Category Archives: Travel

Content about my travels.

Anna the Kibbutznik

What’s up? I want to round out this Israel series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) by telling you guys about the kibbutz at Mash’abei Sade. This one won’t be too long, but I wanted to talk a bit about the history of the kibbutz movement and some of the amazing people I met there.

SN: Kibbutzim are communal settlements throughout Israel. Think along the lines of a factory town. Kibbutznik are the members of the settlement.

My friend’s sister has lived at this kibbutz for more than 30 years. This is the 4th or 5th Kibbutz she has lived in since she was a teenager. She’s a passionate vegetarian and likes The Voice and Big Brother! img_1616

She left home as a teen and joined a Kibbutz. She went to the army and went home for a short time before deciding to go back to another Kibbutz. She liked that Kibbutz but they sent her on a trip to a psychology convention and after several days at this convention she returned to the Kibbutz and decided she needed to leave. She had another friend at this current Kibbutz who told her to come and she was able to join. She’s worked with children, worked in the kitchen, worked as a librarian, and currently works distributing newspapers and mail! She is also an artist and has been painting since the late 90s! I really look up to her and she was very inspiring to me. Here are some of her gorgeous paintings:


We were her guests so we got to stay in the KibbutZimer units for Ulpan (Hebrew language school) students. The housing was really nice. It would be easy to live there. No gas, but you have a mini fridge+freezer, kitchen sink, electric kettle, microwave, television w/cable, wifi, table and chairs, a shower, toilet, and bathroom sink. You also get a closet, laundry drying wrack, and a table and chairs outside. I’d definitely recommend this Ulpan if you’re interested in learning Hebrew. If you are just traveling in the region you can also stay in their hotel. You can go to the cafeteria for lunch 6 days a week and dinner 1 day a week and it’s REALLY reasonably priced. Meat, sides, salad bar all for less than 20 NIS (~$6)!


I met three interesting people there. The first was the director of IT named Dan. He and his wife (who have been together since they were 16) came to the kibbutz in the 80s. He is a biologist by trade and worked in a laboratory and studied for a Ph.D. too. He was injured in the Lebanon War in 1982 and when he recovered he decided to come to the kibbutz with his wife and a group of friends. He travels all over the world, is Vegan (much more common in Israel than one would imagine) and is an amateur philosopher.

I met another lady named Hannah who was a Holocaust survivor. I don’t know much about her but she’s been at the kibbutz for decades, is in her late 80s or early 90s, and still wakes up at 5AM everyday to open the kibbutz factory!

I met one of the neighbors of my friend’s sister who grew up at this kibbutz. She was part of a common kibbutz practice: separating children from their parents at birth. Her daughter currently lives in the U.S. She left the kibbutz and married but recently returned after her father passed away. Her mom was French-Moroccan and her dad was French-Polish and they came to Israel and were part of the initial group of founders of this kibbutz! She baked this amazing lemon cake and gave me the recipe. She currently works in the kibbutz laundry facility and is also a painter!

I met many other interesting people and it was fascinating to see how each person contributes to the unique character of the community and how each person works for the benefit of their neighbors. I even went to my first Jewish funeral which was surreal. The lady moved from Poland to Mexico in the 1930s and after marrying and having children she immigrated to Israel in the 1960. What a full and amazing life!

The natural environment in this area is absolutely AMAZING. And if you are interested in history look no further. The nearest town is Beersheba and ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB WERE THERE IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS!

I mentioned in my live video that the kibbutz movement was a manifestation of the Russian Aliyah (Aliyahs=waves of immigration to Israel). These Russian immigrants and other immigrants from Europe built agricultural communes. The first kibbutzim came to be in the 1910s and 20s but the kibbutzim in the Negev didn’t emerge until the 1940s. SN: I made some boo boos in the live video so don’t take it too seriously. These collectivist communes have largely switched from agricultural output to industrial production. See, members of the kibbutz are paid every month, provided with a house, hot water, electricity, phone, internet, and every other modern convenience. But they all have to contribute to the kibbutz for years in order to get these privileges. The peak of the kibbutz movement came in the late 80s but has declined steadily since.

As I said, the kibbutz reminds me a lot of U.S. Army bases. There was a library, several schools, a clubhouse, an art gallery, a laundry facility, a cafeteria, a clothing store, a grocery, and a pub!


One thing that intrigued me was that this Kibbutz was largely secular. They did offer Friday dinner and celebrate Hannukah at an optional children’s party, but the only religious activity came from guests staying at the hotel who prayed before Shabbat began. After staying in a 4-Star hotel in the capitol that wouldn’t allow people to play piano in the lobby on Shabbat, had a candle station (the Hilton even had a synagogue), it was confusing that a historical community in the heart of the country had no religious life.img_2150

Kibbutz life is really interesting and I think it is a great way to create new communities. I have my economic reservations, but I think it provides a great quality of life for people from so many different backgrounds! The kibbutzim served a very vital purpose in the founding of Israel and have contributed so much to the economic, political, historical, and social fabric of the society.
Everyone was extremely nice to me and I am forever thankful that I got to have this experience. I’ll definitely go back one day! Hopefully in the summertime! 🙂

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I hope you’ll stick around for my next travel series…I’ll let you know where I’m going when I find out! 🙂

The Final Countdown: Haifa, Dead Sea, and Yakir

So, I just got back from a month in Israel (read about it: 1, 2, 3, 4) and I am in the midst of my typical post-trip spell of depression. I had a wonderful time traveling and adult life was waiting for my return like a rabid dog. Not looking forward to the next few months-AT ALL-because I have to find a new apartment and a new job in New York City, alone, in the dead of winter. So, while I lament my apparently poor life choices, lets rehash my last week in Israel!

