Sunday, 28 February 2016

Tea with a Bedouin - chance encounters that make me travel

Traveling is one of my greatest passions in life. The desire to see and explore every corner  of the world is not one of the easiest things to combine with a day job that's currently based in Finland, but even that doesn't seem to stop me from trying.

That first time in a new country is so intoxicating I can only imagine that's how drugs feel like. Everything is new, everything seems possible. Excitement rushes though your veins and energy never seems to dry out. Senses seems to be working overtime, too: colours are more vivid, scents stronger, tastes more powerful. 

I've mostly traveled alone and in countries, where my albino complexion makes me stand out from the local population, ever so clearly marking me as a foreigner. But for some reason places where I'm not at home make me feel just that: at home. Being the outsider and not belonging are roles I feel strangely comfortable with.

New experiences, culinary discoveries, markets, glimpses into the every day life of the locals that tourist guides could never even touch upon... those are all reasons that make me yearn for the next place, the next take-off, the next high. But the most memorable moments are those chance encounters with people. People you'll never see again but who manage to leave an imprint in our heart that will forever stay with you and in your memories. 

One of those I experienced during my latest trip to Israel, in the maze-like alleyways of Jerusalem Old City.

This past year has been tough in so many ways. In addition to the turmoil of my personal life there have also been the challenges of a job I took on last spring; a job that's made me, too, the target of the incomprehensible hatred people harbour on the social media in the security of their anonymity. 

I've had it. With absolutely everything.  I've cried more than ever before. And wondered. Am I really cut out for this? When is too much simply... well, too much? Is it ok to just give up?

At the end of last year I sought refuge in my beloved Middle East. Not that even that would have stopped me and made me slow down: ever the conscientious achiever I stuck to my (far too) ambitious itinerary, even after coming down with bronchitis. I can do it, I'm the man (turned out I'm really not).

After a couple of years away I felt like an outsider there, too, in a way I couldn't even imagine. The unrest, going on since October only made me even more confused. I felt I no longer could understand anything: not my own life, let alone the world. I felt so lost in both. I had an endless supply of questions, yet no answers to any of them. Where to now? What was I doing here either? Is this what it's always going to be like - the cities and countries changing around me, yet me always staying the same; always alone?

Even a trip to Wailing Wall didn't offer me the solace I so painfully needed. As I stared at the bricks that had heard peoples's need and anguish for centuries and centuries I couldn't make the words to arrange themselves in my head to form even the most elementary cry for help.

Instead I continued aimlessly wondering through the Old City until I reached a crossing unable to decide which way to go. An old man met my frozen gaze and motioned me over. He took my arm, sat me down and gently said "the sadness will eventually pass, you know? Trust me". 

Then he disappeared, only to re-emerge a little while later with a pot of mint tea. As he poured that into little glasses he'd set in front of us he examined me carefully. "You're used to having to be strong and tough. You wear your face like a mask - never letting people in. You won't show your emotions and even now I can't quite read you".

"I'm fine", I protested, gluing an almost believable smile on my face the way I'm so used to. "It's ok", he reassured. "You don't need to be ok with everything. And you really need to show yourself some more mercy, you know. You will be fine, eventually. As long as you just learn to have faith in yourself". 

The totally unexpected gesture from the old Bedouin and all his kind words couldn't have come at a better time. The walls inside me, about to crumble for so long, finally started cracking in a way I no longer could put  back together. I tried to fight my fogging eyes and desperately fix them on something and stop what I knew was coming. 

"It's fine", he consoled. "You don't need to talk if you don't want to". And for the life of me, I wouldn't have been able to, either. And there, in front of a complete stranger, halfway across the planet, surrounded by fear and confusion I broke down and let the tears come. 

"We're both strangers in a foreign land", the man remarked as he gazed through the window into the distance. "I'm a Bedouin. This is not where my roots are. These are not my people". 

"Some people are simply not good for you", he continued, weighing his words carefully. "They will eat up your energy and leave you with nothing. And you'll wither. But there are other kind of people out there , too. The ones who'll shine on you like the sun. They will help you grow and flourish and it's because of them you'll have some light to give others as well. You have them, too, in your life", he reminded. "You're not alone".

And he was right. I'm not. And neither is any of us. Let's accept that light. And be that onto others, too. 





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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Thai tomato and lentil soup

I can only imagine it is the result of one of my manic shopping sprees at the ethnic shops sometime last year, but I recently realized my cupboards now stock kilos and kilos of lentils and about five different kind of beans. 

