local of Haifa, a city known for its working class roots. Our next stay will be in Sfed in mountains of the Galilee, the birthplace of the mystical kabbalah. We will be finishing up in Jerusalem, the focus of the world’s monotheistic religions. These will not be the usual day stops, but stays of a few days in each to allow us to explore each in greater depth. Again, there will be glaring omissions in our exploring of this small country as we have been here a number of times before and have driven and stayed in multiple other areas of the nation. Some areas we will not be hitting, but which should be seen, are the Golan Heights, a boat trip around the Sea of Galilee, a visit to Bethlehem and Nazeras, a trip to the oasis of Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea, a visit to the ancient fortress of Masada, a Red Sea scuba dive at Eiat and a run across the border to Petra in Jordan (as well as dozens of other similar places I can think of).

A note about my pronunciation of words and places: I will likely spell them here the way I pronounce them in context. The use of the “sh” sound in Hebrew is frequently equivalent to similar words in Arabic which substitute the “s” sound (as in shalom vs. salam – both meaning “peace”, or shook vs. souk – both meaning a market). I may also use either the Anglicized or the Hebrew usage when referring to a place (as in Jaffa or Yaffo), but I’ll at least try to be consistent. Modern Hebrew is an “invented” language, based on the ancient religious one used about 2,500 years ago, but re-developed in a modernized form by Eliezer ben Yehuda at the end of the 19th century. (Biblical Hebrew compares to modern Hebrew almost as remotely as Chaucer’s English compares to ours – not quite, but almost). While I barely speak English fluently, my wife (having grown up in the neighborhood) speaks Hebrew “like a native”. That said, except with family and friends, she feigns ignorance which can be interesting in certain circumstances. No doubt we will be visiting some relatives along the way.

The word “Tel” as part of a place name: Many of these locations have been inhabited for millennium and have been destroyed repeatedly. Cities are built at a particular place for a reason. Generally in this part of the world, it is because there is water there, it is defensible and it sits next to a crossroad. When destroyed, the specific spot, now occupied by a pile of rubble becomes higher and more easily defended as it now rises higher above the plain. Each time I is destroyed, the previous town becomes the basement and a new town is built on the site. The well is now lower down, with respect to the new town’s level and a shaft is dug with a spiral staircase to reach the water. When this happens 20-30 times to a town (as it has to Tel Meggido, Tel Hatzor, etc.), it becomes a flat topped hill resembling a mesa. The fortification now also consists of the walled mound itself. There are numerous examples of these (including the living, breathing city of Jerusalem which is sitting on something like 22 layers of previous destruction stretching back to pre-biblical times. Tel Aviv is a “made up” name and does not refer to an actual tel.

Tel Aviv is one of the most ethnically diversified cities in the world (rivaling Brooklyn, NYC but with obvious demographic differences). Not only are there the obvious differences between Palestinians and Israelis, but Israeli’s come in all shades ranging from blond, blue eyed Russians to olive skinned Italians, Iraqis and Moroccans, Asiatic Jews from China, Cochin Jews from India, to even darker Yemenites and about 120,000 Ethiopian Jews who are as dark as the ace of spades. (Somewhat differently than happens here with ESL kids) Everyone speaks Hebrew and most people are also fluent in English. I also saw a group of Chinese workers walking along the street this evening.

Ultramodern Tel Aviv is a Mediterranean-style beach city, with cosmopolitan cafes, boutique shopping and museums. Tel Aviv is a new city, established only a century ago, so it’s a prime location for lovers of modern architecture, but (due to a number of environmental and social reasons including lots of absentee landlords) many of the buildings are in an embarrassing state of disrepair. In fact, the “White City” area has such a concentration of international-style Bauhaus buildings (not my personal favorite and many of them have felt the ravages of the marine environment on their stucco), it’s been declared a World Heritage site. Tel Aviv was established on garden city lines, but the plans were largely ignored and now the skyline is dotted with skyscrapers and sun-bleached Mediterranean-style apartment blocks stretching along the coast. Beach fun and nightlife hedonism combine with culture in Tel Aviv, with more museums per capita than anywhere in the world.

The dining is multicultural in Tel Aviv, a city that crams more sushi restaurants into its avenues and shopping malls than most Japanese cities can boast. Of course, there’s plenty of down-home Jewish cooking (regardless of where “home” happens to be) like gefilte fish, chopped liver and the Tel Aviv specialties, humus and falafel. The regional and historic influences on Tel Aviv’s cuisine are evident in delicious pitas, labneh yogurt, tabouleh salads and kebabs. There are tagines and rice dishes from Morocco, Spain and Persia, as well as European cafes, Italian pizza and seafood on the waterfront.

While in Tel Aviv, I’d like to get another invite to the diamond bourse in Ramat Gan, one of the world’s main wholesale markets for these pebbles.

