Al and Marsha's Journal
We will be posting some pictures and a brief summary of our experiences as the trip progresses. This section is about our time in London and Israel prior to the start of the Temple Sholom tour. You can go directly to the Temple Sholom Tour section by clicking on the link above.
Tuesday June 28th - Marsha and I are traveling on our own to London where we will stay for a couple of days. We will be going to the new Globe Theatre, built on the site of the original, to see a Shakespeare comedy.
Well, as you may remember from reading previous journals of ours, trips often begin with omens. Usually bad ones. On this occasion, having learned a lesson from our last trip to London, we left for the airport over three hours before our flight time. Also, Marsha was twitching so much to get going she couldn't sit still.
When we got to the British Airways counter there was almost no one there!! Last time there was a lineup around the block!!!. So, a good omen... we got our boarding passes in no time, got rid of our luggage...and were ready to go. Just over three hours left to wait. After some discussion with the ticket agent, we had settled on a pair of seats in what British Airways calls Club Class. It's sort of half way between the commoners in coach and the semi-upper crust in Business Class (the upper upper class are in first). When we insisted that we wanted aisle seats across from each other the ticket agent looked at us as if we were nuts. We couldn't figure out why, but the reason became apparent later.
After a lunch, and a wait of an hour or so, the gate personnel started calling out long lists of passengers' names for the flight. We didn't think much about it, until, when Marsha was working off some excess energy walking around the airport, and resisting the temptation to purchase outrageously priced goods at the stores, our name was called. Up I went and was handed two new boarding passes... We had been upgraded to Business Class... on the upper deck yet!!!! I tried to keep it a secret from Marsha as a surprise when she returned from her stroll, but when I handed her her boarding pass she spotted it right away.
When we boarded, among the first, as befits sewi-upper crust folks such as ourselves, things got even more weird. The seating was a new type neither of us had seen before... the two seats we had were facing in opposite directions and each was independent of the other. They were arranged in a sort of private cocoon. It's really hard to explain so you will have to look at the picture on the London picture page. This explained the bemused grin on the ticket agent's face.
So there we were facing each other across this arrangement and being served all manner of drinks and goodies. It took Marsha about ten seconds to figure out that she LOVED it, and never wanted to travel any other way.
So here it was again... good omens: no lineup, no hassle, upgraded.... bad omen: Marsha's newly acquired taste for upper crust style travel....
The trip to London was uneventful, and included a pretty good meal, and a fitful sleep. We arrived about on time, and got through the paper work with due dispatch.
Forty pounds later (that's $100 CDN) our taxi deposited us at our hotel, and we checked in. It is a small boutique hotel about a twenty minute walk from Harrods's. The room was small, but adequate (adequate means that we could both stand up in it at the same time), and faced into a concrete inner court. No view but very quiet. The only sound was dripping water onto the concrete from some roof drain. It kept Marsha awake for a while that night.
After a brief reconnoiter, we set off for a walk to Kensington Gardens, the Christies auction house, and Harrods. It was a fairly long hike to Harrods, made slightly more pressing due to calls of nature. When we got there it was a complete ZOO!!! It turned out that this was the one day each year when Harrods has a sale. And this was a real sale, with advertised mark-downs of 30-70%(of course, these were markdowns from what are ridiculous prices to start with). The place was jammed from wall to wall with fervent shoppers, by the many thousands, clamoring to buy. There was even a person at the Gucci department entrance controlling entry! Imagine.... a whole department just for Gucci stuff. Bob Geldoff would be really pissed off at the thought.
After dealing with the bathroom calls, even Marsha had to get the hell out of there, so we hiked back to our hotel.
After a rest, we decided to get onto the tube at the nearby Glouster Road station and head to Piccadilly, so we did. We walked around Piccadilly, and then found ourselves heading for Leicester Square and then on to Nelson's column and Trafalgar Square, via Admiralty Arch. It was a beautiful evening and we enjoyed the stroll immensely. People watching at Trafalgar Square was a hoot. If we think Vancouver is a multi-cultural city, we don't hold a candle to London. Not only are the cultures represented, but they mix, and intermix, with all of their individual dress, style, and language. It is quite an experience to see this parade of national identity wherever you go.
