Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Tiberias, Haifa and Jerusalem in seven days. Whirlwind? You bet! Mind blowing? Absolutely!
It had been many years since my first visit to the “Land of Milk and Honey" and I could not have imagined the extent of Israel’s modernization and transformation. A 21st Century, technologically advanced country that retained the beauty and splendor of its historical past. Israel is THE perfect country to visit and explore.
After landing at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, via EL AL Airlines, four members of the media and I were greeted by Rivka, our guide and Tzvika, our driver, both representatives of the Ministry of Tourism. We were immediately whisked to The Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv. Peering out of the window of the van like a child, I knew that for the next seven days, I was in for a hell of a ride.
Combine New York, Los Angeles and Miami and you are in Tel Aviv. There’s a bustling nightlife, top restaurants, designer boutiques, international cultures, skyscrapers, lavish hotels, all within minutes to the beautiful Mediterranean coastline and beach. Tel Aviv has it all and for the next two and a half days, you will join me on my most excellent adventure.
Day 1: Checking into The Dan Tel Aviv. Dan Hotels, Israel is the largest luxury hotel group with 14 hotels throughout the country. It was more lavish and posh than imagined The Dan Hotel hosts the crème de la crème of society including government heads of state, royalty, corporate CEO’s and affluent guests on vacation. Situated on the Hayarkon, on the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea, The Dan Tel Aviv welcomes you with an opulent lobby and luxuriously appointed guest rooms. There are 280 in all including 84 executive Sea View rooms, 41 luxury suites, 1 Presidential and 1 Royal Suite. My guest room was quite spacious and exquisitely decorated. The marble bathroom was filled with sumptuous bath products that make your skin smooth and silky. For VIP guests, there is an Executive Lounge where you can enjoy the gorgeous sunsets and “nosh” on complimentary appetizers and beverages. There is a business center, numerous restaurants, a bar, SPA and indoor/outdoor pools. The Dan Hotel was completely renovated in 2008 and is the finest hotel in Tel Aviv.
First stop… Rothschild Boulevard and then on to Sheinkin Street, Tel Aviv’s young, hip and trendy neighborhood. Rothschild Boulevard, in the southern portion of Tel Aviv, is a commercial center, a popular street for locals as well as tourists with its cafes, shops, cultural center, main theater and concert hall. It is also one of the first streets to be built in Tel Aviv over 100 years ago. Built by Baron Edmond James de Rothchild of the French banking family, the street is lined with Bauhaus Buildings, the iconic architecture seen throughout Tel Aviv. The most famous building along Rothshild Boulevard is Independence Hall, where Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. After the walking tour of Rothschild Boulevard, it was on to Sheinkin Street, a way cool, hip and trendy “yuppie” area with upscale clothing, jewelry boutiques and cafés much like Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and SOHO in New York City. A great place to shop, dine and people watch. After the walking tour and relaxing at the hotel, we were famished for dinner.
We dined under the stars at the Kalimera Restaurant at Jaffa Port overlooking the beautiful harbor. Jaffa is such a picturesque port and the Old City is a must see with its art galleries, shops, night clubs and restaurants which serve some of the finest seafood in the country. We were hosted by Dr. Moshe Morad, head of 88FM, Israel’s nationwide music station, Israel Broadcasting Authority. We all had a fabulous meal and a wonderful time.
Day 2: We started our day with a humongous breakfast buffet of eggs, salads, smoked fish, fruit, breads and everything else you could imagine (Israelis love their breakfast and my diet went kaput). It would consist of a city bike tour and a “meet and greet” with Avner Warner, Tel Aviv’s Director of Economic Affairs offering an insider’s view of the city’s start-up companies. The Economist Magazine notes that Israel now has more high-tech start-ups and a larger venture capital industry per capita than any other country in the world. According to “Start Up Nation – “The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” a 2009 book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, 63 companies were listed on the NASDAQ, more than any other foreign country. It is in large part due to an influx of capital from American companies such as Google, Intel, Cisco, etc. You could say that Tel Aviv is Israel’s “Silicon Valley.”
We visited Old Jaffa including Jaffa Port and flea market. In addition,the llana Goor Museum exhibiting over 500 original sculptures, furniture, and jewelry of the artist llana Goor and other known Israeli artists. Her work has been exhibited in museums such as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Museum of 20th Century Art in Vienna. The Museum building stands on a hill in Old Jaffa and is an architectural wonder with its breathtaking view of the Mediterranean. The original building’s walls date back over 280 years and had been fully restored after the artist bought it in the early 1990’s. A must see!
