Thursday, December 30, 2010

Last Minute Travel from Israel

Before coming to Israel, I had always heard about the great last minute travel deals. In fact, part of what enticed me to move to Israel in the first place (besides being there for my husband of course) was its close proximity to the European continent paired with the notion of being able to actually jump on a plane and go there for the weekend. After all, anyone who knows me well knows how much I love to: a) travel, and b) travel within Europe specifically. A couple years back there some of you might remember that I actually almost moved to Barcelona, but chickened out and chose graduate school instead (the safe track). So, ever since I arrived in Israel, I have been checking out the internet and the newspaper on an almost daily basis to see what sorts of deals were available for last minute travel. I have an itching travel bug that needs to be satisfied. Usually, I torture myself by finding something great, knowing full well that I won't be able to go because of the juggling between Rafi's school and work and my Hebrew lessons and job. However, every once in awhile, a space opens up in our schedules and I pray that a good deal will find its way to us. Fortunately, such a space opened up in our lives just a few days ago, so I quickly put Rafi to work to peruse the following websites:

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el al spontany



Most of these sites are courtesy of a knowledgeable blogger in Israel who already kindly paved the road for us ahead of time by centralizing all of the last minute package sites: The Big Felafel. There were a lot of sites to check and not much time to do it inbetween classes and work. The first great deal that Rafi found was to Barcelona for just $199 on the website Daka90 and I immediately began daydreaming of paella, Parc Guell and Spanish music. However, with only minutes to make a decision, I was in the middle of my Hebrew class and too overwhelmed to think rationally. As you might suspect, the clock was ticking and the deal quickly sold out. The price soon went up and up until it was well over $350, and thus, no longer a deal. Have no fear, though, because we did not let this stop us from finding another great airfare. We were determined to take a getaway and prayed that something was still available. So, late last night, when Rafi was itching to go to bed, I stayed up perusing many of the websites over again and found a good airfare deal to Rome on the YPayMore website. It was Rafi's job to call first thing in the morning to see if the package was sold out while I went to class. Lucky for us, I got a phone call from him during the first hour of class with the good news that I was hoping for! So, tomorrow on New Year's Eve, we are jumping on a place and heading to ROME!!!! Rafi has never been so we are really in for a treat. And thanks to my amazing parents, who are always so generous with their hotel points, we will be staying in the lap of luxury! Now, fingers crossed for good weather. Gnocchi, pizza, and Trevi fountain, here we come. See you in 2011!





Tuesday, December 28, 2010

GROOPBUY: My New Favorite Website


Before leaving for Israel a few months ago, I became obsessed with the current rage in the U.S. which was the new concept of daily deals, discounts and coupons offered by websites such as The Daily Save, Living Social and Groupon, just to name a few. I found myself eagerly checking my inbox every morning to see what possibilities awaited me that day. Because, as you know, everything is 'oh so much more' valuable when you get a good deal on it. Thus, every day of the week, you can go to any one of these sites to check out the deal of the day. If enough people buy the deal, the deal "tips" and everyone wins. If not enough people buy it, the deal is shot, though I've never seen that happen. It seems that you can get people to buy anything. Here's a look at the sites mentioned previously:

The Daily Save
Living Social
Groupon
I couldn't get enough and I wasn't the only one. Everything from fine dining to theater tickets to salons and spas and even contracting services such as carpet replacement and window washing were on sale on these websites for upwards of 50% everyday. I found myself waiting to find a good deal and to try out new services and new places rather than stick with the familiar. The deals were, and are, too good to be true and worth every penny! I had become so hooked on these websites that I was a little subdued about my move to Israel, knowing that I would be giving up these conveniences and stellar deals. I searched online on my favorite daily deal websites to see if there was a Jerusalem branch or Israel branch, but my search was in vain. I could not find any at the time. I said goodbye to my daily deals for the moment, which made my wallet very satisfied.
 
