Pride and more from this week!

I had heard a lot about the pride parade in Tel Aviv, so I was really excited to get the opportunity to go.

During the weeks leading up to Pride, the streets of Tel Aviv were lined with rainbow flags. Restaurants and other stores also showed support in their windows.

Last Friday I met my friend Amanda in Rabin Square and we walked over to Gan Meir where the parade was set to begin. It was packed and hot. We made our way to the stage where we watched performances. The park was lined with various stands: companies selling products supporting the pride community, food and drink vendors, and free giveaways.

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One of our friends from Petach Tikva was actually performing at the parade so we stayed long enough to see her dance. The dance was amazing, but the costumes were better.

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After the performances and celebrations in this park ended, the actual parade began, leaving the park and going down Bograshov Street, eventually winding its way down to Charles Clore Garden, near the Shuk, where a huge party awaits. There are floats down the street filled with dancing people. It’s just insane.

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We actually walked in the parade for a while and it was just so cool. There were thousands and thousands of people just walking in the street together. Anyone could join in and there was great music and good vibes.

My favorite part of the day was definitely the outfits. There were outraged costumes as well as scantily clothed men and women. It was definitely a site to see, and I was enjoying the people watching as much as the performances.

Besides the pride parade I’ve been spending most of my free time in Tel Aviv this week, because my brother and his fiancé are here to visit. We had dinner at Vicky Cristina last night, a great tapas restaurant in the Old Train Station in Tel Aviv.

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On Wednesday we are going on our final program trip to the north filled with kayaking and water hikes. And tomorrow is my last  day of school! I can’t believe the year is already over.

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The Final Countdown

So begins my last few weeks in Israel. I haven’t really gotten emotional yet, probably because it hasn’t really set in yet that I’m leaving.

I think part of the reason why I’m not as sad as some of the other people on my program is because I’m coming back next year. Even if I haven’t tried all the restaurants in Tel Aviv I’ve wanted to or haven’t gone to visit certain sites around the country, I’m not that worried telling myself that I have next year.

As most people are trying to check things off their Israeli bucket list, I’m trying to figure out how to store stuff for three months over the summer. I don’t think it’s safe to leave clothes in suitcases for three months, won’t they get mildewy or moldy?

What did finally hit me today though was how different next year will be. I’ve gotten so used to living and working with people on my program, I haven’t really had to worry about making friends. There’s always someone around to go to the grocery store, the movies with, or shopping with (even though we can’t afford it).

Next year will be totally different. None of the people I met this year will be around, well maybe a select two or three that are staying for another year like me. Some of them live in Australia and South Africa, making me wonder if I’ll even see them ever again. Even the ones that live in America will be halfway across the world once I’m back in Israel. I’ve spent one of the most memorable years of my life with these people whom I might never see again and that’s just…weird.

I don’t know when I’ll get emotional about the end of the program. Maybe it’ll happen when I pack my suitcase, or when I’m on the plane. Maybe it won’t even happen until I’m back next year and have to start all over again making friends.

School has been winding down. The kids are crazy because it’s the end of the year. Most of our days have been filled with rehearsing for the final ceremony and playing go fish. A game I will never be able to play ever again after this year.

I’ll miss the kids but probably not school itself. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time working with these kids. Not only did I teach them English, but they also taught me things about myself. I’ve learned to be more laid back, as no matter how hard you plan things with the students, nothing will actually get done until the last minute. But I’ve also learned to be more optimistic. Because even though all that stuff is done the day before or day of, if somehow always turns out great. These kids really know how to pull through.

I’m not sure if teaching is in my future. For my brother, this program taught him he never wanted to teach again. I on the other hand am still undecided. I had my good days and my bad days. But nothing beats when the kids come up to me to show me their end dress or smile at our matching “friendship” bracelets. And it’s even better when after hours of explanation, they finally understand what I’m teaching them: the figurative light bulb going off.

Tonight we had our closing ceremony for the program. I was extremely nervous about it because my students had to perform a song. Every year my school does a performance at this ceremony, so this year Amanda and I decided to teach them Shiny Happy People. They didn’t like the song at first, saying it was “ugly” and they wanted to sing Rihanna. But in the end it turned out great. They even memorized the words which was an added bonus. There was some breakdancing and silly dancing at the end. I was proud!

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The group!

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Student selfies!

A week from today is my last day in school. We’ll see if the finality of everything has hit me by then!

