Israel travel tips please...
May 2, 2007 6:08 PM   Subscribe

IsraelTravelFilter. First trip overseas, too.

I'm traveling to Israel in about a month for two weeks for work. I'm sure my coworkers will take us to see all the standard religious sites, but I'd like recommendations for things like coffee shops, clubs (indie rock and/or techno/house), and restaurants. Also, just general tips so that I don't make a fool of myself or stand out too much on my first trip overseas. How is wifi access? Do I need a power adapter for my macbook pro? Whats the best way to call back home?

I think we'll be somewhere near Hertzliyah if that matters, but I'm guessing we'll travel around the country too.
posted by rsanheim to Travel & Transportation around Israel (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Get a travel guide and look through it to see about sites of interest to you.

It's definitely worth going to the Old City of Jerusalem if you can -- and read up a bit on the history if you don't have any religious upbringing. (even just as much history as is in a standard travel book like Lonely Planet will really enhance your experience of this amazing place.) Get someone to come with you if possible, better not to walk the tops of the walls of the Old City alone (or at least this was true several years ago). When planning to go to religious sites, dress conservatively, cover up more than you would in a western city.

Coming from the US, Israelis seemed to me like very brusque, busy, New Yorkers to me. Tense, little tolerance for dawdling.

I was surprised (though I now realize it was stupid to be surprised) that so much of the signage was in Hebrew without English translation. Anyone in tourism industry will speak enough English that you'll be fine, though.

I was also surpirsed that when paying with a credit card for a meal in a restaurant, the tipping didn't work like it does in the US. In the US, you can approve the bill and then they will bring you back the credit card slip with a place where you can add the tip. In Israel that wasn't possible. I accidentally stiffed a waitress once because I had no case for a tip.. You might ask your hosts how to handle this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:55 PM on May 2, 2007

case = cash
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:56 PM on May 2, 2007

You know you will need a passport, so you're already in the process of getting one, with the super-fast service, yes?

And Israeli airport security (for when you leave the country) really is much better, more thorough than US. When I was there they had two armed staff members going through my bags by hand, thoroughly, and asking me detailed questions before I even got to the ticket desk. Don't harbor any illusion about trying to sneak anything illicit onto the plane (not that you would, but.).

Dress in layers for the flight, if it will be a long one. You may need to be extra-warm at some times, and extra-cold at others. If feeling airsick, take off some layers - it helps to be colder.

If you're going to undergo jetlag, the best method is to get in in the morning and stay up until night-time. You'll have one awful day, but your body will adjust to the time change faster.

But seriously, my main suggestion is to read up on the (ancient) history before you go.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:04 PM on May 2, 2007

Notice that with the backlog of passport applications, even renewals can take - WITH EXPEDITED SERVICE - up to 60 days right now. If you have your ticket in hand, you can go to SOME passport offices (like San Francisco's) 14 days before your flight and get your first passport or renewal while you wait - takes up to three hours, and they charge the usual $75 plus, I think, a $20 expedite fee. Bring the photos with you and all the required documents.

I am also planning my first trip to Israel, hopefully around Purim, so this thread is very helpful!
posted by luriete at 9:56 PM on May 2, 2007

I was in Israel in 2000, and I can't really remember anything that would help you, but if I can go on a little tangent here: you should really try to go to Petra. It's an amazing archeological site in Jordan, and since Israel is such a small country, traveling distances from almost any city to Petra should not be that big. You say you're going to be working, but I bet you could go to visit this place on a saturday or a sunday.

Oh and by the way, I was in Herzliyya for a day or two and I remember it was a very beautiful place. Have fun!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 10:55 PM on May 2, 2007

Yes - Petra is totally amazing. If you will have time, very much worth going.

Jordan is noticeably more "foreign" feeling than Israel. Petra is in the middle of nowhere, and the people who live in the town are correspondingly less smooth about westerners (even though it's a tourist destination). If you're a woman walking on the street alone, even dressed fairly conservatively, you will get frankly stared at as if you are a green alien doing nasty deeds. In Jordan at rest stops/gas stations, there's an indoor area for women/families -- women aren't supposed to stand around in the main indoor area. Again, the disapproving stares.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:04 PM on May 2, 2007

Best answer: Hertziliya has its own fairly nice beach. But you should know you are a mere 20 minutes south (by bus) of the stunning Beach in less modern but more coastal city of Netanya. People often horseback ride and parasail there, if that is your thing.

