Waldorf Astoria, the newest luxury jewel of Jerusalem

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Weddings in Israel are usually extraordinary events, with a high concentration of joy and warm with welcoming families, gorgeous outfits and lavish food. The choice of the location is usually a long process as everyone wants to offer the best one. And what can be hotter than Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, the chosen one even by Conde Nast as the best hotel in the Middle East?

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Long time residents of Jerusalem still cannot believe that this place, on Agron street, is finally more than an empty building about to fall. Initially Palace Hotel – the first ever luxury hotel in the Middle East – in the 1930s, property of the infamous Haj Amir el Husseini, it was purchased by the government in 1948 and turned into a building for offices. After being abandonned, the building was bought in 2003 by Reichmann family who invested $150 millionn in the refurbishing process. In March 2014, it was launched as the luxury hotel Waldorf Astoria, operated by Hilton Hotels and IPC Jerusalem. It is considered the longest restoration project in Israel’s history, but the results seem to be worth the waiting.DSCN0505

The architectural works were coordinated by Yehuda Feigin, who added to the original Waldorf Astoria standards a lot of Moorish, Arab or Roman influences. The fragility of the white marble is fixed with strength by the metal structures of the stairs, wrapped in the natural light entering from the huge windows.

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Etheral fragile glass presence, work of a team of glass artists that brought their materials from Czech factories coordinated by the local glass artist Jeremy Langford are bringing a touch of peace and serenity to the massive interiors.

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As in the case of many hotels of Jerusalem I had the priviledge to visit lately, the rooms are designed according to the highest modern standards – every guest is handled a tablet for checking emails, for instance – while keeping a classical ambiance.  Internet is available through both the public network and the special wifi offered complimentary in the rooms.

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Every one of the 226 rooms is an island of rest and peace. It suits both single and family travellers, with different price and standard categories. A slice of the lavish luxury from outside is brought in every room, either it is the chandellier or the delicate orchid flowers or the huge mirrors. The bathroom toileteries are signed by Salvatore Ferragamo.

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The atrium is the backbone of the hotel, aimed to bring the varied world of Jerusalem within the high walls brought together by the massive arches. Most of the artwork is local, as it is the inspiration. Couples dating for the first time are whispering their introductions near a cup of coffee or fresh juice, their emotions getting lost in the high ceiling. Who know how many of them will come back soon at the tiny reception asking for an appointment for renting a wedding location?

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The small octogonal marble atrium is organised around the special Waldorf Astoria clock. The flowers and the honey and brown colours of the upholstery are matching the reflexes of the watch. There may be many shadows in life, but we just need to see the good side of things…The clock, a Waldorf Astoria trademark, has 4 faces, with numbers written in Arabic, Hebrew, Roman and European style.

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Back visiting some of the rooms, I am notice so many small details, like this delicate glass lamp trunk that brings so much emotions in the corner.

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Following the local tradition, guests are welcomed with full heart and a generous bottlle of local wine. It may help to relax when preparing for a business meeting, for sure.

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Tired after walking the busy city, one can rest in the corner and watch the streets from under the fine and elegant curtain. Everything is set to be special in this hotel, with the smallest of the rooms being of 37 sqm, when the average is of 30 sqm.

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The more parts of the hotel I am discovering the more I feel like in a small city. Every once in a while you can rest and enjoy your time, surrounded by the games of light.

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At the beginning of January, the hotel is not very busy, but I am told to wait and see the time of the Jewish holidays of Pesach or Rosh Hashana when it is hard to find an available room.

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Sometimes, I feel like I am the guest in a huge castle, whose gigantic dimensions are made more human through the warm of art.

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One of the staples of the hotel are the glass chandelier, glittering like little diamonds, put together after days of work. The ballroom can host around 900 people, the right amount of guest to have to a wedding, isn’t it?

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On the way to any of the 12 meeting rooms, the warm colours of art can make you smile. It is also about emotions here, but the positive ones.

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When the natural light is missing, the combination of the chandeliers reflected in the mirrors and enlightened by the reflexes of carpets and walls create an universe where you expect wonders.

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About expectations and wonders is talking also the lobby art installation in the lobby, by Jeremy Langford, a metaphor of peace and hope.