After this wandering around, we returned to Piccadilly to find the restaurant which Marsha had found in a travel guide. This place was called the Gaucho Grill and located on a short little alley called Swallow Street a couple of blocks from Piccadilly. Fortunately we were able to get the last table not already booked.
Marsha and I had the best steak dinner either of us had ever experienced at this wonderful restaurant, and we've had some good ones. They specialize in steak, and serve an unusual cut of sirloin, marinated and cooked perfectly. I have never eaten anything as good as this. This restaurant is going onto our must go to list, and will be included in the recommendations section of this web site.
The restaurant is located down a set of stairs and the room is like a disused Tube tunnel complete with all brick walls and ceiling.
The menu was very interesting with dishes from several South American countries showcased, and the service was excellent. The bill was not for the faint of heart, but worth every peso, pound, or dollar of it.
The following morning we got up after what turned out to be a good night's sleep. My previous experience on the first night after a long flight usually means waking up on Vancouver time, but this did not happen so we were up and at'em.
Our first foray was to Covent Garden to explore the market and stores, followed by a stroll down to the Strand and then by tube to Westminster Abbey. We spent considerable time exploring all the nooks and crannies of the abbey, and marveling at the tombs and grave sites prodigiously scattered throughout. There are no pictures allowed inside the abbey, so I cannot show the incredible scale and majesty of the place. The abbey is over 940 years old. Most of those buried there are royalty or military heroes. There is a corner, called Poets Corner, which contains the remains of dozens of writers and poets. It is an amazing place.
After the abbey experience we returned to our hotel neighborhood, and the hotel, for a brief rest and to unload some of the camera equipment in preparation for our afternoon and evening excursion. Back to the tube and off to the South Bank for more sightseeing. The weather had deteriorated quite a bit and did not make walking around and gawking at the people and places very pleasant. After a brief stroll along Queen's Walk we decided to take a river boat tour along the Thames. Even in this weather, or perhaps because of it, there were many boats plying the river with tourists mostly huddled inside out of the rain. The boat we took had a spacious upper deck, fully enclosed with large windows. So we toured up and down the Thames from the Tower Bridge to Blackfriar's bridge and back. We disembarked at the Bankside station which is next to the new Globe Theatre.
We made a dinner reservation at the Globe Theatre restaurant and then went for a walk further along Queen's walk past the original Clink Prison, and the ship the Golden Hind. We got back to the Globe in time for our dinner reservation. The meal was very nice, and the view over and across the Thames was beautiful. St. Pauls Cathedral dominates the skyline here, just on the other side of the Millennium pedestrian bridge.
After dinner we entered the Globe Theatre and took our seats (with rented cushions) for a performance of A Winter's Tale, a little known comedy by Shakespeare. By curtain time the place was packed, including the seatless space in front of the stage where the "groundlings" stood during the performance. The play was both humorous and grim, and very well acted. We felt sorry for the groundlings standing under the roofless section when the rain began and they all had to scramble to get covered, but it did not last long.
After the play we exited to a pretty sunset and walked along the Thames,
across the Millennium bridge to the Blackfriars Tube Station, and home.
July 1st - We will fly to Israel, and spend time until the tour arrives on July 4th seeing more of Tel Aviv than we had time for on our last trip, and perhaps visiting with a few friends around Israel.
To Israel: We were up at 5:30 this morning to get to Heathrow in time for our 8:40 am flight to Tel Aviv. This was an effortless event as well (if you ignore the time of day). The taxi driver we had arranged in advance was there at 6:00 am and the lineups at Heathrow were minimal. As usual with a flight to Israel, at least in our limited experience, we were bussed to the plane parked a long way from the terminal. After that, all was as normal. We arrived five hours later to the new terminal at Ben Gurion airport, and its incredibly long walk to immigration.
We are staying at the Renaissance Hotel on the shore of the Mediterranean, in a very nice room on the 13th floor overlooking the beach and ocean. The room has all that we will need for our fairly brief stay until the tour group arrives on Monday. After getting settled in our room, we went down to the beach and looked around a bit, and then parked to people and scenery watch, and to soak up a little of the late afternoon sun.
