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Up In The Air / JetBlue JFK-HYA from $31 OW
« on: April 28, 2016, 02:37:13 AM »
New York-Kennedy, NY (JFK) to Hyannis/Cape Cod, MA (HYA) $31-4 one way on select days May-June.

If you return right away, they only charge you the $5.60 security fee one.

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Trip Reports / A Glimpse of Patagonia: Joe's El Calafate Trip Report
« on: December 22, 2015, 11:00:01 PM »
Planning and Arrangements:

Visiting the in-laws in Buenos Aires for Sukkos presented us with a great opportunity to tag on a quick trip to someplace we'd normally have to travel halfway across the globe to get to. Additionally, we'd have free - and more importantly, dependable - babysitting. Having visited Iguazu in the past, we were looking into Rio, but in the end Patagonia was just too hard to resist. Also, as you might know, Argentina doesn't exactly make it easy for their citizens to get their hands on US dollars thereby creating a black market of what's called the blue dollar. For Americans visiting Argentina this creates a great opportunity to get Argentine Pesos at sometimes close to double the official exchange rate. At the time of our trip the official rate was hovering in the area of 9-9.5 ARS per USD, while we were able to get pesos at an awesome rate of 15.85 ARS per USD. Giving us an over 40% discount on everything. Traveling within Argentina meant that we could utilize these savings.

Out of the 3 cities in Patagonia we considered (Bariloche, Ushuaia, and El Calafate), El Calafate was the most exciting to us due to the glaciers in the area. It also seemed like 2 days will be a fair amount of time to see the highlights of the area, and since we'd have to do this trip Chol Hamoed, 2 days was about as much as we'd get.

There are 2 airlines that fly BUE-FTE. LAN and Aerolíneas Argentinas. With the latter operating about 3X the amount of flights. After some award chart searching it was evident that booking LAN through AA was by far the best option at only 6k + $4.10 per leg (not to mention the 10% rebate). By comparison, Avios - the next best option - was 10k + $38.13. For Wednesday morning LAN had 2 flights. EZE-FTE at 5:55AM, and AEP-FTE at 8:25AM. With our itinerary still in the works and not knowing which flight we'd want, I first called AA and held 2 seats on the 5:55 flight. I kept on checking BA's website and both flights showed 7+ seats available, so when after 5 days my hold was about to expire I wasn't in a rush to call AA and renew our hold. Mistake! Turns out AA occasionally can't see 4M award availability. BA was showing the same 7+ seats available, but AA reps couldn't see it. I knew it was AA's problem because I found other reports online about the same issue, but I also knew that there are times when they're able to book it as I had it on hold the week before. So after a week of daily phone calls to AA, they finally saw availability again and we were able to book the 5:55 flight.

For the return, LAN didn't have any flights that would work for us (they have the most weird flight schedule I've ever seen, with different times/frequency of flights every day) so I started looking into Aerolíneas. Considering Aerolíneas' notorious delays, our only option was the 2:00 AM flight Friday early morning. Going through all mileage options, DL seemed to be best at $12.5k + $9.40. However, with rev tickets going for only $175, transferring MR would've been a poor redemption (+ the excise tax) so I ended up just buying tickets for our return.

Next up was Hotel. A quick search revealed that there are no major point hotel chains in the area, so that was off the table. After some more research I ended up booking a room for 2 nights at the Unique Luxury Patagonia for about $120 per night. What helped seal the deal was the fact that they offered free cancellation until a couple of days before travel while most other hotels had much higher refundable rates. It turned out to be a great decision as a couple of weeks later this deal came around and I was able to cancel and re-book and save $100 in the process. Of course I hadn't learned my lesson, and now being only 2 weeks to our trip I cheaped out and went with the non refundable rate. Guess what happened next… 2 days later they doubled the promo to $100 off $100. Oh well. In the end I still got a good deal with about $65 total out of pocket after the promo and some orbucks (or $0 if you count A+ points  :P).

Wednesday 09/30 EZE-FTE:



After little to no sleep, we got out of bed bright and early and at 3:45 the car service we had prearranged the night before showed up (245 ARS). 25 minutes later and we were at Ezeiza heading to terminal A to check-in a bag (we were allowed 2 free checked bags with a total of 50 pounds per person). While check-in is in terminal A, the flight departs terminal C which is a 5-10 minute walk. Initially I was worried about passing through security with my Lulav, but security was very lax and no one even looked at it. At the gate there were some great semi-reclined seats facing the tarmac which made waiting for boarding much easier. We boarded at a remote stand and after a couple of minutes we were on our way.


Sunrise over Buenos Aires suburbs:




At time of booking AA assigned us seats in row 2, which was space + on the A320 we were flying. However, I changed it to row 4 during online check-in as I wanted a row with an empty middle seat.  In the end the flight was quite empty and we were both able to have a row to ourselves and catch some much needed shut-eye (ghetto first class is the new term?). They served the usual LAN snack boxes (nothing kosher in there AFAIK) and a quick 3 hours later we touched down in FTE.


