Saturday, February 21, 2009

Back to Frankfurt

Woke up earlier than expected today, for no apparent reason. We had a quick breakfast and headed back to downtown Delft; I wanted to see what it looks like in daylight.

Quite charming, I must say. There’s a cool farmers market thing going on there twice a week – Saturday being one of them, don’t know the other - all year round. Lots of restaurants and cafes, where you can sit outside, Euro-style (or, if you’re Canadian: Quebec-City-style) and sip awesome espresso while watching the world going on and about.

We were running out of time so we decided to hit the “New Church” in Delft – a main attraction, it turns out, as the Royal family is buried there. We had the option to either see the church or climb the tower. As I am much more fond of landscapes than of religion, I picked the latter. Paid 3 Euros each and we went to climb a little less than one million stairs all the way up.

The view from the top was breath-taking. Reminded me of the view you see when climbing a typical church tower in Prague – endless orange-topped houses, tall church towers in the horizon… what a relaxed atmosphere.

Mental note for the next time: bring a f**king camera.

After about 10 minutes of enjoying this exhilarating view, we had to climb down the exact same million steps. Took me a few minutes to regain my balance after this dizzying climb down…

Altogether a great experience.

We went back home, where I found out, to my dismay, that changing strings in an acoustic guitar is not entirely the same as for a classical / electric one. At the end, we managed to pull it off. Jeroen’s guitar will no longer cut the fingers of the poor human who plays it.

We killed another hour or so until it was time to hit Delft’s train station, so I can take the train to Amsterdam Centraal, on my way back to Frankfurt. We made it to the station in time. A few more minutes and we found ourselves bidding each other goodbye again – more than six months after bidding each other goodbye after Mark Knopfler’s “Kill to Get Crimson” tour. I thanked him dearly for making this visit such a delight.

Jeroen – thank you!

During the train ride back to Amsterdam, just as I was ready to declare that the sun doesn’t shine in The Netherlands, it happened: the sun showed its beautiful yellow face between the clouds. The view of The Netherlands is much, much better in the sun.

Alone again, reflections inwards are hard to avoid. I gaze through the window at the beautiful green embedded with numerous canals, sunlight intensifying the entire view into a celebration of colors, and I think.

I think how lucky I am to have the possibility of to travel the way I do. I am amazed by how different a person I become once attaching myself to a backpack. I love my work; yet my ultimate hobby is traveling, exploring, meeting new people, blending with what surrounds.

Something really bizarre, almost magical, happened while on the train. I was listening to Eddie Vedder’s “Guaranteed”. The song has two parts, separated by two minutes of silence.

The first part, which is sung (with lyrics), was playing. The pause has arrived, and I could notice some chatter in the rows in front of me. Turns out that there were two couples there, that somehow found out that they’re both from Texas. They started talking about their jobs, and how one couple is moving to Romania because of the guy’s work, and then the other couple telling about itself…

You know, like this kind of chatter between two strangers that have very little in common, each side just listens politely to the other side, waiting for the right moment to insert yet another sentence about himself, as if to make a point (“I, too, have life”). These artificial conversations… I don’t know, kind of make me sick.

And as they were talking on and on about the lives they have, which they’re certain they’re in control over, there came the second part in the song – this part is not sung, but hummed along with amazing guitar work. It’s just as if this song – which is a song about freedom and aversion of cold-hearted, artificially-polite relationships – came at once to rescue me from the useless chatter conducted by the same people the song talks about.

I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal and had about an hour to kill before taking the ICE (Inter-City Express) train back to Frankfurt. I decided to tour the city a little bit, which I did. But just for a bit – about 15 minutes – and I already had to go back to the station. I didn’t have much time, so I had to settle for a Burger King lunch (yuck!) and a moderately-ugly cappuccino.

The amazing ICE train left on 16:34 sharp, as planned. I quickly found my seat. In front of me, some girl found her own seat.

I listened to some music and, apparently, hummed a bit. She turned to me and said something which I couldn’t quite understand as the music was loud in my ears (even if it wasn’t, she was most likely speaking in Dutch so I wouldn’t understand anyway). I removed my headphones.

Me: “I’m sorry, was I humming too loudly?”

She: “Was it not… how you say it… clear?”


Me: “Yes, clear.”

She: “Beautiful.”

Somebody must have been having a terrible day.

About an hour later, already in Germany, the train stopped and a few policemen entered the train, escorted by a dog, probably looking for drugs. I was standing, as I was going to go to the restroom. Apparently that triggered some sort of curiosity in the policemen’s minds so they approached me, asked me a few questions and requested to see my ticket & passport. They asked the girl in front of me (the one who was having a terrible day – so I thought) whether we’re traveling together, to which we both were very happy to respond “no”.

As they left, I felt it was a good chance to break the ice and see whether what she was giving me was just a hint of a bad day she’s going through, or maybe a representative of her personality. She turned out to be quite a charming person. We talked about this and that for a few minutes before she had to leave the train in Dusseldorf. We agreed to keep in touch.

Past Dusseldorf, the ICE train gets in gear and cruises, at times, at 250+ km/h. Yet, by the time it arrives at the “Frankfurt am Main” station, I am already wiped. My ass has been parked in this comfortable seat for nearly 4 hours.

Frankfurt’s main transportation hub is truly an amazing place. You can see that some work has been done here in order to make people’s lives as easy as possible.

Holding my hotel’s reservation and the useless map that was attached to it, I left the station and approached an AMAZINGLY STUNNING WOMAN, to ask for help as I wasn’t sure whether I was facing North or South. It took a “gulp” or two before I was able to speak – she had this kind of beauty that makes your knees buckle if you’re a man, and to curse her to no end out of jealousy if you’re a woman. As beautiful as George W. Bush is stupid. THAT beautiful.

She probably felt that I’m a little stunned, as she stared to smile. At the end I got the information I needed and headed to the hotel, a very short walk (about 100m) away.

A few people appeared to have occupied the front-desk worker so I had to wait about 10 minutes before I got any service. I was sympathetic with this poor guy… they seemed to have given him some hard time. Within two minutes I was on my way to my room – a tiny room, yet a good value for the price you pay. It’s called “National Hotel” and is hereby recommended for short stays.

Unloaded my stuff and decided to head outside to explore and to eat, not necessarily in that order. I went to what appeared to be the main street, only to find that it’s rather dull and somewhat spooky to hang out in. Entered a cafe, found nothing I liked so I had a cup of tea. Couple of minutes later, I went out, heading back towards the hotel but took a detour through a street that appeared to have a lot going on. Indeed, a lot went on – a lot of peep-shows and other sex-related activities, that is. Very questionable people; I fled the scene.