But what do you know - turned out UN has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. So, this year will give the spotlight to all of the protein rich, nutritious lentils, peas and beans (and why not some Pink Floyd  recordings, while at it...)

Obviously I wasn't being trendy - in my case all this was just an accident, but last week the blog celebrated chickpea and gave hummus a glorious spring time makeover. This week we'll be loving all things lentils. 

This comforting lentil soup gets its twist from Thai kitchen and was just what I needed last weekend when Finnish sky kept dropping down snow, sleet, hale and rain - all in the space of one day. So, I pulled on my woolly socks, buried myself under the duvets with a bowl of this soup and threw myself into Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce. 

Hey, I'm in no rush. The spring can come when ever she feels like it. I'm gooood. 

Serves 4-6

Thai tomato and lentil soup:

1 onion
2 large cloves of garlic (or 4 smaller ones)
1 red chilli
1 tbsp tomato concentrate
the stalks of a bunch of coriander
3 tbsp red curry paste
1 tbsp lemon grass paste (can be omitted if not on hand) 
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger

a couple of tbsp (coconut) oil

2,5 dl red lentils, rinsed
1/2 tin (à 400 gr) finely chopped crushed tomatos
1 l veggie stock
2 dl coconut milk
2 tbsp fish sauce (or soy sauce) 
the juice of 1/2 lime
1-2 tbsp (brown) sugar

To serve: lime wedges, coriander leaves

Measure all the ingredients listed in the first segment into a small food processor and blizz into a smooth paste. If needed, add a little coconut milk to make the  machine run properly.

Heat the oil in a pot and add the paste. Keep frying for a couple of minutes until the oil starts separating. Then add lentils and after a couple of minutes crushed tomatos. Pour the veggie stock into the pot and let simmer until lentils are done - 15-20 minutes. 

Blizz into a puré if you want and add the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Bring to boil and continue cooking for further 5 minutes. Check the taste, add more fish sauce and/or sugar. Add chopped coriander leaves and serve with a drizzle of lime juice. 

More lentil recipes coming on the blog, but hey - I'd love to hear your views! Lentils - yay or nay? How do you use them?




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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Food of love: chicken pot pie and Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc

People often ask me how the recipes are born. Sure, sometimes they are a result of carefully thought through planning. But often (*sighs*), like this one, they are results of trial and error. And accidents. A whole lot of accidents. But then again, that's how many great things have seen the daylight in the history of humanity: Champagne, penicillin, discovery of America... and Donald Trump's hair, I can only imagine.

Initially my plan was to make one of those filo-crust Greek chicken pies that I so fell in love with in Greece last summer. But filo pastry is not my friend. Oh, no. The filling, however, was so tasty, I recycled the idea into this, English-style pie. 

The pie, which charms already with its rustic appearance, does take some time (what with the cooking the whole chicken, but it is worth the effort. And it most decidedly is labour of love. As you're pulling the meat out of the carcass, your kitchen full of homely aromas from the poaching liquid; onion, thyme and garlic, you can't help but be transported into a small Greek village.

The sun is shining, the sheep are baah'ing in the valley down below and laughter of children playing outside can be heard in the kitchen, too. There's that familiar clatter of dishes as the long table is being set in the shade underneath the olive tree for lunch. Soon there's another familiar sound as the cork pops open and wine is being poured into the glasses and it's time to sit down and enjoy being together. "C'mon everybody- time to eat!"

And if preparing the pie is labour of love, love is what it tastes of, too. Serve it with salad on the side and its rich enough to be the star of your next Sunday lunch.

In case you want a traditional pie with the crust all the way through, use two sheets of puff pastry. Roll the first one to cover the base and sides of your dish, cover it with tin foil and pre-bake at 200º (180º should do for fan assisted ovens) for 20 minutes. The remove the foil, add the filling and follow the instructions on the recipe. 

In case your chicken is all natural (as in, no seasoning on it at all), remember to be generous with salt and pepper!