Approaching FTE:








We disembarked through the jet bridge (did not expect one at an airport of this size) and went through screening by Senasa (National Animal Health and Agri-food Quality Service). Of course no one mentioned anything beforehand, but I was now facing a sign saying that if you travel to Patagonia you cannot take with you the following products 1) Plants, 2) Canned food, 3) Meat, and 4) Fruits and vegetables. Right… We pretty much had all of the above. So we just put our luggage through the X-ray machine while I marched through with, most probably, the biggest plant anyone has ever brought to this airport. A lulav. Luckily, we were in Argentina and other than an awkward stare by the agent manning the machine, no one seemed to care.

With that under our belt, we proceeded to find a way into the city which is about 20km to the west. There are basically 3 options; Rent a car, take a taxi, or ride the airport shuttle. Since I don’t drive manual, a car rental was out (they sometimes have automatic cars, but it’s prohibitively expensive). RT taxi from the airport to hotel was going to be 500 ARS, while the shuttle RT for both of us was 340 ARS. I normally wouldn’t recommend bothering with the shuttle for only 160 ARS difference, but since we were going to the first hotel on their route which meant first D/O-last P/U, we figured we’d save the money.

As soon as we exited the airport, we were met by the unusual - for a NY native - and magnificent patagonian landscape. Steppe-like terrain stretching for miles and rugged mountains in the background. Even further out we could see the snow capped mountains marking the edge of the southern patagonian ice field - the third largest ice mass in the world following Antarctica and Greenland. It was quite chilly, but nothing NY'ers can't handle. The issue here is mostly the wind, due in part to its geographic location.

15 minutes and several bumps later, we pulled into the hotel parking lot and were greeted by the bellhop who took our luggage inside. As it was only 10AM our room wasn't ready yet, so we left our luggage with the front desk and went to the hotel dining room to eat breakfast. The dining room affords great views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Argentino which we enjoyed while spending some time there.


Hotel (online pic):



Hotel Lobby and Bar:



Hotel Dining Room (online pic):




As we had a couple of hours until our 3:00 jeep tour, we decided to head out to the Glaciarium (glacier museum) in preparation of our scheduled visit to Perito Moreno Glacier the next day. The museum is about a 5-10 minute drive from town and they offer a free shuttle from the city center, but instead of walking to the city center and waiting for the next shuttle we opted for a taxi instead (130 ARS). Admission was 200 ARS PP, and we spent the next 2-3 hours educating ourselves on everything there's to know about glaciers. They also have an ice bar you can visit for an extra charge, but we didn't have time for that. Overall this is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't say it's a must. We then took the shuttle back to the city center, browsed Main St - a/k/a Avenida del Libertador General San Martín - for some souvenirs, and hopped into a taxi for the short ride back to the hotel.

Glaciarium:


Source

Views surrounding the museum:







Main St - a/k/a Avenida del Libertador General San Martín:






At 3:00 we were picked up by the jeep tour, and after picking up 2 more couples we started climbing the mountain overlooking the city. The drive was beautiful with every turn revealing different views of the surrounding mountains and lake argentino. This was some serious off-roading and for most of the ride we pretty much felt like we’re going to flip over. After about 45 minutes of sampling all different angles but 0°, as well as the engine going on strike a couple of times, we finally stopped at a viewpoint about ½ mile above the city and got out of the jeep to walk around and enjoy the expansive views and spot some andean condors.

Ascending the Mountain:




















Views from ½ mile above overlooking the city










Andean Peaks:






The 2 lagoons visible here are a bird sanctuary called Laguna Nimez (more on that on day 2):




Whoops! Wrong turn...:




Our Jeep:





Let’s play I spy:






We then continued to drive around the mountain to some shack in the middle of nowhere where we got to warm up a bit next to the fireplace while they served coffee and tea along with alfajores (nothing kosher, of course).










Shack in the middle of nowhere:







After some more schmoozing around the fireplace, we continued our journey back to the city. Somewhere on the way down - while we were at a 90° angle (don’t correct me on this one…) - there were some troubles with one of the seats in the back of the jeep. No worries, our driver/tour guide just stretched to reach the back seat while the jeep remained in drive, with the tip of his toe being the only thing keeping us from turning into the first ever flying jeep. Sheesh that was scary. Overall, this was a fun experience and a pretty good value at 540 ARS PP.




After dropping off some passengers at the other side of town and getting to see the city from the other side of the lagoon, we were dropped off at the hotel where we had some food warmed up then went to check out the hotel pool and sorry excuse for a "spa".  Finally, we retired for the night to get some rest for tomorrow's glacier trekking.


El Calafate from the other side of the lagoon:




Our Hotel Room, at last (online pic):





Next up: Trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier.



