• Bangladesh!

    Bangladesh: Traditional houses. Go Now!

    Bangladesh
    This low-lying country has historic ties to India and Pakistan, but today maintains a wholly unique culture. Explore Bangladesh!

  • Indonesia!

    Indonesia: Lombok. Go Now!

    Indonesia
    This archipelago nation is culturally diverse from big cities to isolated islands. Begin Your Journey!

  • Jordan!

    Jordan: Petra. Go Now!

    Jordan
    Tucked away in this Middle Eastern country, the famed city of Petra (pictured) links the past to the present culture. Explore Jordan!

  • Mongolia!

    Mongolia: Desert. Go Now!

    Mongolia
    This vast country has a culture that spans past and present... a nomadic life shifting to a modern & sedentary society. Begin Your Journey!

  • Kyrgyzstan!

    Kyrgyzstan: Tian Shan Mountains. Go Now!

    Kyrgyzstan
    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Israel

Halva in Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda Market

Tel Aviv

January 24, 2016
Beating the Storm

We beat the Nor'Eastern storm that hit New York and the east coast to make it to Israel yesterday evening. The delay encouraged us to just go straight to bed once we arrived to Jerusalem mid-evening.

Today, after some business meetings, which were filled with strawberries, almonds, dates, and more, we made our way to lunch. When asked what type of food we were looking for, I enthusiastically said "something authentically Israeli," to which I was told "that's all there is to eat in Jerusalem, while you're in Tel Aviv let's eat something good" so we headed off to a non-kosher steak house.

Kosher food is something exclusively tied to the Jewish faith, but here the food was not close to kosher. Our host, Lior, informed us that about 80% of the restaurants in Tel Aviv aren't Kosher, while in Jerusalem about 80% are kosher. The most noticeable trait for food to be Kosher is that dairy cannot be prepared or served with meat (excluding fish) and seafood (all animals other than fish) are not allowed. However, at this restaurant, there was beef, chicken, fish, shell fish, and dairy on the menu.

After a long morning of meetings and trying our best to stay awake, The afternoon was filled with rain and a tour of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The tour was ok, but the rain, wind, and cold made the tour long and painful. Eventually, we protested our tour guide and demanded we stop in a warm location, where we got some coffee and tea.

After our tour, we made our way to dinner at an Italian restaurant. After lunch at a steakhouse, I was a bit surprised at the Italian restaurant, which was also non-Kosher. However, this is Tel Aviv and the diversity of food is incredible. More interestingly though was the wine selection. One of our hosts is a wine critic for a local wine magazine and shared with us the short history of wine in Israel. Although this wine industry began as a way to produce kosher wine, today the quality has substantially grown, now producing some high quality wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Riesling.

Jerusalem

January 25, 2016
Trip to Jerusalem

After breakfast in the hotel, which consisted of hummus, bread, and a tomato salad, we made our way to Jerusalem. The drive was unexpected. Moving from the flat lands along the Mediterranean Coast, the road slowly rose in elevation then turned very hilly, almost mountainous. It was here that we fond Jerusalem.

After checking into our hotel we had a lunch meeting at our first Kosher restaurant; this restaurant serving dairy and fish; there was no meat on the menu. We began with a large sampling of starters, including hummus with tahini and olive oil with warm bread, which was delicious. We also had falafel, fried cheese, and grilled vegetables. The main course was difficult for me to navigate seeing as how I don't enjoy fish and can't eat dairy. Every dish was either fish or cheese based except the pesto spaghetti, which is what I ordered.

We spent the rest of the day exploring venues for dinners (for out upcoming meeting we're hosting in Jerusalem). The venues were varied, but more importantly, we go to eat our way through the venues and enjoyed an incredible tasting menu at Eucalyptus Restaurant. Here we enjoyed the best wine of our stay, Petite Castel, and a large selection of foods, from sunflower root soup to dairy-free chocolate desserts. Like lunch, this was again a kosher restaurant, but this one was a meat restaurant so fish and dairy were absent from the menu. It didn't take me long to realize this is just my type of food.

During our venue tours, we also got our first sites of Jerusalem's Old Town. We got incredible views of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount from one location, and a close up view of the Old Town walls from our dinner restaurant.

January 26, 2016

Today was another day of business meetings, but today's focus began with seeing local hotels. On these visits we saw the rebuilding of lost buildings as well as modern buildings built in a style to look and feel historic. Nearly the entire Old Town and surrounding areas are built from white sandstone buildings and sometimes a bright white or black trim.

The afternoon began with more food tastings, beginning at the Israeli Museum, where our guide was kind enough to show us the Dead Sea Scrolls. While very impressive, the lunch was just as surprising. The foods had such strong flavors, the hummus and falafel were incredible, the meats, including the lamb stew with sweet potatoes, had incredible depth of flavor, and everything was again very impressive.