A Weekend Getaway in Rome

Through a partnership between Pink Pangea and Homestay, I was able to travel to Rome for a long weekend. Homestay offered Pink Pangea writers a free stay with one of their hosts anywhere in the world. Although I could have chosen a destination as exotic as Japan or New Zealand, I decided on Rome so I didn’t have to pay too hefty a price in airfare: roundtrip from Tel Aviv was only $250. Plus, I had never been to Italy, and I figured the capital was the best place to start. During my three full days in Rome, I hit all the major sites and ate at some amazing restaurants.

Day 1: Friday, May 22

I was a little nervous before starting my trip. I am used to traveling alone, but not staying with a stranger. Homestay is a company that provides accommodations in cities all over the world with locals, rather than spending a fortune on a hotel room. All of the hosts go through a verification process, so I knew that nothing horrible would happen, but I couldn’t help thinking the whole thing would be a little awkward, at least at the beginning. It did make me feel better that I had a friend tagging along with me. I was excited for a real Roman experience.

After searching through hosts on Homestay, taking location and room quality into account, Diana and I finally decided on Rochelle, who lived in an apartment in the center of Rome. To be honest, we couldn’t really tell what the apartment looked like from the pictures, but the location was too perfect.

Rochelle contacted me about a week before our trip to tell me which shuttle to take to get from the airport to her apartment: SitBus, the only shuttle that stops near the Vatican as opposed to going all the way to Termini Station. Once we landed we easily found the correct bus to take. As promised Rochelle met us at the bus stop in order to walk us to her home.

The apartment was a one minute walk away from Piazza Navona, on a narrow cobble stone street. The area was gorgeous and very typically Roman. The three floor walk up was a bit tedious with our suitcases, but we managed.

I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the apartment. The pictures definitely did not do it justice. It was small, but so old and pretty. The ceilings were latched and the view from our bedroom was an amazing lookout onto the narrow streets below. Rochelle was so welcoming and told us immediately to help ourselves to whatever we needed.

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our view!

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She offered to cook us dinner, but Diana and I wanted to explore our new neighborhood. Between Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori, we found a small hole in the wall restaurant, called Ditirambo. The food was amazing. We started off with a caprese salad and each had pasta for dinner. Diana had a rabbit ragu and I had the popular cacio e pepe, cheese and pepper. It was definitely a great introduction to real Italian food and made me excited for the carbs ahead.

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Day 2: Saturday, May 23

We set our alarm for 7:30am so that we could get an early start on the day and try to beat some of the lines at the popular sites. Rochelle had provided us towels, so we each showered. Although we had brought our own, she also had shampoo, conditioner, and soap that we could have borrowed if necessary. After showering, we ate the amazing breakfast Rochelle had prepared: Italian coffee, yogurt, and various different pastries.

After breakfast, we set off for St. Peter’s Basilica. Along the way we passed the Castel Sant’Angelo and took some pictures, opting not to go inside. We arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica around 9am and already the line was circled around the square. But it moved quickly, and we were at the security check in about 25 minutes. It was amazing to see just how many people tried to cut the line. In fact, when a couple cut right in front of Diana and me I informed them that “the line starts all the way back there.” They looked defeated and moved towards the back.

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Once inside, we went to the cupola first. It wasn’t that crowded yet and we wanted to go to the top before the line got too long. It was 5 euros to walk up, and 7 to ride the elevator. We opted to splurge on the extra two euros and it was definitely worth it. The views were incredible, I definitely recommend going to the top if you ever go.

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After walking around the cupola and inside the basilica itself, it was 11am and we were hungry. We stopped at Mama Frites, and got some French Fries with “snack sauce” on top. It was basically like a spicy, smoky ketchup flavor. We walked along a cute street called Borgo Pio in Vatican City, browsing at leather stores.

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On our way to the Vatican Museum, we stopped at Old Bridge, one of the most famous gelato places in Rome. I had the pistachio ricotta flavor based on the worker’s recommendation, and it was delicious. The best gelato I’ve ever had. Definitely go here if you are planning on visiting the Vatican.

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Our next stop was the Vatican Museum. We bought our tickets online. If you only take one piece of advice from this article: buy your tickets for the Vatican online. The line was around the block, but we got to skip the whole thing and immediately enter because of our pre-purchased tickets. The only catch with the pre-purchased tickets is that you have to choose a specific time to enter the museum. We had planned on going at 2pm. But we arrived at 1:30pm and there was no problem. So you have to plan your day accordingly.

The museum was beautiful, filled with old statues, maps, and paintings. We sort of breezed through some of the sections of the museum, making a beeline to the Sistine Chapel. It was breathtaking to see the Creation of Man in person. After seeing so many copies and parodies of it on TV and the internet, it was a surreal experience to see the real thing in person.