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Either I stay on the old or the new side of the hotel lobby I start to feel at home. This city cannot exist outside history and the architectural solution implemented here brings together all the layers of history and influences that are part of the big story: Roman or Greek arches, Byzantine mosaique, massive marble columns, Oriental carpets, European glass, tailored furniture with exquisite upholstery or Turkish crafts.

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Even the nature from the hills around Jerusalem is brought, wild presences framed by the orderly lines.

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It is past the middle of the day and it is about time to stop the exploration and have a taste of the fine dining.

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The cheese raspberry cake accompanied by icecream not only looks good but it is also delicious, with a balanced mixture of fruity aromas.

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One of the most unforgettable impressions is left by the geometricall chocolate lava cake, also accompanied by icecream, but served warm. While going one more bite ahead, I cannot but think about how many changes these walls had seen and how there is always a hope for good. This, but especially the chocolate cake, qualifies me for a permant returning visitor status in this oasis of luxury.

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary tour of the hotel, but the opinions are, as usulal, my own. 

5 Places to Run Far Away from Winter

Winter is really playing hard against my meteorological patience. The German winter one, famous for its negative temperatures – -13C a couple of early  mornings ago – and persistence – once upon a time, I lived to see snow in the happy month of April no less. True is that the summer was very hot this year and the cold season started really only from January. But anyway,  for someone like me, winter is synonimous with bad mood, ugly clothing and limited freedom travel. It also means more than one book finished the day, many coffees and a lot of blogging.

This time of the year I am usually out of Germany till February, in much warmer places, from where I nonchalantly post sunny images on my social media channels. There are many warm places waiting for me and promise to visit soon – anyone said Bahamas? or Cuba? or Zanzibar? -, but as for now, I made a short list of my favourites that I already had the chance to visit in the last years.

  1. Lisbon, Portugal

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Lisbon, and Portugal in general, is one of my pleasant European travel memories. I loved to discover the people, the great food – the wine and the morning pastry are unforgettable – and so many cities that can be visited for one day trips, such as Sintra or Porto. I stayed in the fancy area of Cascais, around 25 minutes by train to the centre of the capital city and I was very happy with my choice, especially after I discovered a very special museum of musical instruments. I went there in one December and I had only one windy and rainy day in almost three weeks of stay.

2. Barcelona, Spain

It is a very touristic and crowded place, especially if you plan to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, but for a change one can try to pay a visit to the South of France for this specific day and night and come back at the beginning of January for the rest of the journey. The Gaudi architecture is interesting enough to keep you busy for long days and there are a lot of food choices for every taste and budget.

3. Israel

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Outside Europe, and only four hours of flight away from Berlin with regular cheap flights every day, Israel offers everything: history, art, religion, beaches, great food, unique shopping, high-end hotels. Bonus: the warm weather. Last December, I enjoyed a couple of days at the beach or sipped my glass of red wine with a great sea view. Once in a while, there is a little snow coming up for a couple of days or minutes, but although everyone is welcoming the event with panic and fear, there is nothing to be afraid of. And if you really miss the snow so much, there may be even some ski options in the Mount Hermon area.

4. New Orleans, USA

How much I love this place! The jazz clubs hopping on Bourbon street, the feeling of getting lost in the middle of the houses with stylish iron balconies and the summer feeling all round the year. The food is special in comparison with the most part of America, with a lot of spices and wise dosis of French influences. What everyone visiting the city should do: book a riverboat tour on the one and only Mississippi.

5. Thailand

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My first winter escape at the end of my first year in Germany was in Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok in the last days of December and the first hours I went through a thermic shock. In Berlin there were some minus degrees and in this city I was hardly able to breath because of the heat wave. Outside the busy Bangkok with its street food and night markets there are many things to see in the Northern region, from temples where one can book a bike tour to hiking, to fancy hotels with swimming pools and silk factories. The North has also cuisine based on fruits and vegetables. The prices are almost symbolical and you will hardly be alone during this time of the year, with many English speaking expats and tourists roaming around. The islands are usually high end destinations with gorgeous hotels and villas to rent, but if you are rather the secluded type, you better do an exhaustive research about where to find your peaceful paradise.

