Our Summer Adventure was a classic 30-day roller-coaster through almost all of Israel, from the northern point of Metulla, to the Red Sea coast of Eilat – and we’ve written it all down for you below!
Pre-excitement nerves were abundant: “Why the hell are we doing this??” and “30 days – are we mad??” but in the end, the nerves proved unfounded as we had an amazing time. A true once-in-a-lifetime trip that we’ll remember for ever!
The route we took is over there on the right – and yes, it turned into 32 days as we had so much fun! We visited Metulla, the Golan Heights, Ein Gev, Nazareth, Tiberias, Safed (Tzfat), Clil, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Arad and the Dead Sea, Mitzpe Ramon, and Eilat!
It was a lot to squeeze in in 30 days, but we did it! And yep, we even had to skip on some of the more obvious must-sees and must-dos because there was simply too much to see! But hey, we’ll save that for next time!
Of course, a lot of the trip was sponsored by some very good peeps, and we’ll be giving them a big shout-out along the route as described below. And if we’ve missed out on a must-see or you have any comments, feel free to drop us a line or add a comment below. We also went mad on Facebook, Instagram too…and watch out for the hashtag #metulla2eilat!
And… we’re off!
All the doubts and concerns that may have building up over the day or so prior to heading out were now GONE! In their place – excitement! And the kids (there’s 3 of them – aged 6, 9 and 11 – in case we haven’t mentioned it elsewhere), were surprisingly excited too!
With some of our fave tunes blasting out on the car stereo (yes, yes, I compiled a CD of our fave tunes, just to keep ’em happy!), the trip up to Metulla was a quick and painless one (we actually live on a moshav which is about an hour’s drive away), and before long we were splashing around in the jacuzzi cum pool at Moti’s Among the Cherry Trees B&B. You can check out our full review here, but let’s just say we were completely charmed by both Moti and his family-friendly flat. Perfectly sized, with a great little kitchen and jacuzzi cum shower in the kids room, which they quickly fell in love with!
After making ourselves presentable, we walked 5 minutes down the road to Knaipeh, where we enjoyed one of the best meat dinner’s you can find in the north of Israel. Let’s just say the mix of a perfectly fresh & crunchy salad, homemade hummus, tasty red wine, and succulent steaks was the ultimate way to end the day.
Well, when I say “end the day” I mean the kids ended their day, and I headed off with Avraham – Knaipeh owner and chef – to explore Metulla’s roaring nightlife. OK, it didn’t take much longer than 5 minutes, including heading up to the Dado Lookout for a nightime panaroma, but for me, it doesn’t get much better than playing pool with the locals at the HaKurah pub until 2am!
After waking up to a beautiful breakfast prepared by Moti and his wife, we headed to the Dado Loookout, this time as a family unit and not a couple of drunken geezers… This lookout is a must-see in Metulla, as it gives you a great perspective of just how close to the border with Lebanon Metulla really is. As well as a clearer idea of just how stonkingly huge the Golan mountains are, somewhere far in the distance.
Reluctantly we checked out of Moti’s place, and with some time to kill before we headed to our next stop, headed to the Canada Center, the main attraction in town. To be honest, we were completely disappointed with the place, and in peak season this looks, quite frankly, a place to avoid (we should have listened to our brains when calling ahead and being told by the staff “Noooo, don’t come!” – a warning not too often given in Israel!). Overcrowded, poor service, and just another option in town that will take a drain on your resources. I’d recommend somewhere else, anywhere else…
So we decided to drive on to our next stop, the Genghis Khan Mongolian tents on the Golan Heights. After a sweet drive up the Golan, we took a pitstop at the impressive wind turbine farm that features prominently on the Golan skyline (feel that wind turbine swooshing above your head – amazing!), and then continued on southwards to Genghis Khan.
Just before we arrived, we stopped by at a boutique pizza joint that has recently opened in Givat Yoav (can’t remember the name, but hey, how many boutique pizza joints are there gonna be in Givat Yoav!?). Awesome pizza, one of the best, really. Highly recommended if you’re in the vicinity.
Another 5 minutes drive away, and we met up with the wonderful Sara, the owner of Genghis Khan. After being introduced to our tent for the next couple of nights, we made a quick sunset dash in the jeep along the perimeter of Givat Yoav, and overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Simply majestic, especially during the sunset golden hour. It took us about 30 minutes drive along the trail, which actually forms part of the Golan Trail. Just that part we drove on is jeep-friendly.
With bellies full from the boutique pizza, we bunkered down for the night, enjoying the Mongolian tent’s air conditioning and surprising spaciousness. The lovely gardens that Sara and her husband take care off and which form the main part of the resort were appreciated by the kids a lot, with handstands galore happening…bonus for us was that because we came mid-week we were the only ones at the resort (it’s apparently fully booked most weekends), so the kids could let loose…and then fall asleep that much faster…
Waking up in an awesome Mongolian tent – awesome! And despite the air conditioning being turned off early in the evening (by us – it was getting too damn cold!), the tent was still chilly in the morning – perfect!
With Givat Yoav being just 15 minutes away from the Sea of Galilee, we headed down to the Ein Gev Holiday Resort to check out their new SUP and kayaking option. The kids were life-vested up and within seconds having the time of their lives! This is a great new option for the summer, and hey, you can’t really go wrong with kids and water on a hot summer’s day! 80 shekels per hour, worth every shekel!