In terms of clubs, you are going to have to look to nearby Tel Aviv for those. Thats your best bet for Cafe's, too, as Hertziliya is more of a professional, businessy type place, and while it will have coffee shops here and there, Tel Aviv & its enviorns far overshadows it.

In Tel Aviv, Allenby and Dizengoff are the two big streets for clubs/discos.

You will be (somewhat) near Holon, where the highly powerful Dialogue in the Dark Blindness Museum (info on bottom) is a dont miss.

When you are in Jerusalem, Ben Yehuda, the center of town, has all the clubs and plenty of coffee shops and restauraunts. A particularly interesting one is Tmol Shilshom, a combo Bookstore/restaurant/cafe with a nice atmosphere. The more upscale area for restaurants in Jerusalem is Emek Refaim. There, you'll find plenty of good places to eat. An authentic middle eastern one with great food is Marbad Haksamim (The Magic Carpet) which I couldnt find a link for but is pretty central and easy to find.

A restauraunt you should really look out for is Pizza Meter, the undisputed champion of Israeli pizza toppings. They serve rectangular meter-long pizzas with neat sections for each of their 50 toppings you choose to put on. Its exciting. I had yams on pizza once (It was during an all you can eat deal, not my #1 preference.)

Those are a few off the cuff recomendations. I lived in Jerusalem for a couple of years so if you are going to be there for a long period of time I can tell you much much more about the city.
posted by milestogo at 12:25 AM on May 3, 2007

Best answer: I spent this last year living in Israel. Some observations:

At the airport: Don't be afraid of the security officers and their constant questioning. Their aim is to make you nervous and to see if your story is straight, so they will ask you the same questions over and over again in hopes of you changing your story. Don't sweat it, there's a chance you will be delayed entry into the country for a few hours but if you're legit, you'll get it no problem.

In the country:

-There are security officers EVERYWHERE. Mall entrances, large restaurant entrances, gardens, cafes, you name it, there are officers. Their goal is to ensure the safety of everyone around them, so you'll be scanned with a metal detector and your bag will be searched before you're allowed to enter. Want to make their lives easier? Open your bag before you get there and spread your arms as they scan you. Believe me, the more cooperative you are, the more appreciative they are. Don't try to be funny by saying things like "There's a bomb in my bag" Even saying that with a big smile on your face will cause aggravation.

- Make sure to never leave your backpack or purse on the ground unattended. Bomb squad will be called. I've seen them in action many times and it causes a lot of delays (streets have to be closed, traffic comes to a hault). Security is taken very seriously there.

- People will stare at you. Much more than you're used to in North America. My friends and I had a game where we would stare back and see who could last the longest. One of my friend's staring matches hit 2 minutes. Don't take offense, it just happens.

- You will think the Israelis are angry at you when they speak, they're not. The transition from Hebrew to English is an interesting one and they try to say things in English the same way they would in Hebrew, which comes off quite brute for our ears.

As far as things to do and eat, Greg's Cafe is quite nice and plentiful, I completely agree with milestogo about Meter Pizza, it's wonderful. You should definitely visit the Baha'i gardens in Haifa. Join a free tour when you get there but make sure to wear modest clothing. Also head over to Old Akko, a beautiful ancient city; you'll think you're in Aladdin. If you're up for heading further up north, check out Nahariya - it's a really nice beach town and sports some great cafes and restaurants.

Hope you have a nice trip.
posted by 913 at 1:20 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, you'll need a power adapter for your laptop: I used something like this:

Calling home should be easy through your hotel but you can pick of phone cards at larger stores. Wifi is plentiful in larger districts.
posted by 913 at 1:23 AM on May 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everyone.

