Archive | July, 2011

HaTachana: Tel Aviv’s Best Kept Secret?

26 Jul

HaTachana

The old train station building for the Jaffa to Jerusalem railway.

HaTachana means train station in Hebrew. And since last year it also means trendy shopping center between the Mediterranean and Neve Tzedek. In fact, that is the address that is given for the HaTachana shopping complex on their website. Of course, I had to use Google Translate to figure that out. A search on Google Maps for HaTachana yields zilch. There’s no chance it would appear on my old (circa 1994) map of Tel Aviv. But I’d heard about HaTachana from friends who’ve been here for a while. And it definitely seemed like a good place to explore.

Armed with my outdated map, a print-out of the Hebrew-labeled map from the HaTachana website and a print-out of the Google map, I headed there with a friend of mine. The conundrum was that the HaTachana website map indicated a turn where the Google map showed no road. So I missed the turn (an unmarked road) and found myself driving into Jaffa. Yikes! No worries, though, I got turned around easily and we made our way to the large (thank goodness) parking lot.

The HaTachana complex is comprised of some 22 buildings dating to different time periods. The complex is named after the old train station building (where trains used to run from Jaffa to Jerusalem) which now houses the Tourist Info office and a great souvenir shop. Other buildings in the complex are a villa built in 1902 once owned by Templar Hugo Wieland, the Wieland brick and tile factory, the freight terminal and a typical Arab house older than the Wieland villa.

Despite the glaring heat from the sun, we had great fun exploring the complex, popping into one shop after another, finding shade or air-conditioned relief when we could. We both purchased a few souvenirs and S. got a great deal on what must be the best-designed tote bag in the world. We had a delicious lunch at a charming restaurant. We shall both add HaTachana to our list of favorite places in Tel Aviv and will do our best to spread the word. But then again…perhaps we should keep the secret to ourselves?

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White Balance Test in The White City

24 Jul

White Balance Test of Tel Aviv City HallShown above: Tel Aviv’s original City Hall. Each image shot from the same spot (hand held), at f/9 at 1/320 sec, each with different white balance setting (clockwise from top left): auto white balance, direct sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent, incandescent, shade.

I’ve lived in Israel long enough to know that Tel Aviv is known as the White City because of the many examples of Bauhaus architecture. I’ve owned my Nikon D40 for five years. Even so, I took a photo tour of Tel Aviv today and learned lots about my camera and about Tel Aviv as well. The tour was led by Rinat Halon, professional photographer and resident of Tel Aviv. There were six of us on the tour, all with different makes and models of digital cameras. Rinat shared photo tips with us and gave us assignments to carry out on the spot to demonstrate certain features of our cameras. Rinat’s mother came along to dispense historical information about many of the places we visited on the tour. For example, we stopped in at one of Tel Aviv’s three surviving traditional grocery stores, a place I’m sure I’ve walked past and driven past many times. We met the owner who graciously allowed all us shutterbugs to take his photo. The tour did not cover a wide area of Tel Aviv, but it featured historical details, characteristic architecture and some interesting anecdotes. Plus, I learned about a couple of restaurants and museums that I definitely want to return to.

Oh Boy, Kinder Joy!

23 Jul

Kinder Joy

The Kinder Joy confection comes with a handy plastic spoon.

Brad and I have been big fans of Kinder Eggs (or Kinder Surprise) ever since we lived in Germany where the egg-shaped chocolate confections are widely available. If you’re not familiar with them, which is a good bet if you live in the States where they are banned, the chocolate eggs come with a plastic toy inside. Often the toy comes in small pieces that must be assembled, that being the main reason the eggs are banned in the U.S.

Not so here in Israel, where the natives are used to living life on the edge. I’ve been eyeing Kinder Eggs at the supermarket and convenience stores. The familiar red and white egg-shaped package is hard to miss. Some of the writing on the package is in Hebrew but the name emblazoned on the front is in English: Kinder Joy.

I thought it was just the Israeli version of Kinder Eggs, known as Kinder Sorpresa in Italy where they originate and Kinder Überraschung in Germany. I finally bought a couple of Kinder Joys for Brad and I to try. And we did get a surprise when we opened the package. Instead of a hollow chocolate egg with a toy inside, the egg broke into two separate plastic halves. One half held the toy and the other half an unusual but tasty confection that looks somewhat like a fried egg with chocolate yolks.

Wikipedia tells me that the Kinder Joy version is sold in Italy during the hot months of summer, being less prone to melting. It’s no wonder then that Kinder Joy is the version sold in Israel. I’ll have to keep an eye out to see if Kinder Sorpresas are available come winter.