For a spot of lunch, we headed over to the port at Ein Gev (a quick 5 minutes drive away) and the recently opened Cafe Port. We’d visited the same cafe before some time ago and the difference in quality and service was amazing. New owner Nissim has a nice family setup going there and some very tasty items on the menu, including some great tuna lasagna and a sweet potato crunch salad, which was pretty darned tasty. If you’re in the ‘hood, check them out! Not super cheap, but delish!
To round off our visit to Ein Gev, we headed to the Olea Essence shop, just behind Cafe Port. This is a great place to find out about how olives – every single part of the olive – is being used to create an entire range of cosmetics, cleaning products, and yes, some amazing olive oil. Don’t miss the tasting station, where you can try some truly delish olive oils. If Marianna is there behind the counter – even better!
Heading back to our Mongolian paradise, we decided to take Sara’s advice and headed to the very impressive Susita site, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. And at sunset this place is even more impressive. Even the kids were won over by the ancient Roman pillars and walls, and by the stunning views out across the lake…if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track, this is truly one to add to that bucket list. Best of all it’s FREE to enter, and is fairly easy to hike up.
Wrapping up our night, we did a bit of family cooking in Genghis Khan’s excellent kitchen – pasta and rice noodles (my daughter is celiac, another challenge on this trip!), accompanied by a baby leaf salad with cranberries, cherry tomatoes etc, pretty darned good for our first in-the-field meal!
Checking out of Genghis Khan, we knew we were heading just down the road (15 minutes) to our next stopover, Susita Beach, on the Sea of Galilee. So nothing too strenuous.
Nothing strenuous, but hey, we ain’t professional campers – and camping in Israel is a whole different ball game. We set up our spanking brand new tent on the shorefront just to make sure we had a spot reserved for when we’d return a bit later, and then left our brand new baby in the hands of the Gods (or rather Zvika and Udi, the guys managing the beach).
Not looking back, we went off for lunch at the Ein Gev Fish Restaurant (about 5 minutes away from Susita Beach). To cut a long story short, the restaurant has undergone a bit of a revolution and has become a bit tasty to say the least. OK, there’s the legendary St Peter’s Fish dish, but the
accompanying dishes to choose from were all tasty and a definite upgrade on past menus (we’ve visited on a number of occasions).
My two youngest kids went for some carpentry magic at Saba Yossi’s wood workshop, just a stone’s throw from the fish restaurant (also good for adults, just in case you were wondering), and then we headed off for a boat ride on a boat called…Susita! Familiar for some reason…
After heading back to our tent in the late afternoon, things started to take a turn for the worse with my eldest son, who started having chronic earaches every few hours…my money had been on my smallest one taking a hit with something over the course of our adventure, so it was a bit surprising to see my eldest hit for six.
While the painkillers did their magic, I downed a couple of beers and fell asleep outside the tent on a mattress, with the Galilee breeze whistling around my ears. All I can say about the rest of the evening was that Susita Beach is the first ever Sea of Galilee beach that didn’t have music blaring out all night – lights were off at 10:30 and that was that.
Good job Udi and Zvika.
With the pain crippling my son, we decided to make an emergency visit to the local clinic, which was, of course, closed (it was Saturday morning). So we were forced to stock up on more painkillers and keep him away from the wind/AC.
I managed to squeeze in another swim in the Sea of Galilee with my other two cherubs, and then we packed away our tent and headed to our next stop – the Ein Gev Holiday Resort.
This resort is one mighty fine place, much better than I expected (I had been disappointed on a previous visit many years ago), especially if you can spring for a beach-side bungalow, with sunset views out over the beach…
The kids were in heaven (well, 2 of them, the third was in bed on painkillers), which is what it’s all about sometimes, and after some splashing around in the Sea of Galilee with some awesome wave jumping (just so you know, the waves typically pick up every afternoon at around 3pm), it was time to think about dinner.
And when you’re at Ein Gev, one of the best options is right on your doorstep – Marinado. With some excellent guidance from restaurant manager Terry, we stuffed ourselves silly on some simply delicious meats – full review here. The kids fell asleep on our laps as me and Mrs iGoogled drank some wine and enjoyed the moment…
After downing a tasty breakfast in the Ein Gev resort and hiring out the kayak for another session, we were a little surprised to hear that we had to check out pretty sharpish. I’m not sure I would describe it as being “booted out” but a little more flexibility wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Anyway, an express packing session was achieved in just a few minutes, and we were off…back home!
OK, let me explain. My eldest had to head for the hospital, since his ear infection had become even nastier and swollen. My daughter had a once-in-a-summer’s opportunity to enjoy a water park with her friends, and my youngest, well, he was just knackered and needed some TV zombie time. So home it was, even if for the afternoon only.
I also managed to get some laundry done and restocked up on supplies, so it was a decent pit-stop all in all.
Later in the evening we headed over to the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth, where they were waiting for us with open arms and the best room in the house!
One major issue – we were now down to 4! My eldest son was on anti-biotics and wanted to stay home with his grandparents, so we agreed he should rest and we’d come and get him in a couple of days.
The Summer Adventure continues (at 80%)!
Woke up to have a look around the Fauzi Azar, and were delighted to find the free breakfast, complete with fresh veggies, cheeses, pita bread, olives, labaneh, boiled eggs, watermelon, and more!