Found a pub next to my hotel. 13 Euros bought me a semi-tasty roast beef sandwich and a pint of really good German draft beer.

Starting to feel exhausted, I headed back to my hotel room. Another great day passed by.

Tomorrow I’ll take my time in the morning. Have to be in Frankfurt airport by 11:30 or so; my flight to Toronto leaves at 1:30pm, and it’s going to be 8 hours and 50 minutes before we touch ground in YYZ.



An Evening in Delft

After about an hour of chilling out, Jeroen and I went out to see some of Delft’s nightlife scene.

Delft is stunning at night. Small city atmosphere, canals everywhere with ancient-looking light posts all over the place – giving you the feeling that you’re walking in the 1800’s. Atmosphere becomes more and more romantic as you approach the city centre. When you do, it’s hard to not be impressed with what a city as small as Delft has to offer. Lots of restaurants, bars and cafe’s (as well as Coffee Shops… see last post), in a very relaxed atmosphere. Young and old couples walking by on both sides of the canal, and you can see romance in their eyes; not surprising as this view can make the grumpiest person soft as fresh honey.

We walked through these wonderful streets until we hit one of the major squares in downtown Delft. We picked a restaurant in random and entered.

Our random pick turned out to be a huge success. Similar concept as the restaurant “Verses” in Kitchener, only much more vibrant. It was rather busy and we didn’t have a reservation, so we settled on a table right in the passage – not too bad, actually.

The food was absolutely great. We used the “Winter Menu”, when you get three courses – each course containing three different products – very small in size, but my Lord, the taste! Jeroen mentioned that it was the best dinner he had in months, which was true for me as well.

Our original plan to hit a bar after dinner has been replaced with simply going home to rest, as we were extremely tired of the entire day and rather full after that wonderful dinner. We walked home slowly. As soon as we arrived, I spaced-out rather comfortably on the sofa, allowing my weary feet some rest. We continued talking for another couple of hours about everything, then we part ways and went to sleep.

The quiet evening in downtown Delft was a perfect ending to a perfect day, and I owe it all to my friend Jeroen!

Once I laid my weary head on the sofa-bed, I couldn’t avoid feeling a little sad that this entire trip is going to end very soon.



A Day in Amsterdam

I’m a big believer in the practice that says – even if you only have a little time to tour a place, while on vacation, almost wake-up naturally; and so, even though I had less than one full day to tour Amsterdam, I took my time in the morning. Woke up fresh at around 9:30am, then Jeroen and I decided to hit the local grocery store and prepare breakfast at home.

We left the apartment building and started walking towards the grocery store, a pretty short walk.

Delft to Amsterdam is similar to what Waterloo is to Toronto. It’s around an hour away, and much more laid back than the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam. There are more bicycles on the road than cars; the weather was cold, sky were cloudy and the air – super-fresh, as fresh as air can be in a small city in which bicycles are the primary means of individual transportation.

The Netherlands (not Holland; “Holland” is actually a small part of The Netherlands, split into two regions – North Holland and South Holland. Amsterdam, Delft, The Hague and Rotterdam are all located in South Holland) goes out of its way to prove to you, the visitor, that it has no shortage in water. There are canals – mostly man-made – everywhere, and you can’t swing a cat anywhere without hitting some green.

Construction-wise, Delft provides for a typical European atmosphere. Crowded houses, mostly very old, with orange-coloured shingles; tall church towers in the horizon. In grey weather, the city looks a bit gloomy, somewhat asleep, waiting to be woken up by sunlight.

Another phenomenon that I found totally puzzling is the concept of building homes with direct access to the sidewalks. The Dutch appear to either be rather unconcerned with their privacy, or space is really, really scarce, or both. As you stroll the sidewalks, all you have to do is to look to your left (or right) and you can look into one’s house through the window. I’ve never seen anything like that in North America – if anybody knows of the existence of such construction please let me know.

We went to the grocery store, “where everybody knows your name”. Small-town atmosphere, it seems like everybody knows everybody else. We bought some old cheese (they were out of Gouda) and some other supporting elements, and went on to the bakery next door.

I am not known for being pastry-averse. The scent of fresh pastry makes my brain suspend all other activities and concentrate fully on locating the source of the smell and eliminating it by way of quick and efficient digestion. It was very hard to finish our bakery visit with just a loaf of fresh bread and a couple of croissants.

Went back home and prepared (OK, OK; again, Jeroen prepared and I cheered) some breakfast – a “typical Dutch breakfast” as per Jeroen. Slices of bread with old cheese and smoked ham on butter and a cup of tea. Very light breakfast – which was perfect as I wanted to spend the day touring Amsterdam rather than feeling bloated. For dessert, Jeroen prepared some sort of a Dutch snack with a name way too long and complex for me to remember (Jeroen, feel free to comment and fill in the blanks). Essentially, a piece of toast with butter on it and some chocolate sprinkles. Tasty.

We finished breakfast and headed outside to the train station. Took us an hour to get to “Amsterdam Centraal”, which is (you guessed it) Amsterdam’s main transportation hub.

There I am, with a few Euros and my passport in my inside pocket, going to tour a totally foreign city.

We left the train station into the city. I was excited. Same excitement Chris McCandless must have had as he wandered into the wild, except that I had very slim chances of having to live on squirrels, porcupines and such.

We spent a total of a little more than five hours in Amsterdam, mostly walking with a few breaks for lunch and coffee. The weather was cold – to a point where I was considering buying an extra shirt – and a bit windy, but altogether rather enjoyable.

“Downtown Amsterdam” (if you can call it that way; anyway, I’m referring to the area in Amsterdam where the exciting stuff happens) is a real fun place to hang out in. Think of Manhattan’s millions of stores and restaurants, with the atmosphere of a European city – hardly any extremely tall buildings, everything small-scale.

“Coffee Shops” abound. Tip: when in need for Coffee, don’t go to a “Coffee Shop” – look for a “Cafe” instead. Most (if not all) “Coffee Shops” don’t sell coffee at all – weed is the weapon of choice here. There are some talks in The Netherlands now about the possibility of illegalizing the sales and consumption of weed, as it appears that the legalization of it yielded more problems than benefits.

Coffee-wise, though, Amsterdam boasts great European-class espresso. I haven’t seen even one Starbucks (yuck) – which is obvious, as their “coffee” and “espresso” stand virtually no chance at all to compete with the excellent coffee products offered here.

Another thing very noticeable in Amsterdam is the dumbfounding abundance of extremely, mind-numbingly beautiful women. Atmosphere is loose and relaxed; this place is a bachelor’s paradise.

We walked through the narrow streets and alleys, as I was trying – with much success – to grasp the city’s atmosphere. I know of no better way to grasp a city’s atmosphere than simply walk through it.

