Thursday, April 30, 2009

Baltimore: Biking, Bakeries and Breakfast

As promised, this is my second post on my recent wanderings in Baltimore. Over the course of four days, I found plenty of activities to keep a type-A person like me delighted:

• With its boldly-hued interior, Miss Shirley's is the place for breakfast. How can you resist an eatery that serves up ten kinds of pancakes, from raspberry white chocolate chip to pineapple? They've even got pumpkin cheesecake-stuffed French toast. There's a definite Southern theme going on here. Think fried green tomatoes with apple smoked bacon; or a three-egg omelet with andouille sausage and blackened shrimp. A perfect summer morning in Baltimore for me would be sitting in their new outdoor space drinking freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and nibbling a three egg white omelet with feta cheese, black olives and red onions.

• Later in the day head over to the Trapeze School of Baltimore that is scenically located right on the harbor. Even if you're afraid of heights, you'll be in good hands with these guys. In fact, Scout Day, one of the staff who was taking care of the safety lines said, "We've all experienced fear on the trapeze at one time and fear management is part of the job." One of my colleagues who was terrified of heights not only climbed the tall ladder and mastered the basic knee hang but also managed to do the catch -- where one of the staff, grabs your hands at precisely the right moment. Even if you'd rather not fly, it's plenty fun sitting on the chez lounge chairs or the bleachers on a sunny day and watching the action from the sidelines.

• In what I consider one of the most creative museums around, you should allot the entire afternoon to explore the array of works on display at the American Visionary Art Museum. You can't miss the place: a giant nest abuts the brick facade on one of the buildings while parked outside is a school bus that's plastered with mirrored mosaics as well as a giant mosaic egg. All the artists are untrained who often create their works -- many from found objects, such as paper plates and doors -- in response to a personal emotional event. Hence, visionary art. The works are quirky and worth exploring at length. The coolest items may well an exhibit in which the entire alphabet is carved on the head of pencil stubs -- one letter per stub. (The artist used a razor blade and sewing needle and no magnifying glass.)

Baltimore's mayor is seriously into health & fitness: both her personal fitness and that of the citizens of her city. So twice a week -- Wednesdays & Fridays -- she invites anyone to pedal behind her. I biked with the mayor recently on a Friday afternoon along with almost two dozen people -- many of them regular city cyclists plus city employees -- and was amazed at her pace: around 18 mph. I rode alongside her deputy press secretary on our 22 mile trek through the city's many greenspaces.
We tackled the lovely Gwynss Falls bike trail and, where our journey crossed into traffic, there was no need to worry: the regular riders, including the mayor's photographer and a very serious and exceedingly helpful and empathetic cyclist, Mark, stopped traffic in both directions so we could continue on our way. And the mayor's black Suburban with her security details followed us when we rode in the streets. The whole experience was a delight, especially riding through some dense woodlands and spacious grassy plots.

• I know I'm going to return to Baltimore if for no other reason than to take another bicycle tour with Ralph Brown who runs Monumental Bike Tours. He's got a tour of the city's murals, monuments (obviously) and to farms that produce food for the local markets.

I attended his bakery tour -- yum, fresh baked goods -- that visited the few remaining mom-and-pop shops in the city. But guess again if you think this is just about eating donuts and danishes. Ralph is an encyclopedia of Baltimore history. At our meeting place he discussed that we were standing on the spot where thousands of of British Redcoats approached in 1814. Then at a third generation bakery, Hoehn's, he discussed the immigrant experience and how Europeans have such a great appreciation for freshly-baked bread. Interestingly, the original oven never gets cooler than 200 F even when it's turned off for three weeks! The donuts and raspberry tarts are to die for.
continue reading "Baltimore: Biking, Bakeries and Breakfast"

Monday, April 27, 2009

Everything is Buzzing in Baltimore

Tell most people you're spending some leisure time in Baltimore and three things probably come immediately to mind: the tourist-laden Inner Harbor, the crime-infested HBO show "The Wire," and Johns Hopkins -- a supreme medical institution but hardly a highlight of any city vacation. So, you can imagine my surprise when, after spending four days in this city that's the hometown and inspiration for filmmaker John Waters, I found Baltimore to be a vibrant, eco-conscious town with charming neighborhoods, amazing cuisine served in some spacious restaurants that were once old warehouses or machine shops, and green spaces galore.

