It’s been some time since Doug’s parents’ visit to Israel in January, but with the recent end of my own parents’ visit, I can’t help but reminisce.
It was their first trip to Israel. We were excited to show them around, but were at a loss as to where to start. Their trip was relatively short (only 6 days) and we had to work during their visit, so scheduling was very tight.
Thankfully, my organizational instincts kicked in quite quickly—I threw together an itinerary that covered most of Tel Aviv’s neighborhoods and had us in Jerusalem for a day. I don’t know about Doug’s parents, but I was definitely exhausted by the end of the week!
Doug’s parents arrived in the afternoon, so Doug made his way to the airport to pick them up. He took them to their hotel, where I later met them. We walked along the tayelet for a short time before making our way to dinner at Piccola Pasta (a restaurant absolutely worth checking out! Read about the food here). It was close to their hotel and we figured it was a safe bet for their first night. We had an early dinner and took them back to their hotel, where I think they promptly fell asleep. Mission: retrieve parents from airport and ferry them to sleep late enough to avoid jet lag = success!
We originally planned to spend Wednesday in Tel Aviv and go to Jerusalem on Thursday, but the weather forecast for Thursday indicated rain all day. In the interest of not spending a day soaked and unhappy in Jerusalem, we switched our schedule around a little. We met up bright and early and made our way to the Central Bus Station, where we hopped on a sherut to Jerusalem.
For those who don’t know what a sherut is, it’s basically a taxi van. Prices are comparable to buses.
- Cons: Depending on the time of day, you may have to wait a bit for it to leave. They wait until they’re full before heading off to their destination. They also don’t offer any monthly/weekly pass, as far as I know.
- Pros: They can be quicker than buses since they only stop to drop people off (or pick people up, when they have empty seats). They also run on Shabbat.
We made it to Jerusalem with enough time to stop in at an Aroma and grab something warm to drink before making our way to the Old City. In the interest of seeing as much of Jerusalem as possible in a short time, we took them to the Old City via Mamilla Mall.
Mamilla Mall is a modern construction built very close to the Old City. A pedestrian walkway cuts through its center, allowing you to stroll along while looking in at the posh stores and contemporary sculptures than line the walkway.
At long last, we came upon the Old City. While we planned to enter through Dung Gate since it was closest to the Kotel (also known as the Western Wall and the Wailing Wall), we ended up going through Yafo Gate. Initially, I was pretty worried that I wouldn’t be able to navigate the narrow, winding, indistinguishable streets of the Old City. We had tickets for Minarot HaKotel, a tour that takes you into the tunnels under the Old City by the Kotel. I looked at our map and craned my neck left and right, trying to find the street signs tacked onto the sides of walls. I quickly grew frustrated by the complete lack of any side streets on my map. As I did so, though, I realized I didn’t need the map.
While my memory usually fails me, it was astonishingly impressive in getting us to the Kotel. I couldn’t tell you what turns to take, what stores to look for, what streets to go down—but somehow I just remembered where to go. Within moments, we were by the entrance to the tunnels, with a few minutes to spare. Doug’s parents finally had a moment to look around and take in the splendor of the Old City. The cobblestone streets, secret doorways, and little stairwells charmed them. The Kotel itself, the likes of which they had never seen before, impressed them.
Minarot HaKotel impressed them further, providing a wealth of historical information about Jerusalem and the Kotel that put things into a contextual perspective. It emphasized just how remarkable the second temple was, of which the Western Wall was only a fraction of a much larger piece that only served as its architectural base. We emerged from the tunnels on Via Dolorosa, each of us a pound heavier from the incredibly educational tour.
We tried to follow the Stations of the Cross (the path Jesus took, carrying the cross, from the place of his trial and condemnation by Pontius Pilate to the site of his crucifixion and burial) for a little bit, using Fodor as our guide. Unfortunately, even the 7th edition of Fodor’s doesn’t have a built-in GPS, so we ended up giving up somewhere between where Jesus addresses the women in the crowd and where he is stripped of his garments.
Luckily, Jesus’s final path took us right through the Arab Market, which we planned to check out anyways. There’s really nothing like it—vendors smoking in their tiny shops, hookahs laying out left and right, lemonade and pomegranate juice being purchased by thirsty tourists, all immersed amidst countless Jerusalem-themed souvenirs for people of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths.
