PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Two days later than expected and I have arrived in the Czech Republic. But that is all okay because Israel impressed, surprised and exceeded my expectations in every way possible.
I felt very safe and always felt protected, in largely due to having my best friend – a 4-year vet of Tel Aviv – being there to drive me up, down and all around Israel, showing me the best places to eat and welcoming me to his entire family two times for mouth-watering dinners.
Being in such an area of the world where war is happening as we speak just a couple of hours away is frightening, obviously, and especially when you take a trip near the Syrian border and you can literally hear bombs and gun shots constantly.
But still, even with the danger that is always prevalent, there were no problems and only amazing times had.
The food… wow, the food was something else. The single best thing I consumed while in Israel, which was not easy to come up with a winner, was up north near the Lebanon border. It was labane, a thick yogurt-based cheese, fruity olive oil, and za’atar – the essential Israeli herb.
Then, about 10 minutes after finishing the breathtaking labane, we ventured right next door from the Lebanese restaurant to have kunafa, which is like the Middle East’s version of a cheese danish. Its base is mild, stretchy white cheese – very like fresh mozzarella – with a topping of rich semolina pastry, all of it soaked in sweet rosewater syrup. It’s amazing, but only when served correctly with the cheese still warm and string-like.
And then on what I thought was originally going to be my final night in Israel and with a flight looming in the early hours of the next day, it all ended oh so perfectly.
It started with yet another amazing dinner made by Ron’s family and while little English was being spoken and I wasn’t physically involved in many conversations, that was not a problem at all – because as the great Anthony Bourdain would say, “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”
I felt my inner Bourdain come out at these dinners: understanding nothing being said, while still feeling like I was in the middle of every conversation. You don’t have to understand the language or why things are the way they are in a particular place to still fully enjoy every aspect of what you are experiencing – and eating.
Then, after dinner, Ron and I went to his aunt’s house down the street from his grandparents where there was nothing but relaxation in the air. Though only 15 minutes from the heart of Tel Aviv, there is a very peaceful aroma with palm trees in her yard and some great talks that were had, all accompanied with some wonderful wine.
Tel Aviv is interesting. Amazing, though. There will be three skyscrapers in a row and then some ruins and then more skyscrapers. But the beauty of this city is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The endless palm trees and the Mediterranean Sea just steps away from where I’ve staying gives all the aspects of a resort-like place. But at the same time, the constant war thoughts are on your mind solely due to Israel’s location in the world.
Now, time to see what the city nicknamed the “Amsterdam of the east” has to offer in Prague.
Talk to you soon,