After stuffing ourselves silly, we walked around the Old City market, literally a two minute walk from the Fauzi Azar. We also stepped into the must-see site in Nazareth, the Basilica of the Annunciation, for a quick walk-through and a reminder of why this place is so important to many, many peeps around the world.
A quick snooze and then it was off for a late lunch at Tishreen, a 5 minute walk from the Fauzi Azar. This has to be one of the best restaurants in Nazareth, if not THE best, and we weren’t disappointed! Great, great food, and huge portions too. Highly recommended.
We headed back to the Fauzi Azar for the free Arabic lesson by Rasha, where I added to my existing repertoire of curse words a whole new range of phrases! Aiwa!!!
The beer flowed a little, and then it was time for the new belly dancing lessons, with the lovely Mrs iGoogled volunteering to represent the family! She did a great job too – though it wasn’t belly dancing exactly, but the dance known as debke. Yes, there’s video evidence. No, I will never be able to release it!
Woke up to the cute Israeli/Arab breakfast spread at the Fauzi and then joined the free tour of some of Nazareth’s hidden gems. The tour actually begins with an introduction to the story of how Fauzi Azar started – well worth a listen!
Then comes a 2-3 hr tour led by Mona, who took us through some of the Old City’s hidden treasures, the sites you’d probably miss on any other tour/your own. We’re talking the Fahoum coffee shop, the local Muslim cemetery, the El Barbour spice mill shop, and the katayef at the very colorful and character-packed Abu Ashraf restaurant (in the pic below).
The local felafel shop saw a quick lunch break, with excellent service and a truly lovely guy, just not the best felafel you’re likely to come across in Israel…
We then chilled out in the Fauzi courtyard, waiting the return of our sick kid, who was being driven over to Nazareth by his grandparents. After a quick hug and a sisterly tour of the Fauzi (yep, she missed him!), we headed for dinner at the Mlech HFilfel restaurant in the Mary’s Well area. Not bad, but definitely not as good as yesterday’s excellent Tishreen…
The kids were buzzing with our eldest’s return – him probably more so than the others. And when the other two started complaining about ear-aches late on in the evening, we already had the ear drops primed and ready!
After a quick brekkie in the Fauzi dining area, we packed up, said our goodbyes and went hunting for our car, which we hadn’t seen for 3 days!
We weren’t saying goodbye to Nazareth quite yet though, as on our way out of the city we headed to the legendary Mount Precipice, the spot where Jesus was allegedly forced off the cliff-face by an angry mob of locals. Very impressive views, well worth a look if you’re in the area.
With the other 2 kids still complaining of ear-aches, we headed to a local health clinic to get them checked – and yes, all 3 now have ear infections! Awesome!
That said, we still headed over to our next stop, the Tiberias Hostel, later in the afternoon. I’ll be honest, this place looks like an awesome place for budget-friendly tourists, but for families it looks like it works a little less well. Our original room got changed to a smaller room due to AC problems, but it was definitely a bit of a squeeze getting all 5 of us in there…
Never mind – after a quick dinner at Decks on the Tiberias seafront (not great, it has to be said), and a 5 shekel Cofix shake, we settled down for the night with some ear drops and Harry Potter on the TV. Fun fun fun.
Woke up, a little squashed and squeezed, but actually surprisingly refreshed. After a quick bite of brekkie in the very well equipped kitchen/dining room, we met Shira, the co-owner of Tiberias Hostel. She told us about the hostel and how it got started, and also how they compensate their guests with great options out of town (Tiberias is currently a sleeping giant with absolutely nothing to do, and nobody knows if it will ever wake up again…). With a new rooftop bar coming soon, me and the missus will be back to sup a beer in the near future. And yep, Shira convinced me that the hostel is definitely one to watch out for in the coming months.
After checking out, we drove up to Safed, and The Way Inn. What can we say, this is one fantastic place! And how about this for a welcome drink…
We drooled around the place for a bit more (our full review of The Way Inn is here), and then headed to the Artists Quarter, where we had some lachoch (a Yemenite type of bread) at the funky Mr Lachoch, and then met one of Mrs iGoogled’s cousins, who has done some major work on restoring the whole Artist’s Quarter – the greenery and foliage you can see in the pic below is down to him, for example.
We then headed back to our lovely room and then dinner in Rosh Pina, at the recommended to us (and yes, we’re recommending to you!) Doris. It was great fun with the kids and yes, great burgers!
Our late night special for the day – eardrops!
Woke up and headed straight to the gorgeous dining room at The Way Inn, where we met Genine the owner and her husband Roni. Both are great characters and you can really feel the passion they’ve invested in their mini-resort. We’ll be back for a night or two of heaven, and yes, we can recommend them highly.
11 days in and yes, we’ve been meeting some very passionate people involved in the tourism industry – and it’s been very inspiring.
But it was time to move on again and this time we were off to Klil in the Western Galilee. Along the way we stocked up on supplies a bit, water, pasta, noodles, eggs etc to ease the costs of restaurant dining out, which does take a bit of a hit on your budget…
We finally arrived at the Klil Guest House, a very nice place in the ecologically-friendly village of Klil (home to around 500 people, but it seems much bigger as the houses are spread out across the valley). The family-sized room was a bit of a squeeze, but more than enough for us, and definitely bigger than the Tiberias Hostel, let’s put it like that. And with sunset views like the one below, what more do you need…
Cooked up some pasta while fighting off the local cats with brooms, then headed a bit later to Cafe Klil – but didn’t end up staying for the late night band as the kids were wiped out.