Puff pastry covered chicken pie:

3 stalks of celery 
3 carrots
3 onions
4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
bunch of thyme (or 1/4 dl dried)
4 bay leaves
1 entire chicken (about 1,4 kg)
a couple of tbsp oil, for sautéing

3 eggs, lightly beaten

salt, pepper (to taste)

1 large sheet of (ready made) puff pastry (for kosher pie, use vegan puff pastry)

for glazing: 1 egg, lightly beaten

Pat the chicken dry. Chop the veggies into 1 cm cubes. Heat oil in a big pot and sauté the veggies for a couple of minutes. Then add thyme and the bay leaves. Keep cooking them, too, for a couple of more minutes and then add chicken. Pour enough water into the pot to almost cover the chicken and bring to boil. Then lower the heat and leave to simmer, covered, until chicken is done - about 1,5 hours.

Remove the chicken and leave aside until cool enough to handle. Drain the poaching liquid (don't discard the veggies!) and pour it back into the pan. Reduce, uncovered, until you're left with 2,5 dl of stock. Let cool to room temperature and combine with the eggs. 

Once chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and shred the meat. Add into the veggies and pour in the poaching liquid. Check the taste and season with salt and pepper. 

Pour the mixture into the pie dish (mine was 20 cm x 30 cm). Brush the edges and sides of the dish with the glaze - this helps the lattice to stick.

Roll the pastry sheet and cut, lengthwise, into 1,5 cm strips. Place them over the pie dish into one direction at even intervals. Then weave the remaining ones across them by lifting every other of the strips of the first round. Brush with the remaining glaze and bake at 200º until the filling is bubbling and the crust is beautifully golden - about 30-35 minutes. 

Let cool a little and serve.

And the verdict? "Tastes just like something my Nonna would have made!" sighed Tzatziki Champion who came over for last week's Sunday lunch. As I said. Pure love. 

And since Sundays are to be enjoyed (and I did mention the promising sound of wine being poured...) we, too, cracked open a bottle. Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc, to be precise. The toastiness borders on smokey and goes well with the toastiness of puff pastry crust (would go well with salmon en croûte, too!) Oakiness adds edge to its ripe fruitiness and this would work well with richer, creamier dishes, too. Or grilled chicken. 

And hey, if you like this wine, try it with my recipe for okonomiyaki, Japanese cabbage-filled omelet.





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Sunday, 21 February 2016

Hummus with roasted garlic

I promise. I sooooo totally promise this hummus with roasted garlic is the last hummus recipe you'll see on the blog for a while. Not the last ever, mind, as I've been getting such great tips and ideas from you guys.

Out of all the recipes this past week dedicated entirely to hummus madness, this one stays truest to the original hummus, though garlic lovers will love this. Roasting gives garlic such sweetness and gentleness that I usually roast several heads at a time (well that just sounds so wroong...) - once you've tried it you can't think of anything it wouldn't go with. Use it to tweak your mashed potatos, in sauces, dips... My absolute favourite would probably have to be this wonderful (and, if needed, totally vegan!) cashew-based sauce.

Roasting is easy: just wrap each head of garlic in a piece of tin foil, chuck into an oven pre-heated at 200º and forget them there for 1,5-2 hours. Simples!

I mean, just think. Life without garlic? No point in that now is there?

Hummus with roasted garlic:

400 g can chickpeas (drained weight 240 g)
1 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp mild olive oil
the paste squeezed out of 6 roasted garlic cloves (or more, depending on your palate, size of the cloves and the roasting time)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp water

Measure the ingredients into a food processor. Blizz until velvety smooth. Check the taste and add more salt/ lemon juice (or, if you want sweetness, a little honey) if needed. If it's too thick, add water a tbsp at a time until you've reach the desired consistency.

Sprinkle some freshly chopped parsley on top (optional) and serve. For instance with pita or za'atar sprinkled flatbread crisps. 

Have you already had the chance to give your hummus a springtime makeover? Which one of my recipes was your favourite?

PS. If you love garlic, do check out this recipe for skordalia, one of my Greek souvenirs!




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Friday, 19 February 2016

Hummus with roasted beetroots and rosemary oil

The previous hummus recipe got its glorious colour and sweetness from roasted carrots, this time it's time to celebrate beetroot, that unsung hero of the veggie world.

Beetroot itself is rather a humble looking knobbly little thing that doesn't really look like much. But there is sooooo much more than meets the eye!

It contains betaine among other things (a powerful antioxidant which is also used to treat depression) and tryptophan, that happiness-inducing chemical also found in chocolate. Some cultures believed that if a man and woman eat from the same beetroot, they'll fall in love. The oracle of Delphi even went so far as to declare it the second most powerful aphrodisiac known to man. 

