Archive | September, 2011

Shalom! You’re In Israel

28 Sep

It’s typically not the first destination that’s uttered—or comes to mind—when you ask many folks where they’d recently been on vacation or where they’d like to go in the near future. Of course the exception here being those of certain religious persuasions seeking a deeper understanding of their roots—and/or needing to identify more closely with their sect.

Israel offers that haven–and so much more. No doubt, there’s arguably no better place to experience the mesh of 3 religions—Christianity, Islam and Judaism–all co-existing and laying claim to a holy land in a relatively small square radius (referring here to old town Jerusalem), just outside Israel’s commercial center, Tel Aviv. This sacred land sandwiched between Egypt to the south, Jordan to the east, and Lebanon and Syria to the north was next up on my world expedition.

To be sure, a little trepidation set over me as we’d set out to make plans for our journey. And perhaps with good reason, since most of what’s displayed in the media concerning the region largely surrounds constant feuding over land grabs/claims and the violence that follows suit. Plus, some of the quizzical reactions I’d gotten when I’d mentioned the t trip were almost enough to make one rethink the decision. Nonetheless, a plan was plotted, necessary guide books purchased, and I headed east.

Tel Aviv was first up-and pretty much the base of our explorations-while in Israel. International flights into the country touch down at Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV)*, in the greater Tel Aviv-Jaffa area–Israel’s main port of entry. It’s about 10 miles outside the heart of town and easily accessible via train or taxi. It should be noted that security is pretty strict, so be mindful of this and budget a little extra time, especially on departure.

Tel Aviv is literally a city on the cusp. Celebrating its Centennial this year, it’s the second largest city in Israel (about two-thirds the population size of Jerusalem) and is the commercial, cultural and urban center of Israel. Skyscrapers can be seen dotting the city’s landscape with others in construction or about to go up. It’s right on the banks of the Mediterranean, so there’s a bustling beach culture (check out Hilton Beach, just south of Tel Aviv Port) and hotels and trendy cafes can be seen lining the shoreline–and, increasingly, attracting holidaymakers the world over.

This city not only features scrumptious regional fare–hummus, shakshouka, shawarma, falafel are musts (we did not have one bad meal on our entire trip), but also, Mediterranean, Asian, and other mouthwatering international cuisines and fusions. Also, to note, you needn’t be a connoisseur to appreciate the locally produced wines from the region. Not much of it’s exported—so you may want to indulge a little while you’re visiting. Some places to try out are, from the ultra-swanky Messa– www.messa.co.il with adjoining bar ($$$$) and Manta Ray on Alma Beach– www.mantaray.co.il ($$$)  – great for brunch, sea views and old Jaffa in the distance, to family-style eatery, Dr. Shakshouka (www.drshaksuka.rest-e.co.il), a truly interesting experience. Bring your appetite with you here, especially if you opt for the tasting menu (business lunch). It is stated on their website that credit cards are accepted but plastic was declined when we visited, so I would suggest making an ATM run prior to taking your seat.

Tel Aviv has an extremely simmering nightlife. You’ve probably heard it mentioned before—believe every word. Fridays tend be to key going-out nights and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that closing time’s not till daybreak—so bring your stamina with you. Several bars and clubs are clustered around the Port area (check out TLV or -1 off Rothschild Blvd) and sometimes takes a little bit of finagling to wiggle your way in, especially the later it gets.  For something a little less thumping, check out newly open The Full Monty (26 Bograshov St) off Ben Yehuda, featuring performances by local bands.

For a little R&R and a truly unique experience, a trip out to the Dead Sea is a must. Ein Bokek further south along the strip has several hotels/resorts and is relatively easily accessible. There are buses that head out from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but can be crowded—so plan accordingly and arrive early. Alternatively, and perhaps more dependably, renting a car for the trip works, too; routes are pretty straightforward. Isrotel Dead Sea** is good choice for where to stay while in Ein Bokek – it’s easily one of the best in the area. Most rooms offer sea or partial sea views, breakfast buffet’s included, and the indoor/outdoor heated floating pool (good especially offseason) is irresistible.

As the largest city in the State of Israel, Jerusalem’s probably (and not surprisingly) also the most popular. Allow at least a full day to explore the old town which is nothing short of fascinating. As you meander through the distinct quarters, haggle at the bazaars, and visit the religious sites—the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—or trace the footsteps of Jesus Christ through the fourteen Stations of the Cross via Via Dolorosa, it’s easy to see why so many flock here and also, the unfortunate paradox of religious strife for centuries.
Whatever your interests, Israel’s diversity offers something for everyone. It’s a multifaceted nation that begs to be explored and the people are warm and inviting. Service may not be as snappy or as refined as you may be used to but it only means that you get to enjoy your trip all the more—relaxed.

