Wednesday, October 12th: This was Deborah’s and my 25th anniversary gift to ourselves. Ubered to Pearson airport for our Air Transat flight to Gatwick Airport, where we would transfer to a Wizz flight to Tel Aviv. A small child directly behind us screamed her way across the Atlantic and kicked my seat. At Gatwick went to the Wizz counter to check in only to find that our two large suitcases had not been transferred to the flight. A mad dash back to the carousel in the presence of a security guard for find our luggage sitting forlornly alone. Another trip to the Wizz counter, which involved taking a train from the North terminal to the South terminal.
A mercifully uneventful trip to Tel Aviv. As we alighted onto the tarmac, we were greeted by a guy called Jacob with a sign in Hebrew. He was our VIP guest host who would drive us to the airport and whisk us through customs and immigration (a major shout-out to our friend Rami Kleinmann, who arranged this for us. This is a VIP service that should be instituted at Canadian international airports!) Jacob ushered us through to a coffee bar where we met our driver, Nuriel, who drove us to the Dan Hotel. At the entrance are marble flagstones signed by famous people who have stayed in the hotel.
It was midnight by the time we arrived in our room and we were starving. The Dan had welcomed us with a gift of raspberries, blueberries, redcurrants, chocolates and two jars of nuts – and a bottle of red wine – which we devoured.
Friday, October 14th: The festival of Succoth was underway (October 9th – October 16th), which meant that much of Tel Aviv was closed. We had breakfast in a sukkah, which is basically a hut – in this case a very large one outdoors on a massive patio. (Observant Jews live, eat and sometimes even sleep in the sukkah during Sukkot, which commemorates the time the Israelites spent in the desert — in huts of their own — after being freed from slavery in Egypt.)
The buffet breakfast at the Dan Hotel is famous for its variety of foods, cheeses, smoked fish, breads, fruits and cooked dishes – and you can order eggs prepared as you like them.
After breakfast we walked along the promenade from the hotel to Jaffa, a distance of six kilometres, dodging the speeding electric scooters which are annoyingly ubiquitous here.
The beach is full of young people playing volleyball, working out, jogging or walking their dogs and pushing babies in strollers. Outside the Jaffa Great Mosque, I was handed a free copy of the Koran. We lunched at a restaurant opposite the entrance to the mosque called Mama Kuka – mixed salad, humus and tahini and a pint of Israeli beer.
After having walked back to the hotel we had done 14,000 steps. Then we walked over to a fine wine shop (Wine & More, 208 Ben Yehuda Street. In addition to wine, they sell fish and meat www.wineandmore.co.il). Bought three bottles of Israeli white wine: Sphera White Concept Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Shvo Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2020 and Assaf Sauvignon Blanc 2021.
We had access to the Dan Hotel lounge overlooking the beach, where a variety of hot and cold food, cheeses and cheesecake and cake were available at all times during the day and night as well as alcohol, beer and red and white wine (Binyamina Winery King David Dry Red Wine and King David Dry White Wine – both very drinkable.)
Saturday, October 15th: Walked the promenade towards the Port of Tel Aviv. On the beach we saw a special shelter where dogs could be showered down and protected from the sun.
Lunched at Joker Food Truck on Frishman Street. Should have walked a block further to Frishman Falafel and Sabich (corner of Frishman and Dizengoff), where the line-ups by Israelis suggested that this was the place for street food. (We would lunch there on our last day in Tel Aviv.)
Sunday, October 16th: Another day of walking the beach. In the evening we headed for dinner at Hiba (which opened in January.) Chef Yossi Shitrit’s tasting menu is a fusion of Arab and Israeli cuisine. We started with a glass of Yarden Katzin Blanc de Blancs Late Disgorge 2009.
Other wines: Azienda Agricola San Salvatore Campania Rosato 2021, Sphera White Signature 2021, Sycra Chardonnay 2019, Ashkar Winery Shafaya Special Edition Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz 2020, Domaine des Ouled Thaleb “Syrocco” Syrah 2020 from Zenata, Morocco.
During the meal, between the Wild Sea Bass course and the Veal Fillet, we were given a tour of the kitchen. This the best meal we’ve had since dining at Alo in Toronto.
Monday, October 17th: Our new driver, Tamir, drove us up to Jerusalem. We deposited our bags at a delightful, small boutique hotel in Ein Karem and had a glass of wine on the outdoor patio with a tray of watermelon, green melon, dates and nuts.
Our guide, Daniel, was born in the village of Ein Kerem, as was John the Baptist. Daniel took us first to Mary’s Spring, then to the Crusader church and the St. John the Baptist Church.
In the evening we had dinner in the Brasserie Ein Kerem. Gravad lax, chicken for Deborah and goose shank for me – with a bottle of Yarden Merlot 2017. Table of noisy children – the restaurant owner brought us two complementary crème brûlée.
Tuesday, October 18th: Today a nine-hour tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.
In the car Tamir told us that the old city of Jerusalem is at 760 meters while the Dead Sea is 430 meters below sea level. 21% of Israel’s 9.5 million citizens are Arabs. Israel has the highest birthrate in the Western world. The old city of Jerusalem is just under one square kilometre within the old city walls.
We entered the Armenian quarter and walked through the Christina and Jewish quarters before stopping for a falafel lunch. Then the Western Wall, and a fabulous on-screen presentation about the survival of the Jewish people. On entering the show, we had to have our photos taken. We thought that this was a security precaution or a gimmick to get us to purchase a souvenir photo. But everyone’s photo ended up on screen as a montage entitled, “We’re all one voice. One voice close and far. We are one chain unbreakable.” Very moving.
Then through the Muslim quarter to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For over 700 years, a Muslim family has had the key that unlocks the door to the Church. We saw the marble stone on which Christ’s body was anointed.
We walked through the Manila Project, an upscale shopping mall that was built in the no-man’s land between Israel and Jordan and opened in 2008.
Then up to the City View Restaurant on Mt. Scopus to watch the sunset over Jerusalem. (There was no wine list here, as the owners were Muslim.) Had dinner at Chakra (41 King George Street, Jerusalem). We ordered Charcoal Oven Sea Bass and Green Salsa and Wild Sea Bass fillet with Homemade Gnocchi and Tomato Sauce. The wine: Yarden Katzrin Chardonnay 2020. We didn’t order dessert but they brought us cones of soft ice cream anyway.
(To be continued)