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After the Vatican Museum our feet were so sore we sat on the steps at the exit for about twenty minutes before we started the walk home. Luckily for us, it was only a 15 minute walk back to the apartment. We napped for about two hours. Rochelle prepared us coffee and some pastries after we got home to help wake us up.

We walked to the Trastevere area for dinner, an old medieval part of the city. Again it was only a 15 minute walk from the apartment. We walked along the main street until we found a restaurant that had fresh pasta and vegetables in the window, called Il Duca. We split buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto to start. For dinner Diana had truffle ravioli and I had bucatini all’Amatricina, a typical Roman dish consisting of pasta with tomato sauce and pancetta. Everything was delicious.

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After dinner we decided to experience Roman nightlife. We went to a bar in Trastevere called Mr. Brown where they make their own special type of vodka that is infused with peppers. We stayed out until 2am, which Rochelle told us was very early for Rome!

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Day 3: Sunday, May 24

Because of the previous nights activities, we got a late start on Sunday. Rochelle had prepared another amazing breakfast: eggs, prosciutto, toast, and coffee. Our plan for this day was the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

The walk to the Colosseum was the longest one we would have to do from the apartment, and it was only 20 minutes. I loved the walk, because no matter where I walked in Rome I passed some beautiful building or an ancient artifact. Along the way to the Colosseum we walked by these old columns and remains of a building just in the middle of a busy street.

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The Colosseum was incredible and quickly became my favorite part of the trip. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that people had made it nearly 2,000 years ago and it was still standing. The architecture was incredible and so was the history behind the building.

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After the Colosseum we saw the Roman Forum. The line to get into the actual grounds was even longer than the line to get into the Colosseum so we decided to skip it, but not completely. We found a viewpoint overlooking the Roman Forum so we were able to see all the ruins from above, getting an even better picture of what used to be there in my opinion that walking around on the grounds.

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We found a trattoria down a little side street after leaving the Colosseum called La Paca del Cervello. The restaurant had phones on the wall behind the tables, allowing you to call other tables using a list of numbers. Although we didn’t make any phone calls, the little girls at the table next to us were definitely enjoying themselves. had pizza all’Amatricina, the pizza version of the famous Roman pasta. We were full and exhausted after lunch, so we decided to go home and rest before dinner.

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We made reservations for dinner at a restaurant right by the Trevi Fountain. We left a few minutes early to see the fountain before our meal. Sadly the Trevi Fountain was under construction so there wasn’t even water. Rochelle had warned us the fountain was under maintenance, but we didn’t expect it to this extent. We couldn’t get close to the fountain; we had to walk along a makeshift bridge to see it. The statues were still really beautiful, but I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to throw a coin in the magical water.

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Dinner was at Arancia, a restaurant hidden down a little side street. To start I had an artichoke “Jewish style,” which is a deep fried artichoke. For dinner I had pasta with truffles. Diana had artichoke cream lasagna, and our friend Danielle had lamb ragu. We all agreed it was the best meal we had so far.

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Day 4: Monday, May 25

Diana and I woke up early on Monday because we had such a lazy day the day before. There were still some key spots we wanted to see before we left. We had another amazing breakfast thanks to Rochelle: more prosciutto, toast, and pastries. And of course Italian coffee.

After breakfast, Rochelle kindly walked us to the Pantheon as she was on her way to work. We got there at 8:30am, and it was empty. We went inside, no lines, no admission fee. It was beautiful. The dome on the ceiling was breathtaking. Like the Colosseum I couldn’t fathom how that dome was built so many years ago. I also learned that because of the open spot in the dome, there are tiny holes on the floor to drain water.

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From the Pantheon we walked around the corner to Sant Eustacio, a famous espresso place in Rome. Heads up if you go, even though you order at the counter, you have to pay an extra 5 euros to sit outside at the tables. After coffee, we made our way to the Jewish Ghetto. We just walked around and explored the area. We tried to enter the Synagogue, but we couldn’t because it was the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

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We ate lunch near Piazza Navona at Osraria da Fortunata, known for the old Italian woman who sits in the window and actually makes the pasta right there from scratch. I had carbonara, which I had been waiting to specifically try at this place after reading the Trip Advisors reviews. It was the best pasta I’ve ever tasted. The pasta was al dente, but that’s what the place is known for.

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From there we walked to the Spanish Steps, which I found pretty underwhelming. But the fountain at the bottom, Barcaccia Fountain, was beautiful. The area around the Spanish Steps is the place to shop in Rome. The street was lined with high end boutiques, like Prada and Gucci, so we did a lot of window shopping. We hung out and rested in Piazza del Popolo before we went back to the apartment to rest and shower before dinner.

