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What Airlines Fly to Israel (and which are the best)?

Sunday April 1, 2012
El AlEL AL Israel Airlines

People often ask me, when planning their trips, what is the best airline to fly to Israel. The short answer is easy: El AL Israel Airlines is by and large the best way to go. I am not paid to say that, and that is my opinion based on personal experience. However, it must be noted that other major airlines serve Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport. All of these offer one thing that El Al does not, which is service on Saturday (El Al planes do not fly on Saturday because of the sabbath). But there are other differences, many of which I will presently recount to give you some details you won't find on the likes of Orbitz or Kayak.com. Without further ado:

United: I flew this airline most recently, and the verdict? Not bad. The 777 aircraft from Newark was clearly recognizable as an "old" Continental plane but was very clean and generally in good-looking shape. Service was friendly if perfunctory. Perhaps the dinner entree of sesame chicken was better than the penne pasta and meatballs I opted for, but, quite alarmingly, the omelette served prior to landing was almost devastatingly delicious.

Delta: I have written for Delta's in-flight magazine, Sky, and byline or no I can say that if stuck on a tarmac at JFK -- where Delta's non-stops to Tel Aviv originate -- I'd rather have their magazine in my hands than United's. Delta is always on-the-ball and I've never heard a bad word about their international service.

USAirways: Recently introduced non-stop service from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv.

Lufthansa: I flew Lufthansa recently from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt and it must be said that it was absolutely the cleanest airplane I have ever been in, period. Flight attendants actually seemed to like their jobs. Highly recommended.

British Airways: Also recommended, but the 767 aircraft used on the Heathrow-Tel Aviv route are not new.

Alitalia: Good food, nice and frequent service. Recommended.

Like a Prayer, Answered! MADONNA Announces Second Israel Concert

Sunday March 18, 2012
Madonna gone wild Gaga who? Seems Madonna has stolen yet more pop thunder from the Lady, with Israeli press sources reporting that Madonna is planning a second concert in Israel in May. The concert is scheduled for May 31 in Ramat Gan, next to Tel Aviv, and has been dubbed a "Concert for Peace." Madonna declares, "Music is so universal and if there's any chance that through my performance I can bring further attention and enlightenment to honor the peace efforts in the Middle East and help people come together, it would be an honor for me."

The concert, scheduled to follow the kick-off concert on May 29, is her "way of thanking those who are making so much effort toward bringing peace to the Middle East."


In older news, Madonna also declared that you've only got four minutes to save the world...but add one to find out where Madonna might hang out in Israel.

What Can Lady Gaga Teach You About Israel?

Saturday March 3, 2012
Gaga for IsraelNot Lady Gaga, in Tel Aviv.
Photo: Anthony Grant

After a morning swim in the Dead Sea, Lady Gaga declared that she felt like "motherfucking Superwoman." Put that in your travel manifesto and...well, what else can Mother Monster teach us about Israel? Seven lessons come to mind:

1) She might be able to tell you where to get drunk in Jerusalem.

2) She could quite possibly tell you where to marry the night in Tel Aviv.

3) She could tell you where to explore art and culture in Jerusalem.

4) She might go gaga over this hotel.

5) She could tell you where to get a good deal on a disco stick.

6) She could sing about Judas to her heart's content on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

7) She could surely tell you about some amazing places in the Holy Land and a few reasons to visit them.

Cathouse: The City (yes, that means you, Tel Aviv)

Monday February 27, 2012
Tel Aviv Cathouse

What is up with Tel Aviv and the cats? They're everywhere! According to Anat Rosenberg, writing in the delectable City Guide Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv's countless stray cats rank right up there with "the smell of jasmine or honeysuckle that wafts out of nowhere" and "lingering over a coffee and snack at one of the many cafes around town" as among the city's principal sources of joy. Well, maybe not so much if you're a dog person, but the truth is that cats are almost everywhere you look in this town. You'll see lots in the fun Kerem quarter.

The way I see it, the more cats, the fewer rats. Let's turn 'em loose on New York City! Seriously, if I were a cat, I'd be one happy camper in any of Tel Aviv's neighborhoods. Which is not to say that I wouldn't also be happy with my tail in the air over in Italy.

When Will You Write About Jerusalem, Paul Theroux?

Saturday February 25, 2012
Jerusalem Festival of Lights

In an age when so much travel writing is nearer to dreck than it is to exegesis, a double serving of kudos goes to The New York Times for publishing Paul Theroux's latest piece about Nogales, Mexico, called The Country Just Over the Fence. I once interviewed Theroux for the once resolutely Bostonian Atlantic Monthly (a mag that's been reduced to making a cover story of serial dating), about his novel Kowloon Tong, in which he captured the flavor of Hong Kong like no other writer save Jan Morris.

But how has Jerusalem eluded the guy behind The Great Railway Bazaar, The Pillars of Hercules and almost too many other great travel tomes to mention? I don't know, but if Theroux can make a little wall between Arizona and Mexico so compelling, there's no telling what he'd do to Jerusalem -- a city that trades on walls, and almost ferociously defies facile description. What would he think about the holy sites? The generally overpriced and not universally welcoming hotels?

So come on Paul, get thee to Jerusalem! And if you do, I promise to take you for a nice locavore lunch at the best restaurant in town.