We started the morning with the hotel’s huge buffet breakfast (most Israeli hotels automatically include breakfast in the basic rate – ask first to be sure as I heard someone say they paid $20 this morning). This included almost everything (except for meat products – yes, I know breakfast without ham or bacon doesn’t sound like everything you might want, but such is life) that you could imagine eating. There is a long cheese and yogurt buffet (with about a dozen varieties of each), a salad buffet, shakshuka (a baked Iraqi omelet) as well as a more usual omelet bar/waffles/pancakes, fresh dates (around the size of eggs and juicy as plums), all sorts of breads/muffins/croissants, a bank of fresh squeezed juices, cappuccino/espresso machines, fresh fruit bar, halvah (a sweet Turkish desert made from ground sesame but looks like a brick with nuts), a smoked and marinated fish bar and congee for the Chinese, etc., etc.

When we woke, we could see the early arrivers to the beach jogging and kayaking, but the colored fields of rentable umbrellas was largely empty of occupants. After breakfast, I had to do a couple of hours of straightening out a handful of reservation issues (like making sure Avis will be open when our flight arrives in Cyprus and that Putin doesn’t bounce me from my room in Jerusalem and so on. Then we took the #10 bus down the cost to Yaffo for the Shuk ha’Pishpishim (literally the flea market) near Rabbi Nachman Street where all the unattached items in the Middle East (that are not already in the kahn el ka’lili in Cairo or the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul) used to end up (unfortunately, today the goods seem to be mostly consisting of fleas). Incidentally, decades ago, this is the market which initiated me into the Middle East’s style of negotiation. There are 12 year olds working the booths who would leave many US litigation attorneys in the dust when it comes to bargaining. I did drop into a shoe store to look at sandals. The place looked like the proprietor had thrown about 1,000 boxes into random piles, but he seemed to have no trouble locating whatever he was looking for. After a bit (well, maybe a bit more than a bit) of good hearted bargaining (where I learned that he was a bundle of nerves from bargaining with Arabs, keeping the Russians from robbing his goods, that Rumanians liked to throw money around and had a cup of good Turkish coffee while we continued to circle around a reasonable price we could both live with) I ended up buying a pair of Naot Israeli made sandals for about 40% less than they sell for on line in the States. Guys around here have been making sandals since Abe was a glint in his mom’s eye and walking in these things make your dogs feel like they are walking on a cloud (the soles mold to your feet after a couple of hours). We then walked through Yaffo to the clock tower get borekas (like a pastella or empanada)at Abolofia’s (a place which has been there since 1879). While great in the past, today’s were overpriced (at about $4 each) and only “OK” (frankly, not even that good – it seems like they changed the pastry recipe). We washed that down with a brain-freezingly cold fresh squeezed lemonade and mint blended with crushed ice from the fresh fruit juice kiosk on the corner.

Afterwards, we walked around Yaffo for a while as the old Arab houses have real character (made a little more real by the call to Friday prayer that blasted over the speakers from the nearby mosque’s minaret). The portion near the seashore is now home to a number of high end restaurants and clubs. We then took the number 10 bus back and my wife took me for a walk near our hotel through the neighborhood she grew up in (describing the ghosts of shops that didn’t exist and friends long lost in the mists of time).
After a bit of a rest at the hotel, we walked across the street to the beach. The air near the water is filled with the loud clacking of the uniquely Israeli paddle ball game being played. As the afternoon hit 4PM, the beach became crowded with hoards of teens (as I didn’t see any firearms here, there must be some protocol for where/how to store them safely when on leave if you are headed to the beach). My wife had a (fortunately discovered early and treated immediately a number of years ago) problem due to the cumulative exposure to the Middle-East sun on the beach as a youth and now slathers herself with SPF30 sun screen. These kids are repeating history.

As this is Friday night, things have closed early in preparation for the Saturday Sabbath. Most stores, banks, restaurants and so on are closed from Friday night to Saturday night (Arabic places may be closed on Friday), so planning for the weekly event is pretty important. We ended up eating on Dizengoff Street at a place called 10 Edelson. We ordered too much food, but the salad (finely chopped tomato, cucumber, cranberries, sunflower/pumpkin seeds, finely chopped red/green bell pepper and onion would have been big enough for the two of us at less than $10US (we also ordered a large tuna salad/alfalfa/tomato on whole wheat with salad which was fine, but the other salad was better). They also had a refrigerated case full of what looked like outrageously delicious French pastries, but we didn’t have room to try them (maybe another night).

There are three main types of shopping experience to be had in Tel Aviv. Firstly (and most memorably), are the city's wonderful, colorful market-places (shuks). These open-air markets bustle from dawn to dusk and - over and above the exciting things to buy from their noisy vendors - are tourist attractions in themselves, giving visitors a real taste of the Middle East. The biggest and busiest market is the Carmel Market (near Allenby Street) where the vendors yell and sing the benefits of their products. We also made sure to hit the falafel places outside of the Carmel Market (Shuk ha’Carmel) with their salad bar of fillings, and the grilled meat places at Karem ha’Temanim (Garden of the Yeminites) nearby.

We will be staying a couple more days in Tel Aviv before moving onwards, but in keeping with the weekend posting schedule we’ll save the rest for next time (as, for now, it’s still in the future :- ).

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