We reached one of the places I wanted to see – the Anna Frank house – only to realize a line-up about 50 meters long. Will be saved for the next visit.

We stepped into a cafe for some espresso (for me) and tea (Jeroen) break. I greeted the cashier there with a huge smile and a very warm welcome, a gesture she appeared to have taken with great surprise and pleasure. Later, Jeroen told me that the reason is simple – nobody does these things in The Netherlands. Not that flirting is frowned-upon or anything; it’s simply extremely uncommon so it appears to take people by surprise.

Obviously, a visit to Amsterdam cannot be complete without a visit to the Red Light District – regardless of what you think of prostitution and the sex industry, it’s hard to be in Amsterdam and not even take a peak at what’s considered one of the most lascivious districts in the world.

Somehow we found our way to the district, which is not much more than one street (split in the middle by yet another canal). Sex shops everywhere, displaying all kinds of merchandise that I couldn’t even imagine ever existed. Peep shows everywhere, with owners trying their best to allure you to enter their establishments for (quote) “good time”.

Shortly after, the infamous windows start appearing. Women of all sizes and ages engage in what I believe is one of the most useless, extraordinarily stupid activities in the world of posing, almost nude, to pedestrians. The sights leave very little to imagination.

It may or may not have been incidental, however it appears that the women posing in those windows are sorted by age groups, with the youngest ones being closer to where the “action” is and the older ones further away. Regardless of what you think of prostitution – free-choice or an impurity that must be extinguished – this phenomenon must, at some level, be disgusting.

After walking up (and then down) the district, rapt in deep, thoughtful conversation about prostitution and drugs, we left the Red Lights District back into more mainstream existence.

We went to have lunch in some local touristic Italian restaurant. Can’t remember the name, but the food was decent, yet expensive. We then hit a pizza place for some “dessert”. As we were through, we decided to hit the same coffee place we visited earlier, for another coffee / tea break with an option for some apple pie.

The apple pie option has been unanimously agreed-upon. I exchanged some words with an extremely cute barista until our order was ready. We chilled out for about 15 minutes, talking, sipping great beverages and consuming a tasty apple pie.

We went outside, not before I exchanged a few more words with that same lady. We continued roaming the streets of this wonderful city until we could barely walk anymore. A few minutes walk back to Amsterdam Centraal, a few more minutes for our train to arrive (have I mentioned already how deeply in love I am with western European public transportation?) and we’re already on our way home.

We had a two-minute connection between trains (changing trains in The Hague); fortunately the connecting train’s platform was just facing ours, so the one-minute delay of our train didn’t matter much.

It was already dark when we arrived back in Delft. We chilled out for a bit, to the sound of Eddie Vedder’s “Into the Wild” soundtrack (I got Jeroen hooked as well; slowly but surely, I’m conquering the world and making new friends by introducing them to this extraordinary album), and then decided to hit downtown Delft for the evening.

What a wonderful city Amsterdam is. Very recommended. I will for sure be here again soon.



Friday, February 20, 2009

In Delft, The Netherlands

And so, after having some coffee in Frankfurt’s airport, I made my way to the Frankfurt Flughafen train station. The station is located right at the airport, and it takes about 25 seconds to walk the tunnel that leads to it from the terminal.

I had to take a train from the airport to Düsseldorf, then a train to Venlo (already in the Netherlands), and then a train to Delft, where Jeroen lives. There were other, more simple routes I could have taken, but this route was perfect from scheduling perspective so I took it.

My North American friends, here is some sad reality: we have got it all wrong when it comes to public transportation. What’s going on here in western Europe, when it comes to public transportation (especially trains), is, in one word, amazing. There is very little reason for people to own cars here.

The train was scheduled to leave at 11:24am, which is exactly when it departed. The first train I took was the ICE (Inter-City Express); it is an amazing train, so nice to sit in and man is it fast.

We arrived in Düsseldorf at 12:37 exactly. I had 11 minutes to kill before the next train departs on a different platform.

It turns out that, this weekend, there is some crazy carnival going on in parts of Germany, so on my way to the other platform I could see people with extremely bizarre costumes walking around, most of them having at least one can of beer in their hands.

I reached the platform and started reading the posted trains’ schedule, to ensure that it corresponds with the itinerary I printed. I came across something suspicious; apparently my hesitant look was really “out there”, as it prompted a nice woman to ask me if I feel a bit lost. I shared my concern with her, she replied I have nothing to worry about and we left it at that.

The train left exactly on time, with the last station scheduled to be in Venlo, The Netherlands. One stop before Venlo, the train appeared to refuse to continue its journey. I waited for a couple of minutes, and then the announcer announced something in either German or Dutch – didn’t matter exactly because they both sound total gibberish to me. No one was around to explain it to me, though. I just noticed people gradually leaving the train.

After about 10 minutes, I decided to approach this guy who was on the next car. Turns out he’s from Montreal and appears a bit lost too. Seconds later, a couple enters the train and asks us if we know whether this train is going back to Düsseldorf. It turns out that there’s some power outage and the train can’t continue, and the reason people are gathering outside is that people decided to call taxi cabs to pick them up and drive them to Venlo, the next station.

(Some people said later that there’s power outage in all of southern Holland, which freaked us out; at the end, it turned out that the entire ordeal was due to a suicide attempt on the tracks just out of Venlo)

We rushed outside and looked for people who knew what the hell was going on. The Montreal guy asked some young lady what’s going on. It turned out that she was going the same direction as I was. We chit-chatted a little bit, and then I informed her that I have decided to attach myself to her until one of us reaches his / her destination, because (a) she speaks German and (b) well, I’m traveling alone and it’s a bit boring. She agreed.

A bus came by to pick us up, and dropped us in Venlo. Funny how we drove from Germany to The Netherlands and I haven’t even seen a “Welcome to The Netherlands” sign anywhere.

As it happened, Corrina and I missed our connecting train; but no worries – this is Europe! The next train was scheduled 30 minutes after the one we missed, so we only had to wait 15 minutes or so for the next train. Corrina was going to Rotterdam, and I was supposed to get off the train one stop after, in the city of Delft.

It’s been a two hours easy train ride, during which Corrina and I spoke about all bunch of stuff. It’s been great – very nice girl with a great sense of humour. Two hours went by very quickly.

In Rotterdam I bid Corrina farewell, thanking her for “saving my life”. Within 15 minutes, the train arrived at the station of Delft.

Took about 10 seconds to find Jeroen, waiting for me in the station. Was great seeing him again after more than six months. We walked to his apartment, about 10 minutes walk from the train station.