Conjured up some biscuits and milk for the kids, and some cheese rolls (oh yeh, I’m a man of many talents!), and after quick walk round the immediate hood with the local hound that seemed to take a liking to us, we headed off to Ein Hardalit, some 20 minutes drive away.
This is a great little stream walk, just enough water for the littl’uns, and green and shady enough for us bigguns to enjoy too. In the end, of course, the kids didn’t want to leave, so yes, you can add this to your recommended list of family hikes/water treks. The stream actually forms part of the Nahal Kziv trail, so if you want something longer, just keep walking!
We returned to Klil and had some Indian food in Cafe Klil, not amazing but the missus was impressed. We then headed off to tour a bit round the village, where we found Jara, a great little pottery craftsman, who told us to go in and check it out, as he’d be out til later. Trusting or what?!
We then rustled up some omelettes and salad while fighting off the wasps, and then chilled out to the sunset vibe on the veranda. The kids were chilled too, drawing the landscape and generally being suspiciously charming. Tomorrow Haifa!
Checked out of Klil after a quick chat with owner Oded. I’ve said it before, and will probably say it again, but there are some great peeps in the Israeli tourism world. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ll be meeting some of them…
With time to kill before heading to Haifa, we headed to Rosh HaNikra, where we took a ride on the cable car and toured the Grottoes. A natural wonder but not sure you can spend much more than 2 hrs there. It cost us 174 shekels for the 5 of us.
We then headed to the Port Inn Haifa, where we finally found parking after struggling with roadworks in the neighborhood. We were actually booked in for one of the family-sized apartments which are located just across the road from the Inn itself. The apartments are perfect for a family of 5, complete with two balconies.
With the munchies taking hold, we then then hunted down a good shawarma – the legendary Emil Shwarma was already closed so went to the other local legend Hazzan, which was also closed. His neighbor was open so he took our money and we scoffed down some shawarma, which didn’t impress the kids too much, it has to be said. Crashed out watching TV…
Headed down to the Port Inn breakfast, which was very decent with plenty of options, even an espresso machine. Chatted with the owner’s mother Rachel, very nice, even helping out with our daughter’s gluten issues…
After letting the kids decide what was on the agenda for the day, it was a quick drive up to Madatech, the National Science Museum in Haifa. The kids had a great time, and enjoyed the various exhibitions a lot. You can easily spend the whole day here, we spent a good 4-5 hours. Although it’s not so cheap it has to be said, 89 shekels per person (there is a family ticket that makes it more worthwhile).
Once we’d had enough of being scientific, we headed home to rustle up some pasta and mushrooms for the kids and us, then made a quick dash to the Sculptures Garden to check out the sunset view and the small park filled with statues. The park is OK, not a lot more than that to be honest. The views were terrific.
Then we headed to Hecht Park on the seafront, where the kids really let loose, really haven’t seen them have that much fun for some time. The ear infections are well and truly over!
Cooked up some omelettes and baguettes for breakfast, and then we checked out of the Port Inn – with the ladies in the team heading to the local mall in the German Colony for a bit of retail therapy, and the boys heading to the Stella Maris monastery and the stunning view from there.
Once we’d got that hour or two apart out of our systems, we headed to Osefiya, a Druze village in the Carmel mountains, where we were hosted by the amazing team from Nations and Flavors (more about them here: http://bit.ly/2apbpVY). We were treated to a magnificent Druze spread, and then taken on a great tour of Osefiya, including an ancient underground olive press, and tales of what it means to be Druze in Israel. Well worth checking out if you want to try something a little different.
Our guide’s recommendation before heading to Tel Aviv was to drive over to the Carmelite Monastery for one of the best viewpoints in Israel. And he wasn’t wrong – simply stunning! The gates close at 5:00pm, so no chance of a sunset shot, not in the summertime anyway.
By then we were all a bit impatient to get to Tel Aviv, so headed on down to Abraham Hostel in Tel Aviv (Levontin 21, in the south of the city), about an hour’s drive from Osefiya. The great apartment we were booked into was a sight for sore eyes, and we immediately fell in love! Almost brand new, with great AC and even views out across the city! The free welcome drink was also a nice touch, and quickly taken advantage of! Coupled with Happy Hour, our first hour or so at Abraham’s was pretty darned spectacular!
After meeting owner Maoz Inon – probably Israel’s leading light in the tourism world (and also the creator of the Jesus Trail) – we were happy to join the shakshuka workshop, together with the kids. The workshop was great fun, together with the free shots of Arak, and the resulting shakshuka (each person gets their own shakshuka dish) was one of the best I’ve ever eaten…
The day wrapped up nicely with some pool practice with the kids. Tel Aviv was looking mighty impressive at this point!
Woke up early to try and sort out the parking – we had parked just round the corner from the Abraham Hostel but at a rather expensive 80 shekels a day, but in the end I just couldn’t be bothered. I might have saved 5-10 shekels somewhere else, but with way too much effort and probably not as close to the hostel. Welcome to Tel Aviv baby, and the bane of its citizens’ lives!