The last week of my trip was an absolute whirlwind because I went on several day trips: Sunday-Haifa, Monday-Tel Aviv (check out my live stream), Tuesday-the Dead Sea, Wednesday-last day at the kibbutz, and Thursday to Saturday-Yakir.

Sunday: I cannot recommend Haifa highly enough and would definitely suggest staying there-if not as a “home base” then for at least a few days-on your trip to Israel. It is clean, there are tons of things to see and do, it is culturally, religiously, and linguistically diverse, and it is just gorgeous. I took the train from Be’er Sheva to Haifa and was only there for an afternoon, but I still got to see a ton. The number one attraction there are the Baha’i Gardens. You must have a reservation to enter and from what I understand when you log on to their site they tell  you when there is space available so that may take some planning. There is free public parking nearby so if you rent a car that won’t be an issue (also lots of parking near the train station), but it isn’t a walkable city since it is so mountainous. There are public busses though, so you should definitely take advantage of that. There is also a beautiful boardwalk which has some nice restaurants, hookah bars, and convenience stores-which were even open in the off season. I visited the Druze community and did a little shopping. This is another community I had only heard about in passing at some point during my studies, but I knew nothing! It is fascinating and their culture is so beautiful and intriguing. I went to Mount Carmel and while the area and many of the attractions were closed off, there were still gorgeous, biblical, panoramic views. We visited my friend’s apartment and had brunch before he took us on a tour of the city and it was a wonderful experience. The train ride back to Mashabei Sade was an effing jungle because it was the end of the holiday weekend, so I recommend not doing that. That being said, I highly recommend the train if you have language issues because it’s easier to get tickets and you know exactly where to get off, when you’ll be there, etc.

Monday: On Monday, I went back to Tel Aviv for the day because my friend had to take care of some things there. I hung out on Dizengoff Street for several hours, did a live stream, and visited a cafe that I saw during my first week there. Prices were a little high, but it was a very clean place, their bar was very nice, and the food was delicious (light lunch fare). I already talked about Tel Aviv in my past post, but Dizengoff is definitely where it’s at for people watching and dining.


Tuesday: THE DEAD SEA! So, so worth it. It is obviously in the middle of no where, expensive to stay in the resorts, inconvenient in multiple ways, but I think this area is worth a 2 or 3 day retreat. I was there for an afternoon and unfortunately due to a bus strike I was unable to explore the greater Ein Gedi/Masada area, but I got to float in the sea twice and it was an unforgettable experience. Weirdly enough, there are like no Israeli’s there (seriously, I only heard 2 people speaking Hebrew the entire day). Everyone I met or heard or saw were Russian or Arab or Druze or American. That is to say, it’s a tourist trap. There are “malls” (think strip malls a la Branson, Missouri) and resorts, but very few restaurants. If you plan to stay there, keep that in mind-there will be no going out at night or enjoying anything outside of your hotel. It is a wonderful place for relaxing, star gazing, enjoying the natural benefits of the sea, and checking an item off your bucket list (if you’re weird like me). The bus strike really put a damper on things because my friend and I planned to go to Ein Gedi but after waiting for a bus for over 2 hours, we scrapped the plan and went back to the beach. Make sure you bring water shoes! Holy Moses. The bottom of the Dead Sea is made up of billions of multifaceted salt marbles that range in size from tiny grains like sand to golf ball size. When you try to walk your feet sink into these sharp marbles at least 3 inches and it hurts like a motha! It is true though, you can float at every angle in depths as little as a few inches of water. Just don’t get it in your eyes or mouth!


Wednesday: Wednesday was a sad day. After 3 weeks, it was my last full day at the kibbutz. I really loved staying there and again, while I can’t recommend Israel for solo female travelers, Mashabei Sade was such a nice place to stay (they have a beautiful hotel for anyone and everyone). I plan to write another blog (be patient-I don’t know when because my life is a dumpster fire right now) profiling the kibbutz and the people I met there, but I will give you some information here just incase I don’t get around to it anytime soon. Kibbutzim were set up as “frontier towns” of sorts in the 20s and 30s. They played a huge role in defending the southern areas during the war for independence and other conflicts. Kibbutzim had different purposes which have evolved over time, but most kibbutzim were dependent upon industrial production from factories and agriculture. They were directly tied the the Labor party in Israel as they were manifestations of socialist-communist ideals, so when that party began to decline in power and popularity, so did the Kibbutzim. Mashabei Sade is a beautiful kibbutz in the middle of the Negev. They also have an Ulpan or Hebrew language school which is open to anyone willing to pay for the classes. Since my friend’s sister is a member of the kibbutz we stayed in the Ulpan housing. The kibbutz scene is a great way to learn about Israel, meet interesting people from around the world, and experience a lifestyle much different than other places in the world. I grew up on and near army bases and it was very reminiscent of that sort of planned community. While I can’t say which Kibbutzim are better than others, I can definitely recommend Mashabei Sade.