This is the first of two posts on what I found:

1. Elevation Burger is serving organic, grass-fed beef and, I have to say that, though I'm a conditional vegetarian -- in other words, I'm a vegetarian that eats fish except when I'm not doing restaurant reviews -- this was a supremely yummy burger. And, you can cut your guilt by ordering a double patty with a veggie burger (vegan or with cheese) combined with the beef variety. Plus, Elevation Burger is very eco-conscious: the olive oil is recycled for fuel -- yes, this burger joint uses olive oil even for the french fries; the floor is made of bamboo and the tables of a special wood (made of grass stalks) from China.

2. I really enjoyed browsing the fashion offerings at Sassanova, a new shop where I found a fun collection of headbands, bangles, sandals and necklaces, including the precious and semi-precious stone necklaces by KEP Designs.. They also carry the Karma line of jewelry with their "make a wish" bracelets," which I'm told are very popular with people visiting friends and relatives at Hopkins.

Once I walked into the Fell's Point neighborhood, I found it hard to leave. This quaint, historic neighborhood with some of the original stone streets is perfect for an afternoon or full-day visit.

3. I stopped in at the Robert McClintock Gallery that's hung with the vibrant works of this photo and digital artist. Right now they're featuring an exhibit on man's best friend: "Dogs That I Know." Don't miss the impressive Staffordshire Bull Terrier hanging prominently in the window. (He's named Blue Steel.)

4. It's certainly appropriate that Meli Patisserie & Bistro, named for honey, would stock an amazingly eclectic supply of artisanal honeys from around the world, from Tasmania to Argentina. A honeycomb pattern plays a prominent role in the decor. And, of course, many of the dishes, from entrees to desserts have honey as an ingredient.

5. Teavolve is what's called an urban tea house. This is one of the only shops in downtown Baltimore selling bubble tea, a favorite of mine. But, more interestingly, tea can be found as an ingredient is some unexpected foods and drinks here: sangria is infused with rooibos tea, even cocktails get a spike of tea -- vodka plus Fukuiji green tea and green apple puree. What could be more refreshing on a hot summer night? But all is not about tea here. The fruits and vegetables on the menu are organic and visit in the summer and you'll be treated to Belgian waffles topped with local white peaches. The adult grilled cheese with feta, boat and mozzarella cheeses is another I'd order again. But the zen-like atmosphere transforms to a more active vibe on Friday and Saturday night when you've got DJ's spinning tunes and also occasional live music.
continue reading "Everything is Buzzing in Baltimore"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New Zealand's Short but Sweet Walks

The long-distance Milford Track is hardly the only scenic hiking trail in New Zealand, but it's the one on every visitor's mind. There are dozens of other shorter hikes -- some quite secluded with few visitors, perhaps because they believe it requires several days of trekking to see New Zealand's natural beauty. Some trails only take five minutes, others are several hours, where you'll have the opportunity to see glowworms, glaciers, thundering waterfalls and rare penguins. These are some of my favorites:

• On the Minnehaha walk, you'll pass through a cool, lush rainforest almost adjacent to a fast-flowing glacier. Moss drapes kamahi trees and giant ferns abound as you prowl around at night with glowworms lighting your way.

• Stroll the Lake Matheson walk for ever-present views of the snowy peaks of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. (They're visible on the mirror-like surface of the lake.)

• Less than an hour walk down an old mining trail takes you to Monro Beach where you can spy rare Fiordland Crested Penguins nesting.

• Off the road to Haast, a two-minute walk through a silver beech forest takes you to Thunder Creek Falls that gracefully tumbles some 90 feet into the Haast River. This is hardly an undiscovered locale but it's worth visiting because of the intimacy you'll have with this waterfall in this rocky gorge.

• Queenstown alone has half a dozen short, often superbly scenic, walks, including the 1,600-foot-climb through Douglas fir, mountain ash and sycamore to the summit of Queenstown Hill with 360-degree panoramic views of the surrounding dramatic peaks.

• A 20-minute walk in Paparoa National Park on the ever popular Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes trail will take you on one of the most beautiful short walks in New Zealand. One moment, you're on the blacktop road, the next you are enveloped in the coastal rainforest with giant rata and kahikatea trees; the trail ends on the rocky coast where you'll find curious limestone rock formations and the sea surges that produce some even more curious sound effects, with one sounding like a train rushing through a New York City subway tunnel. (It's best to visit during high tide and when the sea is rough to get the full effect.)