5
Just Shmooze / Please Help Me Breathe... (Gofundme Campaign)
« on: May 20, 2015, 03:06:35 PM »
I know the family personally. Your donation would be greatly appreciated!

http://www.gofundme.com/helpbabybreathe

7
Trip Reports / Joe's Israel Trip Report
« on: June 22, 2014, 08:31:35 PM »
Hey guys! I finally got around to complete my Israel TR from back in January. I hope you enjoy it. There's no mileage shtick involved in this TR as I was just starting out on this game when we did this trip, so I didn't have anything to burn at that time. But hopefully that won't be the case with my future TR's.


Israel 8 Day Trip Report – A Trip of Firsts


Arrangements:


We scored tickets at the Widroe glitch @ $410 per RT EWR-TLV direct with United. I didn't even have a non forex fee CC at the time, so it was an additional $11.40 per ticket for the 2.7% forex fee bringing it to a total of $422 per ticket (still a good deal, don't you think? :P). This was the first time visiting Israel for the both of us, and being new to the game and not having points yet meant that we probably wouldn't visit Israel this winter if it wasn't for this glitch (and Dan… Thanks!).

Being that I planned on renting a car in Israel and didn't want to pay for rental insurance, I decided to get a Chase CC (don’t ask me why I didn't have one already. It’s embarrassing…) and if I was going to apply for 1, there was no reason not to get a second one. So I ended up doing a 2BM on the Freedom and SP and was instantly approved for both with a surprisingly large CL (Wanted to start with a no annual fee card that I can keep active for eternity (+ it was during the 20,000 signup bonus period) = Freedom. And the SP seemed to be my best choice for a 2'nd card, 1) I could use my Freedom points as UR. 2) No forex fee. 3) 2 PPD on travel - a category that I was about to use a lot in Israel).

I did a lot of reading during the month and a half prior to our trip, mostly online (DDF, TripAdvisor (very n00b friendly forum), WikiTravel etc.) but I also followed Dan’s suggestion in his trip notes and got myself a copy of Lonely Planet’s travel guide, which turned out to be quite helpful in helping me breakdown Israel by the regions.

I did all our hotel bookings through Booking.com. They offered free cancellation up to a day or two before the reservation at all the hotels we were booked in, and I actually paid at the hotel and not through their site, so I could use a different form of payment or other CC if I needed to.


Getting to Israel:


I don't really have much to report on the actual flying experience as we flew economy :(. It was just the typical (stinky) coach flying experience (Something like this…).

I don't think this is the usual speed for a 777...


Upon arrival, while still taxiing, I popped the Golan SIM I brought along, into my Verizon Galaxy S4 – comes unlocked out of the box - and voice/text was available right away, while I just had to change the APN settings on my phone to access the internet as well.  I used an app APN Israel that guides you through the process of changing the APN settings. Takes 2 minutes, it’s in Hebrew though.  (A relative of mine travels there frequently, so he maintains an active SIM - with the cheapest available plan – throughout the year, and when need be, he upgrades the plan to include unlimited talk, text, and data – including calls to the US. You even get to set up a US number that forwards to your Israeli one).

We had reservations with Dollar Thrifty (Done by DDF member Hocker - $206 for 8 days including mandatory liability insurance, excluding CDW which was covered by my Chase SP) and the pickup went pretty smooth (they didn't even ask for the visa letter stating that my Chase SP is providing CDW in Israel), they had a shuttle waiting for us to take us to the car rental parking lot (approx. 5 minute drive from the terminal), we got a Citroen C-Elysee which I believe is considered a quite spacious car in Israel, and off we went…

Day 1, Monday – Caesarea and Haifa:

I didn't plan a lot for this day, and boy was I glad I didn't!  As most of you here probably don’t know :P you're quite jet-lagged after flying 10-11 hours in couch. So it was great to just take it easy and not miss anything on the itinerary.

We started off driving north to Caesarea, the drive took us about an hour and we arrived at Caesarea national park around 1:00 (Or should I say 13:00…). The park is quite big and there are several parking lots available for the public, but I had read somewhere  online that there have been reports of car break-ins (Stolen luggage, etc.) and to only park across the ticket booth at the roman theatre so your car is always in someone’s sight (this may not always be an option, as there are only a few parking spots there).  Luckily, there was one available parking spot waiting for us and so we could enjoy the next few hours without the fear of being stripped in a foreign country.

We planned on visiting a couple of national parks on our visit, so we purchased the 2 weeks - unlimited national park tickets for 150 NIS PP (Turned out we should've bought the 2 weeks – 6 parks tickets for 110 NIS PP. #FirstDayAmbitions).

The park itself is as huge as it is magnificent. I’ll let you do your own homework on the history of this city - built by King Herod, but even if you're not a history buff it’s just amazing to see these majestic structures. They also have a short (10-20 minutes) film on the history of the city, which is great on recapping all of the empires that have ruled here. We spent about 2 hours walking through all the major structures while enjoying the breeze of the Mediterranean. We then returned to our car and drove to the north end of the park with the aqueduct as its main attraction (You can walk through the trail, but it’s a 20-30 minute walk), spent a couple of minutes at the aqueduct (You can usually park right in front of the aqueduct, so you can always keep an eye on your car), and then left to Haifa.