Another strange if amorous association is the expression "taking favours in the beetroot fields", which in the early 20th century English was used as an euphemism for visiting prostitutes. This might have something to do with the brothel at historic Pompei, the walls of which were actually adorned with paintings of beets... Oh well.

One thing beetroots absolutely love getting jiggy with is rosemary, so instead of normal oil I used a rosemary infused one. For recipe, just see here

Roasted beetroot hummus with rosemary oil:

400 g can chickpeas (drained weight 240 g)
1 tbsp tahini
1 largeish or 1,5 smaller beetroots (about 170 g)
3 tbsp rosemary oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2-3 tbsp water

Measure the ingredients into a food processor. Blizz until velvety smooth. Check the taste and add salt and/or lemon juice if needed. If it's too thick, add more water a tbsp at a time until you've reach the desired consistency.




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Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Moroccan hummus with roasted carrots, harissa and herbs

If the previous hummus recipe with sun-dried tomatos blew you away with its intense flavours, this one will seduce your taste buds with its gentle sweetness and Moroccan twist. I actually think this just might have been my personal favourite...!

Roasting veggies not only gives them depth of flavour, it also lends them a wonderful sweetness and is a great way of making the most of those winter vegetables, as tired and scruffy as the rest of us...

And yes, that is the next hummus recipe lurking in the back. I don't think I need to tell you where she got that gloriously vibrant colour of hers...?

Moroccan hummus with roasted carrots:

400 g can chickpeas (drained weight 240 g)
1 tbsp tahini
4 medium sized carrots (total weight about 450 g)
1 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp harissa
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2-3 tbsp water

Measure the ingredients into a food processor. Blizz until velvety smooth. Check the taste and add salt and/or lemon juice if needed. If it's too thick, add more water a tbsp at a time until you've reach the desired consistency.

You know, hummus is a lot more versatile than you might think. Serve it as a dip, as part of a meze feast, as a spread on bread... but why not also as a warm side? This for instance would love the company of grilled pork. Or, you could fold in some grilled chicken and more herbs and use it as filling for salty crêpes, wraps or jacket potato...

How about you guys? How do you have your hummus?




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Monday, 15 February 2016

Hummus with sun-dried tomatos

Hummus - much like so many other things in Middle East- is a source of continuous fighting. Its name means "chickpea" in both Hebrew and Arabic and every single country in the region claims to have invented it. Whether or not the original inventors, Israelis have truly made it their own: their annual consumption is over double that of neighbouring countries. 

This hummus recipe will hardly add any fuel to the flames of any international incident: it's from my kitchen in Helsinki and outrageously rips its inspiration from Italy of all countries. It became a swift favourite of our hummus orgies yesterday. So freaking addictive even crack doesn't stand a chance - especially with these za'atar covered flatread crisps

Instead of sun-dried tomatos you could also use these oven-roasted ones

Hummus with sun-dried tomatos:

400 g can chickpeas (drained weight 240 g)
1 tbsp tahini
14 sun-dried tomatos
4 tbsp oil from the sun-dried tomatos
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp finely chopped basil
5 tbsp water
1/4 tsp black pepper
(1/4 tsp salt)

Measure the ingredients (apart from salt) into a food processor. Blizz until velvety smooth. Check the taste and add salt now if needed (there's quite a bit of salt in the tomatos). If it's too thick, add more water a tbsp at a time until you've reach the desired consistency.

Here's a teaser of all the other hummus recipes making their on the blog this week. Ooh, those colours! Spring just can't be here soon enough!

Out of habit I peel my chickpeas (the skin comes off easily, you just pinch the chickpea), but do you? Does it make any difference to the taste? Oh, and is everybody happy with the tinned variety or are there people out there who soak and boil their own chickpeas? Can you tell the difference?




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Saturday, 13 February 2016

Let the hummus madness begin!

There are many things about Israel that I doubt I'll ever understand, but one of the things that have puzzled me ever since the early days of our love affair is hummus. That dip, made of chickpeas is something of a national dish and people eat it all the time, everywhere. On its own, with falafel, in sandwiches, as part of a meze spread... in the movie Zohan (which depicts the Israel-Palestine conflict as humanely as Adam Sandler possibly can...) it's even used as a hair styling product.

For the first years I just kept politely eating it until it started coming out of my ears. Then I finally had to admit that I didn't even particularly like it. Though that of course is something I'd never say out loud in Israel. I made that mistake once and the memory of the silence that fell into the car still makes me shudder. "What. Do. You. Mean. You. Don't. Like. Hummus? Whodoesn'tlikehummusImeanwhat'stherenottolike?"

