Tag Archives: restaurants

Expert Travel Recommendations Israel

I was contacted for an article in a UK magazine on travel to Israel. This is what they say about Israel:

Get the insiders’ guide to Israel from those who know it best. There’s nothing like first-hand experience. But if you can’t get it, then the second best thing is to borrow someone else’s. And when it comes to knowing Israel, you won’t find experts with more expertise than ours – take a look at why they love Israel. With its long history, melting pot of cultures, religious heritage and cosmopolitan cities, Israel is an unforgettable destination.

They asked a series of questions and wanted my recommendations.

Favorite place to stay, a city/rural town or village rather than a specific hotel?
The two favourite places to stay while in Israel are Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but I would suggest something different. Since the Negev desert in the south makes up 60% of Israel’s land area, I think you should stay a few nights there and what could be more appropriate than the new hotel in Mitzpe Ramon on the edge of the large Ramon crater, a geological formation unique to this area. To explore, take a jeep tour into the crater and at night, away from the lights of the big cities, gaze  up at the stars and learn to identify the constellations with a guide.

Favorite place to eat, a restaurant and what you would recommend from the menu?
For a special experience I would recommend Uri Buri, a homey seafood restaurant in Acre, near the lighthouse, facing the Mediterranean Sea. What makes Uri Buri stand out are his unique dishes, based on interesting combinations of ingredients, for example, sashimi with carmelized beets and wasabi sorbet. The best way to go is to make a reservation, invite some friends and share the tasting menu (ask the waiter/waitress for local Israeli wine recommendations).

Best view?
To get an overview of the Old City of Jerusalem, within the 16th century Ottoman Turkish walls, you need to get high and the best view is by climbing 177 steps to the top of the bell tower (height about 40 meters) on the Church of the Redeemer with its 360 degree view of the city. While you’re there visit to the excavations under the church and the small museum.
Recommended excursion for visitors to Israel?
A day trip to the Dead Sea and Judean desert where you can combine history and nature. Visit Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered or Masada, KIng Herod’s fortified palaces on the top of a mountain. Take a hike in the Ein Gedi nature reserve, one of two natural springs in the Judean desert and enjoy a dip in freshwater pools under the cascade of a waterfall. Hopefully you will see ibex, a kind of mountain goat, native to the area. End the day at one of the spa/beaches for a float in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.

Hidden gem?
Not far from Eilat is the Red Canyon, a colorful gem of a hike for the whole family where you slide down chutes and climb down ladders of a narrow canyon with purple, orange and pink sandstone sculpted walls.

Best way to spend a day in Israel?
Drive the Jordan valley, part of the Great African Rift, visit the archaeological site at Bet Shean, have lunch of St Peter’s fish overlooking the Sea of Galillee, visit Capernaum, with a 4th century synagogue and the house where Peter lived and Jesus preached, later a church. From there drive to the Mediterranean coastal town of Jaffa. At dinner time choose a restaurant on the boardwalk overlooking the sea and watch the sunset.

To see all this and more it’s worth using an expert guide, you’ll enjoy yourself more.
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Gamla – Nature, Archaeology and History

Gamla is both a nature reserve and archaeological site making it a great place to visit. We started with an easy hike, through a field of dolmens, prehistoric megalith tombs erected in the early Middle Bronze period about 2200BCE. A dolmen is made up of three large basalt stones, one lying on two other stones standing vertically. The hike takes us across a wooden bridge to the other side of Nahal Gamla for a view of the waterfall, at 51m the highest in Israel.

Gamla Waterfall

Take the trail past a Byzantine town to the Raptor lookout – the nahal is home to a large nesting population of Griffon vultures (that Israel has successfully resettled there) who did a fly past for us over the valley, it’s an incredible sight to see them gliding on the thermals.