I told to myself more than once that I have one day to learn to ski, encouraged but the saying that you are never old enough to start practising this sport. My friends still hope that one day will finally buy the proper clothes for this weather and use this winter time for some unique trips instead of repeatedly complaying for months about the hard life under the Central European cold – you see, even my conversations are limited because of this weather! I also remember one beautiful winter I spent in Oslo, the first time since childhood when I enjoyed the snow and crispy weather. However, if you will ask me to chose between a sunny destination and one covered by snow, my answer will definitely favor the choice no. 1. After all, one can learn to ski at any age, isn’t it?

 

1001 Nights at Mt. Zion Hotel in Jerusalem

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It is winter in Jerusalem and there are alarming news running on TV about the imminent coming of a serious wave of snow – to be read that will last maybe one, two days instead of a couple of hours. As winter is not my friend and the last place on earth I want to be bothered by snow is in Jerusalem, I dream about a warm place where I can forget about cold and other bad snowy news. At least for one night, Mt. Zion Hotel is the perfect choice.

DSCN0264I passed near the hotel many times when on my way back from the city center, but was never too curious to have a look inside. Now, I have enough free time for slowly walking there from the city center – around 30 relaxed minutes. It is situated very close from the lively Tahana Rishona, where regularly events are taking place, but also from the tasty and affordable restaurants in Rehavia. Although close to entertainment areas, it is very quiet and discrete.DSCN0265

As the check-in takes place around 14.00 o’clock, I still have time to admire the stylish metal furniture with comfy blue pillows and the old Oriental carpets. I try to move from a place to another, curious to test many vantage points. The hotel overlooks the Hinnom Valley, the old city walls and the David’s citadel and the historical Yemin Moshe area.

DSCN0279Everything is suited to bring you peace and relaxation. I instantly fell in love with the painted wood of the furniture and the mixture between delicate vegetation and metal works. I fill my time reading various leaflets with information about tours and other attractions in English, Russian, French or Spanish or having a look at the good looking cakes from the bar. The friendly reception personnel, fluently English speakers, can help the guests to make various reservations, including airline and various flight details confirmations.DSCN0282I reach my room through a maze of corridors leading to a small courtyard and a garden surrounding a pool. Once I open the door of my suite, I am exactly in the kind of room I am expecting to have when on the road for a long time. Smooth colours, moderately stylish interior, a lot of space to both work and rest and relax.DSCN0283The metal framed furniture is also present here, but the intensive presence of wood brings the ambiance in the room to a more feminine, easy to cope with presence. I am in love with the colourful glass doorknobs of the close. I instantly find my place to the working table and happily start using the advantages of the very fast Internet – as everywhere in Israel, listen to that, dear Germany…Working in a space without windows is not necessarily my favourite type of office though.DSCN0284However, I can move with my laptop in the living room or on the balcony, but I am afraid will be too distracted to work by the beautiful view. The inviting bottle of red Yarden wine – one of my favourites – or the crafted cakes and fruits as well as the arabesques of the tables will be too disturbing. So I better go back into the windowless room to have some work done fast. DSCN0286

The rooms are fully equipped with everything you need in your modern life: big TV screen in the main living room and another small one in the bedroom, phone, hair dryer, tea and coffee making facilities, personal safe, air condition in every room. The doors lock automatically upon closing and everything makes you feel safe and relaxed. The beautiful smell brings you back to the world of 1001 Nights.

