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.

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Review: The Market Courtyard-Jerusalem Suites: your home far away from home

DSCN0336Nachlaot is one of the nicest neighbourhoods of the busy Jerusalem, with its traditional small houses, quiet parks where people can meet to talk the latest news or play some chess or shesh besh, small green streets and local synagogues. During the sunny days, the old buildings are wrapped into the light and made you forget which century you are living in. I passed along HaCarmel street many times before, but never had the reason to stop for more and read its messages. It is close to the famous Mahane Yehuda Market and the flea market from Agrippa Street, but also from the Central Station and the Light Rail. The friendliness of the people and the colours of the streets invited me to stay more and this is what I did before checking my apartment at the Market Courtyard -Jerusalem Suites.

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Once I was given the key, some small details about entering the courtyard and the house and some codes – everything looked very safe – , I am free to discover my residence for the rest of the day and the night. My apartment has a big living room, a bathroom, a bedroom that gives into the interior yard, a kitchen and a balcony where I am thinking to spend as much time as possible.

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The bathroom is spacious enough, with a bathtube, a priviledge that is not easy to have, either in apartments or hotel rooms in Jerusalem. Hot water is available round the day and everything looks white and clean.

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The kitchen is provided with minimal amenities: a fridge, a microwave, coffee machine, coffee and sugar. It is enough space to give you inspiration to cook a family meal and the vicinity to the Machane Yehuda offers more than an opportunity to make yourself, your family and children feel like home. As the table in the living room can be enlarged and made bigger, you can also have a big meal, eventually with your new friends.

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The decorations are minimal, but with good taste, especially the old black-and-white pictures from the old city or the posters about art exhibitions. The furniture is custom made, with serious brown and red pillows that brings more life into the room.

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The residences are tailored for short, medium and long stay, as you can rent them for the day, week, month and even year. It works very well for couples, single travellers longing for the feeling of being at home, families with or without children. The wireless works very well and there is TV and air condition too. Well-written and interesting books about Jerusalem and history of Israel are inviting you to plan more wisely the next legs of the trip.

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The bedroom reminded me a bit of a bungallow, and as in the rest of the house, the details are minimal, offering enough space for moving and thinking freely. Who needs too much furniture when you are on vacation? The closet is big enough to accommodate different wardrobe needs. Mine gave to the courtyard and was quiet for this time of the year – beginning of January.

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The Market Courtyard (or the Hatzar Hashuk, in Hebrew) is a historical building, preserved and reinvented as an apartment building, keeping in mind the traditional elements of the Jerusalem architecture. Its internal courtyard leads to a 3-storey building, each new and provided with modern facilities. Every residence offers a different view of Jerusalem: either the Nachlaot or the marketplace bustle. If you are lucky enough to stay at the top floors, you can even have a view of the Israel Museum, the road to Gilo, or the Supreme Court Building.

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My balcony offered a view over Nachlaot, without too many people outside during the day, but apparently with its own secret life during the night. In the middle of the night, a guitar player and singer in the park, made me think about some local Romeo and Juliet story, and these thoughts kept me busy enough for not trying to bother the solo concert. The balconies are big enough to allow you spending a good part of the morning there and if you want to better understand this city and its people, this seems to be a good standpoint to start with.

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The courtyard offers a fascinated view, and its interior yard offers opportunities to the guests to meet and, who knows, to plan some trips together. The green plants hanging fhe balconies give an air of familiarity and friendliness. The main construction was originally built in 1886, and was part of the larger efforts to bring more Jewish population outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. The old stones of the courtyard can be a reminder of the old and many untold histories.

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When it was about time to go to my next destination, I had the feeling that I have to leave a place that I was just starting to become too familiar with to abandon without regrets. The Nachlaot and the secrets kept into the courtyard were calling me back. I wonder if the guitar musician still singing in the park?

For more insights from this accommodation, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/the-market-courtyard-jerusalem-suites/

Disclaimer: I was offered a one-night stay at the Market Courtyard – Jerusalem Suites, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Travel Israel: Where history meets Google

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The travel experience to Israel is not only safe and pleasantly surprising, but very affordable too, with more and more direct and less expensive connections from all over Europe and the world. Especially from Germany, many low-costs lines were introduced in the last years, and a smart early booking can give you the chance to fly to Tel Aviv and back for less than 300 Euro.

Regardless of the time of the day you are landing in Tel Aviv, there will always be something open as the city never sleeps. Clubs and bars and restaurants and shops are calling your name. The new brave architecture insinuated in the urban space around old traditional houses, palm trees are bordering walls with creative graffiti. And if you were a bit scared that you will have some communication problems, don’t worry, you are in the country where the main world languages are easily spoken.

