Traveling to Amsterdam, staying at the ‘t hotel

Sorry for the break in blogging…I’ve been out of town! First, I was on a tiyul to the North with Pardes for three days (posts about that trip coming soon), and then Noah and I took a trip to Amsterdam for 5 days. We were extremely busy – rushing around to see lots of sites, visit museums, and enjoy exploring. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great during our visit to Amsterdam, and most days it was fairly cold and rainy. Nonetheless, we had a great time!

We left last Friday morning bright and early. Noah wasn’t feeling well so he tried to sleep during most of the flights.

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After a fairly full day of travel, we arrived to the Amsterdam airport shortly after 5:00pm.

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The Amsterdam airport is fairly unique in that it is very close to the city center. In fact, it takes slightly under 15 minutes to get from the airport train station (Schiphol) to the Amsterdam Centraal station in the Old City Center.

That is if the train is working….

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We waited for about 15 minutes by the tracks until someone came and told all of the would-be passengers that the train wasn’t running. After trying to figure out the bus system, we gave up and ended up taking a taxi into the city. The ride wasn’t too expensive though because two people behind us in line (a couple of travelers from Spain) asked if we wanted to share a cab!

I will say that the public transport train system in Amsterdam was pretty terrible from our experience. During our 5 days, we tried to use the train 4 times.¬†3 out of those 4 times the train wasn’t working (!!!) – something we discovered after buying tickets and spending time waiting around for the train. Fortunately, the train service desk was always very willing to give us a refund. Still, I hope our experience isn’t reflective of standard transit service, or I imagine it would be very frustrating to be an Amsterdammer.

After an unfortunately long amount of time, we finally made it to our hotel: ‘t hotel. Noah found ‘t hotel online while he was looking for a canal house we could stay in during our trip. The hotel is also a tea/breakfast shop, and the adorable sitting area greets you upon walking in the door:

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Our room was lovely – fairly spacious with a hot water station and comfortable bed (although there was some pretty gaudy wallpaper). The only downside of the room was that there was very little lighting (hence why the pictures are blurry/dark). I will, however, take full responsibility for the mess. ūüôā

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To get to our room, we had to climb two extremely steep sets of stairs, a typical feature Рwe would soon learn Рof canal houses:

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After dropping our stuff at the hotel, it was time to PLAY!!

We walked around and looked at some fun shops including this store which seemed to be one big, hot-food vending machine of sorts:

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We also stopped into a candy store and saw this funny display¬†of American “candy:”

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Eventually we went to dinner at an Indonesian restaurant called Puri Mas. Indonesian food is very popular/common in Amsterdam (Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony), and we read about the traditional rijsttafel dinner in our guide book. Rijsttafel is a Dutch word that literally means ‘rice table,’ and it’s basically a sampler dinner of sorts – small servings of different meat and vegetable dishes accompanied by rice. We ordered the rijsttafel dinner at Puri Mas and it was delicious (although some dishes were a bit spicy):

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Post-dinner included a little more window shopping and a walk through Leidseplein – a square in southern Amsterdam with lots of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. The area seemed to be very popular among tourists, and we spotted one of these pop-up urinals:

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Exactly as it sounds, this urinal pops up from the ground at night to provide a place for people to relieve themselves that is more pleasant (for others) than the ground. We also saw these warning signs all over the place telling people to be careful about what drugs they buy (apparently some people were sold heroin as cocaine and died):

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I guess the rumors about people going crazy in Amsterdam are true…

Not everything in the square was so edgy though…such as this Mini Cooper store:

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Eventually, we were exhausted from the early start to the day and headed back to the hotel for some sleep.

In the morning, we got up fairly early to have breakfast before our 9:00am pre-arranged ticket time at the Van Gogh Museum. Breakfast was provided at the hotel and included juice, yogurt, coffee or tea, and – Noah’s favorite breakfast! – bread and cheese:

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While good, the breakfast got a little redundant after 5 days…I sure missed my¬†yogurt and oatmeal. ūüôā

Check back soon for the first day’s activities such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhoff Gardens!

