Sunday, July 24, 2016

Midwest Meets Mideast #7: Kevin, I’m your Biggest Fan!

From Akko, we drove down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to Haifa on Sunday afternoon. Our launching point for our northern Israeli adventures was a rented apartment overlooking HaCarmel Beach on the far west side of the city. The apartment was much swankier than the 19th Century Jerusalem Hotel, featuring a kitchenette, a larger shower, and toilets less in danger of clogging and overflowing. Furthermore, Leonardo Plaza (in Hebrew, “Leonardo Plaza”) was a five minute walk to the beach if you included the elevator ride down in those five minutes.

Speaking of the elevator, I have never before seen a “smart” elevator bank. There are no buttons within the elevator itself. Instead, you push the floor you want on the outside of the elevator, the panel tells you which number elevator to go to, and the elevator then takes you to the floor you preselected. On the one hand, this is a more efficient system, sending you an elevator predestined for the floor you want so you don’t have to stop on multiple floors. On the other hand, this is a pain in the tush because if you forget to read the panel when you press the button, you may step onto the wrong elevator and joyride the length of the hotel before finally escaping.

But eventually you do get to the beach, and as long as there are no jellyfish, you can enjoy yourself in the beautiful Mediterranean waters. Yes, everyone tells you that jellyfish can be a real problem, so be careful. However, I figured that as long as I put bathers between me and any potential jellyfish swimming to shore, I always had an early warning system. I just had to consciously listen for screams of pain or Russian expletives.

Yes, there is a lot of Russian spoken in Haifa because there are a lot of Russian tourists there. My wife commented at one point in the trip that she missed the diversity of the United States. She was referring to the racial diversity, of course, but frankly I found Israel to be much more diverse than the US. Sure, the vast majority of people look Mediterranean with a few lily white Europeans, very dark Africans, and occasional Chinese tour group thrown in for good measure. But language-wise, Israel is MUCH more diverse. Where else can you hear Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, Spanish, French, Greek, Indian, Chinese, and Turkish? It’s like Epcot Center with better food, better prices, nicer staff, and an actual acknowledgement of Israel.

The first night we arrived, the boys and I left Morticia in the apartment to “recharge,” which is a euphemism for “collapse on the couch in a semi-comatose state until food magically arrives and is inserted in my mouth.” We hiked in the oppressive evening heat and humidity to Monkey’s Pizza (in Hebrew, “Monkey’s Pizza”), a pizza shop that seriously looked a lot closer to the hotel on Google Maps. The shop was in a frenzied state when we arrived, with the sales people simultaneously taking phone and in-person orders while young mothers yelled at their tired, frustrated, and cranky children. I attempted to order four personal pizzas in Hebrew (three only cheese, one with mushrooms), and the nice young lady immediately switched to English, sensing that not only was Hebrew not my first language, but conversing in English would be less painful for everyone involved. So, in English, she confirmed my order. We waited and watched the mothers started to yell at each other’s children, until our pizza finally was ready. Of course, they got the order wrong, but at least we ended up with two large pizzas, one with cheese and one with mushrooms. And now we know why the place is called “Monkey’s Pizza.”

Haifa was our launch site for our day trips into Northern Israel, but we did take one day just to relax, sleep late, and wade in the still thankfully jellyfish-free waters. Along the promenade was a gelato shop with the darkest, richest chocolate gelato I have ever had. My boys found it too strong, but my wife and I both enjoyed it because we knew that this was the maximum amount of chocolate one can get without a prescription.

And that was just fine for my boys, because there were many, many other flavors of gelato to choose from, including lemon, mango, strawberry, milk chocolate, tiramisu, Snickers, and Oreo (in Hebrew, “Oreo”). And I didn’t make them eat falafel the entire time we were in Haifa.

Which actually, kind of bummed me out.

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