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In the evening, there are always beach parties. Open air dancing and cocktail tasting is for everyone. Lala Land beach is one of the many places where you should be at the beginning of the night. Elegant hotels but also cozy hostels where one can meet new friends are strategically places near the beach. The prices may differ of the season, with big differences during the Jewish high holidays, especially April – Pesach – and September – Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. The sooner you make the reservation, the better. Compared to Europe, the weather is good all round the year – with high temperatures during August – so you don’t risk anything if you start your exploration of Israel in January or February, for instance.

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Tel Aviv is the place of arts and creative minds par excellence. The passionate arts scene is featured by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art or Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. At the Beit Hatfutsot – the Diaspora Museum – there is a chance to understand more about the history of Jewish communities from all over the world. Before you enter through the gates of any museum, there is the architecture of the city who tells you a story. Jewish architects that escaped Germany before and during the war, brought the Bauhaus spirit in the city and built around 4,000 houses, part of the White City, nowadays included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

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The contemporary urban culture is a different and equally fascinating layer of Tel Aviv. Answering the curiosities of tourists and locals, graffiti tours are regularly offered in English, covering the most interesting areas of the city. As many of the graffiti messages are connected with the daily life and politics of the Israeli society, a little bit of guidance is more than welcomed.

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Transportation in the city is easy: either by bus or by foot. Taxis can help you too, and the very often the prices can be negotiated. Exchange offices or banks are open 6 days of week – Saturday is the official day of rest.

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Saturday is the day of rest – Shabbat – and most part of the shops are closed, as well as public transportation. In Tel Aviv, however, one can always find something open or some parties going on – strongly recommended the rooftop parties in the White Cities, many of them arranged as gorgeous gardens, from where you can have a view of the city night life. Resting one day the week is not a bad idea either, and on Saturday evening, one can notice how everything goes back to normality. A must-see is the spontaneous dancing show at Gordon Beach. Many similar street dancing are taking place near the clubs as well.

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From the center of Tel Aviv, one can walk for a while reaching the artist quarter of Neve Tzedek. Small streets, bordering colourful and individual houses, hosting small galeries or pop-up stores, but also good restaurants and bakeries, especially French and Hungarian, bringing back home flavours and childhood long-forgotten tastes.

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Another tasty and interesting part of Tel Aviv is Jaffa, with its small houses with flower gardens and delicious Oriental restaurants.

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The best place to find something special to buy or eat or admire is on Dizengoff Street, where you can find exquisite design shops, the big mall at no. 50 and restaurants for all kind of tastes and budgets. As for me, I also love to walk on Eli’ezer ben Yehuda street, checking the latest French bakeries or the newest frozen yoghurt parlour. And there is something else that no one should miss while in Israel: the big checking list of breakfast, traditionally including boiled eggs, tomato salad, labneh, hummus, olive oil, pita bread, fresh fruits and the unforgettable strong coffee – preferably with cardamom. Curious for more shopping malls: check Azrieli, a couple of bus stations away from ben Yehuda.

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On Dizengoff and ben Yehuda I always discover the most interesting and creative art galleries, featuring modern local and European artists.

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Tel Aviv is also a friendly city to travel with children. Besides the beach and the many gourmet temptations especially offered for children by many restaurants, there are plenty of parks, playgrounds and the interesting safari that I recently discovered.

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Israel is a small country and you can easily move within a couple of hours from a part to another. By car or by taxi, or using the shared cars, but also by train or bus, many of the main cities can be seen in one day. One of the most spectacular areas is around the old fortification of Masada, where the natural landscape is hiding centuries of history of the land.

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The easiest way to arrive is via Jerusalem, by bus. The buses have air condition but once you are out, you should be careful as during the high season of August, the heat can be unbearable. From the top, one can see the Dead Sea and the small green oasis, the kibbutz, many of them offering affordable accommodation to the tourists.

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Elegant resorts appeared in the last decades, with high-class spa and luxury services. Most are using the Ahava products, based on healthy mud and other natural ingredients.

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From the highest altitudes, one can embrace the mysterious landscape. A country that used to be covered by sand and stones is turned into a rich agricultural area, using the best of its natural resources and beauty.

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Every year, Masada is hosting a majestic opera festival, with many representations starting early in the morning, the best time to watch the sunrise.

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Travelling across the country reveals the diversity and the pace of a country aimed to succeed. In Rishon LeZion, high scrapers were built fast to accommodate the waves of people coming back home. The vertical landscape is ironically punctured by colourful playgrounds. In Ra’anana, the Friendship Park was designed to accommodate visitors with special needs.

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One of the cities that took me a lot to come along with is Haifa, the working-city where people are always busy. Here is where the logo of Google can be easily seen on the way to the beach and where Intel established its first center outside USA in 1974. Since then, the American company opened another 4 centers in the country and is planning a $6 billion investment in a chip plant. Rambam hospital, one of the best health centers in the area, is treating patients from all over the world.