Lobster: I already have a passport, so thats all set. I don't think I'd have a chance if I was just trying to get one now...
posted by rsanheim at 3:56 AM on May 3, 2007

Good restaurants in Jerusalem (a little on the expensive end, for Israel, but cheap by American standards and extraordinarily tasty):

Cielo (tiny, Italian, very yummy)

Teenim (it means "Figs" in Hebrew). Vegetarian, with an extraordinary view of the Old City. A little hard to find, though - make sure you call for directions.


Paradiso Cafe

Caffit (described recently in a New York Times piece on the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem, although I can't find the piece.)

Sol I haven't actually been here, but my Israeli boyfriend just recommended it. It serves tapas (although I misheard him, thought it was "kind of a topless bar...")
posted by wyzewoman at 4:47 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

In Jerusalem: Seconding Tmol Shilshom. Especially the molten chocolate cake. Also, oddly enough, the restaurant at the Cinematheque has great food, especially the huge salads, and the patio overlooks the Old City. Finally, make sure you go to Mahane Yehuda (the shuk, or open-air market). There's nothing like it.
Also go to Masada - do the climb in time to watch the sun rise over the Dead Sea. Then go to the Dead Sea.
There's also some great hiking if that's your thing.
posted by bassjump at 6:28 AM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry, got off track from the restaurant thing. But the shuk is a great place to buy fresh fresh food.
posted by bassjump at 6:29 AM on May 3, 2007

As a matter of fact I just flew into Tel Aviv last night for at least a couple of weeks on business.

If you're flying El Al they are VERY interested in where you're going and why. I had answers for everything but they still disassembled and passed my luggage through a chemical sniffer and decompression chamber but having never flown El Al before this may be standard?

I am from New Zealand so I'm not certain how all this applies to you...

Stay out of the Shabbat lifts unless you've got time to spare.

My MBP is fine. The power adaptor that came with it has removable dongles and it's easy to pick up one that fits the sockets over here I believe a non-grounded Europlug is the one I use. The sockets are 3pin but fit this adaptor fine.

I'm off to Masada tomorrow so that should be good. The weather is stinking hot and it's only the middle of spring here you may need to pack some lighter clothes for when you visit.

Wifi access is OK if you're in a hotel. I had a few hiccups here at the Carlton but everything seems to be fine now. Costs about $15 shekels for 24 hrs which I think is about $3-5 USD

I found a lot of the Israeli people to be easy-going and a majority of people you will contact will speak at least a little English ("No, not that one... THAT one!") so I wouldn't worry too much. Just don't ask for a BLT or Bacon and eggs at the hotel - it's not funny :)
posted by puddpunk at 7:26 AM on May 3, 2007

*Ben Yehuda, the pedestrian mall in Jerusalem mentioned above, has free WiFi. I believe the city was adding other access points - this was about a year and a half ago.

*There are Internet Cafe services everywhere.

*When you take a cab, it's customary to sit in the front with the driver (not in the back, like in NYC). Tipping is not necessary, however.

*Drink lots of water. But if you think you might have problems with the foreign water (I did), only drink bottled. Or bring Immodium with you (in Israel, I think it's perscription only).

*You do need a convertor for your plug. Israel is on 220.

*Soldiers are everywhere. Some first-time visitors find that unsettling. It's not. There are just LOTS of <2 0 year olds with big rifles. after a day or two, you won't>
*When you get back, you may find it weird that your bags AREN'T being checked as you go into the supermarket, mall, library, restaurant, museum, hair salon, pizzeria, university, book store, etc. After spending a year in Israel, I was confused when the library at my school inspected my bag on the way OUT, not the way IN.

*On a similar note: NEVER, EVER, EVER leave your bag unattended, or with a stranger, even for a minute. It will be considered a "chefetz chashood" - a suspicious object. The police will close up the area. Traffic will come to a halt. A robot will be brought in, and your bag will be imploded. Lots of people will be angry for the inconvenience.

*That's all I got for now. If you have any more specific questions, hit us back. Email in profile.
posted by prophetsearcher at 9:53 AM on May 3, 2007

Go to the shuk in Jerusalem and get some rugelach from Marzipan - yum!!! Anyway, the shuk is worth seeing.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:45 PM on May 3, 2007

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