The first thing I noticed in Delft is the astounding number of bikes. There are bikes everywhere; hundreds of them are parked near the train station, and more people ride bikes than cars. I remember learning, back in school days, that The Netherlands is well-known for its impressive bike usage; you can say that again. Got almost run over by a bicycle. Wouldn’t that be a great way to terminate a good trip…

We arrived at Jeroen’s place. We originally intended to go out for a drink, but I was exhausted. Instead, we (well, OK. Jeroen) made dinner, we ate and then spaced out for a couple of hours in the living room, to the sounds of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits music.

Jeroen boasts an impressive collection of Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler material, owning virtually any CD / DVD / VHS that has ever been released by the band, plus an impressive collection of bootlegs.

Quite the fan.

At around 22:00 I realized that I’m devastated and it’s time to sleep. Within minutes the living room became a very convenient guest room, and I believe it took me less than 20 seconds to fall asleep.

Friday morning now… Time for some Amsterdam!



Thursday, February 19, 2009

Visiting Israel: The Last Week

Too much has been going on in the last week, leaving almost no time to sit down and concentrate in writing; my laptop’s ailing keyboard isn’t helping either. In order to emit a space, I have to hit the space bar in just the right spot and in just the right power. Royal pain.

I’m beginning to write this post in Frankfurt airport. I just arrived here from Tel-Aviv, I’m sitting in a bistro waiting for breakfast to come. My train to Delft (an hour west of Amsterdam) departs in about 90 minutes. I’m excited that I’m going to meet Jeroen again – my friend whom I met during the Kill to Get Crimson tour and made my life so much easier.

The week started fairly easy. I decided to hit one of my favourite spots for some breakfast. The place is called “Tatti Cafe”, located in the intersection of Ha’Shalom Way & Yitzhak Rabin Way, in the city of Givatayim, just outside Tel-Aviv. I have been visiting this little gem of a place almost on a daily basis; serves great coffee, great breakfasts (try the Roquefort Salad – delicious), lunches and dinners. They also have a bakery on site, baking breads as tasty as those in Montreal for really attractive prices.

I made it almost a daily habit to start the day sitting in their patio, letting the sun sink some vitamin D into my skin while enjoying a really good breeze. Perfect weather for me, although some people gave me the weird look as if to ask what the hell am I doing out there “in the cold”. One woman went ahead and actually asked; I told her that, when I come from, this weather is considered “summer”.

Monday was home-food day. Dear mother prepared and seasoned all bunch of BBQ food, and we all had an awesome feast.

It is extremely important to note that “BBQ” in Israel means something completely different than what it means in North America. Gas BBQ’s are very rarely used (although my parents have recently acquired one) – we typically use burning coal; shish-kebobs are the primary weapon of choice, arming various types of meat on long skewers and cooking them slowly.

It was a good meal.

Shortly after, I got a call from an IDF-friend of mine telling me that we’re all going out for a drink in Tel-Aviv. So the five of us – Gosha, Kinneret, Itay, Oleg and myself – met at 10:00pm in a place called “Betty Ford”, in Nahalat-Binyamin street in Tel-Aviv. It’s a restaurant-bar kind of place, great place to chill out, close to nightclubs, restaurants… you name it. We had a few drinks and some appetizers and altogether had really great time. It’s always great to meet people you share positive past with, especially when it’s been long since you last met them.

For Tuesday, I made plans to meet with Ran and Karin in one of two burger joints I have yet to explore - “Dixie’s” and “Black’s”, both in Tel-Aviv. Turned out that Karin couldn’t come (had to watch the baby), so we agreed that Ran picks me up and we hit the road.

My uncle Dani and his son Aviv (the one I haven’t seen in 16 years… well, since he was born, pretty much) arrived shortly before, we shared a few laughs and had a great time. Aviv and I continued talking about computer programming topics, which made absolutely no sense to anybody else present in the living room. This young boy has great potential.

Ran has arrived and went upstairs to say hello to my parents. Ran and I go back 17 years, though my parents only rarely see him. This was the first time they see him since he had a baby boy; they all started preaching to me about the importance and urgency of procreating – was not fun at all.

We decided to hit “Dixie’s”. Ran is a veteran of burger joints in Tel-Aviv and, as such, claimed that Dixie’s burger is better than Moses’ Art-Burger which I had just a few nights prior. I somewhat refused to believe as I can’t understand how a burger can be any better than Moses’.

And so we went. It’s a beautiful restaurant, not too big yet spacious, with very interesting menu. I was determined to try the burger no matter what; we both ordered almost exactly the same dish – their 1/2 pound burger, topped with mushroom cream sauce.

At the meantime we continued to chat on pretty much every topic known to mankind, with some focus on business. Ran, again, claimed that I was flirting with the waitress. I couldn’t see how.

The burger has finally arrived and it didn’t take long until I sunk my teeth into it. Indeed, it was a very good burger – neither better than Moses’ nor worse – just plain different. Couldn’t really compare apples-to-apples here as the burgers are very different in their ingredients. Moses’ burger was blasting extraordinary in its taste and uniqueness (a blend of various types of meat), Dixie's’ burger was awesome in its taste (it’s made of beef only). The mushroom cream, I must say, made this dish delicious and really hard to get my teeth out of. Definitely worth re-visiting.

We spent a couple of hours there, maybe a bit more, chit-chatting about the universe and everything it contains; then we drove home. We bid each other farewell as it didn’t seem like we’re going to see each other again before I leave. It was quite sad.

I went upstairs only to find Dani and Aviv still there. We all shared thousands of laughs until late night – around 2:00am – when the two left home and I crashed into bed with endless desire to sleep.

Wednesday was the “good bye” day. This day is the saddest day in every trip I make to Israel, and I prepared accordingly.

Ran showed up at noon, insisting that we have a last Laffa together before I kiss Israel goodbye. We went to a place right next to my place and had a pita filled with good Israeli-style Schawarma. A short walk and we were in front of my house again, bidding each other farewell once more.

Next I began to organize my belongings. As I was going to have a short trip in Europe before going back to Canada, I decided to leave everything I brought in Israel and leave with just one backpack, containing only essential stuff. I figured that this will allow for ultimate freedom as I hop on and off multiple trains between Frankfurt and Amsterdam / Delft, as well as dramatically reduce airport-time as I don’t have to wait in check-in lines or claim baggage.

In the evening we went to my sister’s house, where I printed my train tickets and Delft maps (in case I miss Jeroen). I bid everybody goodbye – it was very hard to part ways with my three nephews, especially the oldest one (9 years old) who knows me enough to really miss me.

Went back home, when a far relative of mine, Carmi, came for a visit. I haven’t seen him in years; we used to be very good friends while we were kids, all the way up to high-school days.