Thursday-Saturday: My friend’s nephew picked us up from the kibbutz and we did a mini tour of the Negev before heading to the Yakir settlement in Samaria. The largest canyon in Israel is Makhtesh Ramon. We visited the canyon and drove down into it to see the “painted sands”. It was after sunset so we only stayed a few minutes but there are amazing geological formations and the star gazing is out of this world. I would highly suggest renting a car and visiting the area and if there is a way you can camp anywhere nearby, I know it would be a phenomenal experience (not in the summertime since desert or whatever). After the canyon we drove several hours to the Yakir settlement. Yes, it’s one of those ever-expanding, contentious settlements that has been talked about so much in the media. Again, not going to get into a political discussion in this blog since it’s a travel guide of sorts (I plan to talk about politics and Israeli society in that post I will write about the kibbutz), but it was mind blowing to get to stay in such a contested place. I will say, the settlement had some the nicest and most modern construction I saw in the entire country. I also got to experience Shabbat in a religious, Jewish household which was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Shabbat or the Jewish sabbath takes place from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown. They don’t do any work so this means they pre-tear toilet paper, have lights on timers, turn off water heaters, lock up keys, laptops, cellphones, and other electronics, don’t cook or use any type of heat, and do not engage in any type of creative thinking. For a full day they sleep, eat, sing, pray, read, and enjoy the company of family and friends- every. single. week. While it takes a level of dedication I don’t think I could muster, I think it’s a great custom and a wonderful way to prioritize and maintain familial relationships. We went on a walk after Saturday lunch and it just so happened that afternoon prayers were beginning so I got to go into the synagogue (the women’s side, obvi). CRAZYNESS. My first time to witness any type of Jewish religious activity and to visit a synagogue was in a Samarian settlement! I got to see and hear the reading of the Torah and the traditions that surround that activity. It was by far the most unique, amazing, and memorable thing I experienced on my entire trip!


I left Israel Saturday night (like 6 PM CST) and didn’t arrive home until 11 PM Sunday night. It was a HELLACIOUS trip home and I am severely disappointed in both Virgin America and Expedia. My flight from LGA to DAL was canceled and I was not contacted by Expedia AT ALL and was only told by Virgin America via a voicemail a few hours before I got to NYC (while I was flying). When I got to NYC and tried to reschedule, Virgin America told me in would be three days before I could fly out and Expedia put me on hold for 45 minutes only to tell me they would give me a refund but couldn’t reschedule my flight (even though I know there were multiple flights from NYC area airports to Dallas that I could have been placed on). I ended up calling American Express (those cards are SOOOOO worth the annual fee) and they helped me get home Sunday night. After hours of delays due to maintenance issues, I finally got home and my bag was waiting on me (thank goodness).I just want to end this series by saying that I had one of the most amazing and memorable months of my life in Israel. While I am in for a crazy next few months, I can’t think of a better way to end 2016 and start 2017. Like every nation, Israel has it’s problems, but the natural beauty, the diversity, and the history more than make up for it. I am so grateful for my experience and really hope I get to return one day! Be sure to check out my Youtube channel in the coming weeks for a few videos from my trip.

I will be resuming my previous series soon and next up will be my commentary on Italian regionalism and the recent referendum. I will also be chronicling my search for a new house and job, so be ready for some ranting and raving. Thanks for reading about my trip and lahitraot, y’all!

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3 Down, 1 To Go: Day Trips, New Friends, and Learning!

First: Happy 2017! I hope everyone had a great Christmas or a good Hanukkah and a wonderful New Years Eve.
Second: Check out my previous (one/two/three) posts from Israel!

Sunday began my last week here in Israel. I have been staying at the Mash’abei Sade Kibbutz for the past three weeks and have taken five day trips: one to Jerusalem, two back to the suburbs of Tel Aviv (Shapira and Holon), one to Haifa, and one to the Dead Sea. I’m going to make a separate post about the kibbutz itself and my final week here, so in this post I’ll be writing about a few of my day trips.

I’ll say it again: my IG is amazing right now, so follow me!

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Last Monday (12/19), my friend and I took the bus from Mashabei Sade to Be’er Sheva. I created yet another security dust-up when I tried to take a picture of the Kosher McDonald’s sign and Señor Mossad at the entrance to the bus station confronted me and made me go through all the pictures I’d take over the past day. Embarrassing! At Be’er Sheva we transferred buses and headed for Jerusalem. It turns out it was the day of a huge protest outside the Knesset and we went straight to the Israel Museum, which is within view of the Knesset. A guy here at the kibbutz told me it had something to do with agriculture. There were hundreds if not thousands of people with pickup trucks, flags, shirts, signs, and everything else marching to the Knesset. It started raining so I couldn’t get any good footage, but it was the second time I’ve witnessed a protest overseas (the other was in Spain).