Caesarea Roman Amphitheater:


We drove approx. 30 minutes further north to Haifa.  We stopped at the Bahai gardens. Since we were there in the late afternoon we could only see part of the gardens, which wasn't that spectacular to me (there is a free guided tour of the inner gardens every day at 12:00). We then went up to the top of Mount Carmel for spectacular views of the city and the Mediterranean. Our timing was perfect as we arrived a few minutes before sundown so we could experience this amazing view, both, at day and night.

I couldn't find any mehadrin restaurants in Haifa, so we had to drive 15 minutes back south to Atlit where I found a mehadrin restaurant, Ben Ezra Hadayag. They started off with the typical Israeli salads and some spicy bread which was pretty tasty. We then had the salmon fillet off the grill (mediocre) and finally some fudge with vanilla ice cream for dessert. We also ordered a pitcher of freshly squeezed lemonade which never made its way to us. (At this point I was pretty knocked out, so I didn't care that much about the food, just wanted to get moving). We paid 150 NIS in total. Their service wasn't the fastest and the food wasn't the best, but considering there’s no other mehadrin restaurant in the area I would’ve returned for a dinner had I been in the area again. 2/5.

Finally we were en route to our final destination for the day; Akko. I figured since we were there in the winter, it’d be best if we could do the most travel possible at night so we can maximize our day hours on actual sightseeing, hence the drive to Akko.

In Akko, we were booked at the Akkotel, a boutique hotel situated within the old city walls, making it very unique. At $185 USD for the night (which ended up being $190, as they charged my CC in Shekels) it was our most expensive hotel stay throughout our visit. I wasn't blown away as I expected from the online reviews, but it was a pretty comfy experience. The hotel has 5-6 free parking spots right up front and since it’s a considerably small hotel, I would guess that there’s basically always parking available. Wi-Fi was free as well, had it only worked in my room… The hotel isn't kosher though, and since it’s built into the city walls, it doesn't have that much natural light (If that gets you going…).

Akkotel:


Our Room:


Day 2, Tuesday – Akko, Rosh Hanikra and Meron:

We checked out about 10:00 and drove 2-3 minutes into the new city, where we stopped at a supermarket and got ourselves some food for the day. Had something to eat and drove right back to the visitor center in the old city, where we purchased tickets including all Akko old city sights and Rosh Hanikra entrance fee (including the cable car) for 75 NIS PP. Their CC machine was out of order, and after wasting 5 minutes listening to the old lady selling the tickets complaining about their computers never working properly, I was happy to pay her in cash and just get going.

Entrance tickets included an audio guide that we picked up right next to the ticket booth (Have to leave an ID with them), and was very informative, getting you to understand what you're actually looking at throughout your self-guided tour. In short, we visited the crusader citadel, Templar tunnel, knight’s hall (Archaeological ruins, mostly from the crusader period), treasures in the wall (A museum built into the old city walls, not far from Akkotel) and the Turkish bath (A walk through a 200 year old bathhouse) as well as some shopping in the shuk (With all types of things being sold there, from fresh fish – and loads of them – to all kinds of clothing and souvenirs. We bought a complete nargila set including tobacco for 50 NIS, but of course it didn't work even once. You get what you pay for, I suppose). We also went to the Ramchal Synagogue, but it was closed.

While exiting the Templar tunnels we were very close to the pier. We went over and had a local fisherman take us for a 15-20 minute boat ride (50 NIS), to see the sea walls surrounding the old city. It was a bit foggy, but we could still see Mount Carmel in the horizon.

Knights Hall:


We then drove about 30 minutes north to Rosh Hanikra. Took the cable car (claimed to be the steepest cable car ride in the world) down to the grottos, where we started off with the short history film (It shows in a pretty unique room carved into the rocks) and continued onto the pathway surrounding the grottos, which finally turns into a sea promenade with great views of the Mediterranean and the mountain rocks housing the grottos. From a nature perspective, this is one of the nicest places in Israel.

Rosh Hanikrah:


360 @ Rosh Hanikrah:


After returning to the top of the mountain rock, we watched sunset over the Mediterranean. Amazing view. We then headed to Meron to kever Rashbi. It’s about a 45 minute drive and from the curves of the road we could see that the darkness has us missing out on some amazing views.

After Maariv and some tehilim at Reb Shimon, we continued to Amuka to kever Rebbi Yonasan Ben Izziel. The roads are very curvy heading to the kever.  It was pitch dark and a quite scary drive, but DW wanted to go for a relative that is in need of a shidduch.