DSCN0288For longer or more family oriented stays, the kitchen offers the chance for preparing healthy meals. Out of the 137 rooms of the hotel, recently refurbished, 38 are Deluxe and family oriented, out of which 11 do have a balcony. The mini fridge can accommodate enough food for a couple of days. By request, a crib can be offered to families traveling with infants. Babysitting service is also offered. DSCN0296The Moroccan sink of the bathroom is another episode of the Oriental nights, with scents of lemon soap and various fine toiletries. DSCN0298A day in Jerusalem, either as a local or as a tourist is never easy, so spending time in the balcony and admiring the view is an inspired choice. Otherwise, those with more time can book a relaxing hammam stay or a spa treatment. The outdoors swimming is open from April till October.DSCN0304After going out to one of the many restaurants of the Tahana Rishona or Rehavia, the sweet treats from the room are the happy ending of the day. Bite after bite, I like to look more and more around in the suite, trying to figure out all the small details of the interior design. It seems that there is a duel between different strength of strong materials: stone, leather, metal, wood. Every single details is well balanced and harmonized by the choice of colours.DSCN0310In the morning, I woke up in the sound of the birds. The ecological and ergonomical pillows took a good care of my dreams and I feel fresh for a fresh start into the day. Just another beautiful day outside is waiting for me. Clearly, there is still a chance that there will not any winter in Jerusalem.DSCN0317Soon, I have to leave my secret retreat for the night, and I want to have one more look around my suite. These big walls were used since the end of the 19th century, at the beginning as an eye hospital. Mount Zion (Har Zion) is used as a hotel only in the last two decades, but it seems that the various redesigns brought the best from all worlds, with a lot of facilities and exquisite furniture and decoration choices for the guests.DSCN0319The breakfast helps me to forget that very soon I have to leave everything behind. The welcoming Israeli breakfast is waiting for me, with a mixture of various fruits and vegetables, fresh juices that can be made on the spot, traditional shakshuka. even cheesecake. For the summer mornings, the buffet can be tasted on the outside terrace. During the day, the restaurant and bar near the reception offers various special easy local meals, such as salmon filets, cheese plates, Greek and haloumi salad, falafel, kubeh or hummus as well as fresh sandwiches.DSCN0321

It is time to say ‘good bye’, but after such a lovely and welcoming stay, I plan to go back to enjoy some more spa and wellness one day. The sooner the better!

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary night at Mt. Zion Hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

King David Hotel Jerusalem, the full taste of history

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Jerusalem is overwhelming due its heavy mixture of history, religion and politics, but there is also a different way to get to know the city, through its special luxury locations. Where, of course, between two sips of high end tea and morsels of gourmet food one can also learn a lot about historical facts, figures and events. Out of many places I’ve visited in Israel, nowhere suits more this description than the King David Hotel. When it was opened in 1931 after almost 10 years of hard work, the construction made of the local limestone, was partially owned by Ezra Mosseri, a director of National Bank of Egypt.DSCN0372The interior design details were slightly changed since then, keeping the old Oriental charm in the carpets or wall glass decorations. The dark corners are an invitation to discretion and peace, outside the always busy outside world. Special visitors enjoy usually the quietness of the reading room, with its cakes, coffee and teas.DSCN0398In a place where high profile political figures, from Margaret Thatcher to Clinton family or Nicolas Sarkozy or the current American president or King Abdullah I of Jordan or many others, were always at home here, every object has its own history. For instance, this massive wooden table, where the peace with Jordan was signed that was especially traveled on to Cairo. If the wood would have the gift of talking, how many news will provide…And over the last century, the hotel assumed its high profile and VIP status. Which had a price to pay sometimes, as it happened in July 1946 when the British headquarters hosted in the Southern wing were the target of an attack.

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After the Six Days War, two additional floors were added, offering a perfect view over the Mt. Zion and the old City of Jerusalem. The hotel went regularly through various design lifting, but the original style was always maintained. Some hotels may change dramatically from an era to another, but King David always remains the same, outline the representatives of the company that guided my visit from the lobby to the top of the building. Nowadays, the hotel is part of the Dan Group Hotels, which decided to keep the spirit of the place, operating minimal changes at various levels, but using almost the same type of materials.

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At the beginning of January, there is the best time to book a room, as there are not too many visitors on the way, except the regular, faithful guests. The hotel has its own portfolio of customers, that keep coming here over and over again over the years. Like the Douglas Family (the Kirk and Michael, of course) who always stop here for a shorter or longer stay. The rate of returning guests is around 50%, and most part of the year, the hotel is fully booked.

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The outdoor pool, the biggest of this kind in Jerusalem, is ready to be used two weeks before the Jewish holidays of Pesach – around April – and is open till the mid-November. The beautiful big garden offers a great relaxation oasis, but also enough space for children to play. Especially during the big Jewish holidays, the hotel is usually booked in advance and various family events are hosted all round the clock.

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When the weather does not allow the outside wanderings – meaning that there are only around 10C -the special gourmet restaurant, with outstanding French touch offers a delight to the senses. At the beginning of the last year, I was invited to have a taste of the high-end afternoon tea, an innovation among the hotels in Jerusalem, which impressed even a very selective person as me.