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The museum was so interesting. There is obviously a HUGE collection of Judaica from various Jewish communities around the world. So, as I mentioned in a previous blog, prior to getting to know members of the Jewish community in the Bronx, I had an extremely ignorant and monolithic view of Judaism. My dad was stationed in Iraq and Egypt and I took classes in college about Islam, and I was raised in a Christian family (Protestant and Catholic) and took classes about the Reformation in college too, but I never knew any Jewish people or took any classes about that religion. My friend’s family migrated (see also: WALKED and rode donkeys) from Afghanistan to Jerusalem in 1935. Millions of other Jewish people from countries that were transitioning to Muslim rule also migrated to Israel. It turns out there were native Jewish populations all across the world that I had no idea about. Seriously, when someone mentions Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, etc. I only imagine those populations as completely Muslim (excluding my knowledge of the Christian community in Iraq), but it turns out those countries and many others had Jewish populations too. My friend’s family is originally from Mashhad, Iran but after some “issues” in the 19th century they migrated to Herat, Afghanistan with other Persian Jews who created a sizable Jewish community there. The Israel Museum has models of synagogues from India and Africa, numerous costumes and pieces of jewelry, and various pieces of religious paraphernalia from hundreds of Jewish migrants who came to Israel before and after 1947. Seeing these colorful costumes, I never would have guessed they belonged to Jewish people. I told my friend: the ideas of Jewish people promoted in movies and on TV are very sterile, European, and “black and white” (literally) so seeing all the colorful clothing, huge headdresses, jewelry, and other accessories were arresting and eye-opening. The Jewish diaspora is so much larger and diverse than I ever knew. The Israel Museum also recently opened a Goya exhibit which was amazing to see-although insanely crowded. There is also a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden that provides wonderful views of the city and a path to the Bible museum where you can view the Dead Sea Scrolls (got yelled at again in there for taking a picture;there were no signnnnns saying you couldn’t…), the world’s tiniest bible (a nano copy that’s almost invisible to the naked eye), and the Aleppo Codex (which was sad to see considering the current situation there-there’s no telling how much history has been lost, on top of the loss of life).


After touring the museum, my friend’s friend picked us up and we drove to Ein Karem. HOLY. MOSES. This area is my favorite so far! SN: Haifa>Jerusalem>Tel Aviv #sorrynotsorry We drove down into the valley past Mary’s Spring and the Church of the Visitation. He and his friend grew up in Shapira, an immigrant neighborhood in Tel Aviv, and the friend was born in Afghanistan. He made Afghan pilaf with chicken, raisins, carrots, and rice. His girlfriend came too. She was a really nice lady who traced her roots back to Poland. After our delicious meal and some wine, three of us drove back to Ein Karem proper and walked around a bit. Unfortunately, the Church of the Visitation was closed but I got to see Mary’s Spring and we walked all around and saw some beautiful buildings!


The next day, my friend’s friend dropped us off at the Jaffa Gate to the Old City. I got to go to the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, tour the Jewish Quarter, and see SANTA ON A CAMEL!


I (very uncomfortably) took some pictures/Snaps from the Wall and a few of you asked me to explain what’s going on there, so here’s my attempt: The Wailing Wall aka the Kotel aka the Western Wall is a pilgrimage site for observant Jews. Wayyy back in the day (around 515 BCE-63 BCE), Jews had their main temple (the second temple, as the first was built and destroyed too) near the site of the Western Wall and it was also destroyed. Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock were built on the original site of the temples and Jews aren’t allowed to visit, but the Wall is a surviving exterior wall to the former temple area (aka the Temple Mount which is important to Christians, Muslims, and Jews). Here Jews carry out daily prayers, mourn the destruction of the second temple, and otherwise conduct worship.  Jews in the diaspora also pray in the direction of the Wall. *I’m not going to get into the political issues surrounding the current location, but from the destruction of the first and second temple-before the time of Christ-until 2016 (like, literally last week), there are stilllll very heated disagreements about this location and which religious group has rights to it. So, read about it and decide for yourself. Currently, the Western Wall is split into a men’s section and women’s section since Orthodox Jews, similar to other religions (Muslims, super Baptists, etc.), do not believe in the mixing of the sexes during certain activities. Men use prayer shawls and Tefillin, while the women dress in modest clothing, cover their hair, and use holy books to recite certain prayers. Both the men and women sway their bodies in a rocking motion while praying, often touch the wall, and back away from the wall rather than turning their backs to walk away. You can also write requests on pieces of paper and stick them into the wall. If you’re interested, please read more because I know veryyy little about the various periods of Jewish history and the current contentions surrounding the area. It’s a fascinating topic though and I will write more about it as I learn!


I also went to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was really mind blowing too. There was also a group of Muslims from Pakistan touring and a Jewish group too, so it was amazing to be in the church with Jesus’ tomb, Nuns, Muslims, and Jewish tourists. The tomb area was empty so it was special to be able to have some time to pray and see the tomb alone.

After the Old City, I walked to Mea Shearim-a neighborhood for ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. My friend’s family lived there before their house was blown up in an attack in the late 40s, when they moved to Tel Aviv. We visited two Afghan synagogues, bought some candy, and had a little lunch. It is a SUPER interesting place to see, but I don’t know if I would suggest walking through the area if you aren’t with someone from there. My friend told me to cover my hair because sometimes they will yell at women that aren’t dressed modestly and there are posters up all over the place condemning those who aren’t Haredi. Several Haredi men put their heads down, averted their eyes, turned their backs, and even stepped off the sidewalk when passing. There was also a car driving around with a loud speaker announcing a funeral, which was surreal (video to come). If you do go, don’t point your camera at people either because I was told that’s a no-no too. Again, it’s a fascinating place and like no where I’ve ever been or ever will go. Before learning about Judaism, I thought every Jewish person was Haredi, so it was interesting to see just how diverse the Jewish populations are in Israel and in the diaspora now that I know people from different sects.

Lastly, we went to the big market in Jerusalem, Machane Yehuda. I had a delicious beer at a stall owned by an Iraqi-Israeli man and his father for the past 50+years. SN: A huge number of Mizrahim or Jews from the East (my friend says this term can be used as a point of pride or in a deragatory way since Jews from the East were often looked down upon) are from Iraq! Then I walked around and surveyed all the amazing stuff. At one point I was looking at some dry goods and I hear, “HEY GINGER!” Of course, I turned around immediately. It was a merchant from a stall across the market trying to get my attention; I laughed and he laughed and everyone laughed. It was hilarious. I stopped and got some schnitzel (thinly fried chicken) and french fries and then we headed back to Ein Karem. Jerusalem was amazing, but getting back to Ein Karem was an adventure. My friend’s friend told us the wrong bus number so we wound up all the way on the other side of the city, then took another bus and rode it to the end of the line, had to get a taxi to take us down into the valley, and then we had to walk to his house. We headed back to the kibbutz the next morning, but I will definitely go back to Jerusalem one day!