Other Amsterdam Posts

Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

Day trip to Tel Aviv

A couple weeks ago, I took a day trip to Tel Aviv with Pardes. The day focused on understanding the nuances and challenges of creating a secular Jewish city. Tel Aviv was instrumental in the formation of secular Jewish identity – and secular Jewish national identity.

The day started with a visit to the Shalom Meir Tower – Israel’s first skyscraper – where we¬†viewed a replica of ¬†Tel Aviv as well as looked at a small photo exhibit documenting Tel Aviv’s early years. When this tower was build in 1965, it was the tallest building in the Middle East!

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After the tower, we went to Trumpledor Cemetary and visited the graves of some of Israel’s most important historical figures.

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Some of the more significant figures included Hayim Nahman Bialik, a pioneer of Hebrew poetry who is now recognized as Israel’s national poet…

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…and Ahad Ha’am – arguably the most influential cultural Zionist. Even if you don’t know anything about Ahad Ha’am or cultural Zionism, you may know his most famous quote, “more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.” (particularly interesting and thought-provoking when you consider that Ha’am was not, in fact, a Shabbat observant Jew himself)

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After the cemetery we had some free time at Shuk haCarmel (Carmel Market) to walk around and get lunch.

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Noah and I grabbed lunch in the nearby Yemenite Quarter at a hummus eatery. The only thing on the menu: hummus with pita. There was a choice if you wanted hard-boiled egg on top (we said yes)! The Yemenite Quarter is full of authentic and filling hummus shops Рsome hole-in-the-wall style and others more of an established restaurant.

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After lunch, the group reconvened to head to Habima Theater for a private tour of the building (previous visit to Habima Square documented here). On the tour, we talked about the theater’s pre-statehood beginnings, pre-statehood. The theater officially started in Poland, but began touring in Israel on funds from the Soviet Union. Habima was the world’s first Hebrew-language theater, and many of their first tours in Israel consisted of performing on make-shift stages at kibbutzim. Now, the theater puts on all sorts of plays (still all in Hebrew). Here is the theater set up for a performance later in the day:

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While at the theater, we also got some backstage looks at the costume department and storage room:

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The tour made me really want to see a play at Habima…if only I could understand Hebrew well enough to know what was going on!!

The final stop of the trip was a much anticipated visit to Google Israel Headquarters:

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This place was seriously swanky.

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Naturally, everyone was wowed by the unlimited free drinks, espresso, and snacks in the lobby. After snack/drink time was over, we¬†met with¬†a couple of Google employees where they talked to us about the company, what it’s like working for Google in Israel, some of Google’s latest initiatives, and answered our questions. I asked if the emphasis on high tech in Israel leads to a more equal representation of women to men in tech fields than in the US. The response: yes, definitely.

Goodbye Google, maybe we’ll meet again…

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Visiting Sachne Hot Springs and Gan Garoo

First of all, I am excited to announce the publication of my new TRAVEL PAGE! It took a while to go back through previous posts, but all of my travel posts from both within and outside the United States are now collected and organized in one travel page Рlinked to from the Treasure Your Being home page. The full pages devoted exclusively to Minnesota and Israel, of course, still exist.

Second of all, a pop quiz! What tickles and gives you a pedicure at the same time?

Answer: FLESH EATING FISH!

But actually, if you visit the Sachne hot springs, be prepared to either keep your legs moving the whole time or get some gentle nibbles from small toothless fish that like to eat¬†dead skin off feet (have you ever seen them in the buckets used for pedicures? it’s pretty nuts!).

After our morning at Mt. Gilboa, the group I was traveling with this past weekend went to Sachne.

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Gorgeous, right?!

Sachne is a collection of natural pools fed by thermal springs that keep the water warm year round.

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Swimming here was a lot of fun – and I’m not even much of a swimmer! We stayed for about 30 minutes and then headed to the nearby Gan Garoo.

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Gan Garoo was Рyou guessed it Рa kangaroo park and petting zoo extraordinaire. When we got there, we walked quickly past a lizard, bird, and a koala bear exhibit, and made a beeline to the kangaroo park.

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I can’t verify, but one of the people who worked at Gan Garoo told us that this is the only place outside of Australia where you can pet a kangaroo.