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We had made reservations at Sera Margerita based off of a friend’s recommendation. It’s a Roman Jewish restaurant in the Jewish quarter that’s been around since the 1930s. All the food is homemade and the menu changes daily based on what is fresh. There are two seatings, either at 8 or 9:30pm, so we made a reservation for 8pm. Again I had an artichoke Jewish style to start, and for dinner I had the cacio e pepe, but this time is also had a giant glob of ricotta cheese on top. It was totally cheesy and decadent, but also fresh and delicious.

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From dinner we walked to Piazza Navona and sat by the fountain there. It was a beautiful night so we people watched for an hour or so, just chilling out in a great atmosphere. There were artists and street performs all around us. It was the perfect ending to the trip.

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Day 5: Tuesday, May 26I

We woke up really early, at 5am, in order to catch the SitBus back to the airport. Rochelle woke up also and again made us breakfast, which was extremely nice considering how early it was. We said our goodbyes and thanked Rochelle for everything.

Overall the trip was so much better than I had imagined. Even though I was a little nervous to be staying with a stranger, Rochelle was so welcoming and amazing. From the first minute we met her, she treated us like family. From providing us with a delicious breakfast every morning and snacks in the afternoon, to giving us directions and tips for the city, she provided us with everything we needed and more. The apartment was clean and beautiful, in an amazing location. Words cannot explain just how happy I was with my homestay experience. I don’t think my trip to Rome would have been as memorable as it was without this experience.

The Most Israeli Week in Israel!

This past week is usually described as the most Israeli week of the year here in the Holy Land. That’s because three major holidays that pretty much sum up the meaning of being Israeli and living in Israel all fall within one week of one another.

The holiday that came first was Yom Hashoa, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The six graders in my school performed a beautiful ceremony, focusing on the importance of remembering the Holocaust. It was also the first time I heard a siren while being in Israel. At 10am on Yom Hashoa, a siren sounds throughout the country for about two minutes. I was in school when in happened and all the students and teachers lowered their heads in complete silence as we thought about those who lost their lives. It doesn’t matter what you are doing when the siren goes off, riding a bike, walking in the street, driving a car: you stop, pull over and stand up and remain silent. The siren was a little eerie, as I remembered what happened this past summer and all the sirens that went off then. But it was an amazingly cool experience.

Later that night, my program had a meeting with Israeli students at Tel Aviv University (my future school!!), where we discussed the meaning behind the day and its importance. There was a little debate in my group as to whether the Holocaust should be remembered as one of the leading factors that led to the creation of Israel, but it was interesting to hear the Israeli’s opinion on the day, which was almost a bit more critical than the Americans in the group. I think it’s because of the way we learn about it. In Israel Yom Hashoa is so personal to  everyone, there’s no way to not think about it as a siren rings forcing you to stop your day for two minutes. Whereas in America we learn it out of a history textbook. It’s more tangible here.

The second major holiday that fell during this week was another somber one: Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, which was last Tuesday night into Wednesday. We didn’t have school on Tuesday as we had a programming event all day to introduce us to the holiday and tell us a little about it. We spent the morning discussing the importance of remembering those who lost their lives in battle or to terrorist attacks. Then we met with the sister of a fallen solider. It was very interesting to hear her opinion about the day and the remembrance of her brother. I think the most powerful thing she mentioned was that she had just turned 23, her brother was 22 when he died. She remarked that she was now older than her older brother, something that made me think a lot.

Later that night we drove to Latrun, which usually serves as a display area for old army memorabilia, especially tanks. There was a huge Masa ceremony there commemorating the fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Again at 8pm everyone rose for another two minute long siren. The siren meant it was the start of Yom HaZikaron. After the siren the ceremony started. We saw 6 videos detailing the lives and eventual deaths of people who had died. Because the ceremony was for Masa participants, most of the victims had made Aliyah, making it personal for any non Israeli currently living here. There were also musical performances and speeches throughout.

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Wednesday was the actual day of Yom HaZikaron and is probably one of the most somber days in Israel. Because the country is so small an there is mandatory military service, everyone knows someone that has been affected by the war, someone who has lost a spouse, parent, or child. There was another ceremony in my school. It was really interesting because parents of fallen soldiers who attended Haviv School actually came to the ceremony. At 11am there was another siren. I was already home at that point. I was putting clothes away in my room when the siren went off. I stopped what I was doing and moved to the window. As I stood still I could see everyone else on the street doing the same thing. Specifically I watched this one couple a few buildings over that looked out over their balcony holding hands. I wondered if they were thinking of anyone in particular. Once the two minutes was over, the cars starting moving again and the couple went back in side.

