Thursday, March 24, 2016

Celebrating Food and Arts in Tel Aviv

I was up early at the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv for another busy day on my press trip with Israel Tourism.

After breakfast, I met with the rest of the journalists and our guide, Carmela, in the Executive Lounge at the hotel with our luggage. 

We were heading to two more hotels in Israel before we would be back at this one.

Since most of the group had arrived later than me, they were all heading to the Bauhaus area I had toured on my first day.

I decided to check out some of the boutique shopping area around Sheinken Street in Tel Aviv with another journalist, Jo Piazza.

We stopped first at a café for some coffee. As interesting as the pastries looked, we had just finished a big Israeli breakfast, which focused on the sweets.

As we walked through the blocks we noted that they all looked simple and understated from the outside, despite the fact that most of the clothes and shoes were high-end.

I window-shopped while Jo picked up and dress and then we headed to the Levinsky Market to meet the group.

This market was quite different than the Carmel Market I had been to a few days ago.

Instead of booths, there were more permanent stores, though a lot of the food and products looked the same.

Our driver brought the bus to Levinsky to pick us up and take us to the Tel Aviv Art Museum.

It was a big and beautifully designed building and extremely modern.

Inside we found most of the art to be Israeli, although it spanned different eras.

Before we left the museum complex, we went to eat and greet the chef at its restaurant, Pastel.

I sipped a mint tea, which in Israel includes large mint leaves in the water.

Most of the food was fish based and not kosher, so I couldn’t eat very much. I did have some warm rolls and salad.

The chef brought us into the kitchen for the making of the desserts – a giant Rocher-like chocolate ball filled with hazelnut. It was delicious.

Since we had just had lunch and no one was in a rush for dinner, a couple of the writers suggested we head to the Florentin neighborhood, which had recently been called by Thrillist one of the hippest in the world.

I definitely felt it was eclectic, a little bit Brooklyn and meat-packing in one, with everything from art galleries and trendy restaurants to furniture stores and whisky bars.

There were also cats everywhere and I have to say they made for some great Kodak moments.

We walked for a while and Carmela said it wasn’t far to the restaurant so we decided not to get back on the bus.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t true. It was actually about two miles. Everyone was tired and hungry and my back was aching.  It had been a long day.

We arrived at Social Club for dinner and it was a set menu. I had pasta and cheesecake, which was pretty good.

The plan was to continue on to an Israeli dance performance. 

My back was still bothering me from a very long day of walking.

A few of the others in our group were also exhausted so half of us chose to go back to the hotel

I heard it was actually a Bollywood show no one liked so I didn’t miss anything.

I did get to check into an amazing room at the Dan Accadia Hotel in Herzeliya, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

The bathroom was loaded with first class amenities and the staff had left me flowers, wine, fruit, and chocolate.

What a wonderful way to end the day in Israel .

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. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Welcome to Israel

It had been nearly 20 years since I had been to Israel and I was excited to have the opportunity to return with Israel Tourism.

The trip was focused around the city of Tel Aviv, but it would also give me a chance to spend some time with family.

Had to start the trip in New York, so left a day early to have dinner with my daughter. Mom met me in New York. Stayed overnight at Hampton Inn JFK to make sure we were both there long before our evening flight to Istanbul.

Although American Airlines upgraded me on the way to New York, Mom and I were flying economy on Turkish Air.

I had never flown them before and didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised with great service, food, and even entertainment on the plane.

We slept for a couple of hours and woke up to breakfast at about 12:00 noon Turkey time.

We had been delayed so there was a mad rush to get to the plane. I was extremely impressed with the way they handled getting Mom, who was in a wheelchair, and I to the next plane on time.

Unfortunately, they didn’t do as well with getting Mom’s walker. We presumed it would meet us in Tel Aviv, but it actually was never found by Turkish Air and had to be replaced in Israel.

It was another pleasant flight and we were even served lunch as we headed on the two-hour flight to Israel.

Once in Tel Aviv, I can’t say the airport personnel were quite as helpful as the Turkish. It was Saturday, the Sabbath to many in the country, so I wrote it off as not the usual personnel working.

I picked up my rental car from Budget and loaded up Mom and the suitcase for the trip to Jerusalem.

The country of Israel is only about the size of New Jersey so it wasn’t too far of a drive anywhere.

It was still Saturday afternoon when we arrived at the Dan Panorama Hotel.

We checked in fairly quickly and went to our room to freshen up. We were pretty exhausted and decided to have an early dinner and head to bed early.

The buffet at the hotel was quite good, but staff here too seemed to be limited on Saturday.

Shortly after we finished eating I heard from my youngest cousin, Marge, that she couldn’t wait to see us.

She and her husband came over to the hotel. I hadn’t seen them in many years and it was great to know I’d see them more the next day.

It didn’t take long for Mom and I to head to the room and catch up on our sleep.

In the morning, we went down to the restaurant at the Dan Panorama Jerusalem for the first of many fantastic Israeli breakfasts I would eat.

The selection was huge and included something I had never seen before – halvah cakes.

I was always a fan of this sesame seed candy and would pick it up the rare times I would find it back home. It was always in bar form, but in Israel they had huge cakes with all different flavors.

I came to look for it at every hotel breakfast and make sure I saved room for this treat.

On Sunday and Monday, I had the pleasure of catching up with my cousins and my aunt. I also got my first glimpse in many years into the Israeli culture.

They had all grown up in Israel and now had families of their own. There were 17 children between the three of them and I got to meet most during a dinner we all understood well – pizza.

During that weekend, I had my first glimpse into a kosher McDonald’s.

In what seemed to me like a Saturday Night Live skit, my order for burgers and chicken was taken and then I had to go outside and in another door while the same guy who took my meat order went under a counter and came to take my milkshake and ice cream order!

(In keeping with kosher rules, the food was kept separate at all times.)

The kosher way of eating also had a huge impact on my diet. I was able to find more vegetarian and dairy meals since places were either meat or no meat.

I also was able to eat fish. My seafood allergy is severe enough that I had to give up all fish a few years ago. There was just too much cross contamination, but kosher fish can never come in contact with shellfish.

There would be many firsts to come on this trip to Israel, which would officially start the next day when I met the other journalists in Jerusalem.