At first, we approached with trepidation…

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But things quickly warmed up between us:

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The kangaroos were super soft and very friendly…especially when we bought some of the kangaroo food to feed them:

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After leaving the kangaroos, we checked out the rest of the animal exhibits. This included a visit to a goat petting zoo:

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And a visit with some parrots:

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We were extremely surprised/terrified when the birds started swooping onto us as soon as we walked inside the parrot exhibit. I was expecting to feed them while they remained firmly in a tree!

Noah wasn’t such a fan of the bird contact…

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He was, however, a very big fan of this miniature construction vehicle. 10 shekels bought him an electrically-powered and joyous 5 minutes of moving dirt with this bad boy:

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Visiting Lublin and Majdanek

My Heritage Seminars group woke up in Lublin after our second night in Poland. We spent the first part of the morning exploring some of Lublin’s sites. First, we went to the Old Jewish Cemetery of Lublin:

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The cemetery was situated just off some roads and residential areas, so it made for an odd juxtaposition to be in the very old (and mostly destroyed) cemetery but also to be able to look out and see normal life so nearby. Something that was emphasized repeatedly on the trip was how the Nazi’s war against the Jews was much more than a physical war – it was also a mental and emotional war. One of the most striking examples of this was that when Jewish cemeteries were destroyed during the war, the tombstones were often taken and then used to pave the roads in the concentration camps where Jews were kept prisoner. Using¬†Jewish gravestones¬†to pave¬†roads was intended to feel¬†belittling and dehumanizing.

Which brings me to…Majdanek.

Majdanek was the first concentration camp to become a museum and commemoration site – established as such in 1944. One of the unusual things about Majdanek (and perhaps coincidentally the reason for its speedy commemoration) is that it had a high percentage of Polish political prisoners who labored there. The camp first started operating in late 1941, and it was originally opened to be a labor camp for Soviet Prisoners of War. This purpose evolved to include many Polish political prisoners and also Jews. One of the unique features about Majdanek is that – unlike many other camps – it is not in an isolated area. In fact, it is within the boundaries of Lublin. Today, it is right next to some busy roads and residential areas. It was crazy to imagine the people living there giving directions to their house, “okay, so you drive straight past Majdanek and then turn left…”

The camp today includes a combination of commemorative art, restored barracks and other buildings, and a museum. At the entrance to the camp is this distinctive piece of commemorative art Рto approach the sculpture one must go down into a narrow arrow with jagged stones coming in from all sides.:

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Approaching it really gives the impression of walking towards an ever-increasing peril with no escape – the artist did a good job relaying the message! Looking out at the fields of Majdanek, I was immediately struck by how vast the camp was. Compared to the relatively small area of Treblinka, it was abundantly clear that a camp needed to be much larger if people were there to work rather than only to die.

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We entered the camp through the same gate at which men and women were separated after arriving to the camp, and we passed several guard towers along the way:

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After being separated along gender lines, people who arrived to the camp experienced the infamous sorting process of who was fit enough to work and who would be killed immediately. Both groups made their way through this building:

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Those who were selected to live were stripped of their clothes, belongings, hair, and sent to this room where actual water came down from the shower heads on the ceiling. The water was often freezing cold and then boiling hot:

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The clothes of all the prisoners were disinfected in another room in the same building. The disinfectant used for the clothing was Zyklon B, the same chemical that would later be used in the gas chambers to kill people. The pictures below show empty Zyklon B containers as well as stains on the walls of the rooms where the chemical was used:

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Those who were not sent to the real showers, were sent to the ‘showers’ – the gas chambers were referred to by this code name so as to decrease the likelihood of revolt. Those who were to be gassed were crowded into a¬†small room:

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An SS guard would stand outside in a small adjoining room and dispense poisonous gas through metal pipes into the room. The SS officer would also watch the death of those in the room through a small grated window:

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Most of the people who died in the gas chambers were women, children, and the elderly, although men who were too sick or emaciated to work were also killed in this way.

After leaving the bath and gas house, we walked about 30 minutes towards the other end of the camp, stopping to take a glimpse into one of the barracks:

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At the far end of the camp was¬†another piece of artistic memorialization.The writing on the outside of the dome reads, “let our fate be a warning to you.”