• The longest of this lot is the two-hour jaunt on the Whakapapanui trail where you'll cross a golden river bed and have views of the active volcano, Mt. Ngauruhoe, that was Mt. Doom in my favorite movie of all time, Lord of the Rings.
continue reading "New Zealand's Short but Sweet Walks"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Walking Through California's Wine Country

Of course California's Napa Valley is synonymous with wines. But this picturesque land blanketed by vineyards is also dotted with leafy parks, perfect for human powered activities, namely hiking and walking. Whether you're an oenophile or a foodie, next time you're visiting this placid valley, pay a visit to any of the following for a whole different take on the wine country:

• Not far from downtown Calistoga, the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park has some lovely but rugged paths, including the Redwood and Ritchey Canyon Trails where you'll come face to face with towering redwoods and Douglas fir trees. With more than 10 miles of trails, you could easily spend the day here or make it just a short visit by passing the time strolling along the creek. This park is one of my favorite picnic spots in the area.

• Not only can you check out a grist mill from the 1840s at the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park but you can also walk from here to the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. (It's only two miles.) The mill building is only open on weekends but it provides you with insights into an activity -- the milling of corn and wheat -- that was important to the community until it ended in the early 1900s.

• The Robert Lewis Stevenson State Park marks the spot where the author spent his honeymoon in 1880. I love the dense woodland of Pondersona pine, black oak and Douglas that the shady Stevenson Memorial Trail snakes through. Continue hiking farther uphill and you'll get a dramatic viewpoint of the entire Napa Valley, Mt. Diablo and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains. If you've got the energy, you can continue climbing for several more miles to the top of Mount St. Helena for some supreme viewpoints of the surrounding peaks.

• What could be stranger than getting a fascinataing lesson in geology in the wine country? The Petrified Forest, the only such redwood forest in the world, allows you to take a self-guided walk to examine the curious gray-white specimens. (The Queen tree is said to have been 2,000 years old when it was buried.) In case you're wondering how the trees came to become petrified -- they were buried by volcanic ash more than 3 million years ago. But they weren't discovered until the 19th century. Visit on a Sunday and you'll be treated to a naturalist-led walk on the Meadow Trail where you'll learn more about petrification.
continue reading "Walking Through California's Wine Country"

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Surprising Wilderness in Staten Island

As a native New Yorker, I never had Staten Island on my list of top New York venues to visit to check out parks and gardens. So you can imagine my surprise when, on a recent visit with the New York City Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe, I visited his top four parks. Hmm. No wonder Staten Island is referred to as the "Borough of Parks." Benepe tells me that it's got more parkland than any other borough: 30% of Staten Island is preserved for parks.

Here's more of what I found out:

• Adrian Benepe told me that the there's a spacious Greenbelt of parks in the center of Staten Island and that Greenbelt Nature Center provides some lovely hiking trail maps. (Who knew? Hiking trails in Staten Island?) And, when I wondered if I had to do my hiking alone, I found out that High Rock Park, in the Greenbelt, offers guided walks, as does the Nature Center. High Rock Park is dense with woodland. "It's the closest you can get to the Catskills without leaving the five boroughs," says Benepe. I'm thinking how could I have missed this all these years.
Snug Harbor is a leafy area that's closest to the ferry and chock full of cultural -- Neo-classical buildings from the 1800s -- as well as botanical delights. This is the site of the Botanical Garden where you can find a real hidden treasure: the Chinese Scholar's Garden. This is the place for peaceful contemplation as you walk the pathways in the walled-in courtyard and catch glimpses of sky, rocks and water.

Clove Lakes Park dates to the 20th century and really feels like you are walking into another world as you walk across a stone bridge over the placid bodies of water to a waterside stone cafe, the Clove Lake Cafe, that reminded me of a quaint French bistro. You couldn't get a nicer place to dine on a summer evening. Beyond the bridge are hilly woods and a place to rent canoes.

• Another restaurant beside a pristine waterfront can be found at South Beach, a long swath of sand that merges with Midland Beach. You can bicycle or walk the boardwalk, stop at the South Fin Grill for some calamari with hot peppers -- the NYC Park's Commissioner's favorite -- and enjoy the ocean views. According to Benepe, "This is one of the most beautiful of our waterfront restaurants and one of the best beaches in all of New York City." There are plenty of activities to keep everyone occupied: beach volleyball, kayaking and even a boccie ball court.