After some leisure time, we had dinner hosted by Mr. Ross Belfer, Manager of Geoffrey Weill PR, Tel Aviv. After dinner, Ross took us to the Brown Hotel for cocktails on the rooftop lounge to marvel at the magnificent city view. It’s a very modern boutique hotel located on a quiet street at the crossroads of the Neve Tzedek Quarter, Rothschild Boulevard, Carmel Market and minutes to the beach. It is a very “urban“ hotel much like the “W,” Mondrian, Viceroy hotels in the States. Soon after, it was time to head back to the Dan Hotel.
Day 3: The last full day in Tel Aviv, we started with Ha Tachana (Hebrew for “the station”), Tel Aviv’s beautifully renovated railway station situated between the hip Neve Tzedek area and Jaffa. You now find quaint cafes, ice cream shops, designer clothing and jewelry boutiques. We continued walking through Neve Tzedek (“Oasis of Justice”) which is the first Jewish neighborhood of Tel Aviv. It was founded in 1887 by Aharon Shlush, a businessman who left Jaffa, 22 years before the city of Tel Aviv was founded. Neve Tzedek has retained much of its charm, has recently become a yuppie haven and is one of the most expensive areas of the city. It is a cultural and culinary mecca located next to the southern part of the Tel Aviv beach. We meandered through the narrow and winding streets, with its beautifully restored homes and shops. It is an experience not to be missed.
From there we walked to the Carmel Market, which is one of the most spectacular markets on the planet except for the market in the Old City of Jerusalem. Here you marvel at the most eye popping, mouth watering displays of fresh fruits, vegetables, and luscious sweets. This makes our “Farmer’s Market” seem lame in comparison. WOW! And since it was Friday, it was bustling with people shopping for Shabbat dinner. It was the perfect day to experience the magic and energy of Carmel Market.
Next and last stop on our guided walking tour was Nahlat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall (or as we like to call it, an upscale “flea market), located off Carmel Market and the popular Allenby and Sheinkin Streets. Open on Tuesdays and Fridays, you will spend your “shekels" (new Israeli currency), credit cards and dollars on unique arts and crafts, clothing, and handmade, custom jewelry. I did a lot of “bargaining” and considerable damage in the jewelry department. I could have stayed there all day. Wait….. I did….Hours later and many dollars shorter, I took Allenby Street straight to the beach. Barefoot, I walked on the warm, silky sand and gazed at the turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. I proceeded to Gordon Beach to witness the end of the Gay Pride Parade. I thought to myself: “Israel…“You’ve come a long way, baby.”
The group met in the lobby and headed to Boya Restaurant for dinner. Located at the Tel Aviv Port, it is a great place to people watch and view the beautiful sunsets. It is modern in décor and the cuisine, Mediterranean (hummus, tabouli, etc) and Seafood. Boya caters to the affluent Telavivian who loves to dine out. L’Chaim!
As it was our last evening in Tel Aviv, we were sad to leave but it was time to say goodbye.
Day 4: Saturday morning we drove to Caesarea, an ancient port built by King Herod over 2000 years ago and named for his Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar. Taking 12 years to build, it was the grandest city except for Jerusalem in Palestine with a deep sea harbor, Roman Theater and Roman Aqueduct that remain standing today. It was half Jewish and half gentile and often the battleground between the Romans, Muslims and later the Crusaders. It is located halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa on the beautiful Mediterranean Coastline. Caesarea is not only a major tourist attraction, it’s becoming a popular real estate investment for the affluent Israeli.
After visiting Caesarea, we proceeded to the Sea of Galilee and Mount of Beatitudes. On a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Mount of Beatitudes is believed to be the site where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. It is one of the most sacred and revered sites in Christian tradition.
At the end of the day, it was time to check into the Scots Hotel, St Andrews Galilee, Tiberias. It is owned by the Church of Scotland and is considered to be the finest in the area. It is quite grand with its beautifully manicured gardens, fountains, pool, spa and is located in the center of town, steps from the beautiful harbor.
Day 5: Sunday morning, we had our typical Israeli breakfast buffet and it was time to leave for Akko (Acre). Akko is an ancient Phoenician and Crusader seaport in the Western Galilee (the northern end of Haifa). It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. There you will see the underground Crusader City, fisherman’s port and bazaar. Akko is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Continuing our journey, we made a quick stop in Haifa, (Israel’s third largest city and second largest port) to view the Baha’i Shrine (world headquarters). Afterwards, we drove up to the Louis Promenade and Bahai’i Shrine and Gardens to marvel at the breathtaking views of the city and the bay.
After a few minutes and many photos later, we stopped at Mt of Olives for a panoramic view of Jerusalem (Israel's capital city). When I said that this trip would be whirlwind, I wasn’t kidding. Talk about action packed!!! Finally, it was time to head to the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem and collapse.