As he left, I was going to go to bed to catch some sleep before having to wake up at 2:30am, when two other relatives came by. Haven’t seen them in years either; great laughs and gossips about everybody, and I went to sleep at about 11:00pm.

I had only 3.5 hours of sleep ahead of me. I knew I had to fall asleep pretty quickly if I want this sleep to be of any use, still I can’t stop thinking… it’s the last day for this trip. So much I have done, and so much still left to do.

On 2:20am sharp, my dad woke me up. Time to wrap things up and go to the airport. That didn’t take long; I had some time left for a short snack, as I hate airport food and hate airlines food even worse. Mom woke up and spent a few minutes with us. She decided to stay at home, so I bid her farewell, a good warm hug, “watch out for yourself”, “eat well” and other motherly commands… then my dad and I went out.

It’s a pretty short drive to the airport – about 15 minutes. I’m taking a final glance in this tiny poor neighbourhood, with the small buildings, small trees and small roads; more than ever before, I feel that I miss those streets of the neighbourhood I grew up in. It’s a poor place, small place – but it’s home. about 90% of my family lives in this tiny neighbourhood.

The sensation of distance and loneliness creeps in as we leave our neighbourhood onto highway 1, which takes us to the airport. We pass the airport security check (every car entering the airport area must clear some security check) and we arrived at the airport.

Carrying no luggage proved to be a great decision. I completely skipped all lines and within minutes I had my boarding pass, seated neatly in row 29 of the Airbus 343-300 – the bulkhead row (extended leg room).

My dad and I had an hour to kill so we went to sit near the coffee place by the security gates and talked for the entire hour. Then the time came to say goodbye. A hug and a kiss to the man I love most in the world, and I entered the passengers-only area.

Very hard to describe the feeling of loneliness you suddenly get in this situation. The last three weeks with my family were great, and as great they were – the harder it was to suddenly disconnect and be alone again.

I will be back.



Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Visiting Israel: Solo in Tel-Aviv

I woke up Saturday morning to a ridiculously beautiful day. Sun was shining, not even a single cloud in the sky, warm temperature… an amazing day for a trip.

A quick breakfast and a visit from another uncle of mine; by 12:30 I was already making my way to the taxi-cab station (you can’t take a bus in Israel on Saturdays; that’s what happens when religion is intermingled with politics).

Traffic is usually light on weekends, and Saturday was no exception. It took the cab 15 minutes to arrive at the beach.

I left the cab in Tel-Aviv’s “Opera Tower” – an impressive building with malls and restaurants right across the road from the beach. I can’t begin to describe how lovely the weather was, and the sight of the Mediterranean Sea, along with Tel-Aviv’s magnificent beach, just added to the exhilaration.

Oh, how I missed the scent of the beach.

In one famous Seinfeld episode, Kramer suggest an idea for coming up with a cologne that smells like the beach. I think this idea has its merits.

Armed with an MP3 player containing all of Mark Knopfler’s, Richard Bennett’s and Guy Fletcher’s work as well as Eddie Vedder’s “Into the Wild” soundtrack, I started marching north on the Herbert Samuel promenade, the beach to my immediate left. It’s winter here… sort of (one of the warmest winters in Israel’s history, if not the warmest yet); people happily took advantage and populated the beach. It also happened to be Valentine’s Day, which explained the scores of couples and families strolling up and down the promenade.

I took my time, walking slowly; great music in my ears, the scent of the sea, the sun… few things could compare to that.

Herds of people pass by as I walk northbound on the promenade that is never more than 25 meters away from the beach, and at most times – about one meter away. Waves smash against the boardwalk, sending salty mist into the air. Occasionally I stop walking, standing still in order to grasp a deep, full breath of fresh air; then gazing at the water, so blue, reflecting the perfect cloudless sky. Usually, in such cases, one shuts his eyes and imagines he’s in a beautiful, heavenly place; I insisted to keep my eyes open.

The promenade is swamped with everything you need to make for a joyful stay. Magic shows for the kids, acrobatics, and more importantly – countless restaurants, ice-cream stands, coffee shops. Other establishments, much less interesting for me but more interesting to others, are the scores of clothing stores, shoe stores and whatnot. There is something here for everyone.

After about 20 minutes of walking, I deviated a bit from the promenade and sat down on a rock, by the water. Looking at the waves rushing to the shore, I come to realize – heck, Richard Bennett’s “A Face No More” sounds so great when you happen to look at the sea. Feeling a bit melancholic, yet hypnotized by the beauty surrounding me, I continued gazing at the beach. In moments like these you can actually feel how you’re being recharged.

I kept on walking another twenty minutes or so, where the promenade ends near the Reeding Chimney. Make no mistake: this is not the end of the beach stretch in Israel. It’s just the end of the Herbert Samuel promenade. The Coastal Plain ( measures some 187km of beach, most of which is easily accessible.

I turned back and started walking towards the Opera Tower, stopping on the way for a bottle of water. Once across the road from the Opera Tower, I stopped for another 10 minutes of fresh air.

Cryptic mental personal reminder: Once I got up again, I decided to close a circle. I found the nearest trash can and got rid of that thing in the very same place where it started.

It was still daylight, so I started walking away from the beach. I walked up Allenby Street, then turned left into Rothschild Street. I was determined to, once and for all, try out that burger joint everybody’s been telling me about. It’s called “Moses” (even though some people call it “Holy Moses”), one block east from the Allenby-Rothschild intersection ( I was supposed to be accompanied by Omer, however he’s been sick lately.

There was quite a line up, so I decided to go sit at the bar.

“Hello, how are you doing?” the bartender greeted me.

“Great, thanks; and yourself?”

“Fine. Would you like anything to eat or drink?”

I was in no mood for guesswork, so I just asked:

“What’s this hamburger that everyone keeps telling me about?”

The guy smiled. “You mean the Art-Burger”.

This unique burger (you can see the description in the English menu available in their website) weighs a bit more than 1/2 lbs, and made up of a mixture of ground beef, lamb and veal, mixed with a home-made pepper ketchup. Sounds interesting, huh? Yeah, I know.

I asked if there are any toppings that come with the burger. The bartender said that the chef prefers to not serve it with any “strange” toppings such as mushrooms, as it destroys the taste – a better idea would be to get those mushrooms on the side, which I did.

Ten feet away from me there were seated two extremely cute girls. I decided that if I’m not going to approach any of them, then at least I should eat the same side-dish that they do. So I ordered a side of fries, which arrived after 3 minutes and lasted for another 10 before the entire plate’s contents were destroyed.

Then came the burger. I looked at it with awe, curious as to whether this is going to be something worth telling Richard Bennett about. Then I went in.