Wednesday started marked the end of Yom HaZikaron and the start of Yom Haatsmaut, Independence Day. This is cause for a lot of debate in Israel, as the saddest day of the year ends with the start of the happiest. Some people believe it doesn’t give the families of the dead proper time to grieve, as they are forced to be happy as soon as Independence Day begins at sundown. Others feels it is part of the Jewish way of life to feel so many emotions at once, to so drastically go from sad to happy. I personally think it is a little bizarre. I understand the connection between the wars and the fallen soldiers and the eventual formation and protection of Israel as the Jewish state, but I think maybe if there was one more day in between there wouldn’t be such a big issue. It’s not like people wouldn’t make the connection between Memorial Day and Indepenednce day if they were just a few more hours apart.

Anyway, that night Ran and I went into Rabin Square in Tel Aviv where literally thousands of people go to celebrate Israel’s 67th birthday. There were shaving cream fights in the middle of the road (including on a police car), free concerts, fireworks, and just a great atmosphere. After walking around in the area for a little we decided to walk the hour long walk home through the park so we could watch everyone celebrating.

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The day of Yom Haatsmaut is a day of barbecuing, street partying, or going to the beach. There is an air show that started at 12pm, however it is best seen from the beaches in Tel Aviv. Ran and I heard the planes but couldnt actually see them. We decided to take a bike ride to the port area because it was a really nice day out. After I had planned to meet friends at a day party on Dizengoff. Let’s just say the bike riding didn’t go as planned. First one of the rented Tel Aviv bikes broke, so Ran had to carry it until we could find somewhere to switch it. Then it started to downpour, like torrential rain while we were in the middle of the park with no where to go. In a matter of seconds it looked like I had just jumped into a pool. Then, I crashed my bike into a pole, causing me to fall off the bike and become covered in mud. Needless to say I was not happy. We finally made it back to the house a few hours later after cleaning up in a random building in the park and exchanging the city bike for a new one. I didn’t end up making it to the day party.

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All in all I had an amazing time during the most Israeli week of the year. I had heard about these holidays before but never actually got to celebrate them. It was amazing to be in Israel and just see how important these days are to everyone here.

That’s all for now!

Protests and Language Barriers

On Thursday night my teacher took Amanda and I out to dinner. One other teacher came with us. It happened to be her birthday so it was a reason to celebrate. We went to Giraffe one of my favorite, if not the favorite, restaurants in Israel. It’s a Chinese place that specializes in various noodle dishes. It’s a chain so they have them all over Israel.

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The amazing dessert I did manage to photograph.

We decided to split three different dishes. I was so hungry and excited that I forgot to take pictures of the meal. However, something very interested happened as we started to eat.  A  protested formed outside the restaurant. It was a silent protest and didn’t target Giraffe specifically. Rather, it was a protest against anyone who ate meat.

It was really awkward because the protesters were holding all these signs in Hebrew. I couldn’t read them but my teacher told me they said various things about animals being our friends and we shouldn’t eat them, or that if all slaughter houses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian. It got really weird when the protestors came right up to the window and placed the signs right on the glass. I was sitting right next to the window so I felt really awkward as I placed my fork full of chicken pad thai to my mouth.

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They even held their signs through the window of the restaurant, coming inside. The waiters started to pull down the shades, covering the windows. But of course I sat next to the one set of windows that wasn’t equipped with blinds. Soon enough my window was full even more signs as the protestors flocked to the one open space. Eventually the had enough of Giraffe and moved onto another restaurant right next door.

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Besides my interesting encounter at dinner of Thursday night, I experienced two instances this weekend that involved the language barrier and were really frustrating.

I had to buy some allergy medicine Thursday afternoon, I’ve had the sniffles the past few days most likely due to all the dust in my room. I went to SuperPharm, the CVS of Israel and walked to the Pharmacy. The ticket dispenser was broken (sort of like how you form a line at the deli counter in the supermarket, but for the pharmacy). But, I saw multiple people with tickets. I was so confused and was not sure what to do. After aimlessly walking around the store for 10 minutes, I saw an employee handing out tickets near another entrance. I had a picture of the medicine I needed on my phone, so I went up to her and asked in Hebrew where it was. She responded that it was in the pharmacy. I asked her if I could have a ticket, but she said I didn’t need one. But it’s in the pharmacy I reminded her. She knew, but I still didn’t need a ticket. This went back and forth in my broken Hebrew for a while, until I pleaded with her just to come and show me. She said no, and just gave me a ticket. I waited in line for about 20 minutes until I was helped and successfully given a ticket.