DSCN0380For children, there are special babysitting services offered, unique gifts and tailored meals. From weddings – of up to 250 persons attendance – to various special events – like bat or bar mitzva – parties, the space can suit every special needs. There is even a special synagogue that can be used for unique occasions. The only condition is to make a reservation many months in advance, as the demand is very high. DSCN0387The wine collection has almost everything an expert and wine lover would expect. Enough to test and taste for a couple of years from now on. The prices are usually affordable, allowing also local people to have their unique moment of glory here.DSCN0388

The Regence meat restaurant is asking for a special extensive tasting experience, and the menu list where I spotted various kosher lamb veals and goose liver meals, regularly changed up to season or the gourmet preferences, makes the imagination wander far far away in the world of delicious foods. For the night owls, the Oriental Bar is open daily from 17 to 00 o’clock.

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Moving from a space to another is like visiting both a museum of history and a classical arts and design location. The current view is the result of the hard work of Adam Tiani, commissioned to do various changes into the structure and outlook of the rooms also.

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Special business oak room is available for hosting private dinners or business presentations, being provided with the latest facilities and technology, including free wifi and space for special projections. The old historical sepia or black and white paintings are here to remember how past, present and future should always stay connected. For the corporate clients, members of the Corporate Club, there are special facilities and discounts offered. The hotel also has a private parking place.

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High-end modern facilities are also provided by the fitness space. Outdoors, the tennis grounds are offering even more options for a fit stay at the hotel. There is also a ping pong space and a hammam for a relaxing ending of the sport practice.

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As in the case of the lobby, the rooms have an Oriental touch, with warm colours and simple combinations. 130 rooms are maintained in the typical old style, with a view over the old city of Jerusalem. If the lobby evokes the reminiscence of the old Egyptian or Syrian influences, the rooms were little by little oriented towards a more residential and business outlook. The silks of the curtains and the velvets of the bed covers are creating powerful impressions and a special mysterious ambiance.DSCN0423The diversity of the rooms and suites offered answers a big  is big and especially the big families with children are given a lot of choices. There is the Jerusalem Suite and the Royal Suite, the President and Deluxe Suite, the Executive and various Duplex suites. The views are different, but there is hardly a view that can be considered ‘bad’ in Jerusalem, as every corner may have its special history and special memories. For those interested to find out more, the hotel can book special tours made by recognized experts.

DSCN0429All the rooms are provided with wifi and at the top floors, the tv set is inserted in the bathroom mirrors. Sliding panels can extend or separate the spaces, in order to . A special concierge service is registering the requests of the customers before arrival trying to offer the best expectations. “Our customers, some of them frequent guests for over 30 years, know what they want. We just want to offer answer their demands”, I am told by the representatives of the hotel.DSCN0430There are at least 6 volumes of signatures of the famous guests of King David Hotel. From private political meetings to VIP family gatherings and film shooting – Exodus was filmed here in 1960 – this hotel has a lot of stories to tell. The secret of its survival despite various hotel trends and fashions and boutique temptations: building a brand and keeping the stories in. Like the city of Jerusalem itself.

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary tour of the hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

Discovering a different Jerusalem

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The local saying goes that Tel Aviv is the city where people never sleep, while Jerusalem is the city of praying (with Haifa working for both of them) but times had changed and so did the old city. With an entrepreneur mayor and a generation of new creative people it is impossible to hold on the old division. Having the chance to live here like a local for a month gave me a different perspective on the state of things. What I’m just saying is that that there are many changes taking place and you only have to stay a bit more and live there to seize it…

DSCN0192You can start your journey from the lobby of the 1001 Night ambiance of the American Colony Hotel. Built at the beginning of the 20th century around a stone-paved courtyard, dotted with grenery and housing a central fountain, it become one of the favourite gatherings places for Western diplomats, statesmen, journalists and VIPs, among which Sir. Winston Churchill, M. Gorbatchov or Giorgio Armani. Although I am definitely the big fan of the nearby King David Hotel, I like to come here once in a while, for the green landscape and the view from the top of the tower, easily seen from many standpoints in Jerusalem.

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After walking a bit more you will find the Teddy Kolek park, a oasis of quietness on the edges of the old city, named after the mayor of reunited Jerusalem. The water game of the fountain brings a fresh view over old things. Everything is changing but some things still stay the same.