This being Shabbat signs of the Israeli weekend were everywhere, including a Shabbat elevator, which is the normal freight elevator. Another Shabbat feature at our hotel: the automatic revolving entrance door was blocked off, and a side door was the official entry, but you had to push it open to enter or exit.... don't get it....
An unpleasant feature we saw everywhere... security people at virtually every entrance and exit of all major buildings, including drug stores, hotels, theaters...very very sad, but the people here have seemed to taken into their lives as a fact.
The hotel directed us to a very pleasant restaurant for dinner just a five minute walk away. This place specializes in seafood, and we both enjoyed our meals.
We did notice that the small apartment buildings along the main waterfront street, and on the side streets, with few exceptions, looked very beat up by the weather. They all had a dirty grey/brown appearance with wires and clotheslines hanging everywhere, and generally looking seedy. The main street running away from the ocean a couple of blocks inland also was pretty seedy looking. I didn't strike us as what one would expect right in the fancy hotel district, adjacent to the Mediterranean.
We were both really tired from three days of relentless walking and rubber necking, so we hit the sack.
To our surprise we slept until after 9:00 am and had to scramble to get down to breakfast before it closed. The Israeli breakfast was excellent with the usual salads, fruit, and great pastries, as well as a cook dispensing eggs, etc. The coffee was even pretty good, if a little cool.
We decided to spend some time in the sun, and proceeded to the beach where we rented two lounge chairs and an umbrella for 36 shekels for the day. We parked ourselves and alternately rubber necked, read, slept and swam until about five o'clock. This is definitely a beach culture, the place was packed as far as the eye could see in both directions. Families, young men posing and posturing for the young women, and the young women visa versa.
The beach echoed with the sound of dozens of pairs of men (and a few girls) playing a game which consisted of batting a small rubber ball back and forth with oversized ping pong bats (see picture). This is a very popular beach activity evidenced by the number of people playing it.
It was a very pleasant interlude, following which we decided to take a walk and explore Dizzengoff and Sheinkin Streets, both of which we were led to believe were interesting and lively places. We walked several kilometers and covered these streets and more. We both were very disappointed in the whole experience. The streets were mostly deserted because of Shabbat, which didn't help the atmosphere much, but other than that, there were many shuttered and empty stores, many shabby little retail outlets of a variety of kinds, much litter, and lots of decrepit and abandoned buildings... not pretty. Perhaps our expectations were too high, and it is not the best thing to make comparisons to home, but there was nothing interesting or stimulating to us.
Clearly the economic slump of recent years has made its mark on this area, and in time with new prosperity it will become better. I hope so.
At the end of our rather long walk back along the beach to our hotel throngs of tourists and beach goers were everywhere, and the atmosphere distinctly more lively, the surroundings more inviting. The promenade along the beach is very nice, wide and clean.
When we got back to the hotel we collapsed into chairs in the lobby bar and cooled down with some cold liquids and got our breath back, after which we went to our room, cleaned up and headed for the little dining room for dinner. We got taken to the cleaners there when we realized that the meager little buffet dinner we got (with absolutely no service provided of any kind, not even a glass of water) cost us about $40.00 CDN each. It was, of course, made up of leftovers from Friday night, but the price was the same. Live and learn... no more dinners at this hotel.
A couple of observations: Marsha and I have been talking about how unique it is to be in a country where almost everyone is Jewish. It is unique to us to be part of the majority, rather than a small minority. The experience is diminished because of our lack of knowledge of Hebrew as she is spoke here (or written for that matter).
That, and the usual cultural differences (the day to day differences in the way in which things are done) even in Israel make us feel somewhat like strangers in a strange land. Last time we were here we said we had to study Hebrew before we came back. We didn't. This time we mean it!!!
After dinner we returned to our room, and Marsha went to sleep, while I wrote and uploaded this account of our day...... now its my turn to hit the hay....goodnight.
Jaffa is a very attractive rebuilt and ancient old city on the edge of the Mediterranean with many little cobblestone streets as wide as a sidewalk and doorways into private apartments, galleries, antique stores, and one club whose specialty was REALLY eyebrow raising (see picture). We wandered through these streets for quite a while until the heat got to us, and we stopped at a little outdoor cafe overlooking the old harbour for iced tea and one half of a watermelon. Just the right thing for such a hot day. We also visited the site of an archaeological dig which uncovered several layers of buildings dating back to about 60 ce. Once again I felt the sense of walking in the footsteps of dozens of generations of previous occupants.