If I had been able to speak Hebrew better I am sure that the whole confusion and frustration would have been avoided.

Later that day the language barrier got the best of me again. It was actually the same night as my dinner with my teacher. I made the reservation for 8 and got there on time. Amanda was waiting for my teacher to pick her up, but had not heard from her yet. Since the restaurant was in a mall I decided I would tell the hostess that I was there (the reservation was under my name), but that I was going to wait outside or walk around until the rest of my party arrived. She didn’t speak any English, and my attempts to use basic sentences and even Google Translate did not work. She had no idea what I was trying to say. So I just accepted my defeat and sat down at the table alone to wait for everyone else. It didn’t help that my phone had died and it took everyone else thirty minutes to get there because of an accident. I was not pleased.

The rest of the weekend was very relaxing. I spend the weekend at my boyfriend’s house, watching movies and baking cookies. Can’t get much better than that, right?

I go home on Friday for about two and a half weeks and I cannot wait!! Counting down the days.

Purim Vacation: Parties in School, Wine & Cheese, and an Amazing Trip up North

Purim is the Halloween of Israel except it’s ten times more fun. Everyone gets really into it here and it lasts almost an entire week instead of just one day. From Tuesday until Saturday of this week I saw little children, angsty teenagers, and working adults walking around in outrageous and creative costumes. The holiday is based on a ancient story that seemingly doesn’t have anything to do with dressing up, but I know you are supposed to drink a lot during the holiday.

On Tuesday all of the kids came to school in their costumes. Amanda and I had borrowed (and washed) shirts from the lost and found and took two school hats so we could dress up as students. The kids seemed to enjoy our costume, their eyes lighting up every time they realized we were dressed as them. My two favorite costumes were mustard and a hot air balloon. The whole day was one giant party and school ended early at 1130. That was it for school for the week, we had Wednesday to Friday off.

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me and mustard

That night my roommates and I spoke about going out. I mean Purim is all about drinking until you can’t tell the difference between good and evil, so we figured we had to go out and try it. We were all going away for Purim vacation so Tuesday was the only night we would all be home and had nothing to do early Wednesday morning. As 8pm rolled around I started to get really tired and had the desire to just lay in bed and watch Netflix. I didn’t want to miss out on a roomie night out but I also did not feel like taking off my sweatpants and putting on skinny jeans and make up.

I asked my roommates if they just wanted to stay in and watch TV with me. Or better yet. I proposed a wine and cheese night. I would go to the supermarket and get all the supplies and all they would have to do was not go out and keep me company. It didn’t take too much convincing, Kayleigh, Mona, and Iris were all done with the new idea. I mean drinking wine counted as going out, right?

The cheese plate was amazing. Mona and I went a little crazy at the supermarket but it was worth it. Basically I paid my friends to stay in and hang out with me instead of going out, but it was definitely worth it.

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the final outcome.

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a random cat we saw sleeping in a stroller in our lobby

On Wednesday morning I took the bus to Tel Aviv to meet my boyfriend. We hung out in the city for a little and ate at my favorite hummus place. It’s just down the street from where my brother used to live in Florintine and it was incredible. Then we just rested as we had a big trip planned for the next day.

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THE BEST

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On Thursday we set off on our trip to the Galilee, or the Kinneret in Hebrew, which is in the North. Ran’s dad’s friend owns a bunch of tzimmers there so that’s where we were staying. A tzimmer is basically a little cabin or cottage on a kibbutz in the north. They have them all over and have them for couples or for families. It’s nicer than staying in a hotel room because it’s more private and also a lot quieter. Tzimmers are really romantic and it’s homey because you are staying on a kibbutz or in a small town where there are only 7 or 8 other tzimmers. Our tzimmer was in Arbel, right next to Tiberias and literally overlooking the Kinneret. It was so beautiful and quiet. We could hear cows a few feet away from us whenever we opened our front door. It was a cute little farm in a tiny town. Very quiet and peaceful and much different from Tel Aviv.

On the drive up we stopped in Haifa for lunch. We ate in the German Colony which is right at the bottom of the Ba’hai gardens. I made friends with a little cat who I kept throwing my leftover grilled chicken too.

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My buddy

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The bottom of the Ba’hai gardens

After Haifa we drove to Mount Tavor (or Tabor depending on where you see it). We drove on these crazy windy roads to get to the top. Some of the roads were so steep I thought the car would flip over backwards. On top of the mountain is an old church or monastery. I know it’s bad but I honestly don’t know. I more so wanted to go just for the view. It was so pretty and I couldn’t believe how high up we were. My ears were popping the whole drive down the mountain.