The ancient city is situated on a steep hill (a horst like Masada) shaped like a camel’s hump, from which it derives its name (gamal means ‘camel’ in Hebrew). Jews inhabited it from the last quarter of the 2nd century BCE, and it was annexed to the Hasmonean state under Alexander Jannaeus in about 81BCE. Josephus Flavius, commander of the Galilee during the Jewish Revolt against Rome fortified Gamla as the main stronghold on the Golan. It’s fascinating to compare Gamla, a city and one of the first to stand against Vespasian’s legions with Masada, a fortress and the last to fall to the Romans.

Josephus provides a detailed description of the Roman siege and destruction of Gamla (like at Masada). Vespasian and his son Titus led the X Fretensis, XV Apollinaris and V Macedonica legions against Gamla, built a siege ramp in an attempt to take the city but were repulsed by the defenders. Only on the second attempt did the Romans succeed in breaching the wall at three different locations and invading the city. There they engaged the Jewish defenders in hand-to-hand combat up the steep hill. Fighting in the cramped streets from an inferior position, the Roman soldiers climbed onto the roofs that subsequently collapsed under the heavy weight, killing many soldiers and forcing a Roman retreat. The legionnaires re-entered the town a few days later, eventually beating Jewish resistance and completing the capture of Gamla.

According to Josephus, some 4,000 inhabitants were slaughtered, while 5,000, trying to escape down the steep northern slope, were either trampled to death or fell or threw themselves into the ravine (perhaps exaggerated by Josephus, the number of inhabitants has been estimated at less than 4,000 – at Masada 960 lost their lives).

Abandoned after its destruction, Gamla lay in ruins for almost 2000 years and was only identified in 1968 by Itzhaki Gal who was doing an archaeological survey of sites in the Golan after the Six Day War. It was excavated by Shemaryahu Gutmann (who did the original survey at Masada and who excavated there with Yigal Yadin) and Danny Syon for 14 seasons from 1976. The excavations uncovered 7.5 dunam, about 5% of the site, revealing a typical Jewish city.

The Gamla excavations revealed widespread evidence of the battle, about 100 catapult bolts, 1600 arrowheads and 2000 ballista stones, made from local basalt, 200 artifacts of Roman army equipment, quantities unsurpassed anywhere in the Roman Empire. Most were collected near the wall, placing the heavy fighting in the vicinity of the wall and the Roman siege engines to the northeast of the town.

Only one human jawbone was found during the exploration of Gamla, raising a question about what happened to the bodies of the Jewish defenders (like Masada). A tentative answer is suggested by archaeologist Danny Syon – he suggests that the dead would have been buried at nearby mass graves that have yet to be found (as at Yodfat).

One of the most interesting finds is the remains of a typical “Galilean” style synagogue inside the city walls, with rows of columns, tiers of side benches, heart-shaped corner pillars and an alcove for Torah scrolls in the northwest corner. A mikveh (ritual bath) was found nearby. Interesting to compare this to the synagogue found at Masada. The synagogue is thought to date from the late 1st century BCE making it one of the oldest synagogues in the world.

Also found were six coins minted at Gamla during the Revolt, with the inscription “For the redemption of Holy Jerusalem” in a mixture of paleo-Hebrew and Aramaic that shows that the defenders of Gamla saw their fight against the Romans as no less than a struggle for national independence.

The Golan Archaeological Museum in nearby Katzrin displays artifacts from Gamla and other sites on the Golan and a moving film about Gamla – definitely worth a visit.

Map of Mahane Yehuda Market

You can tell a lot about a city by whether it has an outdoor market and Jerusalem has a great market. In 1982 for a book called “Israel Sprouts: A Vegetarian Guidebook (to Israel)” I drew a map of Mahane Yehuda to help people find their way around. I scanned that map and added a lot of new information so that it better reflects Mahane Yehuda today – it’s not just a fruit and vegetable market with shops selling dried goods. It has gentrified and there are restaurants and cafes, designer clothes shops, health food stores, artisan bakeries, shops that sell imported cheeses, fine wines, chocolates, halva.