Brekkie in the hostel was pretty decent, especially when it’s included in your room price. Then had a walk round the ‘hood, which is basically the trendy and sexy Gan HaHashmal neighborhood.
A little later on we headed over by bus to the Free Old Jaffa Tour by Sandemans, but the kids dropped out pretty quickly thanks to the overbearing late afternoon heat and the less than inspiring guide, it has to be said. She did try but…meh.
Once done we headed over to the Flea Market where the kids picked up some knick-knacks and we stopped at Shayke’s cafe on Ole Zion street for some beers and munchies. What a fella Shayke is, great energy and the kind of place you’ll want to come back to! Highly recommended.
We took a taxi back to the hostel, showered up then headed down to the Yuval Vahav concert in the main hall of Abraham’s. Not amazing, and interrupted by our smallest one, who was upset at us leaving him with his 2 older siblings…he kinda saved us from more beer and average-ish music, so good job kiddo!
Brekkie at the hostel, good stuff once again! Chilled out in the room for a bit before heading to the lobby for our Vegan Food Tour with Eviatar (owner of TLVEG Tours). He took us around some of the coolest, vegan joints in the ‘hood, with great explanations, great energy, and he was also great with the kids (he also catered for our daughter’s celiac issue on-demand, as he wasn’t aware prior to the tour).
We tasted some great food, including awesome vegan tortillas from Buddha Burger, amazing hummus and roasted eggplant from the Golden Chickpea, while finishing up with 100% vegan ice-cream (made from almond milk), which was very tasty. Great tour, highly recommended.
Back to the hostel, where we did some laundry, and the kids went down to the lobby to sell some of their handmade necklaces – and yes, they sold one! I bought them a cold chocolate drink to celebrate, while having a couple of Happy Hour drinks for myself. The hostel also hosted its regular Aperitivo night, which was great, lots of Spanish type food and wine.
We then met up with Eviatar once again, who had invited us to join his Tel Aviv Pub Crawl tour. We met up with some other travelers, while Eviatar took us into some hidden Tel Aviv gems, such as Sputnik, Buxa, and Jimmy Who? We couldn’t last the pace though, being the old parenting farts we have become, and quit to head back home to the kids around 1…
Brekkie again in the hostel – and why not when it’s free, and way more than enough! I mainly stayed in the room for most of the morning while working on iGoogledIsrael stuff and sorting through some of the hundreds of photos we’d taken over the course of our summer adventure…
The kids went with their mum to try and sell more necklaces – came back later to tell me they’d sold another 6 – JACKPOT! Will have to send them out more!
Chilled in the hostel lounge a bit later with a couple of beers, then joined the Shabbat Dinner that the hostel holds every Friday evening. This is a superb intro to what the Jewish Sabbath is all about – and it comes with some very decent food! The communal aspect is also great – we sat with some American archaeological students who had been digging in Israel, and ended up playing pool with one of them, Jacob. And then it was back to the room to chill out with the kids, watch some TV, and fall asleep…
Started the day with the familiar brekkie, accompanied by some Foosball with my smallest one! Me and Mrs iGoogled then went to extract some more cash, mainly to pay off the exorbitant parking fees (80 shekels a day – this is Tel Aviv don’t forget), but, of course, the parking staff weren’t around, so we couldn’t pay them off (I wanted to make sure we were all settled before heading off in the morning – and because we had an early start in the morning, I didn’t want to get waylaid by a Mr Job’s Worth car park attendant…)
We went for a walk down Rothschild Boulevard, a 2 minute walk from the hostel, and stopped at Cafe Landwer for some roast beef sarnies, burgers, and pizza. Then the kids started to sell their necklaces on Rothschild, managing to sell another 5-6! Seriously, if we go over budget I’m putting them out on the streets to earn some coin!
After a quick stopover at the hostel, we then headed to the beach – because you can’t visit Tel Aviv without stopping by at the beach, right? We met up briefly with friends and family, and the kids had a blast in the sand and sun (not so much the water because we’re looking after their delicate ears for the time being!). Their Israeli grandparents stopped by for a visit too, and we watched the sunset, while supping beer and watching the kids chase each other along the seafront. A very chill end to our stay in Tel Aviv, which has been, to be quite honest, a complete blast!
Next stop Jerusalem!
Checked out of the hostel at 8 after managing to get packed and the kids fed – no mean feat, I have to say. The reason we had to leave so early was because we were volunteering to pick tomatoes for the needy at Leket, next to Rehovot, kind of on the way to Jerusalem. After all the good vibes and love we’ve been receiving over the last 2-3 weeks, it was time to give back…
We met our picking partner Varda upon arrival, who quickly showed us what was what. It was actually much hotter than I anticipated, even for a summer in Israel, but we still managed to fill a few boxes to ensure some 20 families got fresh vegetables on their table this week. And the good vibes we felt ourselves were completely worth the sweat!
Continuing on to Abraham Hostel Jerusalem, we quickly got checked-in and met Gal, one of the owners, who gave us a tour of the hostel. Looked great to us, if on a smaller scale to their hostel in Tel Aviv (the Tel Aviv version is basically the Jerusalem hostel, but probably 3 times bigger). The family room we were given was great, and much better than expected, and the kids were very happy with the bunk-bed!