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Top of Mount Tabor

After Mount Tabor we headed to the Kinneret. I was awestruck when I saw how green the North was. Everywhere I looked there were were grassy fields where cows or horses were grazing. There were giant green hilltops looking over the bright blue Kinneret, it was one of the most beautiful things I had seen in Israel. We drove to Arbel and met Ran’s dad’s friend who showed us to our cabin. It was small and homey. The best part about it was that there was a jacuzzi inside the bathroom. I love taking baths. At home I usually take a bath a week, it just relaxes me whenever I am feeling anxious or stressed. I have not been able to take a bath since arriving in Israel as the bathtub in my apartment is a little scary and who knows how old it is. But the jacuzzi was clean and giant. I took two baths within the first 12 hours of being there.

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our tzimmer

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so much green!

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We hung out in the tzimmer for a few hours. We were tired from all our traveling that day. Then we went down to Tiberias for dinner. Tiberias is right on the Kinneret and there is a pretty boardwalk along the water. The Promenade (as it is called) was really crodwed because of Purim and there were a lot of kids running around, playing soccer, and spraying shaving cream. So, our visit to the boardwalk was short. We ate at this amazing Chinese restaurant for dinner, right on the water with the full moon in the background. After dinner we got crepes on the boardwalk, picked up some snacks for the room, and went back to the tzimmer to watch a movie. The best part of the night was when Ran let me drive around Arbel a little bit. It had been my first time driving in six months and I forgot how much I missed it.

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not actually French, but still good

The next day, Friday, we had a lot of fun things planned. The day started off great with a home cooked breakfast by the owners of the tzimmer. We had a bunch of fresh salads, bread, and omelets with whatever we wanted in them. After breakfast we drove a quick five minutes to the Arbel cliffs. These cliffs are historical because there are caves in them where Jews hid thousands (I think) years ago to hide from the Romans. The cliffs were just insane. I literally felt like I was both on top of the world and in a scene from The Lord of The Rings. The Cliffs had an amazing view of the Kinneret and also the small towns below.

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After the Cliffs we drove a little south to Beit Zera, a small kibbutz just below the Kinneret. We were told that they had a little zoo there and you were able to go into the monkey cages. I was immediately sold. Ran and I were the only visitors above the age of 7 but it was totally worth it. There were turtle, peacocks, and chickens just walking freely around. There was an exhibit of baby goats and I was so tempted to break in and steal one. But the best part was the monkeys. I had to take everything out of my pockets so that the monkeys wouldn’t steal anything. There wasn’t anyone who worked at the zoo monitoring the monkey cages so it was a little daunting to just walk in there. Ran didn’t want to go so he was in charge of holding my bag and taking pictures. I walked inside and immediately one little guy climbed onto my arm and then my head. There were also giant toucans just hanging out in the cage. It was amazing, they were so soft and little (the monkeys, not the toucans. I was a little afraid of the giant birds).

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After the monkeys we walked around a little more and saw some giant turtles trying to mate and two chickens having a fight. I then opted to go back into the monkey cage one more time. I ended up having to help a monkey get back inside as he was stuck in the little hallway entrance separating the outside from the inside of the cage. He grabbed onto my arm and held on tightly unit we were back in the cage. He tried to steal one of my bracelets right off my wrist but I caught him.

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After the zoo we stopped for lunch at a rest stop and drove north to Agamay Achula. It’s a big reserve right near the base of Mount Hermon. There are supposed to be thousands of birds there they fly in giant flocks but I guess it wasn’t the season because we only saw about 10 birds the whole time. We rented a golf cart to drive around the giant reserve. I think the golf cart may have been one of the best parts of the trip. We took turns driving, stopping every so often to take some scenic pictures.

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Although there weren’t that many birds there the area was unbelievable. There were so many flowers and ponds, it was just really pretty. And it had a great view of Hermon which still had some snow dotted around its peak. Halfway through the reserve we were stopped by a family. They told us that their four year old daughter was too tired to keep riding her bike and asked if she could join us on the golf cart. I was surprised she had made it that far on a tricycle to begin with because if I had been riding a regular bike I would have stopped long before. It was really hot at that point and she was wearing what looked like a ninja turtle costume for Purim so she must have been really hot. We said of course, and our new passenger, Danielle joined us on our ride.

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Her family road their bikes close behind us so that she didn’t get scared but she didn’t seem to mind riding in a golf cart with complete strangers at all. She was so cute, I kept on trying to sneak and take pictures of her.