The Road to Bethlehem

19 Jul

Church of the Nativity Interior

Church of the Nativity Interior (click image to see my set of photos of Bethlehem)

Bethlehem, situated six miles south of Jerusalem, is just a little over an hour’s drive from our house in Herzliya. Thanks to a missed turn in Jerusalem it took us nearly twice that long to get there last Saturday. We ended up driving through parts of central Jerusalem we were unfamiliar with. I frantically searched the map trying to determine where we were. It didn’t help that the names on some of the street signs had been inexplicably removed. But B. followed his instincts and soon I noticed we were on Beit Lehem road. Yay! That is the road to Bethlehem!

I’d learned the night before that the name Bethlehem (or Beit Lehem) means House of Bread in Hebrew. Oddly enough, the town name in Arabic is Bayt Lahm and means House of Meat.

Soon we were back on the map and nearing the checkpoint at Rachel’s Tomb. Getting through the checkpoint was a piece of cake. The guards looked at the covers of our passports and waved us through.

I’d been duly prepared for the checkpoint routine but the sight of the wall caught me up – a 25-foot tall concrete barrier that stretches as far as the eye can see. And is covered with graffiti. It brought me back to the day in the mid-70s when I’d visited the Berlin Wall with my family. I’ve lived to see that wall come down. I sure hope this wall comes down during my lifetime.

We drove on to a street near Manger Square and found a good parking space. At one end of Manger Square sits the Church of the Nativity. One of the world’s oldest continuously operating churches, it is said to have been built over the cave where Christ was born. The facade of the church, made of plain gray stone, is terribly unassuming. To enter, one must go through the “Door of Humility” – a door so low that even I had to bend down to get through.

Upon entering you find yourself in a cavernous nave lined with two rows of double columns. Barely visible on the columns are paintings of saints that date to the Crusader period. Wooden trapdoors in the floor were opened to reveal the original 4th-century mosaic floors. In contrast to the nave, the front of the church is elaborately ornamented in Greek Orthodox style.

A long line of visitors had already formed at the Grotto of the Nativity, where visitors wait to view a silver star placed on the floor under an altar. The star marks the spot where Jesus was born.

Adjacent to the Church of the Nativity is St. Catherine’s Church, a Roman Catholic church completed in 1882. It is from this church that midnight Christmas mass is broadcast worldwide. Outside St. Catherine’s is a lovely cloister featuring Crusader-era arches and a statue of St. Jerome, who lived and died in Bethlehem and whose major work, translation of the Vulgate, was done in Bethlehem.

The Mosque of Omar, Bethlehem’s only mosque, is on the opposite side of Manger Square. I wasn’t able to enter because my straw sun hat was not considered to be appropriate head gear. I would need to wear a scarf or shawl on my head to enter.

We also paid a visit to the Church of the Milk Grotto, built over the spot where the Holy Family took refuge during the Slaughter of the Innocents. Tradition holds that while Mary nursed Jesus a drop of milk fell on the ground and turned the stone white. We found an incongruous complex of buildings there. There was the ornate facade of the Milk Grotto, a more sedate Franciscan chapel as well as a very modern church.

There were countless souvenir shops on the streets surrounding Manger Square but I was in search of Baituna al-Talhami, a handicraft museum/shop where Palestinian women make and sell their wares. We saw lots of beautiful embroidered fabrics there and I picked up a few keepsakes of our visit to Bethlehem.

We had planned to spend the afternoon exploring Herodion, remains of a fortress/palace built by Herod, but the hot sun had done us in. We will return to Herodion another day.

Breaking the Hebrew Code

13 Jul

Lotto Kiosk in Tel Aviv

You say "Ibis." I say "Lotto."

Sunset on the Mediterranean

The view from Al Hamayim restaurant.

When I learned that we would be moving to Israel, one of the things foremost in my mind was dealing with a foreign language that uses a different writing system. I’d been in that situation before when we moved to Japan. I’d managed to learn how to read and speak hiragana and katakana and even a few kanji characters.

But I knew from the start that Hebrew would present a different challenge. Not only is Hebrew written from right to left but Hebrew words are written without vowels. Vowels can be (but rarely are) indicated by a complex system of dots placed above, below and inside the consonants. Those dots are like training wheels for youngsters learning the language. This means that even if I learned the Hebrew alephbet I still would have difficulty sounding out the words. I’d have to guess at what vowel sound comes after the consonant, if any.

I signed up for two different Hebrew classes, one run by the IWC and the other by the Embassy. I felt I needed all the help I could get and I have benefited in different ways by both classes. For example, one instructor has chosen to teach us the block letter alephbet (used in books, magazines, newspapers and most printed signs); the other instructor taught us the cursive alphabet (used in any handwritten correspondence). The block letter alephbet has been much easier to learn even though, to my untrained eye, many of the characters look so similar I often mix them up. The cursive alephbet has proven to be quite a challenge for me. The characters seem to bear no resemblance to their block letter counterparts and most of the handwriting I’ve seen is highly irregular and nearly, if not completely, impossible for me to decipher.