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As local people are so busy working, the beaches are perfect for those looking for more quietness and privacy. There are not too many beach parties although enough beach bars open till late in the night. Wifi facilities will help you to keep connected with the busy world anyway. Dado Beach, for instance, is considered as one of the best for families with children, while Carmel is more often the meeting place of students and young people in general.

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The local zoo was initially launched as an educational school center, but nowadays is has a lot of attractions for children. It is situated close to Carmel Center, one of the two areas – besides the German colony – where to find the best pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. I sipped some good cocktails once at Barbarossa and definitely loved the Japanika sushi treats, including the design and ambiance.

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The city also has a very active, even though not obvious, art life, that you first notice while walking the streets, trying to read the hidden messages of the street art and installations. I discovered here the most important collection of Japanese art at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, close to the beautiful Louis Promenade. For children, and not only, there is an interesting Museum of Science.  For more art, the Ein Hod artists village can offer different surprises, but also the possibility to talk directly with artists about their work.

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One of the most famous landmarks of the city are the Baha’i Garden, in a city where various religions co-exist – and there is also a Carmelite Monastery and several churches and mosques. Haifa also has one of the smallest subway network in the world – Istanbul being the other one – with its colourful 6-station of Carmelit funicular railway, re-opened in 1992. Another unique transportation in the city is the cable car which connects the beach promenade with Mt. Carmel.

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The naval life left a certain trace on the character of people. Sailors are reliable people, but not very talkative. Either they like you or not, they will tell you openly. A couple of trips after my first visit to the city, I am more used with it. And from a trip to another, I gathered new reasons to come back.

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Jerusalem is a different kind of encounter. Walking the thousands of years of cobbled old streets brings the visitor back in time. And even if you are completely ignorant about any history, you might want to know more at the end of your journey.

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Before going to the library, try to discover more only by tasting the food, the tempting and delicious pitas or various breads offered in different shapes. A new wave of gourmet restaurants were opened in the last years, one of the best by far being Mantra, Hachatzer or Rooftop. The wines are the natural company of the good foods: in the last years, an impressive number of boutique vineyards were created, many offering regularly wine tasting events.

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The streets of the old city are a oasis of quiet, especially if you decide to walk around my favourite time of the day to start a journey: early in the morning. Shortly before 10 o’clock the old streets are back to life, waken up by the noise of the vendors opening their shops or the men rushing to study in many of the synagogues situated in the neighbourhood.

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Many rush to the Western Wall, where people from simple Jews to world presidents left a small note asking for a wish.

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The area went through various transformations in the last years. The former ruin of the 18th century Hurva synagogue (hurva means ruin in Hebrew) was turned into a new building. There are regular guided tours offered that will lead you to the top of the building from where one can have a panoramic view of Jerusalem and its vicinity.

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For many Western visitors, the cats are the unexpected cute encounters. They are everywhere, on the beach, in the yard of the synagogues or at the entry in elegant malls. When they don’t run after mice or beg for a little piece of food, they rest in the most unexpected places.

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Mahane Yehuda is where you can smell and taste the Middle East. The spices are in the air, and I rarely need long hours to find out what I am looking for. As usual, I end up with lots of perfumed bags that will put at hard trial my culinary skills and imagination.

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I am not more literate when it comes to the fruits either, but the colours are tempting enough to convince me they are worth a little bit of extra tasting.

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The weight of history may be enough for not doing anything else besides the Old Quarter. Parks and the biblical Zoo are good destinations for family with children. Otherwise, there are some places that I always want to see again: the interesting Italian synagogue, introducing the special world of Italian Jewry, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Israel Museum with an impressive archaeological collection, including the famous Dead Sea scrolls, and Yad Vashem Museum, the living memorial of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Another interesting attraction, relatively newly introduced on the to-do-list in the city is the tram which goes fast from a part to the other of the city, a good opportunity to have a better view of various areas and to observe or get in touch with the local people. As in the case of Tel Aviv, Segway tours are also available for small or bigger group of tourists, with or without a guide included.

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Those that don’t have claustrophobic problems and are ready to walk barefoot through water can try to make a tour of the City of David. I did it, despite coping in the first minutes of the tour with a deep emergency to run back to light, and was delighted with the high quality of the English explanations and the overall setting.

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The tour – that lasts an average of 3 hours – leads the visitor through underground tunnels, exploring the place of birth of the ancient city of Jerusalem. When you are finally out of the darkness, one learns to better appreciate the light. Back in the real life, there is the busy life from Mamilla Mall with the very talented street artists singing something beautiful. Everywhere, there is something to do and many reasons to return. Even though it’s only for a small piece of cake that you only tasted at home. And home is where your heart is.

For more pictures from Israel, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/israel/