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Inside the dome, are the ashes of prisoners cremated at the camp, collected when the camp was liberated in 1944.

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This was one of the two most disturbing sights¬†for me during the entire trip (the other being a seemingly endless mound of hair at Auschwitz). I don’t know what I was expecting when I approached this mausoleum, but when I looked in and saw the above pile of ash, it was too much for me and I walked away immediately.

The crematorium, where these ashes were produced, is right next to the mausoleum:

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And, as a final reminder of destruction, there are also mass burial pits at this end of the camp next to the crematorium and mausoleum. These pits hold the bodies of Jews killed during Aktion Erntefest (Operation Harvest Festival), a ‘cleaning up’ operation in which about 42,000 Jews were killed in two days in November 1942. This was an attempt to wipe out those Jews who had not been killed by the three Reinhard camps.

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While this was another heavy day, I also experienced a lot of feelings of gratitude and appreciation. The silver lining, for me, of this type of trip is feeling an immense desire to treasure the good things in my life, the people I love, and the good fortune of my own relative safety in the world. Seeing sites like those described above makes it difficult to complain about little things or to not feel amazed at the good fortune and blessing of my own life.

Other Poland posts:

Warsaw
Tikocyn and Lupachowa Forest

Visiting Tikocyn and Lupachowa Forest

After the first day of activities in Poland, my group stayed the night at a hotel in Warsaw. The next morning, we were up bright and early to drive to a small town called Tikocyn.

Tikocyn was a small, predominantly Jewish village in Poland prior to the war Рthe total population was 3,000 and 2,000 of them were Jews. Visiting the town today felt like a big change from the bustling Warsaw:

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The first stop in Tikocyn was the old synagogue.

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Since all of the town’s Jews were killed and the synagogue receives no current use, it has been restored to reflect its original decor and is open to tourists. The bima (elevated area of a synagogue where the Torah is read) was in a baroque style, and the prayers written on the walls around the synagogue were very beautiful:

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After the synagogue, the group walked over the Rynek (name for the town square commonly found in Polish towns). In 1941, all of Tikocyn’s Jews were called to the Rynek:

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Women and children were loaded onto carts and driven to Lupachowa Forest, and the men were marched to the same location. My group followed their route by bus and entered the forest on foot:

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What was waiting for Tikocyn’s Jews in the forest were mass graves that had been dug by Polish workers in the prior weeks. All of the Jews were killed in mass shootings by the Nazis, and the mass graves were covered again by Polish workers.¬†It took two days to kill the entire Tikocyn Jewish population because about 400 people¬†hid on the first day. The Nazis returned to the town to hunt out those in hiding and returned with them to the forest the following¬†day. As we approached the clearing where the mass graves are marked today, I began to see the familiar flicker of the Israeli flag:

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At first I felt surprised to see the Israeli flags there. Throughout the trip, however, I began to see more and more how Israel has become representative of a redemption (of sorts) for those killed and also a symbol of hope to those who are trying to understand and confront the Holocaust.

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Walking out of the forest was truly an eerie feeling – as I approached the sunlight of the road outside the forest, it was impossible not to think about the fact that so many others were never able to leave.

After Lupachowa Forest, the final stop of Day 2 was Treblinka.

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We arrived to Treblinka as the sun was setting, so the light wasn’t good enough for many pictures. Some basic information though…Treblinka was one of 3 death camps (along with Sobibor and Belzec) associated with Operation Reinhard. Operation Reinhard was the name given to the Nazi operation of efficient mass murder with the purpose of total extermination. The¬†Nazis search for a ‘solution to the Jewish problem’ was an evolving process throughout the war, and the final solution of complete extermination is not generally thought of to be the plan right from the beginning.

In 1942, the decision for complete extermination had been made, and Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec were opened as a strategic part of Operation Reinhard. Unlike other concentration and slave labor camps in Poland and Germany, these camps were designed for the singular purpose of killing essentially everyone who went there. Trains of Jews arrived to camp and were immediately robbed of their possessions and killed in the gas chambers. On Treblinka’s most ‘efficient’ day of operation, 17,000 people were killed.