Another way that I’ve tried learning Hebrew is by studying street signs, traffic signs and posters. Street signs are the most revealing because most of them show both the Hebrew and English version of a person’s name. A name can be sounded out. Learning how to read my street’s name in Hebrew was one of my first accomplishments. I’ve been able to decipher movie star names and some movie titles from posters.

One of my first revelations in learning Hebrew was when I finally read the name on top of one of the little kiosks you will see on various corners around town. For weeks, even months, I’d walk by reading the name Ibis. Then one day it dawned on me. Why am I reading that word left to right? And aren’t those actually Hebrew cursive characters, not English letters? Yes! Oh yes! It says Lotto in Hebrew!

Another revelation came when I was thinking about the name of a seafood restaurant we had gone to in Herzliya. Transliterated, the name is Al Hamayim. Then I remembered that mayim means water. I already knew that Ha means the. And my traffic sign study had taught me that al means to or in this case at or on. On the Water, that’s the name of this restaurant, I exclaimed to my startled hubby. I was as excited as Patty Duke playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker when she finally makes the connection between the sign language for the word water and water itself.

Bougainvillea Update

7 Jul

What a difference one month makes.

Bougainvillea from our kitchen window in June

This is what our bougainvillea looked like on June 9.

Bougainvillea from our kitchen window in July

Here it is this morning, nearly one month to the day from the photo above.

A Morning at the Traffic Office

6 Jul

Morning Rush Hour on the Ayalon Freeway

Morning Rush Hour on the Ayalon Freeway. Traffic was slow enough to allow me to take this photo with my cell phone.


Today I went to the traffic office in Holon to officially transfer ownership on Peppino and exchange the license plates. I’ve been driving with the seller’s plates and had been waiting for paperwork to clear the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before I could get my new plates.

The traffic office is open from 7:30 a.m. until noon-ish and is only open one afternoon of the week. I left early so I could beat the crowds one expects to see at any traffic office, no matter what your location. I managed to get there at 7:20. I’d brought a screwdriver to remove the old plates. With plates and paperwork in hand I went through the security check at the front entrance. Oops! I’d thrown the screwdriver into my purse and the guard told me I had to return it to my car before I could gain entrance to the building. Good to know the security checks really work here.

I had been instructed to report to counter 6 to complete my transaction. I did so but there was no clerk at counter 6. There was a man sitting in a chair in front of the counter. He said something to me in Hebrew. I responded that I don’t speak Hebrew. He explained to me in English that the counter would not open until 9 a.m. The clerk who usually works that counter was on holiday and the person filling in for her couldn’t come in till 9. Oh well, there was nothing to do but wait. I suppose I’d anticipated this as I’d brought a book as well as my Hebrew notebook for studying. I settled into a chair in front of the counter and began to read.

Before I knew it I realized that some people were speaking to me in Hebrew. There were two clerks behind counter 6 beckoning me to approach. Lucky for me they spoke English well. I explained what I was there for. One clerk, who I assume was the supervisor, explained to the other clerk how to complete the transaction. She apparently had no experience in this kind of transaction. The supervisor left and another clerk came to help out. The two of them were chattering back and forth, banging keys on the computer and occasionally asking me questions. Before I knew it four people were gathered around the counter. Comments were being bantered back and forth, none of which I could understand.

Then I realized something that made my stomach turn. I’d been instructed to bring my passport and had forgotten it. Worry gnawed away at me. After all this, will I be unable to complete the transaction? Those clerks are really gonna be angry with me when I’m unable to produce my passport. I’ve got my MFA ID card with me…maybe that will suffice?

The clerk never asked me for my passport or my MFA card. Soon enough I had the new registration in hand, a receipt for the old plates and an order form for the new plates. I was instructed to proceed to a building across the street to get my new plates.

Said building was a sorry-looking shack that appeared to have been caught in a time warp from the 1940s. Lots of old license plates had been nailed to the outer and inner walls of the shack. There was even a clock, telling the wrong time, that looked like a license plate. Behind the window sat a grizzled looking old man. Again, I was relieved that he spoke English. He took the order form, collected 100 shekels from me and proceeded to make the license plate right then and there. I could hear, but not see, him punching the letters and numbers into the metal plate. Then he ran the plate through a machine that inked the raised letters and numbers. He handed the plates to me along with a receipt and sat back down. But wait a minute! There were no holes drilled into the plate for me to attach it to my car. When I inquired about that, the man told me to bring my car over and he’d attach the plates.

A little over an hour after I’d arrived I was ready to hit the road. Peppino is now fully and legally my own. I headed back on the Ayalon freeway back home and got caught smack dab in the middle of rush hour traffic. I guess that was the only typical thing that happened this morning.