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For my second trip, I went back to Tel Aviv to stay with my friend’s other sister and I visited Holon and Shapira. My friend was invited to the monthly meeting of Afghan Jews in Tel Aviv and I am so stoked to say the host agreed to let me film and take pictures. As I mentioned in the last blog, I cannot get video footage off of my DSLR and onto my iphone or ipad to edit, so I’ll have to put together videos from this trip when I get home, but it was such an AMAZING experience. The meeting is meant to allow Afghan Jews to practice speaking the Dari dialect of Persian that they spoke before migrating. I listened to some readings from a new book about Afghan Jewish heritage, met a bunch of new people, got to watch one of the men lead the lighting of a Hannukiyah SN: did you know the candelabras used for Hanukkah AREN’T called Menorahs?! (I didn’t!). The specific candelabras for Hanukkah have 9 places for candles and are called Hannukiyah (singular) or Hannukiyot (plural).


The following day was my 28th birthday and we met up with the guy we went to have dinner with in Tel Aviv during the first week (who is also part of the Iraqi-Jewish diaspora). He is a master baker (like fr fr…he’s certified by the French government and was on Israel’s national baking team) and is now the head chef at a bakery in Holon. He took us on a behind the scenes tour of his bakery, then we went up to his office and he made handmade pizzas and we had some whiskey, balloons, and I even got a flower crown a la SnapChat, hahaha! After the tour, it stormed like MAD (hail, lightening, torrential rain, and thunder), but my friend’s family came over to celebrate Hannukah and they brought a cake for my birthday. The last day in Tel Aviv was short because it’s a long ride back to the kibbutz, but I got to tour the Shapira neighborhood and learn a lot about the former communities that inhabited the area (and take awesome pictures). The architecture was so interesting and like many areas it is undergoing intense gentrification which is sad. My friend hadn’t been back to his childhood home in decades. Randomly, the current renter was home and let us in! He said the current owners plan to demolish it when/if he moves out. As a military brat, I often dream about getting to go back to visit my old homes, so it was special to get to accompany someone visiting their childhood home after so long.


SN: If you are planning on coming here for the holidays, you should stay in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Most of the Christian holidays are only celebrated in Jerusalem/Bethlehem/Nazareth/Tel Aviv-Jaffa. From what I’ve been told, Bethlehem and Nazareth are not that safe so, yeah. NYE or “Sylvester” parties are mainly restricted to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem or private homes (make some friends, yo). Ya see, Jewish New Year was a couple of months ago and Christian New Year isn’t a big thing here-like at all-outside the main cosmopolitan areas. The kibbutz I’m at did have a bar night on the 30th and I think a university in a nearby city hosted a party with trance music, but public transportation in the middle of the Negev desert is impossible. So, I don’t have any cool stories from the holidays, but just be aware if you come here for that purpose that you need to plan far in advance, figure out transportation, and realize that this is obviously a Jewish country that largely follows the Jewish calendar.

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P.S.S: Per transportation: in the  areas of the Negev I’ve visited, the last busses are around 6 PM daily (obviously, you can get a later busses from Be’er Sheva, but for instance the last bus from the Dead Sea to Be’er Sheva is at 6 and the last bus entering the kibbutz from Be’er Sheva is at 6…). In the ENTIRE COUNTRY, public transportation shuts down Friday afternoons just before Shabbat starts and doesn’t resume until after Shabbat is over (early Sunday mornings and maybe late Saturday nights in the metropolitan areas, I believe). This means if you are planning weekend trips, you need to be where ever it is you plan to stay before the sun goes down on Friday. This also means if you want to go out Friday nights or travel anywhere on Saturdays you need to have some cash and be prepared to pay for taxis both ways.

My next post will cover my last week in Israel, including my two favorite day trips so far: Haifa and the Dead Sea! I am headed back to a town near Tel Aviv for my last weekend here, but I still have two more posts waiting in the wings so check back soon…

Talk to you crazy kids then!

One Down, Three to Go: Tel Aviv-Jaffa!

What’s going on everyone? So, I’ve been in Israel a little over a week. My time in Tel Aviv is over and I’ll be in Mashabei Sade Kibbutz for the remainder of my time here. Rather than writing two paragraphs a day for 7 days in Tel Aviv, I thought I’d go through the week in one post. I have some product recommendations and some bad reviews to dole out too, but anyway, let’s go!
First, I have never in my life had jet lag like I’ve had on this trip! I’ve been traveling long distances since I was in 3rd grade and this is the first time I ever remember it kicking my ass so. For the first few days I would go to bed at 10-11 PM and wake up at 1-2 AM. Now I’ve made it from 10-11 PM to 5-6 AM, but anyone who knows me knows that’s cray cray. I sleep like a champ. I have to nap in the afternoon for a couple of hours and it’s like that coma sleep where you can’t move and are uber disoriented when you wake up. I know by the time I get straightened out it will be time to go back to NYC and I’ll be all messed up again.

My summary for Tel Aviv is this: food, walking, and architecture!