We eventually got back into the car and took off for our next stop. We quickly found out that it is impossible to get out of the old city of Jaffa and travel North once you get in.... all of the exit roads are one way, and all lead back to the place where we came in... Pasteur Street. Finally, on a whim, I turned off Pasteur street toward the harbour and found, with a little help from a gatekeeper, a back way out. It was a little unnerving to keep going in circles like that, but this was just the beginning.
Our next stop was to be the Israel Diamond Exchange which was in the North East part of the city, about as far away as you could get from Jaffa and still be in Tel Aviv. Anyone who has ever driven in Tel Aviv will remember that, in addition to the totally mishugga drivers and pedestrians, the streets change names randomly, and most have no street name signs. Not only that, none of them go in a straight line for more than a block.
We wended (wound?) our way through this maze, and again, after making many wrong turns, retracing the same roads several times (Moses street allowed us to retrace where we had just been on several occasions) we finally gave up and asked someone at the Sheraton Hotel for directions. He was sort of a help, but off we went, turned the next corner and there it was. Trouble was: 1. There was no parking visible, and 2. We were past it before we could react.
Trying to find our way back led us to Moses street again. But this time we knew where to go.... sure.... We wound (wended?) our way back whence we had come, and eventually found a parking lot. The trouble was, as we walked the several blocks to the Exchange we became convinced that we would never find the parking garage again. We woossed (is that a word?) out and went back to get the car to try again. This time we got into a parking garage across the street from a sign pointing to the Israel Diamond Exchange. Success!!!! HA!!!!! When we got to the door, the doorperson had no idea where what we were looking for was located. A helpful blackhat, who was coming out of the building, and obviously knowledgeable, told us that there was a sort of diamond museum in the building where we parked our car but wasn't worth the effort and was only a front for the diamond jewellery stores and who sold nothing but junk. Sigh!!! After that heroic bit of navigation and perseverance, the effort did not pay off..
Resigned to the inevitable, we set off back to our hotel, and found ourselves after a while, thinking that we were going in the wrong direction, only this time, after consulting with the map we found that we were in fact going, by mistake in the right direction. Did I mention that it was now rush hour in Tel Aviv.... I don't want to hear any more Vancouverites complain about traffic, you have NO IDEA!!!
This time, once we got our bearings, things went fairly smoothly and we got back to our hotel without too much tooing and froing. There was one part that was not so smooth though. One street we were happily traveling down to make an easy return to our hotel according to the map, suddenly turned one way in the wrong direction. I made a quick decision to turn left and led us in due course to the middle of the old market area in Jaffa. Suddenly we were on narrow roads with room for only one car, one way in a variety of directions. On each side of these little roads was store after store selling used restaurant equipment (I'm not kidding, there must have been at least twenty of them in a two block area), then "antique" furniture stores, then the very old flea market. Finally we made it back to the hotel for a rest which we badly needed. In a way it was an accomplishment to have survived this crazy city, and its crazy inhabitants.
After about an hour's rest we retrieved our car, and headed off to a restaurant we had read about which served authentic Jewish food and had been established before Israel was a country. It was not in the usual tourist area, but seemed from the map to be pretty easy to find. I guess we had forgotten our earlier experiences today. Once again our "easy" route became very convoluted due to one way streets, streets under construction, no-name streets, and the fact that street addresses on the even side of the street do not necessarily line up with the addresses on the other side. After about a half hour of searching and navigating we came to the right place, and..... it was closed!!! Actually, given our luck today, we had decided a few minutes earlier that it would be closed, so we weren't too surprised.
At this point we gave up, returned fairly promptly to our hotel, and walked to the Olive restaurant in the Sheraton next door to our hotel. The food, service and atmosphere were outstanding. The place was first class, and the bill, including wine and dessert, cost less than the miserable buffet we had experienced last night in our hotel.
So our day has ended on an up note. All in all, we think it was a great adventure and we actually had fun and lots of laughs at our own expense during all of this. We also got to see some very nice parts of Tel Aviv in contrast to the somewhat depressed part of the city we had started out in.