Israelis are very passionate about their hummus, to a point of comical at times. There are even restaurants specialized in hummus, called hummusias. 

When caught in the middle of a debate about the best hummus (they do happen), I tend to go for Abu Hassan in Jaffa. A friend of mine swears by a vendor at Carmel Market and another moved into his current building because he thinks the place downstairs sells the best hummus in the world.

It's taken me over a decade and several trips, but I can finally sigh with relief and proudly say I've seen the light. I've come to realize the reason for my antipathy is tahini. As long as the recipe goes easy on tahini, I'm in. 

For a new twist try different veggies, herb-infused oils or herbs. Even my basic recipe calls for coriander and parsley, which purists would probably frown upon. So, feel free to use only one of the two or omit them altogether!


400 g can chickpeas (drained weight 240 g)
1 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp mild olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp water

Measure the ingredients into a food processor. Blizz until velvety smooth. Check the taste and add more salt/ lemon juice if needed. If it's too thick, add water a tbsp at a time until you've reach the desired consistency.

Drizzle with a little oil, sprinkle a little paprika on top and serve. For instance with pita or za'atar sprinkled flatbread crisps. 

And here's a wine that charmed with its playful label, though it's really its fuss-free nature and versatility that has made me reach for bottle of this French red quite a bit in recent weeks. 

The Long Little Dog from Languedoc Roussillon region is a medium-bodied blend of Grenache, Syrah, Marselan and Petit Verdot full of ripe berries. Smooth tannins make for a easy-drinking and affordable everyday wine which sits well with a variety of dishes.  Steer clear from heavy, gamey and very spicy  meat dishes , though.

Owing to its lightness and versatility it's also a great choice for the picnic season (trust me - it's on its way...), also because of its impossible-to-break-and-have-another-accident-plastic bottle!

With this recipe we'll kick off hummus madness on the blog. Next week will be all about hummus and its countless variations (stay tunes especially for the roasted carrot one! Ooh, and the sun-dried tomato one, too!)




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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Tips for travelling in Israel

This blog post should tell you everything you could possibly want to know about travelling in Israel. But, in case something's missing, please drop a comment and I'll make sure to add it!


Check your Foreign office's instructions, though if they're anything like Finland's, they'll tell you to avoid markets, cafes, cinemas and public transport which means you'd miss out on so much of the fun. So, use your own judgment. Just remember that as a foreigner you do stand out and oddly enough that means you'd make a bad target for any terror attack as far as both sides are concerned - that sort of PR would be very very bad for them. 

Check your insurance policy, too. Israel (and West Bank) should be ok, but Gaza might be a different story and at least warrant some sort of an additional insurance. Though, you wouldn't get into Gaza if you tried, so...


Again, check your own country's recommendations, but no out-of-the-ordinary vaccinations should be needed. If traveling in summer though, you must remember it is hot. And I mean, Dante's Hell sort of hot, so don't even think of about foregoing the sunscreen. Trust me on this one: one summer I burnt my scalp so badly there are parts of my forehead that still don't move (great savings on Botox to look forward to, then!). 

Another thing that you should keep in mind when traveling on the coast, is that summer is the season for jelly fish. You see the locals lugging them away from the sea and the biggest ones I've seen were nearly half a metre in diameter. While not dangerous, they are bitchy little buggers. The marks they've left on people make their victims look like a member of self-flogging Opus Dei who's just had a run-in with Freddy Krueger. The actual encounter (should you ever have one) is not really too bad - there's a nasty burning sensation but it'll all be over soon. 

Arriving in the country:

No matter which airline I've used (and I've used a lot of them...), my flight always seem to arrive at 3am which is not a time when anyone's at their best. Not me or the passport control...

The entry procedure into the country has gone through some changes over the past years and the traveler no longer gets his/ her passport stamped, which is a welcome change in case you intend to travel in the region in the future, too. With a passport bearing an Israeli stamp you can only enter Jordan and Egypt which are the only two countries Israel has a formal peace treaty in place with. 

In stead of a stamp you'll get a blue slip which is checked as you exit the country. The slip allows you to stay in the country for three months. As you enter, the border officials will inquire about the purpose of your trip, the length of it and any itinerary you might have. The longer the planned trip, the more questions it warrants. The more exotic your name (read: the more Arab your name...), the more questions it warrants. The more stamps from obscure Israel-bashing Arab countries in your passport, the more questions it warrants. 

