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Four Weeks in Israel, March 2020

Pauline

Forums Admin
Wednesday March 4 - Arrival in Tel Aviv.
Warm and sunny (70F) but it really cools down at night.

We’ve arrived as coronavirus fears grip Israel. They had already closed their borders to several Asian countries. Today people from 5 European countries - France, Germany, Austria, Spain, and Switzerland - are not allowed in. I am not sure where Italy fits in here. I think they stopped allowing people from there recently.

Everything was pretty much as usual at Heathrow this morning. Our flight was 2/3 full. A few people wearing face masks. No one coughing, that I noticed. Ben Gurion Airport was busy but not crowded. We were in line at passport control only 10 minutes (on some trips it was an hour but last November was only 10 minutes).

Tel Aviv is busy and exciting. I feel like such a country mouse when I am in the city. Electric scooters on the sidewalks - what’s up with that? Our apartment is smallish but cute. It’s in a residential neighbourhood just off Ibn Gabirol, a main street. We walked the neighbourhood for an hour and picked up some takeout noodles for dinner.

It’s 2 hours later than the UK but we were up at 5am this morning for our 8am flight so we are tired.

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Route 66 sign at Tal Bagel in Tel Aviv.

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McDonald’s from left to right in English and right to left in Hebrew. They include the apostrophe in the Hebrew version even though apostrophes are not used this way (there is a letter that looks like an apostrophe but it isn’t - or so Steve tells me).
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Thursday March 5
Warm (low 70sF) and sunny.

Sunny and warm all day - beautiful! Today we walked for 6 hours all around Tel Aviv. First to Tal Bagels where with a bit of negotiation we got coffee and bagel and a one egg omelette for breakfast. They even offered to toast the bagel! They had a toaster that either warmed or toasted. We chose warmed. The menu item is full Israeli breakfast which has a lot of spreads and cheeses we didn’t want. They even charged us much less than the full breakfast.

My only mistake was asking for black coffee so I got the glass of coffee grounds with hot water poured over them which I always think of as an Arabic coffee. Instead I should as for Americano with no milk. But I like those black coffees too.

We walked down beautiful Rothschild Boulevard with the tree lined bike and pedestrian lane in the middle. Then over to Carmel Market. It was way too crowded, even on a non-weekend day, to go in (coronavirus!) so we walked along other streets beside it (through an area that sells fabrics) to the other side of the market.

Then we walked on to the beach and walked for a couple of miles up to the Old Port where Tel Aviv ends (the central part) at the Yarkon River.

We bought some breads with toppings at the market and ate them sitting on a bench by the sea, then stopped at an Aroma (coffee shop chain) in the port area for coffee.

We used our Rav Kav cards from the last trip (had plenty of money left on them) and took the bus down Dizengoff to Frishman where there is a big natural foods shop that I like. Picked up a few things (we are only here 3 more nights) then decided that 3pm here is 1pm in the UK and I was hungry.

We went around the corner to Frishman Sabich which serves falafel in one section and Sabich in the other. I lined up for Sabich, my first. I talked the the woman in line ahead of me who explained the sizes (half a pita for 19NIS or a regular Pita for 25) and ingredients (eggplant, potato and hard boiled egg). An older man (probably my age) who was behind me in line was suddenly beside me as I got to the counter and I thought great, now I have to fight it out, but when the counter guy called out what was probably “next” the older guy made sure they served me and that I got what I wanted.

The Sabich is made up like a falafel with hummus, sauces, salad, and tahini. You add your own pickles or peppers from big bowls on the counter. The only choice was spicy or not. I chose not.

We sat at a table on the sidewalk and shared the Sabich. Excellent! I might prefer falafel but it was good to try this. The place was crowded with about four people in line before me. Lots of people at the tables.

Then we walked back to our area. We stopped at a good bakery for bread, some of those 3 corner cookies (hamentachen) and a love of chocolate babka (for research because I made one recently). Then at a supermarket for butter. Still no Israeli butter but they had some from France.

That was our day. It is fun to be in the big city but it does wear you out.

NEWS
Every day something new. Today the Palestinian Authorities announced that the West Bank is closed to tourists. As of Friday all Religious and Archeological sites are closed, all hotels are closed. One person at a Bethlehem hotel had coronavirus. On the Trip Advisor forums a local said tour buses were turned back from West Bank checkpoints even today. That will affect all those people coming here on tours.

The Jewish holiday Purim is next week and all Purim parades have been cancelled

Several European Airlines have stopped all flights to Tel Aviv since their citizens can no longer travel there.

Any Israeli returning from several European countries must go into 14 day self quarantine. When that was announced yesterday people got off planes at the airport (Israelis who were on their way to Europe).

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The contrast of the old buildings and the new.