Conference House Park is the Commissioner's favorite. "It's my favorite park," says Benepe, "because it's beautiful beyond compare. It's like being on the coast of New England." Here, you've got a park that's 200+ acres of natural beautiful. Sure, you've got historic homes to explore, but what I love most are the walking, hiking and cycling paths and the great views of the Raritan bay.

• Finally, though Lemon Creek Park is most noted for its grand 19th century Seguine Mansion, I was particularly enchanted by the acres of salt water marshes and the soaring red clay cliffs. Numerous birds pass through this parkland on their migratory routes. But, of course, you'll spot various duck species and swans on your visit.

continue reading "Surprising Wilderness in Staten Island"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wild & Wonderful Cumberland Island

It may seem unusual to see a wild horse scamping across the sand dunes, but not on Georgia's Cumberland Island National Seashore. Though there are a scattering of dwellings left from before it was designated a National Seashore, I find Georgia's largest barrier island -- it's about 18 miles long -- to be pretty pristine in my book.

It's accessible only by ferry (you better make a reservation months in advance) or private charter. And don't think about bringing your car: it's not allowed. Here I found everything I love about a seaside wilderness: miles of walking trails dripping with Spanish moss and lush with palmetto and pines, and beaches as unspoiled as they come. On the expanses of white sand. my feet were pretty much the only human footprints around. But walking barefoot on the sugar white surface when the summer sun is blazing tested my pain threshold.

Whenever I visit, I opt for staying at one of the primitive campgrounds -- you need reservations here, too -- where I've seen armadillo crawling through. Instead of an alarm clock, it's the roar of the ocean that awakens me. But if you're interested in luxury, you can spend a weekend at the turn-of-the-century Greyfield Inn that was built by Andrew Carnegie's brother.

This is a land loaded with natural pleasures: I rented a bike and pedaled beside tall live oaks on shaded paths where I cautiously veered around a thick snake that I luckily wasn't close enough to identify. But I knew it could've been one of several vipers, among the more than a dozen snake species that live here. That's what makes Cumberland Island so amazing; you never know what to expect. Wild hogs and turkey, and endangered loggerhead sea turtles call Cumberland Island home. And binoculars are a must because there are birds galore. Sure, tiny sandpipers flit about the miles of beachland. But I also found different gulls, plovers and storks.

Once you leave the ferry and venture on the trails, you'll really feel like you have the place to yourself. But you can also have plenty of guided activities to choose from by following a ranger to explore Dungeness, the ruins of Thomas Carnegie's house as well as the Plum Orchard Mansion, another former Carnegie family estate. What's especially lovely about this island is how it combines a love of nature with historical artifacts, including the First African Baptist Church that served former slaves from the late 1800s.

Getting to Cumberland Island is difficult, but deliberately so. That way, only the most committed will step on her shores to enjoy her natural delights.
continue reading "Wild & Wonderful Cumberland Island"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

In Israel, Even Science Is Fun

You may not know it but I'm a bit of a science geek. No wonder, considering I was originally trained as a biologist. And I found plenty in Israel that appealed to the geek in me. All of the venues below, except the first, are hours outside of Tel Aviv but well worth the trek whether you are or are not fascinated by science.

1. Imagine transforming a garbage dump into an eco-friendly landscape. That's what they've done at Hiriya Garbage Mountain on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. The mountain rose to its present almost 300-foot height because of some 16 million tons of garbage dumped . If you're part of a group, they'll give you a tour that includes driving to the top of the mountain where you've got amazing panaoramic of downtown Tel Aviv and its outskirts. But more amazing is the visitor's center where everything is recycled. A boldly-colored central desk, chairs, pillows, ceiling ornaments, some resembling giant flowers, are all recycled. The desk is made of plastic bottles, the chairs are constructed of car tire inner tubes, cans, and old billboard materials. Another ceiling fixture is made of found objects that include toys, a guitar and toilet seats which all seem to work together. This center for environmental education is fascinating because nothing looks like it's been recycled. And from a design perspective, it's all engaging. Even more interesting is the fact that they've developed a pilot project -- the first in the world -- to produce electricity from organic waste. Ultimately there will be a leafy park with a large network of biking and walking paths.

