Friday, March 18, 2016

From the Mediterranean to the Vineyard in Israel

I was in Israel for the first time since I was a teenager on a press trip with Israel Tourism.

Since we just ended up with a private guide with us since no one from the visitor’s bureau or public relations had joined us, and there were some mix ups in the schedule, we decided to fill in a bit of what each of us wanted to do for our stories.

I woke up fairly early at the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv. I knew it would be a long day and I was ready to get started.

Despite the fact that I had a full dinner the night before, I couldn’t wait for another Israeli breakfast. 

I anticipated it would be as good as the Dan Panorama in Jerusalem, and I wasn’t disappointed.

My sweet tooth was more than satisfied. It took a lot of self-control not to totally fill my plate with luscious desserts!

I managed to collect my favorites into a fairly well-rounded plate of fruit, cheese, tomato, halvah, a cheese blintz, a small raspberry tart, and a sliver of my favorite breakfast food – cheesecake.

After breakfast, we took a tour of the hotel and saw photos of many celebrities who had been there recently, such as Richard Gere.

We also learned that Dan Hotels are Israel’s leaders in luxury hotels, and Americans are their most frequent customers.

The Dan Tel Aviv was after all in the perfect location – steps from the beach and in the city.

We finished the tour in the executive lounge, which had a breathtaking view of the beach.

The plan for the morning was to head to the Gindi Fashion Week shows. A few of us did not do any fashion writing and decided to skip it.

I went for a walk along the beach with my friend and fellow writer, Karen Tina (KT) Harrison.

Tel Aviv is such an ideal vacation spot with both the city and a spectacular beach in one spot. It was clean and not at all crowded, with the crystal blue Mediterranean Sea and a well-kept promenade to walk along.

Walking is just what we did, for about an hour, before heading back to our rooms to get a little work done.

In the afternoon, KT and I went to Tishbi Winery, along with another writer, Jo Piazza, who was the Managing Editor of Yahoo! Travel.

It was about an hour and a half away from downtown Tel Aviv, but well worth the trip.

My cousin Marge had arranged for us to tour the winery and it turned out to be a most memorable experience.

Everyone was incredibly welcoming. We had one of the best meals ever and every wine we tasted at Tishbi was fantastic.

I especially loved the Tishbi Brut Sparkling and the Viognier. As for the food, we sampled nearly every fresh and delicious dish on the menu and I don’t think I could distinguish a favorite.

Everything we ate was from fresh and local meat and vegetables. The fish was straight from the Red Sea.

We were all quite impressed with the whole operation at Tishbi , which also included a bakery and chocolate shop.

We finished in the tasting room, where we went home with wine and treats (I love their Mango Chardonnay Jam in my baked brie).

It was tough to leave Tishbi, but we had to go return the car and meet back with the group a few hours later for dinner at Dr. Shakshuka Restaurant in Old Jaffa.

The restaurant, a popular one for locals and visitors, was quite good, but it was hard to top our afternoon.

The dishes served here originally came from North Africa.

We sampled a little bit of everything from salads to dessert. They didn’t stop bringing out dishes from the moment we all sat down.

After dinner, we walked through Old Jaffa. Our guide Carmela showed us the old soap factory, which has become a favorite hiding place for the local bats.

KT and I finished the night with drinks at a very busy and colorful nightclub, the Flamingo Bar at the Brown Beach House Hotel.

We met up with the public relations reps from the hotel for a nightcap from their eclectic menu.

I settled on the Green Crush, Bombay gin with cucumbers, mint, verbena (a flower), and ginger ale.  It was pretty good.

We stayed about an hour. It had been a very long day and it was a bit crowded for our tastes, though younger crowd seemed to love it.

It was just a short walk back to the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv. I was so tired I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Touring Tel Aviv

It was tough leaving the family, but it was time to join the group and explore Israel. I drove to Tel Aviv to meet the other writers and our tour guide at the Dan Hotel.

The drive wasn’t bad from Jerusalem even though everyone warned me about traffic. Considering I spent most of my life driving in New York, I’m prepared.

Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, I saw the sea for the first time since arriving in Israel.

Despite the fact that it is such a small country, Israel has four seas– the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee. (The first three are often referred to as “The Med, The Dead, and The Red.)

Tel Aviv borders the Mediterranean, but it’s also the most metropolitan city in Israel. It’s also the only city with a major airport.

I was happy to find out almost everyone in Israel speaks English. While most of my travels are usually in Europe and I can get by in the Latin languages, I don’t know any Hebrew.

I parked at the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv and immediately was looking for our guide, Carmela.

The original plan we had been told included a guide, someone from the tourism board, a person from the public relations agency, and a soldier.

No one was sure what happened, but it looked like the tour guide Carmela and the bus driver were the only ones who would be with me for the first day's tour of Tel Aviv.

In fact, a mix up had also occurred with the flights and I was the only journalist who had arrived.

Carmela and I made some calls, sent some emails, and did some social media to try to figure out where the rest of the group was, then finally took off on the bus on our own.

In a few minutes we were in Tel Aviv’s Old Jewish Neighborhood and ready for the walking tour.

We started at the Nahum Gutman Art Gallery. I found it quite interesting.

Gutman was a painter who came to Israel from Russia when he was just seven years old. He wrote and illustrated books and was the first to create a newspaper for children.

Although Gutman died (at 82), his son maintains involvement in the museum, which has workshops for children and adults.

We walked around for a while and saw a children’s exhibit about artistic legends, including Disney.

After the museum, we walked around the neighborhood. Carmela pointed out the Memshelec on the buildings. These sculpted hooks had faces of men and women and were quite interesting.

This neighborhood played a big part in Tel Aviv being declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. 

The architecture is representative of the 250,000 who escaped the Nazis to Israel and built German Bauhaus style houses.

While this neighborhood represented so much of the old style, Carmela pointed out that boutique hotels were popping up in the area.

I was getting hungry and looking forward to our next stop, the Carmel Market, where we would be doing tastings of typical food from the Israeli population, which was made up of many different nationalities.

The market, which has been open since 1920, was vibrant and busy with people selling and purchasing spices, baked goods, cheeses, olives, and lots of halvah, that sweet treat that I had always loved and discovered on my breakfast buffet at the Dan Panorama Hotel Jerusalem.

Among the places we stopped were: Uzi-Eli, where they use healing herbs and fruits to make smoothies, juices, and drops; Shmuel’s, a restaurant where we tasted a pita filled with tahini and vegetables and some beef with lamb fat; Center of Burika, a traditional Indian food that is cheese fried inside a pastry and served in a pita; and The Mamas, where we were served a soup filled with meat and vegetables.

I certainly wasn’t hungry any more by the time we left the market.

We went back to the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel and I was able to shower and rest before dressing for dinner.

The rest of the group came in that night (they had been booked on flights the wrong day) and we all went to the Pacific Restaurant at the Crowne Plaza.

I was excited because I would be tasting sushi for the very first time. My seafood allergy had kept me from it previously, but this was kosher sushi, made from salmon and vegetarian items, and nowhere near any shellfish.

I think everyone around me was just as excited as I was to try it. I did enjoy the rolls, as well as the salads, chicken, turnips, and dessert.

We had it all with a good Israeli Barkan Vineyards Riesling.

Everyone was wiped out by the time we got back to the DanHotel Tel Aviv around 11:00 pm. We went straight to our rooms to rest up for a full day ahead.