Holy Moses, indeed. This burger is so tasty, you can literally feel taste buds you never knew existed, and you can hear them thanking you for waking them up, finally, after so long.


250 grams of wonderful meat went by way to quickly; I paid and left, again to Allenby Street. There’s millions of bus lines going through Allenby Street. Initially, I thought about going on one of them and head back home; then I realized that it’s a stupid idea, as the weather was perfect for a walk along the beach.

And so I went.

Back in the Herbert Samuel promenade, I took another walk along the beach. Pace even slower than before, with more great music in my ears. “Cold water / it’s on my face for the first time” I can hear Guy Fletcher singing, the light acoustic arpeggios blends perfectly with the waves turning into white foam just meters away.

Walking north on the promenade at a clear night (which is almost every night) provides you with an awesome view of the Tel-Aviv skyline. This city never sleeps, and there’s something inviting you in 24 hours a day. I keep thinking to myself “what a great city”, looking back in time when I used to hate this place and simply can’t understand why.

And so I continued to walk north, then decided to walk back – but now, on the actual beach. And there I went, stepping on the wet beach sand, white waves’ foam centimetres away from my feet. I walk and I see young and old couples sitting on the beach, getting lost in the moment and letting the cool breeze take away all their troubles.

I then sat down on a large rock somewhere, and sunk into yet another ten minutes’ “chill-out” session involving staring at the wonderful waters and listening to music. Eddie Vedder’s “Guaranteed” is now playing, and I can literally feel my brain getting lighter and lighter. “I’m nature-drunk and high”, quoting another Vedder song.

Heaven on earth.

It started getting late and so I made my way to the Opera Tower, and within a minute I was sitting in the so-called “service cab” on my way home, a mere 15 minutes drive including stops along the way.

What a great day.



Monday, February 16, 2009

Visiting Israel: Itay’s House-Warming Party

Earlier the same day, Kinneret (the Hebrew name for the big lake in Israel called “Sea of Galilee” in English – the lake where Jesus allegedly walked on water; useless trivia? maybe), an old friend of mine from the long-gone IDF days paged me on MSN to ask me if I’m showing up for our friend’s house-warming party.

As I was never invited to that party (makes sense, as nobody knew I’m coming for a visit), I said “no”. It took a few minutes for Kinneret to do the entire phone work, after which she told me that I have no other choice but to arrive.

Upon returning from grandma’s place, I could barely get an hour worth of sleep before having to wake up, dress-up again and head to Tel-Aviv.

Our friend, Itay, has just recently relocated to Sheinkin Street in Tel-Aviv. His location is just as cool as Omer’s: Sheinkin Street is one of the trendier shopping districts in Tel-Aviv. Lots of stores, lots of good restaurants, and a rather short walk to the beach. He moved in with a girl friend of his whom I never seen before. It was clear to me that it’s going to be pretty much all net-new faces to me in the party, but I went anyway, if only to touch base again with my old friends.

Didn’t take long to find the place. Outside, I met Kinneret and Gosha (another IDF friend… geez, I suddenly realize I actually have lots of friends) having a drink. I haven’t seen them both in quite a while so it was a pleasure to catch up. We then went all upstairs to the party.

As I expected, I didn’t know anybody there. There was lots of alcohol (“lots” in Israeli terms; equivalent to “rather little” in Canadian terms), which has been consumed quite rapidly by guests, some of which went ass-drunk fairly quickly.

Lovely sight. Also, obviously, I made some new “friends”; it’s easy to make new friends when at least one side is drunk and / or high.

A couple of hours went by quickly, then I made my way home. I was tired in a way that one can only be after watching “The English Patient” three times in a row (I don’t know how this came up; really. The length vs. plot ratio was unusually high – those 4 hours could have been condensed to 40 minutes without losing much). I can’t even remember turning in bed; I passed out pretty much instantly.

Another day went by…



Visiting Israel: My Father’s Family

Thursday went by telling no interesting story. Then came Friday, when my father and I went to visit my Father’s family in the nearby city of Bnei-Brak.

Bnei-Brak, in the heart of the Greater Tel-Aviv Area, is the second most important concentration of strict Jewish people in Israel, after Jerusalem. The vast majority of Bnei-Brak’s population are strict Jewish, and religion has a lot – well, more than a lot; everything – in the city’s political landscape. The city has certain bylaws to make the religious population’s life easier; for example, coming Sabbath, there are only a few areas that you can drive in; virtually no store is open, and there are billions of synagogues everywhere.

Hardly a tourist attraction, the typical visitor to Israel has virtually nothing to look for in there.

My father’s family is not strict Jewish; they live right at the border between Ramat-Gan and Bnei-Brak.

As soon as we arrived, I met with my uncle Moshe (“Moshe” is the original, Hebrew name for the biblical name “Moses”) who was just leaving. A few words and up we went, to meet grandma and two of my father’s sisters whom I haven’t seen in quite a while.

After about 30 minutes, my uncle Dani (who resembles, to some freakish degree, a guy I work with, in Canada) arrived along with his 17 years old son, Aviv. I have seen the latter exactly twice in my life: the first time when he was two months old, and the second time that same Friday.

It is an extremely bizarre experience to approach and form a conversation with a cousin of yours that you haven’t seen during almost %100 of his life. He had an idea that I deal with software development so, to my absolute amazement, he struck a conversation about it.

I say “absolute amazement” and it still doesn’t capture the full scope of my astonishment. The reason was, that out of my entire wide family, nobody turned out to do anything with his life that is even remotely connected to computers, and here I’m discovering a close relative who does. Up until Friday, the very thought that I will have any software-related conversation with a family member was ridiculous.

It didn’t take me too long to realize that this young fellow is not just talking computers – he’s brilliant. He deals less with software development and more in data and systems security; I was very impressed with him.

Very bizarre, at age 31, being introduced to a family member who you knew existed but never really met.

A quick early dinner at grandma’s house and we left. I was very tired, and had to catch some sleep before the evening… for Itay’s house-warming party (next post).



Visiting Israel: Meeting with Ran (again)

Wednesday evening I did something that I tend to avoid doing whenever I’m in Israel.

I drove.

Yes, I used to drive a lot in Israel before I moved to Canada six years ago. However, I already got used to the easy driving in Canada that I find driving in Israel a bit… how to say it without sounding sissy… challenging now. Israelis drive at the right-hand side of the road, as in North America; yet drivers here are far, far, far more aggressive than anywhere else I’ve been in.

Montreal is known to host the worst, most aggressive drivers in Canada. My advice: if you think Montreal is a terrible place to drive in, then don’t even think about getting behind the wheel in Israel, especially not in the Tel-Aviv area as you are almost certain to lose your mind.