By 11:30, we were hungry from the day’s walking and sightseeing. We went to eat at Abu Shukri, a famed hummus restaurant in the Muslim Quarter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as delicious as we’d heard, but the restaurant itself was pretty cool (it felt cave-like, in a way) and it was energizing enough (check out my post about Abu Shukri’s food).
From there, we went back to the Kotel. We spent a few minutes at the wall, saying our private prayers.
We then made our way to our next tour: Sharsheret HaDorot. It took more than 5000 years of Jewish history and condensed it into an itty-bitty 45-minute audiotape tour. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the varyingly-constructed glass pillars that were representative of the many chains of Jewish history definitely were.
After the tour, we left the Old City through Dung Gate. We made our way on foot to Mount Zion, where King David’s Tomb and the site of the last supper are located. I don’t know about Doug or his parents, but I was shocked by the lack of large masses of tourists. I actually had trouble finding the right building (they’re in the same place) because it was so deserted. For now I’ll chalk it up to drizzly weather, which reared its cold and unavoidable head.
King David’s Tomb was tucked away in a small synagogue. Whether King David’s remains truly lie there is debated; even so, it drew a small crowd of pious individuals who hoped to pray by the great king’s resting spot.
Just a hop, skip, and jump to a room upstairs and we were in the room where Jesus supposedly ate his last meal. To be honest, what intrigued me most about the room were the cats that took residence there. One sat stoically by a golden tree sculpture while another huddled atop a light on the floor, seemingly trying to keep warm and dry despite the weather.
I was soon to envy those cats, dry (if not warm) under a roof. Our next stop on the itinerary was Shuk Machane Yehuda, which meant we needed to take a cab, which meant we needed to go outside to hail one. Unfortunately, many people were hailing cabs, given the terrible weather. By the time we got one, I was uncomfortably dampened. Tired from the day’s sightseeing so far and cold from the rain, I enjoyed the ride in a catatonic state.
We got out of the cab and made our way into the heart of the shuk, stopping at the famed bakery Marzipan on our way. We grabbed a few rugelach before heading over to Melech HaHalva on Eitz Chaim Street.
Doug’s mom, Patty, had been looking for a suitable, non-denominational present to bring home. Of course, an edible gift is almost always welcomed, so she loved the idea of getting halva, a sesame-based dessert. In fact, she loved the idea so much that she bought a kilo of halva… a KILO of halva. For anyone who’s wondering, the chunk she bought was about the size of a cantaloupe. I’m pretty sure that’s more halva than my entire family consumes in a year. But on the bright side, it meant she didn’t have to gift shop for anyone for the rest of the trip.
Our kilo of halva in tow, we went to our second Aroma for the day to grab something warm to drink while recapping on the day’s activities. We munched on our rugelach and some cookies while pouring over various maps of the city and reading little pieces out of the guidebook about things we saw during the day.
Somewhat re-energized, somewhat exhausted, we made our way to Ima’s for dinner. We initially planned to eat at Machneyuda, but our reservation was for 11pm and we knew our internal batteries weren’t going to last until then (if only we were the Energizer Bunny!) Had we been able to stay busy and go to the Night Spectacular Show at the King David Tower after the shuk, maybe we would have been able to make it to a later dinner. But unfortunately, the show was canceled because of bad weather. So, instead, we had a lovely dinner at the Kurdish/Iraqi-themed restaurant (check out my post about Ima for more details about the food), before making our way to the Central Bus Station, hopping on an intra-city bus, and heading back to Tel Aviv.
Thursday & Friday
Stay tuned and check out Doug’s upcoming post about exploring Yafo, Shuk HaCarmel, Nachalat Binyamin, Namal Tel Aviv, and Neve Tzedek!
Saturdays in Israel can be tough if you don’t have a car. While we could have taken a sherut somewhere, we would have probably needed to take a cab at some point… and the majority of things are closed regardless. How lame would it be to take a sherut to Jerusalem only to see empty streets? Or getting to Haifa just to find out that you can’t tour the Baha’i gardens on Saturday?