Take a Walk on the Mild Side...in Jerusalem

Friday February 24, 2012
Ramparts Walk Jerusalem

In Jerusalem, some historical sites are so holy that people's attachment to them can border on the hysterical: I've seen physically able women break down and collapse upon entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Temple Mount, though of great import for all three monotheistic religions, continues, quite needlessly really, to be more of a flashpoint than a center of harmonic convergence.

Yes, sometimes it seems that the more iconic a holy site is in Jerusalem, the more one has to tiptoe around it. So how fitting that one of the more interesting ways to explore the Old City is literally by tiptoeing around it?

But holy moly, what a perimeter! I'm talking about the Jerusalem Ramparts Walk. My About.com colleague Lois Friedland, Guide to Adventure Travel, recently walked the walk, and reports that "on the trip from the Jaffa Gate to the Lions Gate, we alternately walked on ancient stones laid in the 16th century, and climbed up metal stairs installed between the constantly changing levels of the wall." Read her full account of this unique urban adventure right here.

Photo Lois Friedland

Is Yoko Ono Secretly Backing New Middle East Peace Initiative?

Saturday February 18, 2012
Is Yoko Ono working behind the scenes to revive the Middle East peace process? At a time when Madonna surprises us with collaborations with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. on the very same song, the question is a plausible one. Especially when you consider that pop icon and (and iconic peacenik) Ono was seen at the threeASFOUR show at New York's Fashion Week earlier this week. threeASFOUR is the design collective whose members include one of Lebanese and one of Israeli extraction, and whose recent show, inSALAAm inSHALLOM, featured silk scarves with geometric prints that merged Arab and Jewish motifs.

Perhaps fashion could work where most everything else hasn't...add music to the mix, or at least one of its symbolic figureheads (Ono), and maybe there's something going on here. Definitely something to ponder over a rosemary-arak cocktail at YONA, the new Jaffa restaurant where prior to Fashion Week there was a raucous inSALAAm inSHALLOM show. Give cheese a chance!

Is This the World's Best Airport Hotel?

Friday February 17, 2012
worlds best airport hotel

The world's best airport hotel? Could this be it? Why, just the other day I was on the tarmac at Rome's ridiculously unlovely Fiumicino Airport, gazed out the window at some awful-looking airport Hilton and reached for the air sickness bag: the place looked about as alluring as Paris Hilton's debut album. The absolute antithesis of everything travel is supposed to be about.

But then I remembered hearing about a new airport hotel outside Tel Aviv. Yes. This city of eclectic and sometimes awesome hotels has sprouted yet another, and it's hard by Ben Gurion Airport. But not actually at the airport, for that is not something one actually wants in an airport hotel. What you want is a free ride to the airport, free indoor parking, free wifi, and for God's sakes, free happy hour drinks. And the Sadot Hotel has all that.

Just minutes from Ben Gurion Airport and a few miles from Tel Aviv, the Sadot is surrounded by flowery fields and not by accident the decor draws on that de-concreted scenery for a natural, earthy ambience. And just 37 rooms folks, so better book yours now.

NYC City Council Speaker Christine Quinn Seen in Jerusalem

Thursday February 16, 2012
NYC in Jerusalem

True, Madonna has a special relationship with Israel, but New York City also has a special relationship with Israel. Charismatic New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn -- who herself has a special relationship with my own official stomping ground in Gotham, the endlessly amazing Chelsea/Flatiron District -- is now in Israel on a week-long tour along with a delegation of other New York city council members.

Today Quinn visited Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Media Quarter, one of Israel's most successful hi-tech hubs, combining technology, culture and social activism. Israeli high-tech pioneer Erel Margalit, founder of JVP (pictured with Quinn above), related to council members the importance of blending different disciplines.

Quinn, mentioned by many as a leading candidate for the NYC's 2013 mayoral elections, said she was impressed by Margalit's vision. "The thing we heard that was very useful to us particularly... is: look at the assets you already have... your young people, your theater... and figure out how you bring that all together to create a bigger and better energy that will propel your investments and your companies forward."

No word yet on whether Quinn had time to take in some of Jerusalem's famous holy sites, but hopefully she had a chance to get a taste of what many consider to be Israel's best restaurant which, yes, is in Jerusalem.

Is This the World's Best Hummus?

Wednesday February 15, 2012

I've talked a lot about restaurants on these paperless pages, notably what I consider to be some of the best tables in Tel Aviv, but to be frank I've not paid too much attention to those twin pillars of Israeli street food, falafel and hummus. Falafel is very openly not a personal favorite, and the hummus I find is usually ho-hum.

Sometimes, for the best hummus, you have to go to little out of the way spots, of which there are more in Jaffa than Tel Aviv. And sometimes, you have to haul your lazy urban tukas up Highway 65 to the Ein Ibrahim junction, near Umm el Fahm, unlikely location of the fantastic Arabic restaurant El Babur.

Power chef Husam Abbas is one of the chief figures of the Slow Food movement in Israel, and from the mustard seed and spinach leaves to zataar and goat cheese and pomegranates (squeezed into divine nectar that puts POM Wonderful to shame) everything here comes from the land around. Consider this a preliminary dispatch, but I'm calling out Husam's hummus now as a likely candidate for the world's best.

Incidentally, El Babur is packed on weekends, particularly Saturday, though getting a table midweek is much easier. If in Israel, call 04-6110691.

Photo: AG

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