So I decided to drive to Ran’s apartment in Ramat-Ha’Sharon – one of the nicer places to live in because it’s very close to Tel-Aviv and nowhere near as crowded.

One of the first things I noticed while driving is that, what I used to consider “long distances” before moving to Canada, now seem extremely short. Everything in Gush Dan – the Hebrew name for, effectively, “Greater Tel-Aviv Area” – is so close. It’s a 15km distance between my place to Ran’s, out of which 10km are on Israel’s major highway (number 4).

I guess you get a different perspective of “distance” after driving more than 12,000km following your favourite band.

I arrived at Ran’s place, and met him and his 2-year old son downstairs. The little kid was reluctant to co-operate with me – not surprising, considering the fact that he’s seen me exactly once before, when he was half the age he’s at.

We went upstairs to see Karin, Ran’s wife. It turned out that she’s been having the flu for the last few days, so we had to keep distance.

After about an hour sitting in Ran’s living room, we decided to hit a coffee place for some coffee. Karin stayed at home, and Ran, myself and Zoe (their dog) took a short walk to a nearby coffee place.

The coffee place was called “Cafe Cafe”; a prominent coffee chain, it serves modest food and good coffee. As we were seated, I responded to the hostess’ greetings with a smile and some sort of a sentence that, for some reason, appeared to Ran as “flirting”; obviously I refused to buy it, because I (a) suck, big time, at flirting and (b) couldn’t tell a woman’s approval from disapproval if it crawled up my leg and bit me. So we just left it at that.

On our way to the coffee place, and during the entire time we were there (slightly more than an hour), we hardly stopped talking. Speaking with a childhood friend is different from speaking to any other type of friend; topics for discussion appear to come out of nowhere, you know each other so well that you can almost guess what the other side can tell but you still enjoy it very much.

I strongly believe that no method of conversation is as useful and joyful as a face-to-face one. All other methods – email (the worst), online chat, even telephone – simply don’t cut it. I tend to get bored very easily – not with the other side as much as with myself – that I don’t see the point. That’s why I rarely, if ever, maintain long-running email threads with friends, or chat for hours. Conversation is much more than the actual message being broadcasted; it is, first and foremost, about the tone,then about body language.

I see more frequent visits to Israel in the coming future.

I had some sort of a juice, Ran had a late dinner, we took a few shots and fled the scene. Walked towards his house, bid him farewell and off I went to deal once more with Israeli traffic -

- successfully; no one was hurt.



Sunday, February 15, 2009

Visiting Israel: Elections

Tuesday, February 10, was elections day in Israel. As I am a dual-citizen, I exercised my democratic right (which should really be an obligation, but leave it for now) and went to vote.

Elections in Israel should happen once every four years, however bad politics, shaky security situation and – above all – an exceedingly stupid election method, they happen quite too often (1996, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006 and now).

Even though my life is in Canada, still, my entire family lives in Israel and therefore I never lost touch with what’s going on there, including its politics. If you thought that Canadian politics suck, think again; very few things can disgust me as Israeli politics can.

Up until the break of the current so-called Palestinian “uprising”, in October 2000, I used to be rather dovish. The start of the uprising, together with the 9/11 attacks, made me doubt my position, moved me a bit more to the right but still, generally, left. I think that the big “bang” that moved me almost all the way to the right (in Israeli politics) came after I witnessed that the disengagement process, which took place in the summer of 2005, only made matters worse. I then realized once and for all that the Arab-Israeli dispute has nothing to do with territory, but has everything to do with cultural differences. I saw fellow Israelis being torn away from their homes – homes that they built because their own government allowed them to! - by Israeli soldiers and police officers, and it was emotionally devastating. “So be it”, I said; “at least now we’ll have some quiet”. What a mistake that was.

It actually is an interesting phenomenon; Israelis who spend a long time abroad tend to go hawkish as time goes by.

Anyhow, I went to cast my vote, went for lunch and, at the evening, went to visit my uncle Sami who lives a few minutes walk away from our place. Sami’s place just happened to serve as some sort of regional headquarters for one of the running parties. We went to visit after all the fuss was over, shortly before 22:00, when the exit polls were due.

Every elections, instantly after the voting polls are shut at 22:00, all Israeli news channels show their own “exit polls” results. This event, of showing the exit polls’ results, is arguably the most watched event in Israeli TV. The entire people of Israel are literally buried in their homes, attached to the TV; and at 22:00 sharp, you get the exit polls results. This year, it was an unusually dramatic event, as all surveys showed a tremendous rise in the power of the right wing – which proved to be true. The Israeli left has died an agonizing pain: out of 120 seats, the right-wing took 65, the “center” took 28 and all the rest are virtually irrelevant – some religious parties, a few extreme-left and some that I don’t even know.

The dire security situation, plus the growing fear of internal uprisings on behalf of the Arab-Israeli population, moved the Israeli voters to the right.

And there we were, my father, my uncle & aunt, their children and other family members, talking mostly about politics, with passion. That’s one of the things that I miss the most in life in Israel – discussions, about anything, are more often than not filled with passion. We analyzed the political situation, given the election’s results, from every possible angle. After a couple of hours, we left.

Back home, a light snack, a few emails and I’m off to sleep after yet another interesting day.



Visiting Israel: On “Israelism”, “Judaism” and “Zionism”

For a while I was planning on posting something about a topic in which, it seems, there exists a huge amount of confusion: the differences and relationships between Israelism, Judaism and Zionism. Understanding the difference is key to forming any constructive opinion – be it pro-Israeli or not - about the conflict in the middle-east; also, it may just be useful to know.

So here is a quick rundown:

An Israeli is any person whose permanent place of residence is the state of Israel – regardless of whether he physically resides within the so-called “1948 line” (the border as defined by the UN resolution regarding the establishment of Israel), the “1967 line” (the 1967 six-day war ceasefire border) or beyond. A citizen of Israel will physically live in any place that the Israeli government considers as belongs to Israel. In other words, being Israeli refers to the physical residency status of an individual.

A Jewish person is a person who was either born Jewish (according to the religion’s rules; in general, you are Jewish as long as you’re born to a Jewish mother) or became Jewish through a religious process called “Giur” (Hebrew: גיור). In other words, being Jewish refers to the religion followed by an individual.

A Zionist is a person who believes and/or promotes the idea that there is only one acceptable physical location for Jewish people to reside, which is what is right now called “Israel” plus a few hundreds square km. The most “extreme” Zionism, visible in Israel’s political landscape, claims that Israel has historical rights over all the area that is right now “Israel” plus all the areas that Israel left in the summer of 2005 in the so-called “Gaza Strip disengagement plan”. In other words, being a Zionist refers to an ideology carried by an individual.