I stayed at the Leonardo Art Hotel in Tel Aviv for a week. El Al provided a deal where you get a week at this hotel with the purchase of your tickets, so, alas, that’s where I was. I’m going to give it a low 3/5. The staff was extremely nice, the breakfast buffet was plentiful, and the views from the hotel and its proximity to the beach afford it 3.
It wasn’t clean-like at all. Especially the restaurant/lobby/bar. I had to bus a table every single time I went down for breakfast. There was ample staff in the restaurant, but everyone was just walking around (“Italian strike” they call it here). They had “No Smoking” signs everywhere, yet people were smoking all over the hotel. It was impossible to get into the hotel. Really tho, my friend is Israeli, from Tel Aviv, and spent 25 years on the beaches in the area and it took him 3 days to figure out a route into the hotel. Ultimately, you have to enter the back side of the hotel from the beach/boardwalk area (there are 4+ levels which you need to know in order to get into the hotel) or go through an abandoned labyrinth under the hotel filled with pee and poop and other such nonsense. It was fine since I was with someone, but I absolutely cannot recommend the hotel for solo female travelers. Had I booked that hotel alone, I would either have had to take a taxi every time I wanted to come or go or be back into my room before dark everyday.

 

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If you aren’t on a budget, I suggest the Sheraton or Dan hotels. They are right on Gordon and Frishman beach and are easily accessible. My friend said the standard for cleanliness is different in Israel than elsewhere, so I can’t say if those hotels would be in better shape than the one I was in, but their locations are definitely better.

I’m also giving a failing grade to this dual-voltage straightener/curling iron and hairdryer. I tried each of them with both an adapter and a converter and I couldn’t get either one to work. I have been traveling abroad for about a decade and I have NEVER found any hair styling tools that work on this voltage. It’s a major bummer.
Two things I cannot recommend highly enough: Clark’s Sillian Tino Cloud Steppers (in black and tan), travel packets of coconut oil, LUSH Toothy Tabs, and Dr. Brenner’s castile soap! I have a serious issue with my right foot which has only worsened in recent years. I bought two pairs of the Sillian Tino shoes before my trip and I couldn’t be happier. I also used Clark’s on my trip to Italy and recommend them to everyone.

Day 2: Thursday, 1/8
Day 2 was definitely a highlight for me. I check out the main area around Dizengoff Street, bought some groceries, and walked all around the central area. Tel Aviv is a really unique city in many ways, but the architecture is dominated by Bauhaus style. Most of the buildings are white concrete, but the vegetation is very tropical. It is very reminiscent of southern Italy, parts of the Caribbean, and Greece. It has a very industrial, cold war feel, but it is experiencing a gentrification boom-for better or worse. My friend worked at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art before immigrating to NYC and working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art so he knows several of the curators who have stayed on. We were invited to the opening of a photo exhibit by Mark Yashaev and then went down to check out the opening of a contemporary African art exhibit too. It was interesting to see the pieces and the design of the museum. After that we walked around Tel Aviv and got some falafel. I’d never had falafel before *gasp* so I thought it was delicious and the food stall next to the one I got my falafel from was playing Korean dramas! It was awesome, haha! In Tel Aviv their are tons of juice stands everywhere. You can get all different kinds of fresh squeezed fruit juice for around $5 (cheaper than NYC, hey hey hey!) so I went for a carrot juice in hopes it would help me bounce back from all the nastiness on the airplane.

Mark Yashaev “”Only from this suddenness and on”
Anna’s first falafel

Day 3: Friday, 1/9
Thursday was a chill day with lots of walking. I walked the entire Tayelet starting at Gordon pool to Charles Clore park and back. The Tel Aviv coast has been under extensive renovation for several years to create this huge boardwalk called Tayelet with tons of cafes and other activities. There are still sections that are being built, but the main area runs from Gordon Beach past Frishman Beach (so named because they are the terminus for Gordon and Frishman avenues). It was by far my favorite part of Tel Aviv! It is clean, well designed, modern, and laid back. I only went to one cafe in the area, but I have been told the prices are high, so keep that in mind. There are tons to pick from though. Every hundred yards or so there are three cafes and I am quite sure each place has deals on different specialities and on different days. You can eat on the actual beach or up on the boardwalk too. The views are great and if the weather is nice it’s perfect. It’s also a wonderful place to see the sunset and people watch.



When you think about visiting Israel, shabbat should play a role in your planning. There are religious political parties (kind of like a lobby since they have a coalition setup here) in Israel which affect many aspects of daily life, including the certification of hotels and business for use by observant Jews. Hotels and other businesses have to have certain amenities and follow certain rules so that observant Jewish customers can use the business without violating religious law. Obviously, there are millions of secular Jews who do not observe shabbat, but it will impact some aspects of your stay. Most hotels have synagogues (if they have enough observant guests to make a minyan), sinks for netilat yadayim, a candle station somewhere since people lighting candles in their room is hazardous, and last but not least many hotels and restaurants’ food selections are restricted on Saturdays since they cannot maintain a Kosher establishment anddd cook+make money on Shabbat. I don’t know about all of the hotels, but Leonardo Art, Carlton, and Hilton Hotel each followed the rules. Hilton apparently has a boss synagogue if you are in the area and need a place to pray!
Since the hotel restaurant was closed and all of the other places around the hotel closed early too, my friend and I used the Easy app (Israel-Tel Aviv in particular-is a high-tech capital, so I definitely suggest an international plan/Israeli SIM card) to find an Iraqi restaurant, Abu Zaki, that was open on Shabbat. It was AMAZING and they played Bob Marley! I tried two different types of kebab: one with tomato and one with tahini and then they provided complimentary salads, hummus, and pita (think Korean banchan). I met a cool Puerto Rican guy from Orlando who worked for Lockheed Martin on the F-35 project that’s been at the forefront of Israeli news recently. He was super friendly and the restaurant was packed since it was the only place in the area open.


