ISRAEL: The Four F’s- Family, Friends, Fun and FOOD!
When we first arrived to Israel, we stayed in Tel Aviv so we could sort out our visas to China as well as have additional pages added to my passport. When we weren’t at an Embassy, you could likely find us eating something, whether it was hummus and pitas at the beach after playing Matcot, an Israeli game with wooden paddles and a ball that has no rules and no score, or dinner both nights of fresh fish at the best fish restaurant around as well as all the salads the restaurant had.
I should clarify something for anyone who hasn’t been to Israel, in Israel at most sit down restaurants you get dozens of complimentary salads with as many “refills” as you want as long as you order a main dish. This means you table looks something like this before you even get to the main course:
See why I said Israel was about food for us?
If we weren’t looking like this:
Then we were on rental bikes and riding around the city. We even took time away from our busy eating schedule to spend an afternoon exploring Yaffo.
The icing on the cake to our time in Tel Aviv was that we got to see some of our close friends from Oahu that we hadn’t seen in years. It’s safe to say our time was well-balanced between getting business done and taking plenty of time for food…er, I mean, fun too!
Here is a picture of two guys playing Matcot:
And a view of Tel Aviv:
We left Tel Aviv and drove up to the Golan Heights, specifically Neve Ativ where Ronen is from. Neve Ativ is nestled in the mountains with both Lebanon and Syria within sight. It’s an incredibly beautiful area with rolling mountains, agricultural fields and the Sea of Galilee as well as the Jordan River. Ronen got to see his childhood friends for the first time in five years. I loved seeing them embrace in a hug and laugh and enjoy each other’s company again like no time had ever passed between them.
See the trend continues…more food at a BBQ:
I also got to meet some of his family for the first time. We went to his saba and safta’s house for dinner. I couldn’t stop eating because the food was so amazing. She made her own couscous, with a Moroccan chicken stew over the top, then stuffed peppers, Moroccan style meatballs in a delicious spicy yet sweet red sauce, Moroccan spicy fish, plus various salads, and dessert. Ronen told his grandmother that he had never seen me eat so much and it was true, I was unable to put my fork down. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
We were in the Neve Ativ during the holiday of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is a day to ask forgiveness for what you have done wrong and search your soul for ways to be a better person. This means there can be no distractions during this day of prayer and reflection so throughout the entire country, people fast, all Jewish business are closed, roads are closed, gates to the Kibbutz and Moshave’s are shut, and there is complete silence. This was my first experience of this holiday and I must say, there was something beautiful about it. Complete quiet, no cars, no TV’s, no radios, no sound but nature, it was a powerful experience.
After Yom Kippur, we drove down to Eilat to do some diving. The drive from the very North of Israel to the very South of Israel takes six hours and is a gorgeous drive. You drive by the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, through the desert to Masada, and finally end at the Red Sea. We stopped at Masada, which is a fort that was built by King Herod between 37 and 31 BC and then was conquered by the Roman’s in 73 AD. You can still see the ramp built by the Romans to breach the walls of the Fortress.
This trip, we didn’t stop at the Dead Sea, but it was one of my most memorable experiences that last time I visited. I just remember floating upright (standing position) with everything from my waist up out of the water.
Our goal in Eilat was to dive as much as possible. We ended up squeezing in seven dives in two and a half days. One of the great things about diving in Eilat is that you can rent gear, walk across the street and dive, whenever you want. You don’t have to sign up for a boat dive in advance. You can wake up and dive whenever you are ready. Diving in the Red Sea is like diving in an aquarium, there is so much color and so much life, its impossible to remember all the amazing things you saw on every dive. Check out the next post for a complete gallery of our Eilat diving photos.
We had a great time in Eilat besides the diving. We ate amazing meals with Ronen’s parents and Ronen’s mom, Aviva, and I did the Fire Ball which is basically a large metal ball covered in neon lights that is catapulted into the air and spins all around.
We were smart enough to do the Fire Ball before eating this amazing dinner at Pago Pago.
The next morning we were sad to leave Eilat but ready for some cooler weather up in Neve Ativ. When we arrived back home, we walked through his family’s orchards of pomegranate, kiwi, and apples. His dad has quite the green thumb.
We did some other exploring and walked the trail at the Golani Lookout. Golani is the unit Ronen served in and he is proud to be a Golani soldier. He told me all about the mountain and its significance in the Six Day War between Syria and Israel. In the first picture below, you can see Eucalyptus trees that were planted by the Syrians. Eli Cohen, a famous Mossad agent who had infiltrated the Syrian army told the Syrian army leaders to plant these trees at every bunker to protect the soldiers from the sun. He then passed this information on to Israel who was able to identify all of Syria’s bunker locations by finding groves of the Eucalyptus trees. Besides the historical significance, the lookout also has a beautiful view of the Galilee below.
In the picture below, Ronen is placing a rock on the memorial for all the Golani soldiers lost during the battle for this mountain:
On our last day in Israel, we visited the Hula Valley. The Hula Valley is a marshland that is a major stopping point for migratory birds traveling from Europe to Africa and back. The day we were there, the storks hadn’t yet arrived but the next afternoon, we could see a flock of thousands of them landing in the marsh on our way to the airport.
We said our goodbyes to our family and friends and headed off on the next step of our adventure, Africa.