In the 5 years that the map has been on my website, it has been viewed more than 6,000 times. The map is © Shmuel Browns, you are free to use it for personal, non-commercial use as long as you do not modify it. If you have corrections or suggestions please contact me by email.

To help organize the information I’ve separated the information into 3 maps and color coded them, one for restaurants, one for gifts and one for food shopping. To get your FREE copy of the latest maps I’d appreciate it if you would subscribe by entering your email address in the right hand column under FOLLOW BLOG – then just send an email to mahane.yehuda.map at gmail dot com. With these maps in hand you’re ready to head out to explore the shuk on your own or contact me for an insider’s guided tour of Mahane Yehuda. Have fun exploring the shuq.

Some ideas about things to do with the help of this map:

  1. Mid-morning and you went out without breakfast – check out the health food stores on Agrippas Street, buy some fresh fruit, like pineapple, star fruit, kiwis, mangos; try a bureka, a filo pastry with cheese and/or spinach.
  2. Want organic? There is organic produce and products at TevaNet on Agrippas and an organic restaurant on #1 Agas Street, note that Agas is called Banai at Mahane Yehuda Street.
  3. Picnic? Head for one of the stores like Basher or Zedkiyahu and pick up an assortment of cheeses & salads. Get artisan breads at Teller. Wine? Fruit for desert. Walk down Agrippas Street (west, away from town) to the park, Gan Sacher.
  4. Snack – felafel (in our family, the favorite is the brothers Levi on the corner of Mahane Yehuda and Agrippas Street). For hummus try Rachmo, Agas 1 or Azura.
  5. Feel like eating something else – Ichikadana is a vegetarian Indian restaurant on HaEshkol Street, Topolino is a cozy, Italian restaurant, both are family run.
  6. Looking for a present for loved ones back home – check out handicrafts at Roza, pottery at Pri HaAdama, Moroccan crafts at Rika.

Fastfood Slowfood

I was doing some guiding in the Old City yesterday and as lunch time came around I began to think about a little fastfood, how about hummus, my favorite is with snobar, toasted pine nuts. Which hummus place should you choose? Everyone has their favorite so here are some of mine:

  1. Old City: a small place, there’s no sign but on the bill is written Cafeteria Ziad, on the right just up from Station VII of the Via Dolorosa (peek in and notice the column, in the exact place where it stood on the Roman Cardo). Lena is along the same street past Station VIII, on the left. Abu Shukri is on el Wad Street at Station V of the Via Dolorosa.
  2. Jerusalem: Pinati, on Melekh George Street corner of HaHistadrut (one block from the Midrahov, the pedestrian mall). Check out the photos of celebrities who have eaten there.
  3. Jerusalem: Rachmos, in the Mahane Yehuda market on 5 HaEshkol Street (see the map of Mahane Yehuda here). A lot of their clientele are still people who work and shop in the market.
  4. Jerusalem: Azura, in the Iraqi shuk area of Mahane Yehuda, a family-run restaurant serving hummus and meat dishes.
  5. Jerusalem: Hummus Bar, way down Agrippas Street, left side walking west, towards the park, Gan Sacher.
  6. Jerusalem: Hummus Ben Sira because it’s at 3 Ben Sira Street.
  7. Tel Aviv: On our way  to Jaffa we found a small restaurant, Aba Gil, that serves soups, salads, bulghur, and hummus, organic, with whole wheat pita. 55 Yehuda HaLevi Street, 03 566-3320 and even its own website here.

If it’s a special occasion you want something more creative, more unique as a repast, food prepared with intention – slowfood. Then the place to go in Jerusalem is Eucalyptus in Hutzot HaYotzer, the artists colony just across from Jaffa Gate, to have a taste of chef Moshe Basson’s Biblical cooking.

One afternoon, a Jewish chef and a Muslim chef got together to cook for peace. Moshe Basson of the Eucalyptus restaurant in Jerusalem and Nabil Aho of the Restaurant Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center made a menu from traditional Biblical food, including green wheat soup and musakhan chicken with hummus (and let’s just say it was the best hummus I ever tasted).”