Day 4: Saturday, 1/10
Make sure you book a Saturday in Tel Aviv if you plan to come to Israel! Saturday on the Tayelet was amazing. It was PACKED and there were so many things to see and do. There is a “folk dancing” group that meets every Saturday there and the cafes are bustling. I ventured to Cafe Gordo to people watch. I tried Tuborg beer (I’d say it’s the most popular brand in Tel Aviv-although there are tons of beer places you should definitely try on your stay) and had some French fries while I watched shirtless Israeli men try to Don-Juan their way into the pants of their dates. ‘Twas amazing! I walked to Frishman and back and watched more of the folk dancing. Then headed back to my hotel. Saturday night, I walked to Basel Street and had some AMAZING Italian food at Rustico. My friend has a friend that used to live in NYC and now owns a great bakery in Holon called Lachma. He supplies breads to all kinds of restaurants in the city and is also the captain of the Israeli international baking team (it’s a competitive field!). They just opened a pop-up retailer in Tel Aviv too, so check it out! I tried a hefeweizen brewed by Weihenstephan and some gnocchi with chestnuts. The restaurant was the cleanest place I visited in Tel Aviv, the staff was nice, and the food was delicious. We each got an entree and tall beer and the cost was around 500 NIS, but I would definitely recommend it.


Day 5: Sunday, 1/11

This was my favorite day in Tel Aviv. I spent the morning on Gordon beach, checked out the Ben Gurion house, talked to some surfers (it’s super popular here, so if you are interested check out this place!) and then went to JAFFA!


It is everything you think of when you think of Israel. Old architecture, historical places, a mix of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim places of worship, shopping, restaurants, markets, the list goes on. If you are up for it, you can walk the Tayelet almosttt all the way OR take the Number 10 bus (you buy tickets with cash on the bus here) from central Tel Aviv.

Yafo as it’s called in Hebrew is where the whole Jonah and the Whale thing went down and it was also a headquarters for the Ottomans. The history of the city stretches back to ancient times and it is absolutely worth checking out. There is a beautiful park, a port, a market area, mosques, many different Christian monasteries and churches, and cats everywhereee.

I went into this hummus restaurant-yes, you read that right, they have entire restaurants dedicated to hummus here. It was packed and they offered all kinds of different hummus dishes. I got hummus, pita, and falafel and made my own little sandwich. It was a family-owned place and catered to religious people, so it was interesting to sit and watch the clientele come and go. I was only in Jaffa for a few hours, but I would suggest planning a day trip there so that you can try a few different restaurants and shop.

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Day 6: Monday, 1/12

Monday was my last day in Tel Aviv and I made it count. I walked all around the Yemini quarter, flea market, and Shuk Carmel. Shuk Carmel is definitely something to see, it’s a huge market with everything you can ever imagine, but the most popular items are fruits, vegetables, and desserts. If you rent an apartment or AirBnB here, I’d definitely make this place my first stop to stock up on food for your stay. There is Chinese, Mexican, Venezuelan, Arab, American, organic foods, desserts, cheeses, dry goods, etc. at every turn. If you get outside of the market into some of the more residential areas, there are also tons of small cafes and restaurants to try. After Shuk Carmel, I walked to Rothschild Boulevard and got some lunch. This area is poppin’! I am not a club/party goer so I didn’t venture out at night, but I’ve been told that this is the area to go if you want to bar hop! All of Tel Aviv is absolutely crammed with bars and restaurants so it’s definitely worth downloading an app so that you can explore all of the different areas and try the different foods. The beer scene and vegan scene are also huge here (more so than most other countries I’ve visited), so those are also great things to check out! I stoped at a liquor store and got some Arak (Israeli liquor…I plan to crack it open Friday night, so I will update you with drunk Snaps :P) and then my friend went to visit his old office. He worked for the Israeli government in the tax office for a while, so he wanted to visit his coworkers. They had an Ethiopian security guard that freaked out because I had a camera, but the office itself was straight out of a movie. The employees were smoking at their desks, they closed between 2 and 3 everyday, and my friend said the employees were even sitting in the same chairs in the same spot as when he left Israel 30 years ago-like an “Italian strike”, he said. Everyone was nice and it was so interesting to see the similarities and differences between American and Israeli government work.

My new Iraqi friend


Day 7: Tuesday, 1/13

Tuesday morning I left Leonardo Art Hotel and my friend’s nephew drove to Mashabei Sade Kibbutz in Mashabei Sade, Israel. It is near Be’er Sheva in the middle of the Negev desert. I will make a separate post about the kibbutz soon and I also have some day trips planned from here which I will write about. The holidays are coming up, so that will be the next big thing. I also plan to do some interviews while I’m here so check back in this weekend!