Our final destination for the day was Tzfas. We went straight to Mendi's restaurant (Eida supervision) for dinner. The food was okay, but nothing more than that. I don't remember exactly what we ordered, but we paid about $50 USD total.  2/5.

Finally, we headed to the Ruth Rimonim hotel where we had reservations ($110 USD). The hotel consists of two buildings and they upgraded us to a mountain view room in the – IIRC – new building. The two buildings are not connected to each other, so you need to go outside to access the other building, but they had someone take our luggage so it wasn't that big of a deal. The room was very spacious and had an awesome view of mount Meron. Overall, it was pretty good for an Israeli hotel room and my main and only issue was that it wasn't 100% clean (some minor spots).

View from our room at the Ruth Rimonim:



Day 3, Wednesday – Tzfas and the Golan Heights:


After davening, I exchanged some dollars at the Gabbai for a quite decent rate of 3.46 NIS while the official rate was 3.48 (I was told that most Gaboim will exchange at a good rate), and headed back to the hotel for a scrumptious breakfast with a huge variety of eggs, cheeses, vegetables, pastries, cereals, jams, and more. They also make you cappuccinos, hot chocolates etc. Since we’re not used to eating breakfast at hotels it was a pretty neat experience. The hotel is under the rabbanut and is not mehadrin. However, I had a chat with the mashgiach – I believe he's there every day past 8:00 – and he showed me the food that is actually under mehadrin hashgachas, which amounted to 90-95% of the food served as well as all the drinks.

This was the only day we booked a private tour guide, mainly due to the impression I got while researching our trip on the internet that Tzfas would be quite difficult to cover in a few hours on our own. It was also nice – for a change – to just follow someone else’s lead and not have to figure everything out on our own. Based on a few Trip Advisor recommendations and after some correspondence, we ended up using Arye Buznah, a native who has lived there most of his life and knows the place inside out. It turned out to be a really good choice, we had a full and fun day and his pricing was pretty fair – at least to my knowledge - at 900 NIS for the day. (You can contact Aryeh at: lilach188@gmail.com)

We started with the Jewish quarter. As we walked by the narrow streets, he taught us a lot of history on the city and stories of his childhood in the city. In 3-4 hours we went to both Ari synagogues (Ashkanazi and Sefardi), Avuhav Shul, Rebbe Yosef Karo’s house (Outside only. It has limited open hours), old cemetery, Ari's mikvah (No. I couldn’t get myself to take a dip in January…), some archaeological excavations from the old city, Safed candle factory – featuring some amazing models made out of wax, and the gallery street with quite a few artistic judaica galleries. Even though we moved pretty fast, we didn't feel like we’re missing out on anything as Aryeh gave us all the important info served on a silver platter.

Avuhav Shul:


Rebbe Yosef Karo’s house:


Ari's Mikvah:


Safed Candle Factory wax models:


Noach's Ark:




David and Goliath:


The Largest Havdalah I've ever seen... Aryeh told us it's in the Guinness Book of World Records:


(We initially planned on doing a jeep tour of the Golan, but it would've totaled approx. $400 for a 5-6 hour tour and that was more than we were prepared to spend. Though if you can get other people to join, it might be worth it as the price is per jeep and can generally accommodate up to 7 people)

We drove to the Golan and started off with Banias waterfalls (Free entry with our unlimited national park tickets). This is no big waterfall (We have been to Iguazu falls less than a year ago, so we really couldn't enjoy this as a waterfall), but it did make for a short, and quite easy hike. We then crossed the river and visited the archeological ruins of the old city of Pan that was settled by a cult over 2,000 years ago (The area name “Banias” actually derived from that cult) and Aryeh explained their weird lifestyle/religion.

Next stop was Nimrod Fortress, built about 800 years ago (Free entry with our tickets as well). It’s situated on a ridge, giving it amazing views to enjoy. The fortress is pretty large and there are some magnificent ruins to see. We then continued south to mount Bental, we didn't have much time left, so Aryeh suggested we skip the top of the mountain lookout, and rather stop at some lookout point in middle of the road surrounding the mountain. We could see Al Qunaitra, Syria, and Aryeh promised we didn't really miss anything on that top of the mountain lookout.

View from the ridge at Nimrod Fortress:


Overlooking Al Qunaitra, Syria:


We continued to Katzrin and went to the olive oil mill, an olive oil factory producing olive oil from Golan grown olives. We were supposed to have a tour of the factory, but as soon as we started the introductory video, they had a blackout and decided to close up early.

At this point it was already late in the afternoon, so we headed back to Tzfas to drop off Arye and continued to Tiberias. I filled my tank with gas for the first time in Israel and it was ridiculously expensive at around $8 a gallon (I spent about $175 USD for gas during this trip, for a total of around 1,000 KM).

We went to Mama Mia (Machzikei Hadas Belz supervision) for dinner and really liked their food. I don't remember exactly what we ordered, but I do remember that the food was very tasty and the fruit smoothies were excellent as well.  3.75/5.

