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

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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!

Afternoon tea chez King David Hotel in Jerusalem

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King David Hotel in Jerusalem is a legendary luxury destination not only in Israel, but in the entire region whose style hardly changed since it was created in 1931,  by the Jewish-Egyptian family Mosseri. What changes though is the style of the kitchen and the new gourmet influences brought here by French cooking experts that moved in the country in the last years.

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I visited the hotel back in January, a relatively quiet season compared with the busy activity you may notice right now till the end of September. Besides the usual customers of the hotel, there is hardly any personality that visited Jerusalem, from Michael Douglas to King Juan Carlos, that was not the guest of the hotel.

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With such an impressive list of guests, the standards were and will always be high at King David. The delicate changes operated regularly in the menu are aimed to offer the best possible experiences to the guests. In the lobby, little pieces of French gourmet art are a proof of the latest changes of the Jerusalem’s high class cuisine. This is where the complex standards of kosher cooking are embraced by the creative spirit of the French cuisine. A very successful meeting, my eyes and smell dare to say.

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Besides the intensive sightseeing and its part of story telling that I am shared – minutes before returning in the lobby was just chatting with one of the oldest employees of the hotel about how the bar mitzva party of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zetta Jones was celebrated here – I am here also for some special gourmet experiences. For instance, to try the relatively new – one year and a half ago only – afternoon tea menu. As for now, we have: English preciousness, French creativity and kosher delicacies. What can I get out of it? Till everything is ready, I am tempted with orange juice and a red beet and apple juice that took my breath away and brought back all the energies spent in intesive sightseeings in and around the city. The sweetness of the apple and the earth smell of the red beet are exactly portioned to produce a completely new and delicious result.

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While I am sipping my Lemon Grass Cream infusion, the brioches are arriving. The fulfilling smell of freshly baked pastry, ready to be tasted in the company of butter and strawberry jam. Wish I can spend every day tasting such mouth melting pieces of art.

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But there is much more to come. The 3-layered plates are each carrying some new foodie works of art. Small pieces of smoked caramelised salmon with soy sauce and traces of yolk, a high end selection of cheeses, among which my favourite goat cheese, Camembert and Gruyere, freshly produced in the North of Israel, with blueberries and slowly roasted tomatoes. Although I love the cheeses a lot, the caramelised salmon is just perfect, with the delicate fried fish covered in moderate sweetness. To be eaten only in small unforgettable bites. Since I am back in Berlin, I am obsessively trying to recreate the recipe, bust probably it will not happen before taking some special gourmet French classes.

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But the afternoon tea is not done yet. After the puffy pastry, and the gourmet bites, it follows the sweet part of the menu. It seems that the classical three-tiered plates are here replaced at King David by three-course meals. As everything in the menu, don’t expect abundance, but high style. The soft dough of the scones is aromated with raisins, rhum and vanilla, and accompanied by fresh sour cream at the room temperature and the fine tarts are complimentary to the simple freshness of the fruits.

When I finally have to leave this island of culinary wellness, I knew that the memory of so many special tastes will follow me for a long time. I was right and the remedy is to find the fastest way to be back soon. Where else can I find such a beautiful mixture of apple and red beet?

Disclaimer: I was the guest of King David Hotel for a special afternoon spent discovering the hotel (a dedicated post coming up soon), but the opinions are, as usual, my own.

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/