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My first fresh pomegranate juice from this stand near the market.

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Where the Yarkon River reaches the sea at the Old Port of Tel Aviv.

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Sabich! That’s eggplant under the pickles.
 

ItalophileNJ

100+ Posts
Sounds like a good day!
I love your sabich story about the guy in line. I miss that get-in-your-face Israeli personality when helping, about 180 deg, I imagine, from the Brits.
A friend of mine who lives in Jerusalem recently returned from visiting family in Sicily and is now in self quarantine.

Cheers
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Friday March 6
Overcast, cool (62F) and rain in the afternoon.

We didn’t do much today. It was nice in the morning but wet in the afternoon. We explored the neighbourhood, went to the bakery, found an Italian pasta shop, walked around the Art Museum area. Had a nap and did some reading. We are ready for better weather tomorrow.

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Fresh pasta and pesto for dinner tonight.

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We are a block off Ibn Gabirol but it is quiet in our residential neighbourhood.

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Challah today (Friday) and pastries whose names I can’t spell.

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The Tel Aviv Art Museum is a few blocks from our apartment.

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Another view of the Art Musem.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Saturday March 7
Warm (high 60s) and sunny

Many things are closed for Shabbat today but lots of restaurants and cafes were open and people were out on the streets and on the seaside promenade.

Purim is next week and people were celebrating today. We saw a lot of people in costume. Some took the easy way out, women wearing fancy ears on their heads, men pulling a crinoline skirt over their trousers, as if to join in the Purim spirit with the least possible work. But the majority had wonderful elaborate costumes. Many couples wore themed costumes. We saw a man dressed as a female cow with a large udder and his female partner dressed as a cowboy (nice traditional roll reversal). We saw matching rabbit costumes, matching zombie costumes. A puppet and her puppet master holding her strings.

Families dressed in themes too. I saw a Dad and his small daughter both elaborately dressed as fairies in tinkerbell skirts. Many policemen. One group of six people looking like they were sitting on chairs but their real legs were walking them around. A big group all in black with beaks - don’t know what that was. Devils, angels, clowns.

We saw people in costume all day but towardsthe end of our walk, going up Rothschild, many were coming towards us, perhaps heading to an event.

We walked for hours again this time heading up to Rabin Square then along tree lined Ben Gurion to the sea, south on the seaside promenade to Jaffa.

At Gordon Beach we watched a large group of people doing Israeli Folk dancing. This happens every Saturday.

The promenade was busy but not as crowded as we’ve seen it on other visits in the weekend, but by the time we got to Jaffa it was crowded.

Because Jaffa is an Arab area (Saturday is not their holy day) things were open. There were a lot of people out and about. We walked around (we’ve been there twice before) and finally found that suspended orange tree I frequently see in tourist photos.

In Jerusalem buses do not run on Shabbat but I had read that they now ran in Tel Aviv. I was half right. They have special routes for a Saturday service and they are free. Google Maps told us which stop to go to and to get the 706 bus. But the sign at the stop did not list the 706. We waited and a big bus came, not a typical city bus but a tour bus style, with 706 shown, so we got on and took it to Rothschild and Allenby to save us some walking.

We stopped at an Aroma for a very late lunch then walked up Rothschild enjoying the people watching. Then home. Another lovely day. We walked 6.5 miles and got a lot of sun.

Tomorrow we head to Haifa.

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Looking south from Gordon Beach.

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The pools at Gordon Beach.

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Israeli Folk Dancing at Gordon Beach.

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There are restaurants along the beach.

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View north from Jaffa to Tel Aviv.

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The suspended orange tree in Jaffa.

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Purim costumes on Rothschild.

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Purim costumes on Rothschild.

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Purim costumes on Rothschild.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
The number of coronavirus cases in the UK has jumped to 206. I bet the UK will be on the next list of countries that Israel bans. They are considering banning the US because they believe there are more cases there than have been reported.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
From the Jerusalem Post today (about banning countries):

“The US is being considered as well as other Western nations such as Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands. ... The Health Ministry is considering adding Washington, DC, New York and California to the list of places requiring quarantine. Israelis returning from these locations or foreign travelers from these states will be required to enter quarantine for 14 days, if the Health Ministry decides.

In an interview with Israel's Channel 12, Moshe Bar Siman Tov said that the ministry is still discussing such a decision and will only decide late Saturday night or Sunday. He made clear that Israel is not looking at the United States as country, but at each US state individually.”
 

susan

100+ Posts
Glad you are enjoying your trip and not too much has changed due to the coronavirus there.

New York State just declared a state of emergency. I am sure there are many more cases in the US than being reported because people are not being tested.