We then headed for a stroll down Machane Yehuda, which was just a 3 minute walk from the hostel (and yes, the hostel is perfectly located, right next to the Jerusalem Light Rail, and Yafo Street, and the market). With the kids starting to lunge at anything that smelt good, like characters out of The Living Dead, we sat in Cafe Mizrahi, one of the original cafes in the market. Great food, and it did the trick!
Heading back to the hostel, we claimed our welcome drinks (nice touch Abraham Hostels!), played some pool, and then joined the Hummus workshop, which took place in the communal dining room. Was very good, and resulted in some tasty hummus, obviously because of our excellent whisking! It probably wasn’t quite on par with the Shakshuka workshop in Tel Aviv, it has to be said, but that was probably down to the shots of arak in Tel Aviv! With a couple of the crew feeling a bit ropey, it was another early night…
Wow, three weeks in to our summer adventure, feels like it’s flown by!
Breakfast in the hostel was very similar to the setup in Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv, if on a slightly simpler scale. So yes, a good bet to start your day healthily, and best of all, it’s included in the price of your stay.
Once wrapped up and ready to go, we joined the Market Tasting tour in Machane Yehuda market with Dado. We were lucky enough to have a private tour, so Dado took us to savor some true market delights, including khachapuri, Azura the original Iraqi restaurant in the market, Rami Levi’s first store, Uzi-Eli the etrog man, Beer Bazaar – including some 100 Israeli beers – and visits to some great spice stores. A great introduction to the market and the delights it offers…
After that we headed back to the hostel; I had to wrap up some work, and then headed down to the bar for Happy Hour. At 8 we headed to the rooftop for some burgers and beers, with Atef the chef doing his magic with the grill. Have to say, it was a nice vibe, with some great air, and the kids were in heaven. Did we care about the laundry we had to do if we wanted to stay clean and sexy? Did we heck!
Woke up and headed down with the kids for brekkie – met up with Yaron, one of the owners of Abraham Hostels, who gave us some great tips for Jerusalem.
We headed straight for Machane Yehuda market once again though, as we’d been bitten by the market bug in yesterday’s market tasting tour. The kids were surprisingly hungry, so we stopped by at the bustling Pasta Basta, which even had gluten-free pasta for my daughter. Excellent pasta and cheap as chips, well worth a visit – just take into consideration that at certain times of the day it will be almost impossible to get a table (it’s quite a small joint). We then browsed the market again, taking in all those sights, sounds and smells, with my smallest one and me ending up at La Cornerie, complete with beer (watch out for their 9% homemade beer – it might knock you for six!) and Oreo shake (I’ll let you work out which one I took…).
Back to the hostel, with a quick pitstop at the Marzipan bakery on Agripas for some delish sweet bagels…oooh mama, they’re good!
After chilling out at the hostel for an hour or two, we headed out once again a bit later by Jerusalem’s awesome light rail (first time ever!) to see the I Am Jerusalem show in Mamilla – was pretty good, the kids loved it, especially the moving/rolling chairs! After that we strolled down Mamilla, with Mrs iGoogled intent on getting a shopping session in. Me and the kids grabbed an ice-coffee and sat on the plaza next to Jaffa Gate, people watching. The missus then joined us and we headed to the Night Spectacular show at the Tower of David. This is the second time I’ve seen it, and it’s still an awesome show. Kids were impressed too! Highly recommended.
After a quick brekkie in the hostel, we headed by bus over to the Israel Museum.
Have to say, this place is a must-see in Jerusalem, and is pretty darned impressive. Don’t miss the Shrine of the Book of course, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, as well as the smallest bible in the world (I’m pretty sure everyone visits this little section thanks to the poor explanations/map while hunting the Shrine of the Book entrance), the museum’s youth wing, the archaeological section, and the Picasso section – all pretty impressive!
We ate a late lunch at the Modern Restaurant in the museum’s grounds, which was decent, at least the kids were fed and pumped full of energy after the meal…
Back by bus to the hostel, it was time to get shaved and showered and down to the bar, to join the Abraham Hostel Pub Crawl. Led by hostel volunteer Ariel, the pub crawl is a very decent introduction to the nightlife scene in Jerusalem, including the amazingly bustling market area in Machane Yehuda, which was really buzzing and transformed from its day job, an authentic Russian bar, and another happening little bar owned/run by the DJ owner. We had to call it quits early, and made it half-wobbly back to the hostel around 1.
Just in case you were wondering, the kids wanted to stay on their own while we Pub Crawled, and watched Back to the Future on my laptop before falling asleep…
We wrapped up our last Jerusalem brekkie, and then headed for Teddy Park, to give the kids a big water workout in the fountains.
Yep, they loved it, as well as the tram ride there! Even my 11 year old was well into it – and seriously, what more do kids need on a hot summer’s day than splashing around in water fountains??
We then headed back up Yafo street, stopping by at a noodle shop and various other places before heading back to the hostel and our car. What can we say, Jerusalem was a blast! But now it was off to the Dead Sea and Arad, for some adventure!
First up, it was a quick stopover at Ein Bokek, where we had a great, relaxing float in the Dead Sea. The beach was pretty empty, but the water was almost sauna-like hot!
We then continued on to Arad, which was about 30 minutes drive up from the Dead Sea. Our destination for the next 3 nights was the promising-sounding Dead Sea Adventure Hostel. We met Gilad and his partner in crime Tamir, plus volunteer Oodiya. They popped over to the first ever Arad Beer Festival (not too impressive according to Gilad), while we sorted ourselves out and headed for some nearby pizza. When Gilad came back from the beer fest, he entertained us with some of his stories, including how he started the hostel, and then we headed to sleep!