In case you're even toying with the idea of exploring the Palestinian territories, this is not a good moment to disclose it. Otherwise your trip might end before it's even started and you'll find yourself on in the waiting room. interrogation room, detention centre and on the next flight home.

The airport - how to get there and away from there:

Baruch ha - ba! Welcome! So you made it in, then! Depending on the day of your arrival, you might be able to use the most convenient way into and out of Ben Gurion: the train. There's a train about every 30 mins and it'll get you to the centre of Tel Aviv in approximately 20 minutes. The ticket costs 13,5 NIS (a little under €3). For more information and schedules, please see here

The train does not operate between midnight and 3am or during the Shabbat. Those times you'll have to take a taxi, the stand for which you'll find in front of the Terminal 3. Taxi to Tel Aviv costs 130 NIS (a little under €30), from Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion the fare is 110 NIS (about €23).

In case you're headed for Jerusalem, use Nesher.

Getting around:

Renting a car is obviously the easiest way of getting around and exploring even the most random corners, but you'll get by without it too, as public transport in Israel is very well organized. You can get from city to city using either trains, buses or sherut, shared taxis. 

Of the intercity buses Egged is the biggest. For timetables and fares, see here. This website lists all the other bus companies too, though it's bound to make for a confusing read for someone not proficient in every little junction. Like me. 

Sheruts are quicker than the buses. You'll catch one at a sherut station, which are usually (like in Tel aviv) located in the vicinity of bus stations. In Jerusalem you'll find the sherut station behind the houses across Jaffa street, opposite to Zion square. 

The sign on the windshield tells you the destination of each sherut. The driver takes off as soon as all the seats in the 10-seater minivan are taken and unlike in buses, you can get off anywhere you like. Unlike buses, sheruts between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv aso operate on Shabbat, during which the price is slightly higher.

sheruts also operate within cities, following the most popular bus routes. The number on the windshield tells you which one. The fare is the same as in buses, depending on the city 5-6 NIS (roughly €1). 

In case you use public transport (and same routes) a lot, you might want to look into getting a Rav Kav smart card, which makes traveling more convenient and cheaper, too. 

The more remote the place, the less frequent the bus services are and to some there only might be a couple a day. That is when you'll have to resort to taxi. Ooh, the taxi drivers....They're not terribly keen on those meters in their cars so you'll probably have to negotiate the price beforehand. Well, it's really not much of a negotiation as it is extortion. In the middle of it all the driver suddenly decides he doesn't speak English after all and whips out a ridiculous price for an 8-minute journey... which you really can't afford not to accept either. Though you will also get the best possible Yiddish lesson on the meaning of "chutzpah"...

There's a new sheriff in town, though: Gett-taxis which apparently are actually regulated by rules. Or common decency. 


The official language is Hebrew, which I firmly believe is the sexiest language in the world (I'm also painfully aware of how alone I am with this...). In Arab cities and villages Arab is spoken. English is widely spoken, though (unless you're trying to haggle with a taxi driver, that is...), especially among the younger generation. 

Street names and other signs are commonly written also in English, though disappointingly many website (for instance restaurants and the above mentioned Gett) are only available in Hebrew. Thank the Lord for Google Translate, then!


There are hostels, hotels, guest houses and inns to cater for every budget. In case yours is on the smaller size or you're taking the roads less traveled, you might benefit from this hostel data base. 

In some hotels Shabbat (which only ends Saturday evening) might prove to be problem in case you wish to check out on Saturday and some refuse to accept bookings for Fri-Sat night alone, so keep this in mind when booking a hotel.

Voltage in Israel is the same as in Europe (220V).


Shabbat starts on Friday evening and finishes 25 hours later. During this time there's no public transportation and the only way to get around is to surrender to the bottomless greed of the taxi drivers. 

Leisurely strolls are a popular pastime on Shabbat, but be careful with your destination. The more religious the neighbourhood, the mroe you should pay attention to your dress code and behaviour. Cover up, don't take photographs and avoid smoking and using your phone. In case you do want to get a glimpse of Israel at its most religious, visit Mea Shearim in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak in Tel Aviv. 

