04 May, 2014

From Sea to Shining Sea

shira and i embarked on israel's yam l'yam (sea to sea) trek with our friends jamie, brad and jesse last week.  it was one of the most challenging 4 days of our life.

we took a 5:30 am train up the Mediterranean coast to Naharia.

from there, a 15-minute cab to the beach of tel achziv where the trek began.

we packed really light, but all of our items added up quickly.  walking from our apt. to the train station (25 minutes) was a struggle and i was freaking out that my back wouldn't be able to handle the weight.

we had a map, 3 liters of water each (we knew we could fill our water at the end of each day), a few shirts, bread, peanut butter and jelly, trail mix, a few canday bars (snickers/m&m's) granola bars and fruit, plus iphones full of podcasts and music, sunscreen, sunglasses, a change of underwear, a hat, chap stick.  each of us carried the divided supplies in our own back-packs. 
shira did a good amount of research before we left and had some trail notes she found on some dude's blog.  We also had a really good map. we knew we'd be walking 20-28 km/day, 90 total (almost 60 miles).  beyond that, it was hard to know what to expect.

the trek began at sea level, in a huge banana grove that took over an hour to walk through.  by 8 am, it was already very hot.

most of the day was spent criss-crossing, and rock-hopping over a shallow river, with occasional pools and springs.  lots of israelis passed by.  a bunch of orthodox men walking through the water with shoes and socks. 

by 6 pm, we had reached our destination for the day.  bram picked us up from the trail and drove us back to his house where he lives with his wife of 35 years, nechama.  we found them on airbnb.  they've lived in kfar veradim since 1986. bram, an engineer built much of their house with his own hands.

 nechama cooked an amazing vegetarian meal (for which we paid 50 shek a piece).  beets with yogurt and mint sauce, a grape leaf pie, broccoli casserole, fresh tahina, salad, carrot and pumpkin soup and sangria.  

 bram mentioned that he has made his own smoker and excitedly shared with us some incredible pastrami.  lemoncello and cheesecake and tea with fresh herbs and orange slices for dessert.

basically, one of the great all-time meals.  bram and nechama ate with us on their front deck like we were all family.  14 years ago, their 16 year-old son died in a bicycle accident.  he would have been 30 years old.  since they lost him, bram has taken up trekking.  he's walked across israel, the Pyrenees mountains, and other premier trekking destinations throughout the world.  for him, it's a walking meditation and a salvation.  similarly, nechama has taken up buddhist meditation and yoga.  without these practices, their loss could have crippled them.

 after a solid night's sleep, we woke at 5:30 am and were back on the trail by 6:30.

bram told us the day's walk would be challenging.  it took us 14 hours.  14 hours!

in those 14 hours, however, we walked through some of the most beautiful, biblical landscapes we had ever seen.  during our best moments, we lost track of the weight on our backs and the miles ahead of us. pure bliss.

but the slog just kept going until it became difficult to put one foot in-front of the other. pure blister.  finally, at around 8:30, we smelled some barbeque.

jokingly, we thought, if we could only find that meat and somehow eat it, the day would be worth it. a few minutes later,  with our iphones serving as flashlights, we stumbled upon our destination.  the mt. meron field school, a kind of campsite for hikers and research outpost for botanists and scientists.  before we had time to put our packs down inside our spartan room (5 mattresses, a floor, a light, nothing more), a group of 4 israeli dads greeted us with an invitation to the dinner they had just finished cooking.  barbequed kebabs and sausage, tahina, hummus, pasta, grilled eggplant, pita and druze bread.

we couldn't believe their generosity. 2 nights in a row, two groups of angels inviting us into their abundant kitchens.  the men treated us as if we were their nieces and nephews.  refusing our attempts at paying for our food, giving us cold water for the next day, and even making tea and coffee before we passed out on our mattresses.

woke at 5:30 and back on the trail by 7.

the day started by scaling israel's 2nd highest mountain, mt. meron.  but it wasn't hot yet and the elevation wasn't too bad.

late morning, we stopped at a druze guy's make-shift cafe where we drank coffee and tea and ate grilled druze pita with chocolate and/or labneh and zahtar.

we walked along the ridge-lines and crags of other small mountains until we eventually descend down to a series of natural pools and springs where we rested our disgusting, blistered feet and bodies.

we couldn't stay for more than 20-minutes though, because we had to get to tzfat before sundown.  fortunately, we did.  we called a cab at the end of the trail to take us to our night's accommodation at a nice family's apartment near the old city.  but we couldn't check-in until shabbos so we squatted in a bank lobby for a few hours.

day 4.  last day. jesse kef's bday.  on the trail by 6:30 am.  up and down and around cliffs and hills.  skirting around cliff's edges very carefully as to not fall over the edge.  legitimately scary!

the 4th and final day was brutally hot.  after we got past the cliff challenge, it was a several hour slog though gravelly, sun-burnt lowlands.  we even saw a cow carcass, with just the fur and bones remaining.  all the meat has been eaten away by who knows what.  maybe coyotes. 

we drank as much water as we could but shira still grew a little dizzy and nauseous.  fortunately, we made it to our destination.  the kinneret (sea of galilee) by around 4 pm.  the view was anti-climatic as the section of the sea we walked toward was covered in tall reeds, blocking the view.

no matter.  it was the journey that was most meaningful.  we flagged a cab down and took a short ride into tiberius where we gorged on beer and kosher chinese food.  our waitress told us we looked like rags.  we did.

03 September, 2012


Shira and I just returned from a glorious 10-days in Europe.  5 in Berlin, 5 in Amsterdam.  Having only traveled to the Third World together, it was, frankly, a relief and real joy to vacation in a place with ample toilet paper, clean drinking water, paved roads, and English speakers. 

Here's a brief primer of our time in Amsterdam with some of our photos.


The most stunning part of Amsterdam is the role bicycles play in the city.  It's not as if the city planners have simply accommodated cyclists by installing lanes.  Instead, bikes are the PRIMARY mode of transportation here.  In many areas, the bike lanes are more like bike roads, where they have as much, if not more space than car lanes.  We saw old ladies, young fathers, small children and everyone in between on bicycles.  

Heaven on Earth.

On our last day in Amsterdam, we took an amazing bike-trip north of the city, where we rode through quaint, Dutch farming villages and ended up on Marken Island.


  ("I'm a happy cow.")


(Shirski is excited about the cheese)

(Carrot/Apple Juice)
(Spinach and cheese pancake!)
(Strawberry pankcake)

On our last night in town, we stayed with an extremely generous and smart journalist in the city's Northeast side.  She just wrote this book about her experience working as a conductor on Amsterdam's tram-system.

Naturally, we cooked her shakshuka for dinner.  She had never had it before.


Of all the Holocaust-related sights we saw in Amsterdam and Berlin, the Anne Frank house was the most poignant.   To walk through the annex, to read her diary, to touch their sink...We were reminded again why Anne Frank is one of the great heroes and voices of humanity.

 Vondelpark is like Amsterdam's Central Park. 

(Hannah and her friends)
(Coolest kid's slide of all time)

Getting Around.

(Despite Shira being very good with maps, Amsterdam was difficult to navigate.)

(This nice fella looks like his dog)

(Entering the Red Light District)

Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities we've ever seen.  The Dutch were extremely friendly.  Their architecture is stunning, their canals plentiful, and their weather perfect (coming from boiling Tel Aviv).