However, just yesterday, my search finally come to an end. I had just about given up when my friend Jessica from my Hebrew classes emailed me a current deal she found for manicures and pedicures  from a website called GroopBuy (we had just been discussing our plan to find a nail place earlier that day). Much to my surprise, there was indeed a daily deal website that already existed here! Somehow, the website had fallen under the radar and I was not yet aware of it. Wait no longer, because it looks like Israel has jumped on the daily deal bandwagon and I can now be sure to snatch up the best deals in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from this point forward. The best part is that not only is it in English (so that I can read and buy the deals offered), but also it clues you in to restaurants, salons, shops and activities that you may have not otherwise known about or been able to afford. I am looking forward to checking out deals such as the following which were offered over the last few weeks:
 




I already see a few that caught my eye, and though the above deals have already passed, I know that even better deals are on their way. I am starting to feel that all too familiar feeling already of eagerly awaiting the next day's email update from my new favorite daily deal website. Thanks Jessica for introducing me to GroopBuy! As I mentioned in previous posts, Jerusalem seems to be slowly moving forward in terms of its modernity and this website is just one good example of how I see it unfolding.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Up North for the Weekend

This last weekend (yes, Christmas weekend) we headed up to Haifa for a Bar Mitzvah bash on Rafi's side of the family. I know it's hard to believe, but Christmas is not celebrated here in Israel. If Christmas falls on a weekday, it is a normal working day and a normal school day. There is no two-week break from school and no decor or lights hanging up throughout the country's cities. Oh yes, and the same applies for New Year's Eve as well. I know this may come as a culture shock to most of you, but you will have to remind yourself that Israel is largely a Jewish country, and thus, most of the nation's citizens do not celebrate Christmas! Additionally, the Jewish new year is in the fall during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Regardless, many of Rafi's extended family members flew into town for the Bar Mitzvah on Christmas day, so it was a great excuse to catch up with family who are not always around.

Dan Panorama Hotel Haifa (the twin towers) for Eyal's Bar Mitzvah



I am always happy to visit Haifa, a beautiful port city in the north of Israel, with a plethora of sights to see, shops to explore, restaurants to try and beaches to lay out on. 

Aerial view of Haifa's coastline
I couldn't go to Haifa without a brief stop at my favorite sight to behold there, the view from the Baha'i gardens. This location is actually on the UNESCO world heritage sight list, so you know it's something worth seeing. Luckily, it was just a brief walk from the hotel where we were celebrating Eyal's Bar Mitzvah:

Baha'i Gardens in Haifa, Israel
To get to Haifa takes about two hours by car and when you approach it, you will see that the city is really a mountain by the sea, with landscaped neighborhoods terracing down the mountain. Of course, the higher up you go, the better the views are and the steeper the price tags:

View of Haifa from the port
From the gondolas looking down toward the water
Haifa is also a popular city for students since it houses two of the country's best institutions for higher education: The University of Haifa and Technion. The University of Haifa is a beautiful campus in a really cute part of town with great coffee shops, bars, restaurants and shopping. Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, is one of the most challenging schools to gain entrance to in the world. It is Israel's MIT and one of the most reputable universities in the world:


University of Haifa campus

And here is the famous Technion:




Not only is Haifa easy on the eyes, its also a beach city with a handful of popular beaches which are populated throughout the year. Here are a few pictures of some of Haifa's more celebrated coastal destinations:






Another popular destination in Haifa for a lazy Saturday is the Ursula Malbin sculpture garden where you can relax in the sun and enjoy the artwork around you as well as the sweeping city views:


Clearly, there is not enough time to do it all in one visit. And I have only scratched the surface of what there is to see in Haifa. After our busy weekend in Haifa, we made our way back down the coast, back to Jerusalem, though Tel Aviv. There are a number of spots to stop and see along the drive (i.e. Akko, Nazareth, Herzliya, Caesaria, etc.) but I will have to save each one to highlight in a future post. We finished the weekend with a visit to Max Brenner in Tel Aviv, a chocolate lover's haven, where Rafi met up with about a dozen of his 21 or so 1st cousins from just his dad's side of the family!!!!

Some of Rafi's cousins from his dad's side of the family
Cousins reunited
One of our chocolate desserts from Max Brenner
Oldest to youngest, from left to right
Perhaps one of these days, we will be able to get all 21+ cousins (and there are a few more babies on the way!!) all together for a true reunion! Only time will tell. I love that Rafi has such a big family. Now I've met every cousin on his dad's side except for one. I guess we will have to make a visit to Mexico City one of these days to meet the final link! :)