Up with the smell of pancakes cooked by Oodiya – pretty damned tasty! And even better, they’d even taken into consideration our daughter’s celiac issue, and bought some gluten-free flour so she wouldn’t miss out. You guys rock…
Then Gilad took us with his friend Jacky/Jacob in a jeep around the outskirts of Arad, before heading to a hidden desert pool called Birkat Tzfira. It was a bit of a climb, and then a climb down, but completely worth it! And the kids were champs! It’s a beautiful spot with plenty of amazing views to enjoy, and that cold pool was definitely worth the jump into!!
We headed back to the hostel around 2:30 and tried to find some gluten free goodies in the local supermarket, but, alas, Arad is probably not the friendliest gluten-free place you can find in Israel. However, a visit to Muza, an awesome local restaurant that had me as soon as I walked in the door…what a great place, with a great owner, and wow, what a great burger, probably one of the best I’ve tasted in Israel (full review of Muza here). Don’t hesitate to stop by at Muza, and if you have a scarf from a fairly unknown soccer team, bring it along to be hung up in all its glory!
So yes, completely stuffed we were, as we headed back to the hostel, where I did some work on the trip photos before sitting with some German girls around the Poyke (a much-loved hot pot, which is placed on a fire and typically includes various root veggies, cola, and whatever else floats your boat!). It was pretty tasty, good job Tamir and Gilad! And then we dropped off a bit early, as an early morning sunrise in Masada awaited!
Can’t believe it, but yes, we all managed to wake up at 4:45, though in the end my eldest pulled the plug and decided not to come. So we drove through the Judean desert towards Masada as the dawn started to break, an incredibly beautiful ride, it has to be said. We originally planned on doing this sunrise tour from Jerusalem (you can also do it from Tel Aviv via Abraham Tours), but in the end went with this option from Arad mainly because of our youngest one, who would probably have struggled on the long way up to the top of Masada at 5 in the morning…
After arriving at the Roman rampart (the alternative way to climb Masada), we climbed the steps up to the top and just caught the sunrise as it peeked over the Jordanian mountains – stunning! We explored the ancient fortress of Masada a bit, and then headed back to the hostel around 7, as the sun started to get just too hot (be warned: in the summer, Masada can be unbearable once the sun is in the sky).
Mrs iGoogled was not feeling great, probably due to the last couple of days exertions in the sun, and I was knackered too, so we chilled out for the rest of the morning/lunchtime. We managed to pull our socks up a bit and headed with Gilad and Tamir to an amazing salt cave in Mount Sodom, close to the Dead Sea. That inner cave is quite mind-blowing…seriously, if you want to do something a little bit more adventurous/extreme even, Gilad and his team are the ones to choose.
In the evening we headed over to Aliza and Jerry’s place in the heart of Arad. Aliza is an artist of Moroccan descent, who also does couscous workshops. As part of Gilad’s efforts to boost tourism in Arad, he’s trying to give local artists exposure to tourists, who are sure to be charmed by the homely, unique style of artists such as Aliza….and her couscous was great!
And it was back to the hostel with three tired kids…
Up earlyish for our booked Desert Adventure day, booked via Abraham Tours.
Together with a few Aussies and Americans (who had come from Tel Aviv since the tour can only be booked via Tel Aviv), we headed out in Tomcat dune buggies and a jeep through the desert landscape to the next point – camel rides! After the leisurely camel rides into the heart of the Judean desert, we then sat with a local Bedouin chief, who told us all about the Bedouin way of life, with coffee and sweet tea aplenty.
After a great Beduin spread put on for our benefit, we said goodbye to our adventure partners, who were heading back to Tel Aviv – and we took controls of the dune buggies and headed back to the hostel. Once there, I chatted with Gilad about Arad and the possibilities for tourists (there are surprisingly plenty!) before saying goodbye to Gilad and his team and making a move for our next stop – Mitzpe Ramon.
We arrived at around 6:30, where we met with Ziv the owner of Desert Shade, our next stop for the next two nights. Simple and fairly spartan, as befits an eco lodge… but with hungry bairns screaming to be fed, we made a beeline for the gloriously named Pizza Selfie (decent pizza, it has to be said) and then headed home to shower and fall asleep…
With no breakfast to appease our early morning munchies, I popped over to the local supermarket and picked up some goodies. The kids then enjoyed themselves a fair bit in the lobby of Desert Shade, before the owner’s daughter invited them to play in their small pool. They returned 6 hours later, wrinkly but elated…
Their pool session gave Mrs iGoogled and I a bit of much needed chillout time, especially after the last few days of activities. I managed to catch up on some photo cleanup, and a small couple of jobs…and also squeezed in a chat with a professor who was part of the Har Karkum team, a great archaeological site deep in the desert and a site definitely worth exploring if you have the time and access to a jeep (alternatively take a jeep tour through Ziv at Desert Shade)…
When the hunger pangs struck, we headed for HaHavit, a pretty decent restaurant in Mitzpe and well worth checking out if you’re in the area, and then headed out to the Weis Observatory to meet up with Itai from Deep Desert Israel. A stargazing session awaited us (the Perseid meteor shower was just about to kick off), complete with the very excellent Ziv. What can we say about Ziv, he was superb, and interacted amazingly with the kids, especially with his laser pointer and huge telescopes. It was surprisingly cold, but well worth it, especially when a fiery meteor lit up the sky for a good few seconds!
