We had the most amazing time on vacation to Amsterdam and Israel. The purpose of the trip was to visit our grandson Rafi (and his parents!) in Israel, but Amsterdam is such a delightful city, we planned to stay there for two nights as a sort of bonus, since we changed planes there anyway.
Travel is said to broaden the mind, but it can also broaden the waistline. Holland has wonderful food: butter and cheese, obviously; pannenkoeken (traditional Dutch pancakes served with either savory cheese or sweet fruits and whipped cream); chocolate; Indonesian rijstafel (literally rice table, or many tasty and exotic dishes set before you all at once); and local beers. We happily checked all of the foregoing off on our list of “must-haves.”
In Israel we had many wonderful meals in restaurants. We HAD to have schwarma, which we did at a stand near Abby & Jeff’s place in Haifa. We had the best falafel with fluffy pita in Zichron Yaakov. And we had two outstanding meals in meat restaurants: BP (Burger Place but it was so much more than that) in Haifa, and Makom BeSejera (wide variety of organic meats) near Hoshaya, where Jeff’s relatives live. Not to mention delicious Shabbat meals at the hotel and at friends’ in Jerusalem, and at Jeff & Abby’s in Haifa. In any case, every meal we shared with friends and family was special.
To counteract the expansive effect of all that eating, we walked our legs off in every city we visited. Fortunately, Rafi is the best three-and-a-half year old walker I have ever seen. His favorite tiyul (hike) is to follow a trail with blazes on rocks. These trails also include CLIMBING the rocks. On our last day in Haifa he led us on a two-hour hike up and down hills and through wadis. He only rested when we all needed water or a shady break. He also hiked with us to see the waterfalls at Ein Gedi, and in the north at the spectacular Banias waterfall. On hot city streets he’s not quite so eager to walk…his favorite mode of transportation is actually on Grampa’s shoulders. That is how he saw most of Safed (Tzefat) and much of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Other than foot travel, we successfully traveled by many other modes. In Israel we rented a car for two days and consider it a triumph that we bused it to the Hertz location, navigated to the Golan via Kiryat Shemoneh, and did not have so much as a fender bender (Israeli drivers are noted for their impatience and liberal use of horns). In Amsterdam we bought a day pass and rode the tram everywhere (Matt is an ace at reading schedules.) We also rode on a canal boat (the best way to see the city, they say.) In Israel we took a sherut (shared taxi) from Ben Gurion airport to Jerusalem, and got around in that city by bus. In Haifa, with Abby & Rafi’s help, we got very good at taking the bus (to the Bahai Gardens & German Colony, for example.) And we took a bus and the train back to Ben Gurion from Haifa. We did not get to ride the new train in Jerusalem, but we saw it traveling down the middle of Jaffa street, next to the shuk, which was an interesting contrast between old and new.
We also did not ride bicycles in Amsterdam, though that seems to be the main mode of transportation for all ages and classes of people, and tourists can certainly rent them. We saw entire parking lots crammed full of bikes instead of cars, and were impressed to see dedicated lanes for bikes, cars, buses, and pedestrians. In Haifa we hardly saw any bikes, perhaps because the terrain of that city is more like San Francisco!
I have to mention one other highlight. The Friday we were in Haifa just happened to be the end-of-year program at Rafi’s gan (preschool.) So we got to be the seriously out-of-town visiting grandparents and enjoy all the singing (with costume changes) by 27 three-year-olds. It was amazing and a lot of fun to see.
-Grammie and Grandpa