Interesting how Israel may look at each US state individually. Not sure how much sense that makes. Our first case in Colorado is tourist from California. He was exposed to a friend who was already sick with the coronavirus (who recently traveled to Italy) before coming to Colorado to ski and then became sick a few days later while here. Just think how many people this one person has infected after knowing he was exposed to the virus. It will easily spread from state to state just like it has spread all over Europe so banning certain states is an interesting choice.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Sunday March 8
Sunny and warm (70sF)

We packed up and left the Tel Aviv apartment this morning, took a taxi to the Eldan car rental, got a car and drove north. The Tel Aviv car rental office was organised and friendly, much different from the Jerusalem one where we picked up last November. They gave us a clean new small SUV instead of a beaten up, filthy and torn seats small car that we got last time.

For the taxi we used the Gett app and the taxi arrived in minutes. I use the app to pay as well.

Tel Aviv is famous for its bad traffic and it was thick going driving out of town. We stopped about 20 minutes north of the city, in a very modern suburb, to go to a natural foods shop. Looking at the location on Google Maps it looked like an easy to get to place with lots of parking. Yes lots of parking, all of it taken. We finally found an underground car park not far from the shop. This was a very modern, American mall like place.

We got our basics at the shop. The idea was to do our “big” shop with the car nearby. In Haifa parking is bad so it isn’t easy to drive to a shop and we end up carrying bags for many blocks.

We drove north and decided to stop for lunch at the archaeological site in Caesarea. We had lunch there last November with Berlie and Sam and liked the restaurant. You have to pay to go into the site, but you don’t pay the full amount if just going to the restaurants. We sat outside beside the water. Steve has fish, I had hummus. It was lovely.

North again and we arrived in Haifa at 4pm. This is our third time in the same apartment. They left the key for us and we didn’t have to wait for them to check us in. I still love this apartment and neighbourhood.

We went out to the shops for a few more things. Now we are set. We had a nice dinner at “home”.

Koby who manages the apartment called to make sure we were here and to talk about coronavirus. He said rumours are going around and we should call him with questions because he gets information from the government. The tour guides on Trip Advisor say this too. It seems like there are good communications set up. He wanted to reassure us if we were worried saying that Israel was doing a lot to keep people safe.

In the Times of Israel tonight they said that government is considering stopping visitors from ALL countries! When we are out and about everything seems normal. There was a big group of school kids at Caesarea. The restaurants were busy.

We can settle in now. We are here for nine nights.

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Looking out to the sea from Caesarea Habor and the Roman ruins.

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Hummus for lunch sitting beside the sea in the sunshine.

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Roman ruins.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Monday March 8
Sunny and hot (80F)

Hike in the Little Switzerland area of Mount Carmel, 5.2 miles, 800ft ascent, 3 hrs

Sunshine and heat! We spent the morning on the terrace. This apartment has a nice terrace looking out over the city with a bit of the sea in the view.

About midday we headed up and drove 20 minutes up to the University, on the edge of the Mt Carmel National Forest. There are a few hiking areas here. We parked in a lot near the university and followed a trail to the Little Switzerland Picnic Area (we could have driven and parked there but the walk was just a mile). We had our lunch there, then walked down to Nahal Kelach where we walked last November, the hike where we were trapped in the middle of hundreds of school kids.

No school kids today. People were on the trails but not many. We were following a hike from the Bradshaw website, but doing it backwards. We came to the part where we had to scramble down a very steep hill to the valley floor and decided to just walk back the way we came. It was getting late and we were concerned we might not have time for the whole hike.

Instead we walked on for another 30 minute on the trail we took last year, just to make the hike a bit longer, then walked back. It was 4:30 when we got back to the car.

Wonderful hike! The Little Switzerland area is lovely (not as good as Switzerland though), the trail was good (rocky in some places), the sun was strong but we had shade on many parts, the views over the Carmel Forest were beautiful. There were a lot of wildflowers along the trail.

This was probably our hottest day. Temps are going down and rain is forecast on the weekend.

Both was the traffic was thick with parked cars frequently jutting out into the lane and motorcycles passing on both sides and cutting in front.

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Trenches built on Mt Carmel in 1942 by the British to defend Palestine from the Germans in WW2. They were not used. You can see Haifa in the distance.

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Little Switzerland area of Mount Carmel. Views from the trail.

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Good trail, rocky in places.

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Late afternoon light as we climb back up.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
NEWS

Perhaps we made a mistake doing this trip.

From the Times of Israel tonight:
Extraordinary step applies to all passengers, no matter their port of origin; is not retroactive; thousands of flights set to be cancelled; 3 more Israelis found with coronavirus.

This means Israel has closed their borders. No more tourists from anywhere. We don’t have to go home because it is not retroactive but our return flight 3 weeks from now may not be flying. Maybe they will end this by then.

