Friday, June 20, 2008

Now for the fun stuff... Israel as a visitor

The tourist part of this trip has continued to educate and influence me. After leaving Jerusalem, I had the pleasure of spending a quality day with Lior traveling to Haifa. We lunched, I think, in Akko, a marine city, and shopped for a couple of items for the kids. I stayed in a place called the Dan Carmel on top of Mount Carmel. At the top of the hotel was a business lounge where Leland, Dave,(coworkers in for this trip) and I spent at least an hour or two every night unwinding and watching the world go by. Below us were some beautiful gardens, industrial ports, the Mediterrean ( I think ) and the hustle and bustle of a modern industrial city. The cadence of life is different here - history isn't so pressing, the tourists are more international / informal / business and less holy city tour types. There is also a more pronounced German influence - both the type of tourist and the presense of schitzel in the cafeteria every day. The city reminds me most of Penang. Our first evening's dinner was at a fabulous restaurant called Remme - excellent french restaurant with a view to die for. Teriaki salmon with mashed potatoes were excellent!

As a business group on monday, we spent an excellent day at Ceasaria - south of Haifa, north of Tel Aviv. Originally built as a harbor in honor of Julius Ceasar - it was a feat of ancient engineering. The artifically created harbor, built in about 12 years, at one point could house more than a hundred warships within its confines. It also served as a monument to Herod's ego. Elaborate palaces, bath houses, a swimming pool, and a hippodrome were built to a) placate the natives, b) protect the Romans who lived in the harbor and c) Exhalt Herod's place in the society. Over the years, as the sea reclaimed the harbor, the port retained symbolic importance - relatively large structures over the course of history were transformed from churches to mosques to refugee camps - symbols of the changing order The scale of the engineering and the cultural implications of this location as a trade port / conflict location made the trip a wonderful reinforcement of the significance Israel has in the annals of history. Sultans, rabbis, constantine's mother, and other dignitaries have called this place, and many have fought and died to control it.

While most of the rest of our time was spent close to the hotel in Haifa - there were at least a couple of other fun experiences. We went as a group to an Irish Pub to eat, and watched the EuroCup competition between France and Italy. I was able to text my friend Susan(who is married to an Italian), listen to people shouting at the TV in 4 languages, and eat Israeli Fare. Along a similar line - a couple of my work colleagues and I had jet lag and were watching the finals between the celtics and lakers in our respective hotel rooms at about 5 in the morning, and IMing comments about the game to each other. Fun and memorable. We never really made it to the beach in Haifa, but drove by it every day! We also formed the Haifa Hummus club.

After Haifa, we sojourned back to Tel Aviv. This city has a 3rd flavor - more arabian, jet set, party tourist - less religious / business sojourner. There is also a much more stark contrast between hotel row and the immediate blocks around the location. I believe this is close to some of the sites of violence from 2000 and 2005, and the population mix is much less orthodox, much more arabic. We arrived yesterday here mid day.

My travel companion - Dave and Leland - had a little trouble finding the hotel, and all had one thing on our minds. We wanted to hit the beach. We stopped for lunch ( really yummy sweet potato ravioli with cream and mushroom sauce covered with cheese!) and just sat for a while. Then we hoofed it across the street and relaxed for the first time the entire trip. There is a series of breakwaters that have created the perfect beach - deep fine sand, shallows for 100 years, crystal blue and turqoise water, and chairs and umbrellas set up to your specification. The water is about 80 degrees, and the breakwaters are just far enough away to provide a challenging swim without discouraging everyone completely.

The lifeguards use a 20 ft long and 4 ft wide surfboard with very long oars to quickly get to tourists in trouble. They are also pretty vigilant - one looked suspiciously at me for quite a while when I was swimming back from one of the breaks, and then asked me to be careful and "was I sure I was OK?" The people here are diverse, interesting, fit, and attractive. You don't have to look hard to see Italian, German, Egyptian, African, and other racial influence, in addition to Jewish.

It was one of the few times recently that I have "lived in the moment." We stayed on the beach for 6 hours - alternately napping, swimming, people watching, walking, and chatting. My IPod provided a soundtrack including the most appropriate song "who wouldn't want to be me?" It was heaven.

When the sun finally set on the second longest daylight day of the year, we slowly turned, returned to the hotel, and looked for sustenance. We ended the day with a restaurant next to the hotel dining al fresco. Yet again - great food ( salmon + mashed potatoes, israeli wine, chocolate desert, and tea with fresh mint leaves.)

I am about to embark on my last day as an Israeli visitor. As I write this, I am watching spongebob in Hebrew. My hotel, an interesting bauhaus style on the inside, will be a jumping off point for a visit to Jappa (an old port in Tel Aviv), to the beach, a recommended restaurant, and to the airport. I will likely not enter another post again before I land tomorrow night in the US. I will be happy to be home, as I have missed my family, friends, coworkers, but for one more day, I am happy to part of this israeli family. Shalom for now.

Work related post.... from israel

What a week. While I know more blogs about israel will come, I just want to capture a few more thoughts before I leave. First , the hospitality of this country in phenomenal. I had the pleasure of building friendships not only with my official hosts - Gal and Shirly, but with other bright and talented individuals like Lior, Julia, Shlomi, Zahi. Each time we had a question, we had had ready answers, phone calls, followup, suggestions. Transportation, food, history, phones - each of these we had such marvelous support. I also had some very flexible travel companions from the US that let me tag along for the ride - Leland and Dave.
It's very good that we had the support - the FTF was pretty demanding. Lots of days of building common ground, sorting through as is, to be, what can be done on new technology, old technology, priorities, philosophy - all in a large pile of knowledge to be sorted through. For 3 days, it was touch and go as to whether or not we would accomplish developing a single, comprehensive strategy or not. Fortunately, by the end of Day 4, we came to a place of common ground. While we didnt get to the final end state, we have gotten to a place where it was safe to break. It is time to take what we learned and go home. And I will be very happy to go home.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shalom from Jerusalem!

I am at the religious epicenter of the modern western world. The airplane trip was pretty great, considering the 14 hours of air time logged; thanks to Frank and modern technology. The hotel in Jerusalem is less than a mile the Jaffa Gate to the Old City and to Ben Yehuda Street, so I have been walking my legs off for the last couple of days experiencing the new and old world that meet here. I have a lot of impressions I'll be posting in the next couple of days, but want to make sure you all know I am thinking about each of you as a spend time here in the Holy land. Being in the Old City for Shabbat was a meaninful experience. Check the Flkr site for pictures. More will come today. Just so you know, for some reason my phone doesn't work too well, but my texting seems to do just fine, so you'll get a lot of text messages!

Lots of Love

Monday, June 2, 2008

Back from heaven! (New Pics on the Flkr site)

Florida was great, but boy are we tired! I don't know how we managed to do it, but we managed to come back from a week in the sun more tired than when we left. We got into the pool at 9:00 pm the first night we got to the hotel, and didn't really get out until our plane left (mostly!) Wildlife encountered included: Jellyfish, tube fish, sting rays (small), sea urchins, dolphins, egrets, swans, ducklings, pelicans, seagulls, sandpipers, squirrels, and a whole bunch of animals at Busch Gardens.
We basically spent 4 hours a day (minimum) in one of the five pools at the resort, or at the beach - 100 yards away. We also watched a lot of SpongeBob Squarepants!

We're back to the grind. Looking forward to Friday fun Day this week.

Lots of Love,

Kristi and the tribe!

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