Contrary to an alarmingly common belief, Zionism does not aim to conquer the world and does not control the world economy. It does not aim to control other groups, states or continents. True, lunatics exist everywhere (you need to have lunatics around in order to be able to define “normal”); however, Zionism, as it is practiced and followed by most, does not aim at waging any kind of war.

Now here is where people all over the world start to lose track: the aforementioned three traits (Israelism, Judaism and Zionism) are independent of each other.

  • There are many Israelis who are not Jewish (normally immigrants from other countries);
  • There are many Israelis who are not Zionists (this includes pretty much all Arab-Israelis who live in Jaffa, Lod, Haifa and many other communities, as well as some esoteric extreme-left individuals – both Jewish and non-Jewish);
  • There are many Jewish people who are not Israeli. As a matter of fact, most Jewish people in the world are not Israeli; the entire Jewish population worldwide measures about 18 million people, while only 6 million of them currently live in Israel);
  • There are many Jewish people who are not Zionists; other than extreme-left individuals, this group includes a few streams of extremely strong Jews that believe Jewish people must not occupy any land prior to the Messiah’s arrival. The most prominent group of these is called “Neturei Karta” (see;
  • Although rare, there exist Zionist people who are neither Israeli nor Jewish (this primarily includes certain groups of Christian people who are, obviously, not Jewish but still see the Jewish people as “God’s chosen people”).

While the aforementioned three traits are independent, one correlation can safely be concluded (statistically speaking): The closer you follow Judaism, the closer you follow Zionism (with the exception of the rather-esoteric Neturei Karta group mentioned above). The other direction of this correlation is incorrect!

The typical Israeli, statistically speaking, is a “secular Jewish” (follows Judaism up to a certain degree – usually very “lightweight”) and a “moderate” Zionist (believes in the Jewish people’s right on the land, but is willing to negotiate a (very) small part of it for certain objectives).

The state of Israel has been established sixty years ago, after a devastating period during which one third of the worldwide Jewish population, about 6,000,000 people, has been destroyed (namely: the Holocaust). As Israel didn’t exist back then, and Zionism wasn’t practiced in any way that contrasts local governments (nobody pressured any East-European government to establish any Jewish state), it follows that the Holocaust clearly was an act against Jewish people for the mere fact that they were Jewish. Before one considers blaming Israel for genocide, he / she is strongly advised to take a look at the remains of concentration camps in Eastern Europe; there, among the piles of eyeglasses collected from those who were led to their death, and the huge structures used to kill Jewish people by Cyanide, one can grasp the meaning of “real” genocide.

Ever since its inception, Israelis have been battling to clearly define the relationships between Israelism, Judaism and Zionism and how the relationships are to be represented in politics, if at all. It’s an ongoing public debate that is unlikely to end any time soon, let alone when the state is under constant threat of destruction by its enemies.

As people “choose” their own level of obedience to Judaism and Zionism, one can conclude that there is ample “grey area”. There exists enormous political tension in Israel, between people with varying interpretations of Judaism and of Zionism – tension that, unfortunately, “eats” Israel from within and considered by many – including your truly – as grave a threat to Israel’s future as all bunch of fanatic Muslims shooting rockets.



Visiting Israel: Meeting with Chen and Einat

It’s been about a week since I last populated my blog with new material, reason being, for the most part, a rather tight schedule. It also appears that my laptop’s keyboard is starting to fail me, which will require fixing as soon as I’m back in Canada. In the meantime, please forgive me for undetected spelling mistakes etc. You know I can do better.

I finally met with my dear old friend, Chen Varon, and his girlfriend Einat, on Monday. We met in a Tel-Aviv restaurant called “Lucas”, which serves great food – mostly meat – in fantastic prices that are really hard to beat ( – sorry, Hebrew only).

Chen and I go way back to the workplace-whose-name-I-should-not-disclose (exactly the same place I first met pretty much all of my friends except for Ran whom I known forever). He is into software development as well, a great guy to work with, professionally and personally. He also deserves a good spot in my “talented IT people” clique. We used to be very good friends back then, before I moved to Canada at the end of 2002 when I, admittedly, kind of lost touch with everyone – solely at my fault.

Chen is a huge fan of The Simpsons; about two years ago, when the 7th season’s DVD was released, he asked me to ship him a copy – a request I was more than happy to fulfil. In return, he offered to take me out to a restaurant in my next visit. That visit was one year ago, however it was kind of a lousy visit during which I hardly left my house – so we agreed to meet this time.

We agreed to meet at 21:00 at the restaurant, on Maz’ee Street (just off Allenby Street, about five minutes walk from the beach; hell, you can never be too far from the beach in Tel-Aviv). Chen encountered some traffic on his way there so I waited outside the restaurant gazing at people walking and cars driving up and down the street. I also caught a minor road accident live, right in front of me, which was quite a bit of an “ouch”.

So at about 21:30 I saw a familiar face walking towards me, waving. I don’t know too many people in Tel-Aviv, but yet I refused to believe that this was Chen. It took a few more seconds to realize what happened. It turns out that, since I left, Chen started a diet and some fitness program and lost some considerable weight. What a difference it made, I was shocked. He looked great.

It was the first time for me to meet with Einat, his girlfriend. They met not too long after I had left and have been together ever since. I recall Chen, a few years ago, telling me about Einat being the best thing that ever happened to him; and it shows – they look perfect together. A kismet. She appears to be at least as brilliant as he is.

So we all caught up with each other, which was great. Between sentences, we also got to eat something. I ordered the Fillet (beef, of course) which was awesome. Einat and I shared half a litre of red wine (while Chen stuck to water – all the power to you, Chen!), we talked and we talked without realizing how time passes by. When time flies by while you’re having a conversation, it’s a clear sign that you really enjoy it – which I did.

Chen grew up in a Kibbutz (a form of collective residence that only exists in Israel; read about it here, it’s quite interesting) called Yaqum, conveniently located north of Tel-Aviv, far enough to avoid the city hustle but close enough to everything that matters – brilliant spot to build a home in, which is exactly what Chen and Einat are planning on doing. Best of luck!

I don’t remember when we left, I just remember it was late – at least half an hour past midnight. I was planning on taking the bus (or a “Service Cab”; more about Israel’s public transportation in a separate post coming up soon) from Allenby Street straight home, however Chen insisted to give me a ride home, much to my enjoyment and appreciation.

About twenty minutes later I was already at home – happy after a great conversation with a brilliant couple, as well as a tasteful Fillet grilled exactly to my liking.

Chen & Einat – thank you for dinner! It was great meeting with you and we will do this more often!