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‘Jerusalem stone is the only stone that feels pain. It has a network of nerves’, said Yehuda Amichai in his Poems of Jerusalem. A visit in the old city cannot avoid a visit to the Wall, but for every visitor, the walls and the ancient cobblestones are telling a different story.

DSCN0210Behind the old doors there are so many stories of happiness and hope and maybe bitter memories too. I remember that some years ago, I started a chit-chat with an old lady at a burger shop within the old city, to discover at the end of the meal that she witnessed most of the big events of the last 4 decades, as a permanent resident within the walls. Talking with the people in Israel is much more easy than, let’s say in Germany, and if you love story, you will have for sure your good slice of it.

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After so much history, one may need a break and one of the best places to do so is at the Liberty Bell Park, with its replica of the famous bell. It was designed by the Israeli-born Danish sculptor Ulrik Plesner who designed another more joyful piece, Jerry the Dragon. From there, one can decide to spend more time in the bubbling Rehavia – if you love sushi, Rehavia Sushi is highly recommended – with its young life of restaurants, bookstores and interesting concerts taking place round the week.

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But sometimes, you don’t have to go too far away to meet the unexpected. Behind the old courtyards of Machane Yehuda, there are many things going on some of them with a special artisty touch.

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Dare to go on and you will find enough street art to delight you eyes. And no, you are not by mistake in East Berlin or in the Florentin area of Tel Aviv…

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As I said, things changed a lot in Jerusalem in the last years and don’t be surprised to find out co-working offices for rent in the middle of the border to the tradtional quarters. The startup-up nation means more than Tel Aviv and the Google offices in Haifa.

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As for the cultural and night life, things changed since the opening of the Tahana Rishona as a place of events and gatherings. Established in 1892, part of the Jaffa-Jerusalem line, near the German Colony, it still keeps the old setting and part of the rails, but was turned into a meeting point for young Jerusalemites. When the station was inaugurated, it was an occasion for Eliezer ben Yehuda, the creator of modern Hebrew, to write a song of praise and create the Hebrew work for train: rakevet. Nowadays, you wonder where the food, wine, jazz and other kind of festivals can be found in the old city, there is only one answer. And especially this time of the year, it seems that the list of attractions is getting pretty busy.

DSCN0386Jerusalem does not have the fancy Dizengoff, but has enough malls – including the Mamilla which is elegant enough for someone used with the high standards of Tel Aviv built in an area that was a no man’s land back in the times when the city was divided – and small stores to fill your bags and empty your cards. If you are looking for some vintage, check the Agrippa Street flea market, with its special nostalgic items. Every time I go there I am sure will find some old time object from my aunts’ kitchens in the old country.

DSCN0411Biking as it is no tomorrow, East Berlin style, is something relatively new in Israel, but especially in Tel Aviv, is done in fancy style, with expensive electric bikes. Bike rentals are something fresh new in Jerusalem too, but biking is less adventurous.

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Many probably don’t know that Jerusalem hosts one of the centers for creative designers and book illustrators in the region, Bezalel Academy of Arts. The works created by the young graduates can be seen not only at the flea markets in Berlin, but also in the small design shops and pop-stores from Emek Refaim.

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Nachlaot is usually considered rather part of the religious areas, but without noticing, at least the faces of the buildings are changing too. With more and English speakers relocated here, it will take not too much time till you will see some new things popping up. If you want to have a respectful look at a different world, paying a short visit to Mea Shearim area – the dress code matters, but when you are invited to a sophisticated party you also try not to go on hot pants and swimming suite, isnt’t it – can be interesting. Some of the pastry shops in the Bukharian area are too tasty and cheap to be true.  DSCN0513

The fact that Jerusalem is slowly changing too, is also this huge piece of red street art, near Machane Yehuda, which  is chaging in the wind like the dress of a dancing tomato (My imagination is not always that creative, you know). A couple of streets away, from any rooftop of the builldings of King David Street, one can look eastwards and westwards and see where and how everything changed and is about to change.

DSCN0519What I hope will never change, are the recipes of these sweets pastry. They are perfect and should stay like that. For ever.