Up as usual, and after breakfast we finished packing for our move to Jerusalem later today where we will meet up with the Temple Sholom Tour group which will be arriving at about 11:00 pm. We checked out of our room, and after putting our baggage in the car, we walked toward Dizzengof street to find the Monday morning market which our trusty (?) guide to Tel Aviv told us would start about noon. We hiked the six or so blocks to the appointed site of the market to find that yet again, the guide book was full of it.... there was no market.... should we have been surprised? Actually, we were because all evidence to the contrary, we still believed everything in the book... never again!!! We did, however gain a new perspective on Dizzengoff street because during a busy day, with the sun shining, the streets bustling with cars and people, and all of the stores open, it did have an entirely more attractive feel to it than it did on Friday night. The buildings were still shabby, the stores pretty tacky, and the street still covered in litter, but somehow, adding life to it made it better.
We repaired to the hotel to pick up our car for the drive to Jerusalem, but having learned something from yesterday's adventures I purchased an up to date, and detailed map of both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Tel Aviv map showed us clearly what the route to the freeway to Jerusalem should be, and so off we went. We only took a couple of wrong turns, but recovered quickly and were soon on our way on Highway 1 to Jerusalem.
Because the distance between the cities is so small, we were soon on the approach to Jerusalem. We stopped the car to consult the new map to figure out how to get to the hotel. After some discussion we planned our route and off we went. This time everything went without a hitch and we soon got to the Dan Panorama where I dropped Marsha and our baggage, and left to return the car to the rental agency across the street from the King David hotel. This also went quickly, and after hiking the two blocks back to our hotel, we checked in and got to our room. It is a very pleasant modern hotel (although some were unhappy with their rooms in the older section of the place) and were happy with the room. After some settling down we went down to the lobby and soon ran into two other couples who also arrived ahead of the group: Monique and Michael Kliman, and David and Judy Coblin. We chatted for a while, and David told us that he had it on good authority that an Arab restaurant called the Philadelphia, of all things, was a great place to eat. The great authority, it turned out, was a waiter in the hotel dining room, whose cousin ran the Philadelphia.
To make things even more interesting this place is in East Jerusalem. Never to be ones to shrink from a challenge we agreed to his proposal, climbed into two cabs and zoomed off to dinner. Our cabbie was a grizzled old Arab who pretty quickly assured us of two things:
1. The proprietors of the Philadelphia will be so happy to see us Jews or not, that they will "kiss your hand"
2. He himself, while an Arab, was a Christian, not a Muslim.
What compelled him to tell us either of these things was not immediately clear, but it was welcome information.
We arrived in a great flurry of taxis and dust on a tiny narrow street and wended (wound?) our way down a sort of path to the back area and there was a wonderful open air restaurant, with lots of space, and quite a few occupied tables. One of the tables was filled with a group of Israeli soldiers.
As promised, the owner (whose name BTW was Hashem) greeted us warmly, but he did not kiss our hand. He seated us immediately at a table next to a very pretty fountain. As it was pretty obvious that we were novices at this Arab food business he offered to select our meal for us.
First he brought about a dozen small dishes of various condiments, salad combinations, vegetables, pickles, etc. Each of them tasted wonderful and before long all of the little dishes were cleaned off. For most of us, this would have been enough, however this was soon followed by a heaping platter of skewered meats, chicken, etc which he called a mixed grill.. These too were outstanding and we all managed to find room to finish it all off. Then, to end the banquet Hashem brought cantaloupe and watermelon as dessert.
It was a wonderful meal, and we enjoyed it so much we made tentative arrangements to bring a large group from the tour back on Saturday night. Unfortunately the courtyard setting we had enjoyed was already booked by a "super star" from Dubai, so he showed us a private dining room just inside the building.
We got back into our cabs (after two of the taxi drivers got into a honking and shouting match in the middle of the street) and had a fast hair raising trip back to our hotel We arrived back at 10:30 and the rest of the group arrived from the airport at 10:45 so we had a raucous session of hugs and greetings in the lobby. We found out that we had to be up at 6:00 am to provide time for breakfast as the bus was leaving for the first day's activities at 7:30 in the morning.
We quickly escaped and went to bed.
To go directly to the Temple Sholom Tour section click here: Temple Sholom Tour Journal Pages
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