2. The Weizmann Institute of Science will attract anyone, even those who are non-scientists and children alike. This research institution that also has graduate study is doing some very cool research in nano-technology, cancer and alternative energies. If you make a reservation, you can do a self-guided walk through the lush campus -- even if you didn't want to check out the science, the spacious campus is a joy to walk through. On the campus you'll find multi-media exhibits dealing with everything from robotics to medical discoveries, the Weizmann house that's now a museums, and the open-air interactive museum of sorts referred to as the Clore Garden of Science you'll have plenty to keep your neurons occupied all day. Make sure to arrange in advance for the tour of the Clore Garden in English. Adults and children alike will delight in getting a whole new perspective on how waves, bubbled and rainbows form.

3. The Ben-Gurion University of the Negev -- The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research is located in the Negev, a dry triangular parcel of land that gets the least amount of water in the entire country. So no surprise that they're doing quite a bit of water as well as solar research. (They're hoping to tackle all of Israel's water needs by 2020 by technology that efficiently takes the salt out of water.) Make a reservation and you can not only check out the facilities -- they've got the worlds largest solar dish and it follows the sun and could power some 25 homes -- but you can chat up with the grad students.

4. The Morad Winery is another real surprise because this family-owned business makes "wine" -- really sicar -- by fermenting just about any fruit, vegetable and herb. That is, except for garlic and hot peppers. I tasted eight different varieties, but by far my favorites were the grapefruit, passion fruit and almond. Yes, you heard right. The Morad family makes a liquor from almonds. None of these were overly sweet but they were plenty flavorful. They've got liquor that comes in 45-some flavors. Plus, aside from the tastings, you'll meet one or more members of the family, watch a fascinating video to see how the older Morad got into this business and how the fermentation occurs, and you can also see different stages of the fermentation process yourself.

5. You'll learn plenty about birds and bird migration by spending some time at the Agamon Hula Valley Nature Reserve. There are several ways of visiting this vast green farmland that was once a swamp, which was drained and then rewatered to attract thousands of different birds that winter here and fly over on their way to either Africa or Europe, depending on the season. My favorite way of visiting is to take one of the bicycles and pedal along the almost seven-mile paved loop trail keeping your eyes peels for cranes, pelicans, ibis and other birds. But, if you want to navigate to addition viewpoints, then you'll have to board a tractor-driven wagon -- because these more "hidden" areas are off limits to everyone else. The reserve also hosts night visits where you may spy owls and fruit bats as well as sunrise visits when you might be treated to some beautiful bird songs. You definitely don't have to be a bird watcher to appreciate this place. Just come with a love of nature.
continue reading "In Israel, Even Science Is Fun"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tel Aviv's Art Scene

No matter where I looked in Tel Aviv, I found my senses constantly stimulated by the eclectic- and Bauhaus-style as well as contemporary architecture, art galleries and museums, and design emporia. In fact, I could've easily have spent a week just checking out Tel Aviv's art and architecture scene. This is one of several posts details the venues I fell in love with:

• If you're interested in decorative arts, the Eretz Israel Museum Shop is a must visit. Located just a short cab ride from the heart of Tel Aviv, the museum is an amalgam of everything to do with Israel's history and culture including archeology and traditional crafts. When I visited, I stopped in to check out the temporary "Clay, Sensation" exhibit that displays the works of more than 50 celebrated Israeli ceramics artists, from Samy D. to Karin Zur. This is no ordinary pottery exhibit; many are quite avant garde -- such as a bowl that reminded me of a cell's nucleus and a glowing perforated globe that seems like an alien ship. Definitely worth checking out if you want to see creativity at its best in the ceramics arena.

It's hard to walk away empty handed at their Museum Shop with its array of ceramics and jewelry, both classic and contemporary. You'll find cool glassware and metalworks, Ethiopian sculptures , Bedouin embroidery and even boldly-hued mezuzahs.

• By the way, if you can't get enough of all things design oriented, make sure to get a copy of the "Israel Through Art" guide. Here you'll be able to spend your week or your weekend in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel visiting the boutique shops, private galleries, workshops and studios of some of Israel's top decorative artists. This booklet is a product of AIDA, the Association of Israel's Decorative Arts which is a group of American collectors that are well known in this arena. I wish I had more time because I only found out about this near the end of my trip.