After a late afternoon meeting, we got a tour of Jerusalem's Old Town. Like our tour of Tel Aviv, this tour also consisted of rain and wind. Despite the weather, we fought through to see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses the locations of Jesus's death and burial. What made this site incredibly interesting was the diversity in architecture and style. This is a holy site for all Christians so there are parts built in the style of Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodox among others.

We also strolled through the four quarters of Jerusalem, including the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter. Our tour's focus was on the Christian and Jewish Quarters, but we did climb the roofs in the middle of the city to see a view of all four quarters. Our guide said that some say you can cross the entire Old Town without ever stepping off a roof.

Our tour ended at the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. Our guide, who is Jewish, said that the Temple Mount is so named because that is the location of the historic Jewish Temples, including Solomon's Temple. However, this location is also said to be from where Muhammed went to heaven so the location is also holy to Muslims. Today stands the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest mosques in all of Islam. At the base of the building though is the walls of the Jewish temple complex, making this the holiest site in all of Judaism. For this reason, the Western Wall is as close as the Jews can get to the location of the historic Temple so pilgrims flock to this wall to leave prayers and to pray.

Dead Sea Day Trip

January 27, 2016
Dead Sea

This morning we woke up and grabbed breakfast in the hotel prior to heading off to Masada and the Dead Sea. Due to the rains, and even some snow yesterday evening, the roads to the Dead Sea have been partially washed out. Despite this, we made the trip to Masada with hopes that the road would remain open.

We drove for a couple hours, nearly making it to Masada, when we learned a flood washed out the road so we had to turn around and change plans. Our first additional tour item came in Qumran, which is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Today there is little here other than a small museum and the archeological sites, but it remains very interesting to see the many small caves and historic buildings. More interestingly was the theory our guide has that the Dead Sea Scrolls with Biblical passages came from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and were moved here to protect them. Only a theory, but one he believes is supported with logic and historic facts.

After Qumran came a trip to the Dead Sea. The beach was empty when we arrived, and remained empty when we left. None-the-less, it was an interesting visit as it always is. Oddly, the loud Russian woman swimming around with a selfie stick was the greatest entertainment I found.

Due to Masada being washed out, we had some extra time so headed to the Good Samaritan Inn, which is home to dozens of historic mosaics, not the actual site of the Biblical Story, although it is on the road that the Biblical story takes place.

We still had time after this extra stop, so I requested that we get some views of Jerusalem's Old Town from the Mount of Olives. Although we've seen nothing but rain, wind, clouds, and snow, the sun came out just as we stopped to take some pictures from the top of the Mount of Olives. From this vista, the Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and other sites are also perfectly visible, including the site of Jesus's betrayal by Judas, the location Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed, and the site of Jesus's trial. Each is fairly easy to identify due to the church built on the site of each.

We finished the day at the Mahane Yehuda Market. This, to me, was the highlight of the day, and perhaps the entire trip. This market symbolizes the living city today and people of all walks of life hustled in and out of the market to buy groceries, grab a snack, eat dinner, or just find other items they needed. I, however, spend my time eating my way through the market.

After buying some baklava and falafel, I tried some samples from the market stands making fresh tahini (ground sesame seeds) and the stand that claims to be the king of halva, a Jewish dessert made of tahini and a sugary syrup or honey with various flavorings, such as coffee. I didn't stop there though; I also bought various sweets and fruit, literally eating until I had to call it a night and walk back to the hotel.

Tel Aviv

January 28, 2016
Back to Tel Aviv

After an early morning, we made our way back to Tel Aviv, where we again met our hosts, who took us to lunch at the Sarona Market. After wandering around for a bit and trying to find a location with a short wait, we eventually headed out of the market itself and ate at a nearby restaurant. Again, the food was non-Kosher and an odd combination of everything from grilled vegetables and beef carpaccio for starters to corned beef and fish for the main course.

We spent the afternoon finishing up some meetings, then headed back to the hotel to relax. For dinner, I asked the hotel what restaurants were nearby and I was given one suggestion, a burger joint I was told was popular with the US Consulate employees. I'm not sure if I was racially profiled and hence sent to the only burger joint in the city, but my colleagues did like the idea of some American food so we headed out and grabbed burgers.

January 29, 2016

After a quick breakfast in the hotel and some down time in the morning, we headed out to lunch at what was perhaps the nicest, or at least the most expensive restaurant in the city. Again, this restaurant was non-Kosher and picked by our Israeli colleagues, however new Israeli colleagues who also appear to have little dedication to eating Kosher.

After lunch the sun came out so we headed to the walk along the beach to get some sun and relax. I headed a bit into town for a bit to buy a watercolor of Jerusalem then sat in the sun people watching for the next hour before catching a taxi to the airport.

Learn more about Israel Return to Justin's Travel Blog