Walking around Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem

DSCN0133It is Thursday evening in Jerusalem and Machane Yehuda is bubbling with life. As usual, people are coming here to get the best deals for their long list of shopping lists they have to bring back in due time not to let their wives impatiently waiting to start the cooking of the Fridlay evening meals. DSCN0137But there is no reason to worry, there is enough for everyone and sometimes you can also get a good deal, especially when the night is close.  DSCN0253You can find here almost everythig you need for your table, from the colourful fresh vegetables to high end Israeli wines which always deserve more than a delicious try. Around the market, small shops offer to the tourists and locals various products and good deals.   DSCN0514The moment when I like the most to visit this place is early in the morning, when the batches of fresh bread are brought and when everyone is running fast and furious to arrange their products. DSCN0515Every season has its own fruits and vegetables, but some of them, such as the dried fruits, are always there and you can either buy them as a treat to kill your hunger when on the road, or to prepare it later in compots or delicious Persian rices. DSCN0516Inviting salamis prepared according to traditional art brought to Israel from Europe can be the meaty alternative or accompanying meal to the many vegetables and fruits on sale. In fact, initially, Machane Yehuda, created in 1875, was exclusively a market for fruits and vegetables, to which were also added during the years the fusion of fresh fish, baked goods, and the very recent maze of clothing shops. DSCN0517Every time I am here, I just want to stop more and more, to smell the products, look at the people and feel the place. No wonder that many tourists are coming here for long photographic sessions. the colours and the bubbling llife are always calling. DSCN0519The sweets, oh, the sweets, are hard to resist. Thus, I keep coming over and over again for more treats. As every season has its own Jewish holidays and special meals, expect to find every time something new for your foodie soul. DSCN0521As for me, I am definitely in love with the tasty Israeli strawberries. Not only big and good looking, but also tasting as strawberries. Something I am definitely missing in Europe where fruits may look very good in the picture but completely tasteless. DSCN0522There is another product that it is very special here: the halva. In 1947, the Kingdom of Halva was created but the secret of the recipe, using at least 10 secret spices, is still hunting the foodie spies. In one shop, they mill the choice of sesame seeds imported from Ethiopia with 200 years groundstones to obtain smooth tehina. In a second shop, they add sugar and flavourings to produce the halva. The tehina shop in Machane Yehuda offers dozens of flavours like green and red tehnia, and around 101 types of sweet halva. DSCN0524During the winter, pickels and olives are pleasanty exposing their shining freshness and beauty and even if you don’t like to eat or to cook, you may want to have a try. Very often, I go there and start asking about recipes and preparation processes. I learn here more than from any fancy cooking class. DSCN0527As usual, a place is made up by its people, and I always can’t wait to meet the people from Machane Yehuda. When not necessarily in the mood for talking, I just take a small coffee in many of the bars or small restaurants inside the market and look around. Sometimes without using my camera at all. What matters is to see and understand their world with my own eyes. There is always something to learn here.

Photographic Jerusalem

DSCN0002One of the non-fiction books that changed at a great extent my way to see the world was James Elkins’s How to use your eyes, pledging for a reconsideration of our sight focus. Practically, there is no ‘uninteresting’ corner and the street offers millions of opportunities to challenge the classical way of seeing. Such a perspective is especially useful when it comes to visiting places enjoying a particular fame, which might not always be in their advantage. Jerusalem, for instance, is highly reverred for its holy places and traditional lifestyle in some parts of the city. But what about its people and places? Are all the same? Is everything only black – with a bit of white? Or there are some hidden colours too?DSCN0009With these questions in mind, I started my early morning photographic tour with Ouria Tadmor, a local photographer with deep knowledge of the city, and especially of its people, part of a complimentary experience offered by LocalYoo, gathering a network of knowledgeable people all over the world. Another challenges that I was ready to cope with was my relatively limited photographic ability to go more into taking pictures of people instead of the empty streets and lifeless buildings that I usually do.

DSCN0047But what can you do for not bothering people? Or not to feel an intruder in their private street life? You just have to go on and start taking photos. Rarely people will get angry on you and they will end up ignoring you, explained Ouria. The most important is to have patience and set up a standpoint from where you can get the best views. In this case, we established our temporary photographic headquarters near the famous market Machane Yehuda, a favourite spot not only for those looking for fresh vegetables and fruits and other local foods, but also for politicians who are always making a last tour de force here before the first round of voting. We spent some good dozen of photographies at the light train station, spotting the many differet layers of the Jerusalem society.

