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 Seven Stages of Insomnia as Told by Me

The past few weeks I’ve had a little bout with insomnia. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night around 4am and toss and turn until my alarm ends my suffering. I’m not sure if it’s because of the heat or our new noisy neighbors, but something is definitely affecting my sleep. While lying awake at night feeling sorry for myself, I named the seven stages of insomnia I experience each night.

  • Beginning—Something makes me slowly come out of whatever dream I was having. I throw my blanket off of myself because even though the air conditioner is blasting I am sweating. I try to resist the temptation of my phone, but I give in to sadly see that is only 4 in the morning.
  • Denial—Its’ probably the worst part of insomnia because it’s when I realize that I won’t be falling back asleep the rest of the night. No matter how many times I tell myself that I can fall back asleep, I know that it’s a lie. I press my eyelids even tighter together as if to force sleep to come.
  • Distraction—In the middle of forcing myself to count sheep or think happy thoughts, I realize that I have to pee. Even though I have only been asleep for about 5 hours, it’s an emergency. I roll over, telling myself that I don’t have to pee and I’ll fall asleep soon.
  • Defeat—I get out of bed and use the bathroom. At this point, there is no getting back to sleep.
  • Frustration—I take a few sips of water, pace back and forth and little, and climb back into bed. I know they say the light from your iPhone is bad for sleep, but I read some articles anyway, wishing my eyelids to droop.
  • Panic—I start to panic. I won’t get enough sleep and then I will be tired the whole next day. The day will be ruined and I won’t be able to focus at work. I try to calm down thinking I’ll take a nap when I get home, but then I worry that if I take a nap, it’ll affect my sleep the next night. Endless scenarios play out in my head.
  • Acceptance—I roll onto my back and stare at the ceiling. I am now wide-awake at 4:30 am and there is nothing to do but relax and wait for the alarm to go off.

This happened to me almost every night the past few weeks. I recently started making my air conditioner colder at night and that seemed to help a bit. Hopefully by next week I’ll be back to my normal self who can sleep until 11am no problem.

Besides my insomnia, these past few weeks have been pretty uneventful. Kayleigh and I went to a bonfire to celebrate Lag Baomer last Monday, I ate at an amazing restaurant called Bread Story which centers all their dishes around bread, great for the carb lover I am, and went to a used bookstore in Tel Aviv that sells a ton of English books. I also celebrated Cinco de Mayo by somehow finding good Mexican food in Israel. Yesterday we had our last educational seminar of the program, which really made it feel like things are coming to an end.

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Happy Mother’s Day Mom!!!!!

Newest article I wrote for Pink Pangea!

Last night I went to sleep at 4am and today I woke up at noon. Why? Because I am suffering from severe jet lag after my 24-hour trip from Newark to Israel. Since I teach at an Israeli elementary school, I had a long break for Passover. Those few weeks off, coupled with some personal days I saved for this purpose, allowed me to visit home for the first time in seven months. I spent 18 days at home, playing with my little brothers, venturing into New York City, and lounging around with my bulldog.

Returning home for a few weeks was the best decision I could have made. A few months earlier I was debating between going home or taking a trip around Europe. Ask any of my roommates—I debated these two scenarios tirelessly. I am so thankful that ultimately I chose to go home. If you find yourself facing a similar situation, here is my advice:

If you are given the chance to go home for a few days or a few weeks, take it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel and am currently in the process of booking a weekend getaway to Rome, but trust me when I say that a few weeks in your childhood bedroom, eating home cooked food, and catching up with friends and family will only give you the drive to travel more. It’s sort of like a pit stop during a car race; you’ll rest, recharge, and be ready to go. Living alone abroad is hard and you may not realize how much you miss home until you are actually there. The fresh home cooked meals I received every night were like five-star meals compared to the dinners I make for myself in Israel.

Travel while you can.

The most common question I was asked by friends during my visit was why I chose to live abroad and teach English for a year. The best answer I could think of was, why not? I have the rest of my life to work, sit in a cubicle, and wear business casual clothes and uncomfortable high-heeled shoes.

After telling them about my everyday life in Israel, someone remarked, “What are we doing with our lives? Why aren’t we doing something like that?” Yes, this friend works for a renowned company and makes much more money than my measly monthly stipend, but her mood seemed to dampen slightly with the realization that she is 22 and knows exactly what the rest of her life will look like—unless she does something drastic like quit her job and move abroad (which is actually what one of my roommates, who was a lawyer in Australia, did when she moved to Israel to teach English). But not many people have the courage or drive to do this.

After telling my friends about my everyday life in Israel, someone remarked, “What are we doing with our lives? Why aren’t we doing something like that?”

If you are looking for a year off to travel, some Google searches will quickly turn up numerous opportunities for you to work or volunteer abroad. For Israel specifically, Masa Israel Journey offers some fantastic options.

I am not criticizing any of my friends. I am in awe of their amazing lives in the city that seem straight out of an episode of Girls. But talking to them made me realize that I don’t need that life right away. A steady 9-5 job will be waiting for me once I return from my travels. There’s no need to rush into this right after college.