After we finished the golf cart ride we said goodbye to Danielle and her family. We ate some Pita Druzen (Druz pita, which is basically pita filled with labane, tzatar, and oil). It’s Ran’s favorite and I had never had it before. So when we saw a stand right outside of the reserve we knew we had to get some. It was pretty late at that point so we drove back to the tzimmer to of course take another bath and rest before dinner.

For dinner that night we went to another farm area just around the corner from where we were staying. This family also owned tzimmers and a restaurant. It wasn’t like a normal restaurant though because they only served dinner between 7-730pm as it is just a dad, mom, and son running the place. The restautany was so tiny and cute. I didn’t feel like I was in Israel but rather on a winery in the Napa Valley. The food was amazing. We started with some pate as an appetizer. Ran had steak for dinner and I had a veal stew. It was amazing.

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pate

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veal stew

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complimentary mango/orange juice

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On Saturday we woke up late, ate another great home cooked breakfast, and then headed home. On the way we stopped near Beit Shein to go to a kangaroo zoo suitably named Gan Garu. Not only did I get to feed and pet kangaroos, but I also fed baby goats and saw some koalas snoozing away. Ran and I tried the maze they had there but ended up cheating at the end and slipping out between two bushes.

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Then we began the drive back to Tel Aviv. On the way we stopped on the side of the road to pick up more Druzen pita which was more authentic than the stand outside of the bird reserve. There was an old lady making the pita from scratch and then cooking it on a round hot ball as you ordered. YUM!

My vacation up North was so much fun and definitely one of the best vacations I have ever been on! I can’t wait to go back and stay at another tzimmer hopefully one day soon!

Red Flowers, A Botanical Garden, and a Fancy Business Lunch

Yesterday, four of my friends and I decided to take an adventure. We had heard a lot about these red poppies that bloom throughout Southern Israel. Apparently there are just fields of these red poppies, like endless rows of them.

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What the poppies look like in full bloom.

I knew I wanted to go as soon as I heard about them. It was just getting there that was the problem. On my last adventure to the South African restaurant, our sort of simple three bus journey turned into a 2 bus, 2 taxi, and 1 car ride ordeal.

My friends and I decided to rent a car to ease the pain of actually getting to the place. Turns out that renting a car in Israel is really easy and cheap. Both of these things surprised me because they contradict most processes in this country. Between 5 people the car was only 50 shekels each (including a young driver fee and insurance) but an extra 20 when we had to fill up the gas tank.We left bright and early on Sunday, 5 of us squeezed into what felt like a clown car. We set off on the 45 minute drive south.

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Clown car

When we pulled into the Pura Nature Reserve, we had expected to see endless rows of bright red. But instead all we saw was green. I optimistically urged that we probably just had to walk a little into the reserve before we would see the flowers.

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What was left of the flowers.

Well, I was wrong. There were small patches of red flowers throughout the fields of green. Because the season is only the month of February we figured we must have been late. It was as if as soon as the clock struck March 1 (the day we went) all the flowers died. I mean realistically it was probably just a short blooming season, but it felt ironic, almost like we were a day late and a penny short, as the expression goes.

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Sitting in a patch I found.

We still really enjoyed ourselves. The reserve was really pretty and was filled with other flowers besides the red poppies. My favorite part was the lush green grass everywhere. There isn’t that much grass in Israel, or at least not the really nice thick grass I’m used to from New Jersey. I just wanted to roll around in it. Which I attempted until I learned the grass was filled with prickly things that hurt really badly when pierced through my jeans.

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I found grass!

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A nice lake in the reserve.

After we walked around the reserve we decided it was time to eat somewhere. We googled places in the area and found some restaurant on a Moshav about 20 minutes north, so 20 minutes in the direction of home.

Turns out the restaurant was pretty fancy and you could only order a business lunch. And let me tell you the business lunch was not cheap as it consisted of a starter, main course, and drink. We tried to only order one item but were told we had to order the whole meal. So we decided just to split them, thankfully the restaurant allowed us. We kept on pretending every time the waitress came by that we were discussing “important business” matters, laughing under our breath. The meal ended with Blake taking a shot of tabasco sauce off of a dare, so we clearly weren’t playing the part too well.

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Part of our fancy lunch, artichoke salad.

After the restaurant we drove to Holon and visited the Japanese Botanical Gardens there. The gardens weren’t that big but they were really peaceful and definitely had a zen like feel.

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At the Botanical Gardens

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So zen.

We were pretty exhausted at this point. We tried to see the Cacti Garden right next door to the Botanical Gardens but they were closed.

Overall it was a really fun day. I can now check seeing the red poppies off of my Israel bucket list. Even though they were almost completely gone, the few patches we saw definitely count.