When I walked into the Mamilla Hotel lobby for the first time that Sunday afternoon, all I could say was WOW! VA VA VA VOOM! The newest hotel in Jerusalem, the Mamilla opened its doors in June 2009. Located in the heart of the city, with magnificent views of the Old City walls, Tower of David and Jaffa Gate, it is without a doubt the most architecturally modern, luxury lifestyle hotel in Jerusalem and most likely in all of Israel. The Hotel is part of the Alrov Luxury Hotels collection - the hotel and hospitality subsidiary of Tel-Aviv based real estate company Alrov founded in 1978 by Chairman Alfred Akirov. It features 194 beautifully appointed rooms and suites, exclusive dining and bar venues, a rooftop lounge, the Akasha Holistic Wellbeing Center and many more world class amenities. The guest room was contemporary in décor with a huge marble bathroom consisting of an oversized shower, top of the line lavish bath products and abundant closet space. The Mamilla also had a fantastic buffet breakfast. In February 2010, the Mamilla Hotel became the first hotel in Israel to join leading international hotel marketing company, "Design Hotels." It is luxury at its finest!
Adjacent to the Hotel is the ultra modern Mamilla Mall, featuring many ethnic restaurants and shops such as Nike, Guess, BeBe, American Eagle Outfitters, Top Shop, 9 West, etc . This Mall ends at the Jaffa Gate of the Old City . This was not the Jerusalem I knew years ago. Such an extraordinary juxtaposition of ancient and modern.
That evening we had dinner at the Chakra Restaurant in Jerusalem. Afterwards, we took a walk through the Old City to experience the “Citadel Light Festival,” a week long celebration which began in 2009. On this star laden evening, the Citadel was packed with revelers from around the globe enjoying the festivites. It was truly a unique experience.
Day 6: Monday was an emotionally poignant day for all of us. We drove to Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem is the National Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust. The “Campus” consists of 21 buildings, structures and monuments memorializing those men, women and children who perished during Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.” They include the Holocaust History Museum, The Hall of Names, The Museum of Holocaust Art, Hall of Remembrance, Children’s Memorial, Warsaw Ghetto Square – Wall of Remembrance and many others. The new Holocaust History Museum’s nine underground galleries tell the stories of those who lived and died under the Nazis and their collaborators. The exhibits incorporate a wide variety of original artifacts, audio/visual testimonies from “Survivors,” photographs, documentation, art and multi-media displays. There was so much to see and hear and there wasn’t a dry eye amongst the crowd.. So heart wrenching. Unfortunately, we only had an hour and a half to go through the Museum which was not nearly enough. You need days.
Emotionally spent, we then drove to the Israel Museum. We viewed the Shrine of the Book where the Dead-Sea Scrolls are exhibited (earliest known biblical manuscripts), the Model of ancient Jerusalem from the Second Temple period and the new King Herod exhibition. The Israel Musuem is the finest in the country and well worth the trip.
Next stop… the Mahane Yehuda Market. Now, that’s what I call a Market! WOW! You have never seen anything like it. It is a one of a kind assault on the senses. It has everything you could possibly imagine……. fresh meat, fish, poultry, cheese, fruits, vegetables, desserts, olives and more. Feast your eyes and inhale the pungent aromas of spices like curry, garlic, sage, oregano, rosemary. A cornucopia of delights for the palate!
Day 7 For our last day in Jerusalem and in Israel. the group went on a walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. That included Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross), the Christian Quarter with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the rebuilt Jewish Quarter and Cardo (ruins of a main street from Roman times). Our last and most important stop was the Kotel (Western Wall), Judaism’s most religious and sacred site. Men and women are separated, there are seats for the elderly. As is customary, you write wishes on tiny pieces of paper and place them into the cracks of the Wall. It is for good luck.
After leaving the Wall, we went shopping in the Arab Market (Shuk) for jewelry, arts and crafts, glassware, etc. We then went back to the hotel, packed our bags and went for dinner at the HaChatzer Restaraurant. This was our last meal and time together and. we savored every moment. We didn’t want this amazing journey to end.
After dinner, we headed straight to Ben Gurion Airport. I said my final goodbyes to Rivka, Tzvika and the rest of the group. I made new friends and had an experience that will last a lifetime. I only wished the trip were longer. Israel is a wondrous country where the modern and ancient blend seamlessly and there is something for everyone. Upon takeoff and bound for NYC, I said,“Shalom Israel. I will be back. “
Israel Ministry of Tourism website, please visit: www.goisrael.com
To book your ticket on EL AL, please visit: www.elal.co.il or call 1-800-223-6700
For information on the Dan Hotels, please visit: www.DanHotels.com
For information on the Mamilla Hotel, Jerusalem, please visit www.MamillaHotel.com
For Information on the Scots Hotel, Tiberias, please visit www.inisrael.com/scotshotels