Don’t stress about the future.

I know it sounds cliché, but it’s completely relevant to people my age who are constantly told that they need to have a perfect resume to land a lucrative job in order to live a successful life.

Unlike my friends, I don’t know what my future holds. But my visit home taught me that living with unknowns is okay. Speaking to friends who both hate and love their current jobs showed me not only how lucky I am, but also how brave I was to move to Israel after college. Although I don’t live in my own apartment, take the subway to work every morning, or earn a steady and large paycheck, I realized that I am much happier traveling abroad at this point in my life. I am not worried about the future because I currently have nothing major to worry about—no mortgage, no big deadlines, no public transportation strikes. It takes courage to leave all things familiar at home and embark on an adventure in an unknown country. But given such an opportunity, I’d have been crazy not to take it.

My trip home.

It’s been a good three weeks since I’ve last written and that’s because I was on vacation. Where was I you may ask? Well I was home!!

I had about two weeks off from school for Passover break. That coupled with some personal days I saved specifically for this occasion allowed me to go home for 18 days. I had been debating between taking a euro-trip or going home but in the end America won. I do like to travel but the appeal of my bed and home cooked meals after so much travel abroad was too strong.

I arrived home on March 27. There aren’t that many exciting things that can be said about my trip home. Most of my days were spent eating, shopping, or lounging around with my bulldog Bubba. But the trip was amazing and just what I needed. It may not sound exciting to a third party, but for me just being able to drive around in my car or sleep in my own bed was completely satisfying. Some of the more exciting highlights of my trip are as follows:

1. Went to dim sum in china town 3 times. My family and I have this one spot that we love called Pings. I think my three trips there actually happened within a week and a half of me being home. After dim sum we always end the afternoon with some bubble tea.

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2. Got a massage with my mom. My mom had offered to take me to see a show on Broadway, but I suggested some mommy-daughter massage time instead. It was relaxing and just what I needed.

3. Spent 2 nights in the city with my best friend. She recently moved into Murray Hill and I couldn’t wait to see her apartment. On one night we enjoyed a relaxing sushi evening, the other an adventurous one that ended with a 4am bed time.

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4. Fixed the radio on my car with my dad. The battery died on my car over the winter so my dad had to get it replaced. However, after this happened the radio was on lock mode. We had to watch about 15 youtube videos until we figured out how to unlock it.

5. Celebrated my dad’s birthday. Happy anniversary of your 39th birthday dad!!

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6. Had 2 amazing Passover Seders at my mom’s house. No bread, no problem.

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7. Watched bravo tv with my mom. The Real Housewives of New York City started so I was thrilled.

8. Spent a weekend with my brother. We’re usually not in the same city, let alone the same country so it was nice to get to spend some brother-sister time with him.

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9. Went to doctors appointments in English. It was so nice to make an appointment in English and walk into the office and know that all my symptoms and complaints would be completely understood.

10. Ate a lot of bacon. And by a lot I mean a lot. I went to a diner one morning and ordered a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, with a side of bacon. I take my bacon game seriously.

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11. Ate Mexican food twice. The one thing Israeli is lacking is good Mexican food so these meals were a necessity.

12. Met my grandma and cousin, uncle, and cousin for lunch. There’s this one deli that my family always meets at when we are having lunch meetups. I also got to eat a pastrami sandwich so that made my day.

 13. Got a new iPhone! I am now the proud owner of a pretty iPhone 6.

14. Played soccer with my little brothers. They love to play outside in our backyard. I made the game even more fun by bringing Bubba along to chase after the soccer balls.

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15. Bought 5 new books at Barnes and Noble. This added a lot of weight to my suitcase but I just couldn’t help myself.

16. Went to The Museum of Modern Art. It was nice to do something cultural on my trip home. I also got to eat my favorite snack, a New York City pretzel.

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17. Spent a day in the mall with my brothers. Our day was filled with shopping for legos and vans for them, and a little bit of Urban Outfitters and Starbucks for me.

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18. Went to my favorite restaurant in New York City. Delicatessen is my all time favorite restaurant because of their spinach and artichoke dip and variety of mac and cheese dishes.

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19. Bought macaroons from Laduree. Since my connection in Paris was really short (I actually had to run to make my flight home because the flight from Israel was delayed), I needed macaroons. As I sadly ran by the Laduree stand in CDG airport, I knew I had to redeem myself and buy some from the store in SoHo.

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20. Movie and sundae night my final night. Enough said.

Overall my trip home was a perfect combination of excitement and relaxation. There wasn’t one person I didn’t get to see or one restaurant I didn’t get to eat at. Now that I’m back in Israel I am going to enjoy my time here as much as I can before it’s back to New Jersey for the summer.

Also, these past two weeks in Israel are really special. Last week on Thursday was Holocaust Memorial Day. Today is Memorial Day to remember all of the fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Starting tonight and carrying into tomorrow is Independence Day. So there have been a lot of ceremonies in my school and throughout the country. My next post will focus more on that.