For the ultimate Shabbat experience, make your way to the Wailing Wall. After the prayers, look up Jeff Seidel, a cowboy hat-wearing local legend, whose indefatigable efforts make sure no-one is left alone on this holy day. He coordinates a programme which sees local families opening their homes to total strangers, sometimes tens of them at a time.  


Kosher refers to the dietary requirements dictated by Jewish law. This means that dairy and meat are never consumed together and thus kosher restaurants are either halavi (serving dairy and fish) or bashari (meat restaurants with no cream, butter or cheese anywhere on the menu). Pork and shellfish are trefa (forbidden under any circumstances) and don't feature on the menus of either. 

Most of the large hotels are kosher, which means breakfast is halavi (with often a mind-boggling array of pickled fish- yeiiiiii!) as sometimes is the lunch. Dinner is bashari.

In case breakfast is available at hostels or smaller hotels, it's usually vegetarian, too. That means bread, jam, eggs, saladss, olives... and hummus, of course. 


More and more (non-kosher) restaurants are open during Shabbat, too, as are some of the smaller shops and kiosks.

For more on Israel as a foodie destination and my restaurant recommendations, see my earlier post

Tipping is common practice, though Israelis rarely leave more than 10%.

Traveling to West Bank:

You can enter West Bank directly from Allenby Bridge crossing from Jordaninan side, too, but in that case your passport will be hit with a stamp that will prevent you from travelling to Israel. Should you still wish to do so, here are instructions on crossing the border. 

When travelling to West Bank from Israel, you have several options. From Jerusalem you'll get to Betlehem via Checkpoint 300, to Hebron you can get a direct servis (Palestinian equivalent of sherut) at the Damascus Gate and just a block away, across the street from Jerusalem Hotel, there's a bus station where rest of the West Bank-bound buses depart. 

For foreigners the checkpoints are open 24/7 and no permit is needed.

The grand exit:

Ah. This is where it all really gets fun. You might have thought that being told to be at the airport at least three hours prior to your flight was excessive. You'd be wrong. Leaving the country is about a million times harder than entering it. Do yoga, meditate, pop a couple of Valiums or all three - rust me, you'll need them.

The first person you'll encounter will ask for
- your name
- your passport
- the correct pronunciation of your name
- whether anybody else in your family speaks Hebrew
- why you travel so extensively in Israel
- whether your Grandma speaks Yiddish..

... over and over again in different variations. 

Yes, I know, I know. Security - that magic word you'll get as the response to every single one of your questions all the time. But surely Israel should be happy about people who keep on coming back, every time dropping more money that they can afford? 

PS. In case you did make that trip to West Bank, you might not want to disclose it now either (or you'll risk either intense questioning or ban from entering Israel for the next 10 years. Or both.)

You might get yet another person asking you the same questions, too. At some point you'll get a rating (1-6) which determines your treatment from then onwards, Those traveling as a part of a group are routinely given 2 and they're probably even left with enough time to enjoy the airport. Wouldn't know - at worse I was slapped with a 5 and wound up in that tiny room with 2 female officers pulling on rubber gloves. 

Another time every single item in my suitcase was rummaged through with inexplicable attention to detail. Including a bottle  of nail varnish remover which unfortunately wasn't closed with similar attention to detail and ended up leaking and ruining my one-of-a-kind Longchamp handbag. 

Then there was the time when I learnt that Jesus sandals I'd bought in Jerusalem Old City could not travel on the same flight home with me. Yep, you guessed it: security reasons...

This time I was stuck at the waiting area after the x-ray machine. Again, with no explanation given. This is part of the guards' charm: they're all seemingly nice and polite, but they have turned not really saying anything into an art form. Nor do they welcome any questions on your behalf. I'm sure they're doing a very important job, but I'm equally sure  their cold and condescending demeanour is part of their need to assert their authority and make you feel like crap. The treatment is humiliating and infuriating and leaves you swearing never to return.  

After all my belongings had been gone through several times, I was finally explained that "somewhere out there there was something alarming". After being marched through the x-ray for the third time, they apparently found the culprit: a star of David necklace I was wearing underneath my clothes. Yeah, can't think of anything more threatening to the State of Israel...

You should also know that based on how suspicious you're considered, you might also be asked (well, demanded, really) to show the content of your camera or hand out passwords to access your computer or social media feeds. Either upon arrival or departure. 

Ok, so that doesn't really make Israel sound like a worth the hassle... or does it? Do you guys have even more frustrating stories to share from airports around the world?




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