We had reservations at the Leonardo. Our room was quite simple and rather big with a view of the kinneret ($125 USD). Once again a pretty average experience, but judging from the online reviews on Israeli hotels I would say that no complaints on a hotel, suggests that it’s a good hotel. It was Tu Bishvat, so they gave a complimentary fruit plate with a persimmon, some tangerines and dried fruit along with a bottle of wine (not my field, I don’t even know what kind of wine it was).


Day 4, Thursday – Tiberias and Jerusalem:


We decided to take a break on Thursday morning and just chill it out. We asked for a late checkout and we were given the room up to 12:00, so that's when we left. We took a stroll down the Yigal Alon promenade and then headed to Sherry's (Rav Aurbach supervision) for breakfast. We arrived at Cherry's about 1:15 and they didn't want to give us the breakfast special as it officially ends at 12:30, but as we were about to walk out they gave in, so breakfast special it was. The food was pretty good and for under $20 USD we had a full breakfast including drinks. 3/5.

Kinneret Water Level Meter:


We then went to the kivrei tzadikim in Tiberias; The Rambam and quite a few Tanoim very close by (Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai, Rebbi Eliezer ben Hurcanus and more), Rebbi Akiva and the Ramcha"l on the hill with great views of the kineret and Rebbi Meir Baal Haness near the Chamei Teveria.

We left for Jerusalem through the 90. Amazing landscapes.  I felt completely safe throughout the way; though I did make sure my tank is full so I wouldn't have to stop for gas.

We had booked a segway tour of the old city with ZUZU Segway in advance. It is not cheap at 220 NIS PP for 1-1/2 - 2 hours, but it was worth every penny. Our tour was scheduled for 5:00, but due to rush hour traffic we arrived almost half an hour late, parked at Mamilla mall and crossed the street to start our tour. Luckily, we were the only ones on that tour so we didn't bother anyone by arriving late and we could do it at our own pace (They can have up to 4 people per tour).

The tour was terrific. It was the first time riding a segway for the both of us, but it's fairly easy to learn and we were ready to go after 10 minutes of training. Our guide was very helpful and the best part was that we got to see a lot of the old city without having to walk (duh. that's the point of the segway, isn't it). We rode through a lot of the Christian, Armenian and Jewish quarters and we made a couple of stops at important sites like Kever Duvid, Shaar Yafo, Churva square, etc. where our guide gave us some history etc. on the place.

Old City, Jerusalem:


We finished the tour around 7:00 and headed to Red Heifer (Rubin supervision) for dinner. The owner gave us a bit of a hard time because we didn't have a reservation, but after 10 minutes we were able to get a table. This was by far our best restaurant experience in Israel, although the service could've been better. We had the braised short ribs (69 NIS) for appetizer and reserve cut (240 NIS) for main. Both were very good. We also loved their lemonana drink, which is basically lemonade with fresh mint leaves in it. For dessert we had delicious pecan pie. 4/5.

For our stay in Jerusalem we decided on an apartment in Me'a Shearim so we can breathe the culture. At first we had reservations with Shisha management for a 1 bedroom apartment on Malchei Yisroel for $110 USD per night and we had to give a ($80) deposit, but then we  got a much better deal through a friend. His relative was willing to rent his - very nice according to standards there - 2 BR apartment with a balcony and 1.5 bathrooms, right off Me'a Shearim for $100 USD per night. So I canceled our reservation with Shisha management and lost the $80 deposit, but it was well worth it (we only paid $30 more in total, and had a MUCH larger apartment).


Day 5, Friday – Kever Rochel and Chevron:


We had reservations with Hoffman tours for the Kever Rochel and Chevron tour. Reason being, that we didn't want to go there on our own. We walked to their office in Geula where the tour departs from, and arranged payment ($52 USD PP, and they charge an extra 5% if you pay by CC.). The tour departed around 9:15 in a coach van (Sprinter) and we first stopped at the old city to drop off some people taking the old city tour (separate tour offered by them), and then continued to kever Rochel where the guide gave us about half an hour to spend on our own.

The tour continued south on the 60 towards Chevron, we entered Kiryat Arba and made our way to the Ma'aras Hamachpelah where we spent about 45 minutes, first at the stairs next to the building, where some believe is the Ramban's burial place (Mr Hoffman explained, that that's where Jews prayed for 700 years - IIRC - as the Arabs didn't allow them to enter the building), and then we entered the building and said some tehilim, etc. There was a huge tour group of Asians filling the place (taking pictures with their Samsung devices...) and we could barely move around, but we managed to get to all the important spots (Avraham and Sara, Yaakov and Leah. Yitzchak and Rivka as well as the entrance to the cave, are on the Arab side, and are only accessible 10 days out of the year).

The tour then made a quick stop for lunch at a pizza shop close by. We had a slice of pizza and a drink (it's not under mehadrin supervision, but the owner showed us that he's only using mehadrin products, and our tour guide assured us that he's researched the place and it's fine), and headed back to the van.