That’s all for now!

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.

We went to South Africa!!!

Well my roommates and I didn’t actually go to Sourh Africa, just a kibbutz in the south with a South African restaurant. Also it wasn’t only my roommates and I, we had a fifth adventurer with us. Blake from the apartment upstairs joined too. It was the first of our newly established “Adventure Sunday’s.” And let me tell you it definitely was an adventure getting to this restaurant.

Before I get into the disaster that was us getting to the restaurant, let me give you a little history about the place. Sharon and Mike moved to Israel from South Africa about 20 years ago. Once they settled on the kibbutz they opened up a little bistro which Sharon told us used to be the Ulpan classroom of the kibbutz. They started cooking authentic Soruh African food and it is now the only type restaurant in all of Israel. My roommate Kayleigh had her birthday a few weeks ago and although we celebrated on New Year’s Eve, we had planned to go to his restaurant as an extra celebration. As like all of us, Kayleigh misses the food from her home country. So the trek was a must and we set the date for yesterday when our calendars were free of programming events. So she got in touch with Sharon after someone else on my program went to the restaurant.

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My roommates and I!

The trek there was supposed to be simple, if your definition of simple includes 3 buses. The first two went smoothly. The first bus picked us up in Rishon right on time and dropped us off at the Ramle central bus station. We only had to wait ten minutes before our next bus arrived on time, dropping us off in the middle of Beit Semesh. Then we had a slight issue. We waited for twenty minutes for our bus to come and pick us up, supposedly to take us to the kibbutz. Kibbutz Galon to be exact. But unfortunately it never came and when we checked our transit app it said the next bus wasn’t due until 6pm. We has two options, take a cab (well actually two since there were 5 of us) or go home. The latter wasn’t really an option so we hailed two cabs and spend combined for both 250 shekels, so 50 each for the 25 minute ride to our destination.

I have to say the drive was really beautiful. I couldn’t believe how green everything was, I mean Israel is a desert right? The kibbutz was so quiet and peaceful and had a giant herd of cows there to greet us. We had some trouble finding the Mike and Sharon’s Bistro walking though muddy paths and backyards before we finally got in touch with Sharon who came to the main road to greet us.

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green!

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more green stuff!

 The restaurant itself was decorated in so many South African signs, pictures, and collectibles. There were masks hanging on the wall, signs for different sports teams, old food cans and boxes neatly stalked on shelfs, and interesting graffiti and paintings on the walls. Not to mention the picture hanging on the wall of Nelson Mandela with the owners’ children. The best part about the decorations were the sharpied messages visitors had left thanking Mike and Sharon for the wonderful food. We left our own message as well at the end of the meal.

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our message!

By this point it was almost 1:30pm and I was starving. We sat down and ordered some samoosas for us all to share to start. I ordered boerewors and pap, based on Kayleigh’s recommendation. It’s basically like sausages that are spiced so well with a side of pap. If you don’t know, like I didn’t, pap is made from maize meal. It’s kind of like the texture of polenta but combined with the texture of mashed potatoes. All in like a spicy tomato and onion type sauce. It was amazing. I liked the samoosas so much that after we finished our order I joking told Mike I could eat about 50 more. So he made us another order for free. For dessert we had melktert, which is pronounced milk but is spelled different because of the africanse language. I was so full after that I thought I was going to pass out. So when Sharon offered everyone a free shot of amaurla, a liquor that’s similar to Baileys in the United States, I had to pass.

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enjoying our food

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milk tart

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yum yum yum

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Kayleigh’s dish – potjie (like a beef stew)

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samoosas

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boerewors and pap

 After the meal Sharon invited all of us back to sleep on the kibbutz the weekend of Valentine’s Day. They are having a big party the night before on the 13th, and she really wants us to come. I think my roommates are definitely going, I’m still not sure as it is Valentine’s Day so I have to see if Ran and I will have any plans. Sharon is apparently a big match maker and plans to set the girls up with some nice kibbutz boys, while she already has someone in mind for Blake.

Overall the meal was amazing and Sharon and Mike were so sweet, even telling us they would adopt us all while we were here. It was definitely one of my favorite experiences in Israel so far. We told Sharon and Mike about our bus problems coming down so Mike graciously offered to drive us to a major bus stop only 15 minutes away where we could catch a bus right to Rishon. If only it were that easy. We waited at the bus stop for the 469 bus but once on board realized it would not in fact take us all the way back to Rishon. The 467, which stopped at the same station we got dropped off and and which we could have waited for and taken would have brought us home in once 30 minute bus ride, but of course that could have been to easy. So once again we had to connect at a different central bus station, then take 2 more buses until we finally arrived back in Rishon.  After leaving home at 10:20am, we got back home at 6pm, 5 buses, 1 cab, and 1 car ride later. I stopped at the grocery store and couldn’t move from the couch once I get home. Internet was of course not working so I read for a while and then went to sleep.

Hopefully next adventure Sunday will be just as fun but a little bit easier to get to.

That’s all for now!!