So I decided to keep things local and stay in Tel Aviv. HaTachana (literally “The Station”) was open on Saturday, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to check it out. Doug and I had never been, but were curious about it: it was a 49-acre compound just a mile away from us, after all, and we hardly even remembered hearing about it in passing.
HaTachana was once the terminus of the railway line that traveled between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Its use was discontinued in 1948 and the station fell into disrepair. In 2005, the renovation process began; by 2010, it had been restored to its former glory. While there is still an old-school train car outside the station and another one just behind it that you can watch a short, informational show about the station on, HaTachana is no longer in operation as a train station. Instead, it is a shopping complex full of fun stores to roam about in aimlessly.
Upon arriving, we went straight into what I imagine used to be the main building at the station. It was restored and converted into a café/souvenir shop and had an array of Tel Aviv souvenirs.
Once we finished perusing the gift shop, we entered the shopping complex area. It was smaller than expected (definitely not 49 acres, although I’m thinking not all of it is a shopping complex and we may not have seen it all), but was incredibly quaint. Stone paths led to posh stores with glass-front windows, which sat across from stores tucked away into stone edifices. It almost felt like we were in a small, medieval village gone modern.
My favorite store was what I now call the Dumb-Dumb store. Why, you ask? Because it makes you feel dumb. The store carries countless puzzles and mind-exercising games and gadgets. Upon entering, they give you puzzles to solve. While at first you may think there’s no way two pieces of wood that combine into a pyramid could stump you, you soon realize you’re not as smart as you thought. I could probably have spent hours trying out all the different puzzles… but unfortunately, time was short (and, as I later discovered on a separate visit there, the staff doesn’t take well to people trying the puzzles just for fun—if you aren’t going to buy anything, they won’t let you loiter long).
We had brunch planned at Manta Ray, a restaurant along the tayelet that Doug and I often ran by. I’m not sure if it was the obviously amazing view, the renown of the restaurant, or the achingly delicious smell we inhaled every time we ran by, but we knew we wanted to take Doug’s parents there (check out my post about Manta Ray for more details about the food).
After a meal enjoyed overlooking the tumultuous Mediterranean Sea on an overcast day, we strolled north along the tayelet. Doug’s dad had some leftover seafood from his meal, which we took to go in the hopes of feeding stray cats. We told Doug’s parents about the monster cat countless times during their short trip and were hoping they would be able to see him. Unfortunately, the monster cat was not in his usual area (he was probably busy ordering his henchmen to off disloyal cats).
Nevertheless, we weren’t disappointed. Cats crawled out of every crevice and nook along the tayelet once they smelled the food. They descending on Doug before he even managed to open the leftovers box and dump the contents on the ground. While several cats went for the food once it hit the ground, one of the monster cat’s henchmen (black and white like the monster cat, but smaller) batted them away. He feasted alone while the other cats watched anxiously. Three black cats ringed him, waiting for their turn, while the rest of the cat colony sat further away. Once the henchman cat had his fill, the three black cats had their turn (I like to think of them as the second most powerful clan in the colony, often challenging the monster cat’s clan).
With our new perspective on cat dynamics, we continued our walk along the tayelet. We stopped for a cup of tea at a café along the beach. While there, we replanned our evening. We initially planned to eat dinner at Raphael’s, but we decided that our big breakfast, followed shortly after by Manta Ray, left us far too full for a big sit-down dinner. We decided to grab pizza for dinner instead. Doug and I promptly concluded that HaPizza would be an excellent place for a light pizza dinner, so we began our stroll down Bograshov. We enjoyed a nice, quite dinner while reminiscing over the previous days’ events and lamenting that their stay was so short—Sunday was going to be their last day in Israel. We couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by.
After dinner, Doug’s mom was hankering for dessert. Remembering that a well-known ice cream store was just down the block, on the way to Doug’s parents’ hotel, made ice cream the natural conclusion.
We walked over to Vaniglia and enjoyed a fair number of samples before picking our sweet treats. It was a lovely way to end our last full evening together in Tel Aviv.
Check out Doug’s upcoming post about the visit to the Rabin Memorial and the Eretz Yisrael Museum, the final destinations his parents visited before returning to Ben Gurion Airport for their flight home!