All in all, Tel Aviv is a great place to visit. It’s like a middle ground between Southern Europe and the Middle East. Food is number one here and I do wish I had the budget to try more restaurants. It is by far the most foodie friendly city I’ve been to anywhere in the world! While the standard of cleanliness wasn’t the highest, I never got sick or anything so I can’t complain. The beaches and water are gorgeous and I never felt unsafe when I was out an about (except in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater labyrinth under the hotel). There are tons of monuments and historical places to visit, a bustling art scene, and it’s super pet-friendly too. I would suggest renting an apartment (check out Roomster or AirBnB) and chilling at the beach as much as possible. It is vastly different than what one would expect, but it’s definitely worth visiting! I also think it’s a very drivable country/city, so don’t hesitate to rent a car (although, parking is a nightmare).
Also, I’ve posted a TON of pictures on Instagram so be sure to follow me @thatgingeranna
SN: For whatever reason, the videos I record on my Nikon DSLR will not transfer to my iPad/iPhone, so I can’t edit and post them (hence the lack of YouTube videos ;/). Does anyone know how to remedy this? I bought an adapter to plug my memory cards into my iPad/iPhone via lightning, but it doesn’t give me the option to view/transfer video.

Until next time!

Day 1: Interrogations, Tefillin, and Strip Clubs

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Hey, guys. I’m here in Tel Aviv ready to see stuff and things.

As I wrote earlier today, I’m on a month long stay in Israel!

So, getting here was the MOST hilarious experience I’ve ever had on a trip. The airline I used had a passport control line before you could even check in for your flight.

Apparently, a twenty-something female traveling to a country for the first time with an older man sets off some kind of prostitute-terrorist red flags in their little system because they went hard in the paint.

First, my friend and I went up to a kiosk when it was our turn in line. A young man asked for my passport and asked a couple of questions about why I’m going to Israel (standard stuff). Then he asked my friend why we were together. He said hold on and went and got some older guy. He came and asked me the same questions and then went and got a lady and told her in Hebrew to take me across the terminal to another kiosk.

Now, I’ve seen enough movies and episodes of Locked up Abroad to know if they separate you from people you’re traveling with, it’s about to get cray.

This last interrogator was some intense woman who kept asking me if I let anyone put a bomb in my bag and that innocent gifts can be bombs too.

I now know they then asked my friend where I worked, how I paid for my ticket, if he’d ever met my parents, if I was Jewish, what the nature of our relationship is, etc.

The first guy asked me was if I was a member of a synagogue or church and I said a church so the lady asked me 37 questions about that: When’s the last time I went, did I pay to be a member, what church, where is it located, what religion is it, would anyone know me there. Then they asked my friend where, when, why, and how we met. Then his interrogator and mine kept walking away from their kiosks and comparing our answers.

I have a new passport because my old one expired and they couldn’t understand that. I had to explain everywhere I went with the old passport, the dates and duration of my trips, with whom I travelled and why.

This included day-trips to Turkey and Morocco so I had to give the lowdown on that. Then she asked me all about my job and school and the nature/duration/reason for mine and my friend’s relationship and my financial situation.  They asked each of us more personal questions that made it clear they thought I was either an international call-girl or a terrorist or both and compared their answers again.

Then the lady escorted me to the check in desk and told me we would be intercepted after TSA security.

They followed us all the way to the gate. They intercepted us before we got in line to board as I was exiting the bathroom. They took our carryons into a separate room, made us wait until final boarding was called, and searched each of them by hand (all after the TSA search).

Then, they pulled me into a room alone with three more security specialists and scanned my body, clothes, and stuff. Then they escorted both of us past the line to board and onto the plane.

They did this to two other people on the flight too…I won’t comment on what we did and didn’t have in common.

The plane was a 747-400 that had two stories! I’ve always seen those on TV and in movies but never IRL, so that was neat!

Now, the plane ride was also super interesting. I’d say 90 percent of the travelers were Orthodox Jewish. Now, before I moved to NYC, I thought there were three groups of Jews: Orthodox Jews with the hats and curls, Jews who wore yarmulkes, and secular Jews that just belonged to the culture. Now that I’m not ignorant of the denominations, I know there are dozens of sects and cultural groups. Long story short, I am fascinated and completely naive of Orthodox Judaism so flying with a huge group was interesting. There were a couple of groups of new immigrants and American Christians too.

The food was delicious and all Kosher, of course. Twice during the flight all the orthodox men got up and went through their prayer rituals with their Tallit and Tefillin (shawls and phylacteries).

I was amazed they were allowed to get up and pack and unpack all of their supplies and get in groups and walk around and stand near the exit doors and everything, but my friend said the staff gave up trying to enforce the rules long, long ago.

**Even though it was confusing and embarrassing (like my gingerness doesn’t make me stick out enough), I’m genuinely glad the airline/security and immigration officials take everything so seriously. I’m not being sarcastic or anything like that. It was a hilarious and enlightening experience that I will never forget.**

The flight went by surprisingly fast (as it always does going, but seldom returning) and we didn’t have any issues once we got here. My friend’s nephew picked us up and drove us to the hotel.

I got a few hours of sleep but woke up at 2 AM and haven’t been able to go back to bed.

Side note: It also turns out there are strip clubs here and the window in my room gives me a fullllll, elevated view of the entrance/exit of a huge one called Pussycat. There will be much filming and picture taking of these drunk fools stumbling in and out of here.

Tomorrow my friend has to take care of some business downtown and then I think I’ll go to the grocery store and who knows what else. The hotel is right on the marina so hopefully some beachin’ will take place at some point.

I’m going to attempt to get a couple of hours sleep in the meantime. Catch y’all mañana!

Don’t forget to add me on all the things @thatgingeranna

Waiting for the security specialists to clear my carryons!