With the perspective of history, the finalization of Operation Reinhard and the building of these three camps was a major turning point in the fate of Polish Jews. At the beginning of 1942, 80% of Polish Jewry was still alive and 20% dead. By the end of 1942, this equation was reversed, with 80% murdered and only 20% still alive.

If you visit Treblinka today, you will primarily see sculptures and various forms of commemorative art. The camp was completely destroyed by the Nazis before the war ended in an attempt to cover up some of the evidence. The information that is known about the camp primarily comes from escapees who relayed information about the camp’s physical layout¬†and operations.

One of the other Reinhard camps, Sobibor, was the site of a large-scale escape plan. In 1943, 400 prisoners made an escape attempt from Sobibor. While many of them were killed in the process, the following manhunt, or later on in the war, several of the escapees did ultimately survive. There is a good (BUT HIGHLY FICTIONALIZED) movie about the event called Escape from Sobibor.

Check back soon for more posts about my Poland trip!

Previous Poland posts…

Day 1: Warsaw

Tzfat and Mt. Bental

Tzfat is a town in the Galilee region, known for its spiritual vibe, artsy aesthetics, and ‘airy’ feel. My family stopped by Tzfat for a few hours on our way north, walking around to get a sense of the town and grabbing a bite to eat. The town itself is full of narrow, windy cobblestone streets that lead past old synagogues, art shops, and eateries:

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The ubiquity of art is definitely the most unique quality of Tzfat. In addition to an abundance of art shops and vendors, the streets themselves are covered with art. Tzfat is also one of the few places in Israel outside of Jerusalem where religiosity is visibly expressed at every corner. Literally.

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This is a picture seen painted on a wall along the street depicting ‘The Torah Kid’ as a superhero:

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Besides walking around, we visited Abuhav Synagogue – a Sephardic synagogue in which a Torah written by Abuhav, a 14th-century Spanish scribe, resides. The synagogue is fairly simple from the outside, but the interior is colorful and beautifully decorated:

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One of the highlights of visiting Tzfat was a trip to a store called Tzfat Candles. True to the spirit of Tzfat, this is much more than your average candle shop. It is candle art.

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You can buy candles in the shape of pretty much anything you can think of (besides all the fancy stuff, they also sell beautifully colored ‘regular’ candles). In addition to¬†the variety of candles for sale, there was some pretty magnificent Biblical candle art on display. Highlights included David and Goliath:

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Noah’s ark:

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And Samson:

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I don’t know about you, but I would sure feel bad lighting any of these on fire! Noah and I bought a havdallah candle at the store and used it for the first time last week! It was awesome. ūüôā

And, just for giggles, a misspelled sign advertising the popular Tzfat cheese (a semi-hard, somewhat elastic, cheese popular in Israel):

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After Tzfat, we continued north to Mt. Bental. Mt. Bental is a volcanic cone in the northern part of Israel, near the Golan heights, and very close to the Syrian border. Due to its positioning near Syria, the location used to be a military outpost. Looking out from Mt. Bental, one can see, to one side, into the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria and across into Syria itself. To the other side lies the Israeli Kibbutz Merom Golan. When we arrived at the site, we saw a UN vehicle parked in the lot (these vehicles are also commonly sighted in Jerusalem):

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Noah investigating a view as we walk to the main lookout:

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This sign highlighted Mt. Bental’s unique location and proximity to several significant cities:

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At the lookout, we could walk through the former military trenches and tunnels:

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View looking out towards Syria:

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Check back soon for a final post recounting my family’s visit and our stop in Tiberias!

Baha’i Gardens and Dr. Shakshuka

During my parents’ visit, we spent a day in Haifa. Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city, and it’s located in about one-hour north of Tel Aviv, resting below Mt. Carmel. The primary cultural highlight of Haifa is¬†the Baha’i Gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Haifa is the world center of the Baha’i faith – one of the world’s newest religion. Baha’ism was founded in Iran in the 19th century, and its primary tenet is the unity of all mankind. Baha’is believe that prophets have appeared throughout history (Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus, etc.), and religious truth is comprised of progressive revelations regarding a universal faith.

The Baha’i Gardens are built around the Shrine of the Bab. The Bab foretold of the revelation of the new faith to Baha’u’llah, the religion’s founder. In addition to the shrine, the gardens are filled with perfectly manicured trees, hedges, and plants. Gravel pathways and steps wind throughout the garden, which is open to visitors year round. One of the most unique features about the garden is that it is built along a hill and has 19 terraces!