*Getting there: Direct flights from the New York area – Delta Air Lines: www.delta.com and Continental: www.continental.com. Connections are also possible via most European hubs.

**Isrotel Dead Sea: http://www.isrotel.co.il/English/Content/HotelPage.asp?HID=14

Pricing: $$$$-more expensive, $-less expensive

Article written Dec 2009

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A Venetian Affair – Café Florian

27 Sep

Cafe Florian, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy. Said to be the oldest cafe in Europe.

8 Spruce St – New York by Gehry

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Comments on 8 Spruce St – New York by Gehry, featuring Jose B from the Brooklyn Bridge

5 Minutes and A Cup of Joe with Costa Rica Connection’s Jose Brenes

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Yomi grabs 5 minutes and a cup of joe with Costa Rica Connection’s Jose Brenes

Tea with Recording Artist, Clyve

27 Sep

Yomi catches up with Bath’s own Recording Artist, Clyve, over tea and cake at Amy’s Bread in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

First Look: ANA (All Nippon Airways)

26 Sep

Route: NY-JFK –> Tokyo-NRT

A highly trafficked route (at my last count, 5 different carriers namely, ANA, American, Continental, Delta, and JAL offer nonstop service to Japan from the NY area), and thus competition fierce, driving the need to offer patrons unique experiences. This is always a good thing for consumers as airlines try their utmost to lure the purchasing public, especially business travelers. On this particular journey, I flew coach and therefore the perspective from which the airline’s being reviewed.

ANA’s service to Tokyo is on the stretch version of the 777 series, the 777-300ER. All aforementioned carriers fly variants of this aircraft (either the 777-200 or 777-300 with Delta the one exception opting instead to now fly the newly acquired 747s from the former Northwest Airlines fleet). The 777 is one of my favorite wide body jets. They’re easily identifiable with 3 rear landing gears on either side (as opposed to the standard two, plus addnl inward supporters, for other aircraft in the same class like competitor Airbus’ A340-500/600). The cabin width is also generous enough to comfortably accommodate a  standard 3-3-3 (some airlines like Air France configure their 777-300 series in a 3-4-3 alignment like the 747) in coach vs the slimmer A330/A340 comparisons which have narrower cabins and come configured in a standard 2-4-2 arrangement.

I love ANA’s seating configuration in Economy. They’ve opted to go the 3-4-2 route which I think is clever, accommodating a sort of lovers’ lane with the 2 on the side and the others which remain standard. Seats are pretty comfy with decent legroom (34” seat pitch) and pull down leg rests. In-Flight entertainment is good with large (10.6-inch) LCD touch-panel personal monitors and a variety of on-demand entertainment options-though not the best I’ve seen (think Cathy Pacific or Virgin Atlantic for comparison), and, Universal PC power port and USB connections.

The food is absolutely delicious and portions satisfying, especially the post takeoff meal (served shortly after being airborne). There are typically a couple choices–western or Asian. One criticism here, there’s no mid-journey meal, though ANA has a for purchase menu where you can purchase light meals from. I did find this a tad odd for a 14hr nonstop flight. To be fair my 16hr journey on Cathay Pacific earlier in the year also had no meals midway through, though we were served snacks. Standard pre-arrival light meal service offered.

Overall, a very good experience.

Review: Parlan Hotell Stockholm

16 Sep

Tucked away on a quiet street, Skeppargatan, Parlan Hotell Stockholm couldn’t be any more conveniently situated. It is an ideal spot for visitors looking for a safe, comfortable haven, smack in the middle of town, without having to necessarily break the bank.

The establishment has an interesting history: Once an all-girl’s school dating back roughly 60 years, today it has been transformed into a pretty smart looking, cozy, bed and breakfast packed with value for the budget conscious traveler.

Being a solo traveler on this particular trip, I booked a single room for my stay (though to my understanding, doubles are available as well). My room was of adequate size (perhaps a tad on the smaller size–which wasn’t terribly surprising as it’s largely to be expected in a city that carries a premium on just about everything). It had a single bed that was comfortable enough, a workstation, small bathroom (with all in one hair+shower gel dispensers), small closet, TV (non-flat screen), and a window that faced a charming courtyard.

Parlan features a standard continental breakfast buffet (included in your reservation) and can be enjoyed in the dining hall adjacent to the kitchen. It is served through 10:00AM, though I would advise verifying with the staff to ascertain.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here. Gustav and his team were excellent and ensured I, like other patrons, were well catered for. Parlan is a great alternative (to otherwise pricey hotels) in Stockholm.

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