Next stop was kever Yishai and Rus, and the Jewish settlement in the old city of Chevron. We then continued to the Avraham Avinu synagogue where we saw some really old Sifrei Torah, one about 800 years old.

We headed back to Jerusalem and went to Machne Yehuda for some Shabbos goodies. We browsed through the market for more than an hour enjoying every minute in this lively shuk (seems like the established marketing tactic here is to scream. And whoever screams louder, has the sale...). We bought some olives and pastries, and experienced bargaining at its best as the market was about to close for Shabbos. We left less than an hour and a half before Shabbos, and the market was still fully operational. We then caught a bus back to Me'a Shearim.


Day 6, Shabbos - Jerusalem


Nothing much to report for Shabbos other than we enjoyed a relaxing Shabbos in Jerusalem. After the zman motzei we walked down to Migdal David to see the sound and light show (55 NIS PP). It was running for about 45 minutes and was basically an overview of the history of Jerusalem, where they use the tower for a projection screen. It wasn't so informative, but rather artistic.

Migdal David:


We then wandered around old city and finally headed back to Geulah for some pizza and ice cream.


Day 7, Sunday – Jerusalem:


We had a late start (after all we were on vacation...) and took the bus to the kotel where we had reservations for the tunnel tour at 11:20. The tour itself was incredible, our guide Batya had so much knowledge to share that she could probably do a week-long tour and not be done. The group was about 15—20 people, the cost was 30 NIS PP and it took about an hour and 15 minutes. We reserved it about a month in advance and we're thankful we did, because these tickets are always bought out by tour operators who then sell them either included in an old city tour or separately (With a healthy profit margin though - I found some website selling them for $57 USD PP!!).

During the tour we passed by the closest place - permitted for Jews to step on - to the KODESH HAKADUSHIM, most of the kotel that is not accessible from above ground as well as some interesting ruins from the second Temple period.

We exited on the north end of the underground western wall, which I believe is in the Islamic quarter, and made our way back to the south end of the wall (western wall plaza) through the Arab shuk. To be honest, I didn't enjoy that walk as I felt the hatred towards us more than in the other Arab areas we visited throughout our stay (to add insult to injury, we passed a sign stating:  ‘וכו נרצח פה) that might just be paranoia. Not sure.

As we started our day late, we hadn't eaten yet, so we went to the Jewish quarter where we had some sandwiches and a mocacchino at Marzipan (Rubin supervision) and we bought some pastries for the day as well (was pretty tasty but then again, it's a sandwich and you need to be real qualified to screw it up...). Wasn't the cheapest (105 NIS) but the food was good.

We then walked down to the city of David where Jerusalem started as a Jewish city (5-10 minute walk), where we had reservations for the 2:00 tour. It's a 3 hour tour which ended up lasting 2-1/2 hours and it costs 57 NIS PP.

City of David Entrance:


We had a pretty big crowd scheduled for that tour (30-35 people) and our tour guide Eitan was a bit nervous at the beginning at how he's going to control the crowd. But armed with his portable speaker and wealth of knowledge he managed to keep the groups attention all throughout the tour.

The tour itself started off with a 3D movie on the history of the city(pretty damn good one, although I would appreciate the 3D glasses being cleaned from time to time). Then we started descending into the valley while passing by some ruins (believed to be King David's palace) and finally we reached the tunnels. The first part of the tunnels is done by the tour together, and at some point you can choose to either go into the water tunnels or avoid them by exiting through a dry tunnel. This water tunnel was built by Chezekiah in order to convert the water reservoirs into the city so it wouldn't be vulnerable, and it’s still flowing water today. I really wanted to walk through it, but since the water at some points reaches quite above the knee (especially if you’re short) and in the winter it's quite cold, I couldn't get myself to go through it. Out of our group of 35 people, only 4 chose the water tunnel and they were from Canada...

Exiting the tunnels, we were in the valley a short walk from the Ma’ayan Hashiloach where the tour ended. We then continued to explore some streets of ancient Jerusalem on our own.

We then took a taxi to Mount of Olives. We started at the lookout point with incredible views of Jerusalem and had a camel ride there as well (60 NIS for the camel ride. I realize I could’ve done a better job haggling). There were lots of soldiers at that point and we were told that Joe Biden was there earlier. We then continued to some Kevurim including the Ohr Ha’chaim and Zechariah Hanavi and then to Shimon Hatzadik. Finally he dropped us off in the Jewish quarter.

View from Mount of Olives:


We had planned to eat at Papagaio, but decided on a typical Israeli dinner. We went to BBQ (Rubin supervision) in the Churva square and had a falafel, shawarma and fries (or chips…) and we were stuffed! Their food was average as was the service. It was a rather inexpensive dinner at $20-$25 for the both of us. 2.5/5.