From the bottom, the stairs can look quite imposing:

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A big part of the garden’s magnificence is how impeccable everything appears:

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We didn’t climb all 19 terraces (that’s a lot of stairs!), but we did spend about 45 minutes walking around the garden and enjoying the views out onto on the town.

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After our day in Haifa, we headed to Tel Aviv for a couple days. While in Tel Aviv, we went to Jaffa for an evening. Jaffa is an ancient port city that was once separate from Tel Aviv, but urban sprawl has made the two cities essentially connected today. It is told that Jonah (of Jonah and the whale) set off from Jaffa, and many historians believe it to be the oldest port in the world. In Jaffa, we walked along the waterfront and strolled through¬†the town center where there were shops, restaurants, and street entertainment. We got dinner at a restaurant called Dr. Shakshuka. Shakshuka is a North African dish¬†that is quite popular in Israel as a breakfast any-time-of-day food. Traditional shakshuka is comprised essentially of tomato and eggs, but variations include adding eggplant or other vegetables as well as a ‘green shakshuka’ version that is typically based around spinach.

Dr. Shakshuka had about 25 different shakshuka variations as well as some other North African dishes like couscous and kebabs. From some reason, I don’t have a photo of the actual shakshuka, but here are a few shots of the couscous, meat, and salad we ordered:

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If you’re a shakshuka fan, I would definitely recommend paying this place a visit if you’re in the area!

 

Masada and FOOD

In addition to hiking in Ein Gedi, my family also did a hike up Masada during our Israel travel.

Masada is a flattop mountain in the Ein Gedi area that has earned fame for its role as the site of Jewish rebels’ last stand against the Roman Empire. A magnificent palace was first built atop the mountain by Herod the Great in the 1st century. Years later, after Herod had died, the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire in 66 CE. The Romans destroyed the second temple in 70 CE and essentially ended the revolt then. A group of slightly less than 1,000 Jews, however, fled to Masada where they – historians believe – lived for over a year. One might think, why would the Roman army even bother with them anymore? I don’t know…maybe it was a matter of pride or finishing the job ‘right,’ but the Romans pursued the Jews to Masada and built eight camps around the mountain as they spent months preparing an assault ramp that would enable them to ambush the mountain.

All that is known about Masada’s tragic end comes from one survivor.¬†The story states that, knowing the Roman forces couldn’t be held off for much longer, the Jews atop Masada decided that they would rather take their own lives in freedom than serve the Romans as slaves. Lots were drawn to determine 10 men who would kill the rest of the community, and, then, a final lot was drawn to determine who would kill the other nine and then commit suicide. One of the most interesting archeological finds from¬†the site were¬†pottery shards bearing names – generally thought to be evidence of the lots.

Today, Masada has become a site emblematic of both bravery and tragedy within the Jewish community during the time of Roman rule (and, more broadly, throughout history). The mountain is a popular site for Birthright groups, children having their Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel, and essentially any Zionist trip touring Israel. The iconic Masada experience is to hike the mountain just before dawn, reaching the top for sunrise.

Despite the pre-sunrise hour, my family acquiesced to hiking the mountain bright and early. The hike up the mountain took about 40 minutes at a pretty quick pace, and we reached the top a few minutes before official sunrise:

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Unfortunately, it ended up being a cloudy day and the magic of the sun was fairly obstructed by the clouds. Nonetheless, it was still a great hike with awesome views from the top…and, even if we didn’t get the full splendor of a clear sunrise, it was neat to see everything come into full color! ūüôā

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Me with my “baby” bro:

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This is a picture of the tiered palace that served as¬†Herod’s living quarters when he resided on the mountaintop:

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With all the hiking, biking, and swimming, there was – of course – also lots of eating during this vacation. A few quick highlights include…

Fresh honey at the cafeteria at the Ein Gedi Kibbutz:

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Yemenite street food in Tzfat. We ate a Lachuch Original where we had sandwiches made with malawa bread and filled with vegetables and cheese:

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Finally, we ate at a meat restaurant called Habikta in a town called Ramot by the sea of Galilee. The restaurant offered a broad menu of smoked meat dishes, burgers, homemade bagels and a salad bar:

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In closing, I must share the incredible coincidence of finding this poster hanging in a small lodge in the northern Galilee:

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This poster recalls the capture of the Jesse James Gang in Northfield, MN – the site of my alma mater. The historic capture continues to be remembered even after all these years¬†through the annual ‘Jesse James Days,’¬†and I have very fond memories of attending the festival each year as a college student. ūüôā

Family trip to the Dead Sea

Noah and I were SUPER fortunate to have my parents visit us in Israel during Chanukah and part of the week after. We traveled throughout the country together, and I felt so lucky¬†to see much of the country for the first time with my wonderful parents! ūüôā We did a lot, so I’ll try to chip away at the blog accounts of our travels over the next couple weeks, but I wanted to start with a recap of what I thought was a highlight of our trip together: the Dead Sea!

During our travels, we spent a couple days in the southern part of Israel visiting an area called Ein Gedi. Ein Gedi is an oasis west of the Dead Sea, and the area is characterized by a unique mixture of desert and green Рhome to the lowest place on earth (the Dead Sea) and a collection of spas featuring treatments using the unique minerals found at this location. The Dead Sea lies 1,388 feet below sea level, and the salt concentration of the water is so high that people can float in the water. The collection of minerals that accumulate here in the water and mud are heralded as being particularly good for the skin, and an spa business has been built out of the attraction of the location to tourists.

Yet, the ‘beach’ front and spa at the Dead Sea are different from what one might expect at¬†an American spa. The walkway to the sea is barren and without fanfare:

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Fortunately, the openness of the area facilitated great views of the desert mountains in the distance as well as the effect of the sea’s salt accumulation on the bordering land:

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Once at the waterfront, we read a cautionary sign about all of the ways we could potentially be injured during our visit:

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Somehow, we mustered the courage to go into the water anyway:

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Maneuvering through the water was a bit challenging because so much salt has hardened on the bottom of the sea that the ground is rough and sharp – look at this salt caked onto the ramp leading into the water!:

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Once we ‘laid’ down in the water though, it was easy-breezy. No need to tread water here. ūüôā

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More family trip posts coming soon…thanks for visiting me! I love you so much and miss you already! ūüôā

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48 hours is Tel Aviv: Day 2

After a full day walking and biking around in Tel Aviv,¬†I was ready for a relaxing dinner and a good night’s sleep! After looking around a bit for a dinner spot, Noah and I decided to go to Piazza, an Italian-style restaurant, that had good reviews on Trip Advisor.

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We sat outside underneath a clementine tree:

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For the meal, we ordered a small focaccia with egg and tahini spread, pea/zucchini/artichoke risotto, and a tomato and cheese salad:

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After the meal, we were stuffed and completely crashed at the hotel.

The next day, we did a lot more walking around. We stopped by the Bauhaus Center for some shopping and reading about architecture in Israel, and we also visited the contemporary art building of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art which was featuring a series of short films. The main stop of the day was the Tel Aviv Tahana.

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Tel Aviv’s Tahana (station) is extremely similar to Jerusalem’s Tahana Rishona¬†– which is not surprising considering these were the first two stations between which the first Israeli trains traveled. Tel Aviv’s Tahana had a lot of open square space, several shops and restaurants, and a couple old train cars for people to look at:

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We considered getting lunch at the tahana, but all of the restaurants were packed, so we decided to find a place to eat in the Nave Tzedek neighborhood that was next to the station. We went to a restaurant called Cafe Suzana and shared a delicious lunch of kubbe (basically dumplings filled with ground beef) and a chicken roll:

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We also tried a local drink that was listed on the menu simply as ‘almond drink:’

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The drink was sweet and served with mint. I really liked it!

After lunch, it was already after 3:00pm and we had expended most of our energies getting to and from the tahana (it was about an hour walk each way), so we gathered our stuff and headed back to Jerusalem on a sherut (shared taxi). Overall, it was a great weekend away! There are about a dozen museums in Tel Aviv that I really want to visit, so I’m already itching to go back. ūüôā