And screw that big furry mouse we discovered scampering around in our eco hut – we slept like babies!
Woke up early and headed to the lobby to get charged up on batteries and connect to the wifi (the rooms are apparently just out of reach of the wifi), and had an early morning chat with Ziv the owner for a bit, before having some coffee and some pita bread accompanied by tehina/labane served up for us by Ziv, gawd bless him! We then checked out, before heading over to Itai’s place (from Deep Desert Israel) for a quick coffee and cake. After getting fueled up on sugar, it was time to head to Eilat…
As we drove down into the Machtesh Ramon (the Ramon Crater), we stopped at the Earth Wind and Fire site (some 15-20 minutes drive fro the town of Mitzpe Ramon), so the kids could fill their bottles layer by layer with the amazing piles of colored sand they have there. Free to enter, and we were the only ones there – the only crazies in the mid-day desert sun…
After 2 hours we made it into Eilat, and headed straight to the hotel. Got checked in fairly quickly – at the Vista Boutique Hotel – and found we had 2 inter-connecting rooms. It’s a fairly decent hotel, but not sure it warrants the “Boutique” label…And nope, the balcony wasn’t quite as pictured on Booking.com. Knock me down with a feather!
One of the selling points of the hotel though is its location next to the Ice Mall – and yes, we did some shopping there after eating at Cafe Landwer – and I bought some great swimming shorts (my only decent pair were ripped to shreds on the climb to Birkat Tzfira (see above)). The kids were on a bit of a high, but soon conked out…
Mrs iGoogled has a crazy morning lined up, so she went to sleep fairly early…more tomorrow!
Woke up early, filled with excitement – and it wasn’t even me jumping out of an airplane – it was Mrs iGoogled!
We ate an early brekkie, the kids too, bless ’em, and then I drove her to Eilat airport (5 minutes away). The Skydive Eilat crew were waiting for her (yes, she was going to jump tandem with one of their instructors), and then I headed back to the hotel, picked up the kids, and then went to the dropzone to await mummy’s safe return to Planet Earth! She finally came down, after a few minutes delay, and was on a high! Wow, what a woman!
With the hotel pool beckoning, we had a quick dip. The pool was OK, if a little smallish, but the kids had a blast, and that’s the main thing, right? Then we headed for a bit to eat at Fish Market, which was just OK, not much more than that I’m afraid…
We continued on to my fave beach in Eilat, Migdal Or, where we did some great snorkeling, renting out masks for 30 shekels for 3 hours. The kids had a great time too, and we managed to take some great GoPro clips! Wrapped up the day in the hotel and another early night, the adrenaline still pumping through Mrs iGoogled’s veins thanks to that early morning jump of a lifetime…
OK, we lied when we said it was going to be 30 days – THIS is our last official day!
After another decent brekkie, the kids and Mrs iGoogled headed to the nearby Ice Mall, while I caught up on some photos and writing. I later joined them in the Babylon Park amusement hall, where we played a few games together, then headed to Cafe Landwer (my daughter’s fave due to a great gluten-free pizza).
Then it was over to the beach again at Migdal Or, only to be told that they couldn’t rent out any masks because they were closing (it was around 4:30pm) – so a quick run to the nearby supermarket saw us pick up a couple of masks and then we were soon back in the water among our fishy friends…the kids had a great time in the water, even after the sun had fallen behind the magnificent Eilat mountains.
A quick shower at the hotel and then it was off to our final dinner together at Pastory, one of the best restaurants in Eilat. Now this place is a great eat out; excellent pasta and pizza, and my ravioli was outstanding! Back to the hotel around 10, with the kids falling asleep with us while we watched TV.
Our adventure was coming to an end and it was kinda sad that our togetherness was also coming to an end. It hadn’t been easy sometimes, but they’d been real troopers, and we’d seen some great things together. They’d also gotten to experience another side to Israel, the tourist/backpacker side that I’d wanted to show them ever since they’d been born…
After checking out of the hotel at Eilat, we split forces, with the boys going for some last minute snorkeling, and the ladies going for some retail therapy.
After a couple of glorious, sunny hours, we met up and headed on our way to Arad – but we weren’t quite on our way home just yet, as tonight it was the Perseid meteor shower’s peak and the desert was one of the best places to catch it!
We had a quick stopover at Muza once again, with another beautiful hamburger devoured in almost record time. Then we met up with some friends and family and headed into the desert. We found a great little spot, with views out across the Dead Sea, and settled in for the night. Me, I was tired, and felt as though I just wanted to make it home – this extra night felt just a step too far. So I snoozed off most of the night as the “shower” was really not a shower; the odd shooting star was great, but have to say, a little disappointing overall (shooting star photo below by Gilad Sade).
With the sun rising quickly on Day 33 (but it really wasn’t another day of adventure as we were heading straight home), it was a quick brekkie of biscuits and coffee, and then we headed for home, past a glistening Dead Sea and into the depths of the Jordan Valley. We arrived home at around noon, tired but happy. And not sure we were right to stop the trip and come home…we had such a blast!