Added more info:
Netanyahu added that "This decision will be valid for two weeks, at the same time we are making decisions to maintain the Israeli economy."

Interior Minister Arye Deri added that the country chose not to make the decision retroactive because it would require close to 300,000 people to go into quarantine - people who had already infected others if they were contagious.

Reuters is reporting that the country will admit foreigners only if they can prove they have the means to self-quarantine.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Koby who manages our apartment called to tell me about the closing of the borders. He manages 20 apartments and has been dealing with cancellations all day.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
In other news, they are telling people to not sit in the seats behind the bus driver to try to keep the bus drivers working.

There are 41 confirmed cases of coronavirus is Israel and no deaths. 26,500 people in quarantine. But only 3,872 people checked - can this be true? From the Jerusalem Post.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Tuesday March 10
Sunny and warm (65F)

Cooler today but sunny. It feels like a sea mist comes in to make it cool. Today we walked down the stairs of Haifa. Haifa is built onto a steep mountain. It really is an amazing city. We stay on top in The Carmel (HaCarmel - Ha means The). @Amy told me about this neighbourhood for our first trip and we really like it. The area is mostly low rise apartment buildings with a busy main street full of shops and restaurants. It is only 15 - 20 minutes by car to the university and one of the hiking areas. It feels green here because of the wadis (valleys) that run down the hillside.

On the north slope of the hill neighborhoods are built all the way down and roads zigzag down the slope, but there are stairs for pedestrians. They say it is 1000 steps from top to bottom but I didn’t count.

Last year we took one route down. Today we did another. I loved walking on the stairs and lanes going down the hill. I planned it so we would come out in Wadi Nisnas, the Arab neighborhood on the lowest level, between the fashionable German Colony and the scruffy downtown.

We went to Wadi Street to get falafel just like we did last year. The place was packed - same guy making the falafel - and the few stools were taken, so we got them to go and walked until we found a curb in a parking lot to sit on and eat them. Excellent!

Oh, you Israelis will miss us tourists who sit on your sidewalks and eat their lunch!

We walked over to Paris Square and took the Carmelit, an underground funicular that goes up the hill we walked down. It probably took us an hour to walk down, then 10 minutes to go up in the Carmelit.

We walked around HaCarmel a bit, stopped at a few food shops, then went home.

News
No one in facemasks today but I saw one on the dash of a taxi. One guy coughing and spitting in the Carmelit station so we avoided him.

I keep checking the government website for info for tourists but it hasn’t been updated since yesterday before the new ban of all countries. All I find is a quote in the newspapers from the Health Ministry saying all tourists have a few days to make arrangements to leave. If this is the case we will have to go home early. Our plan is to go next week. We will cancel the Mitzpe and Jerusalem parts of the trip.

On Trip Advisor everyone is cancelling their trips. The locals say Jerusalem is empty. It would be a great time to be there but if BA cancels all their flights like they have for Italy, we would be stuck (but they seem to give warning to get everyone home). And if they lockdown the country like they did for Italy, it would not be fun to be here.

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The start of the stairs in HaCarmel

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Spinoza stairs about half way down.

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Falafel in Wadi Nisnas.

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The old and the new in Haifa.

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View north from Louis Promenade in HaCarmel. That industrial area creates a lot of pollution for Haifa
 
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SuzanneF

10+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Pauline, I love "travelling" with you through your trip reports. It will be sad to see your trip end earlier than planned, but given everything going on, returning home might be the best strategy at this point. Everything seems to be escalating on a daily basis. Thanks for keeping us posted!
 

susan

100+ Posts
It must be so stressful to not know. It is too bad that you will have to cut your trip short but being stuck there would not be fun, especially if Israel goes into some sort of lockdown at some point. I hope you are able to enjoy the rest of your time there.

And... I love the stair photos! What fun!
 

joe

500+ Posts
Oh, you Israelis will miss us tourists who sit on your sidewalks and eat their lunch!
Not if it means a shorter line at the falafel stand! ;)

But now seriously - if you get the opportunity, look for restaurants in Haifa that use seasonal greens and wild plants in their menu, this is the time of year that they are worth checking out. They are usually labeled as Lebanese- or perhaps Syrian-type, but make sure that they are the real McCoy, and not just a catchy name. Sorry I don't have a recommendation, but probably not difficult to find one.
 

ItalophileNJ

100+ Posts
Meanwhile.... my Facebook feed is full of feeds from Israel with people in clever Purim costumes related to you-know-what. Still today as in Jerusalem they celebrate “Shushan Purim”.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Wednesday March 11
Sunny and warm (65F)

We drove out to the Galilee and hiked up Mount Tabor. It was fabulous. I’ll post photos later.

Things are escalating here re: coronavirus, so we are cutting the trip very short and flying home Friday. Oh well ...
 

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