Day 8, Monday – Dead Sea Area:


We left our apartment about 9:30 and drove via the 1 and then 90 (Which I BTW loved!  With all the curves and scenic views it felt like driving on a desert track of a computer racing game…) towards the Dead Sea. First stop was at Qumran, the caves where they found the Dead Sea scrolls (On display at the Israel museum. We did not make it there though :( ). It’s a national park, so entrance was free with our unlimited tickets. We watched a short film about the history of the place, had a quick look around (not much to see IMHO as you can’t enter the caves, so you're pretty much left with some more archaeological ruins that we saw all over Israel) and enjoyed the 25-30 degree temperature difference from Jerusalem.

90 South towards the Dead Sea:


Qumran Caves (not accessible):


360 @ Qumran:


We then drove further south on the 90 for about half an hour to Ein Gedi (Also a national park = free entrance with unlimited tickets) where there are several lovely hikes to choose from. We went with the easy route that most people use, called Nachal (Wadi) David. It’s a 1-2 hour hike (Depending on how picture obsessed you are…) with gorgeous views and nice waterfalls. There's also an old Shul there (also a national park) that we didn't get to visit as we had other plans.

Ein Gedi:






We continued down the 90 to Masada. Masada is also a national park, but the cable car ride up and down the mountain is not included in the unlimited tickets so we paid approx $25 for 2 round trip tickets (I don’t remember the exact price in NIS). We started with the museum full of artifacts of this amazing place. They gave us an audio guide that automatically plays the recording when you walk into an exhibit, so there's no need to run around and look for those digits. We then took the cable car up the mountain (we initially planned on taking the snake path up and coming down with the electric car, but by the time we got there they wouldn't allow us to use the snake path as they don't want people being stuck there when they're closing. In the winter this can be quite early - IIRC after 2PM they wouldn't let you use the snake path walking up). You're supposed to get an audio guide at the information center on top of the mountain, that explains all the different ruins and sites. But the Israeli there wasn't in his best mood and so he decided that it's too late and that we couldn't get one. Thankfully, the maps of the mountain - you get with admission - have plenty of information and follow the same (or very similar) track as the audio guides, so we didn't really miss anything besides having to read it off the map.

360 @ Masada:


Dead sea was our next stop. We went to the separate men/woman beach just a few short minutes drive south of Ein Bokek. There's no mud there, but the floating was an interesting experience.

We started driving south again with the hopes of getting a look at "Lot's Wife", but since I couldn't find a lot of info online and it started getting dark, we just turned around and headed back to Jerusalem.

It was our anniversary and we went to Entrecote (Rubin supervision) for dinner. I was quite disappointed. I somehow got the impression on the internet that this is a upscale restaurant on par with let's say Red Heifer. But that is not the case. The food isn't bad, but it's nowhere near Red Heifer. Service was Israeli style. Our waiter didn’t speak English and had to go get someone every time we needed something more than a simple menu choice. At $100 USD it wasn’t cheap either. All in all it wasn’t bad, we just overestimated it. 3/5.


Day 9, Tuesday – TLV-EWR:


We left for the airport around 7:30 in the morning, filled up with gas on the way and returned the car to Thrifty. They tried screwing me over some scratch on the passenger door you had to use a magnifying glass to see. They wanted like $150 for it and I just didn't budge until the guy said "okay never mind". They then shuttled us to the terminal.

I davened Shachris in the Shul after security, got ourselves breakfast at Aroma Espresso Bar (IIRC, Chasam Sofer supervision). They're quite expensive, but it was worth getting fresh food right before boarding.

We landed in EWR smack in the middle of a heavy snow storm. Everything was moving slower than slow. We had to wait for a gate more than an hour on the tarmac. Then an hour for customs and immigration (I know, I know. Should've made Global Entry). Then a 3 hour drive home (a usual 1 hour drive). I guess it was just NY's way of saying hello...

At the end of the day, we spent a lovely week in Israel and really enjoyed our first visit there. And all for just under $4,000 everything included.

Thanks for reading. And I hope people will find it helpful in planning future trips, as the motivation for writing this came from the lack of Israel trip reports here (you'd figure a place like Israel would have the most reports on a forum like this, where most requests in this thread is for tickets NYC-TLV...). If you have any questions ask away.

8
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Clip the 10% coupon bringing the price down to $71.10

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*Exchange the 4-ounce starter CO2 carbonator for a full 60-liter carbonator with included mail-in rebate.

9
Just Shmooze / That Awkward Moment...
« on: May 27, 2014, 08:42:51 PM »
...when Meshy apologizes.

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Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Albany NY
« on: April 09, 2014, 07:35:22 PM »
We're planning on going to Albany this coming chal hamoed. I know there's not a whole lot to do there, but I think we'll have enough to do there for 1 day.

Any suggestions and/or info would be greatly appreciated.

12
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You will need to activate the Total Defense Premium Internet Security software to get the rebate, but I believe the first year is included with this purchase so you can just cancel afterwards.

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