DSCN0105Entering the market, I kept pushing the button and taking more and more photos. As in the case of writing too, it is important also to have in mind a specific topic for your photographies. Even a simple plastic bag can say a lot about a person, his or her life, choices and also future.

DSCN0119I lived in Jerusalem either as a tourist or as a local many times, but I never have enough of Machane Yehuda. Every time is special and this time it was special too because I was finally learning also how to play with lights and shadows, how to appreciate the smoke of a cigarette which may create extremely interesting contrasts and how to just go on and take pictures. Everything was more alive and started to be even much happier with my photographies.

DSCN0133Not only the people can send a lot of interesting lively messages at Machane Yehuda, but also the modest vegetables getting ready to be cooked for the Friday evening meal. DSCN0149My photographic tour finished after a couple of hours, but now I was confident enough to start putting into practice the knowledge. So, I kept wandering the streets of old Jerusalem looking for some new visual attractions. As expected, did not need to wait for more, and close to the main street, an artist lady was doing open air painting.

DSCN0150There is something Jerusalem, and Israel in general, that you cannot find in big Western cities: the openness of the people keen to get in touch with you, help you get for directions or, in this case, explain their work of art in process.  DSCN0157Jerusalem is also a city of art and artists, with one of the most important art academies, Bezalel, being hosted here. In the last years, small design shops and concept stores were created presenting interesting design and especially, my favourite ones, book illustrations. Hidden yards near Machane Yehuda are also precious hideouts of old and new art. If you are into antiquities, the flea market on Agrippa is a good source of inspiration and displays old samples of the history of Israel too. Every time I go there I discovered old objects that we also used to have at home like old weights and books. DSCN0165Hungry for more photography, I ended up for the next hour at another busy spot, the governmental area, where you can also notice a lot of differences and all the many layers of the Jerusalem society. DSCN0171There is also street art present there, under the form of some colourful bikes, that are becoming more and more popular not only in the fancy Tel Aviv – where the electric bikes are the most have, despite the impressive prices.  DSCN0246As usual, my favourite time of the day for photographic adventures and solitary city discoveries is the early morning. Another day, I am back in the center getting into the mood of busy coming and going of people and their colourful wares. DSCN0200

If I want some quietness, I have Teddy Kolek park, on the edges of the old city, named after the famous mayor of the united city of Jerusalem. DSCN0202Another source of infinite inspiration is, obviously, the Old City, which offers always noteworthy details, not only for the photographer, but also for the historian or anthropologist. This time, a massive delegation from Nigeria was visiting the Kotel – the Wall, and by the chance of life, I was there to catch the moment.  DSCN0206Inside the city walls, in the old Jewish quarter, life has also a certain trace of continuity, unbroken by the political, social or any other changes. Old books are made based on the genuine knowledge of the ages. And you can be also there, ready to turn the moment into history. DSCN0211As usual in Jerusalem, the history is the quiet guardian of the present and the hope for the future. One of the symbols of hope is the old Hurva synagogue in the old city – a former ruin changed into a beautiful house of prayer and learning. Hope is also the message sent by the many people, many of them youngsters from all over the world, that stop here for a while during their usual trips to Israel. Maybe sooner or later they will also come back for good. DSCN0215On the way back going out of the old city, the shops all along the way are hiding hundreds of histories about people. Imagine how many stories were told over the tea or coffee made in these metal pans or the emotions of the children lightning their first Hanukka candles! DSCN0236Is not that difficult to put into practice Elkins’ lessons in Jerusalem. Looking a bit higher than usual, I notified the laughing face of the former immigrant shelter of Tiferet Zion v’Yerushalaim, created in 1908 by Rabbi Shmuel Levi, who immigrated from the US. The building was used as a hostel aimed to absorb thousands of immigrants over the years. The sundial and the additional clocks on the facade of the buildings were aimed to show the sunset hours in different parts of the world, useful for calculating the Shabbat times. DSCN0532Jerusalem is also a city of music, not only through its regular open air and special concerts held in small underground bars, but also thanks to its talented street musicians. From the moment I discovered The Rabbi and the Gypsy Lady passionatelly singing I could not resist coming back over and over again. They have the amazing power to inspire you to live your life at its fullest, but with a meaning.  DSCN0233Of course there are so many other things my eyes did not see yet in Jerusalem, but my heart knows they exist. See you soon, Jerusalem!