• Along Bialik Street, a placid narrow lane lined with Bauhaus buildings, I appropriately found the new Bauhaus Museum. Open only on Wednesdays and Fridays, this one-room space exhibits the furniture designs that were influenced by the Bauhaus School. Titled "Bauhaus at Home," the display includes tubular tables and chairs constructed of glass, wicker and wood as well as tubular lights, and cabinets with tea sets.

• Almost across the street is the newly renovated Bialik Museum that opened a few months ago. This lovely 1920s home of the country's national poet, Chiam Nachman Bialik, is replete with an ornate tiled fireplace, tiled columns and floors and his painting collection on the first floor. Though all the displays and booklets are in Hebrew, come on a weekend and you might be able to request an English-speaking guide. I did and found out that the building (with its East/West architectural influences) was meticulously restored using the original plans and documents; the the clock in the dining room played what later became Israel's national anthem; and that Bialik would entertain friends and guests at length, discussing politics, philosophy, Judaism and how to build the young city of Tel Aviv.

• Down the same street, don't miss the Rubin Museum, formerly Reuven Rubin's house and studio. The Roumanian-born painter is considered one of Israel's most beloved artists. Dating to the 1930s, the multi-story house displays his sun-bathed landscapes that reminded me a lot of works by Cezanne, photos of Rubin with a multitude of celebrities, including Harpo Marx as well as a few unfinished canvases. The three-floor temporary exhibit -- these change three or four times a year -- is entitled "Van Gogh in Tel Aviv" and displays the oils, charcoals, mixed media and wood sculpture of more than three dozen Israeli artists that pay homage to this master. (Interestingly, the museum's curator was inspired to produce this exhibition when she found an homage to Van Gogh painting among Rubin's unpublished works.)
continue reading "Tel Aviv's Art Scene"

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chilling Out in Tel Aviv

I promised more postings about my recent trip to Israel. These are some of the venues where I chilled out from my usual high-adrenalin wanderings:

• The restaurant at the boutique Hotel Montefiore is a must dinner stop. After all, this is the place to see and be seen. It seems all of the top designers and architects and others I spoke with had dined here. During my one-week visit, I visited here twice and I saw that the liveliest spot to dine is the bar, rather than the adjacent dining room. Here I sat alone beside a couple celebrating the wife's 30th birthday. But I didn't feel alone for long. After ordering several appetizers -- the shrimp salad with cellophane noodles, and the Four Nams, small egg rolls that you wrap in lettuce and mint leaves -- they soon ordered vodka shots, poured some for me and invited me in several toasts. You gotta love Israel -- this never happened to me in New York City. The restaurant offers a fusion Vietnamese menu and, though I didn't find every dish memorable, the atmosphere definitely was.

• Down the street from Hotel Montefiore, a new wine bar, referred to simply as The Wine Bar, is set on a corner of Nachalat Binyamin Street at 15 Montefiore Street. This two-floor glass ensemble provides an intimate venue on the top floor where you can snuggle with your date at the solo table while looking out at the large glass windows. I sat at the bar on the ground floor sipping a wonderful Chardonnay from the Golan Heights -- an area known for its wines. Though most of the varieties are from Israel, you can also find wines from Chile, France, Australia and Spain. They also serve food: I vote for the ravioli stuffed with lamb and garlic and the excellent creme brulee with pomegranate.

• On the old Tel Aviv Port waterfront which has been renovated into a shopping, dining, nightlife venue. Among the many options, I chose to hang out at ultra-laid back Shalvata. This restaurant/bar is most noted for its outdoor patio complete with thatch umbrellas and sofas with plenty of colorful throw pillows. I wish the weather was cooperative because I would've hung out staring at the sea. But with the cool weather, I retreated to the spacious interior where a palm tree pierces the reed ceiling, a wood burning stove sits in the middle of the space and the bartenders are plenty willing to chat.

• Also on the old Tel Aviv Port, the Coola Spa is a hidden gem for women. This women's only day spa is so much more. It's a place where they offer everything from belly dancing classes to movement therapy. Sited on the waterfront, coming here on a sunny day allows you to sit outside on a lounge chair and enjoy the sea views. Their treatments are plenty varied, including Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian and Indian massages as well as a even a Tibetan treatment. Chocolate lovers, like myself, can opt for a chocolate treatment. They're really got something for every woman, including those who are pregnant. It's really more like a regenerative day retreat.
• In Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv's center, I found a restaurant with the most wonderful location. Babai is set right on a windswept seafront with nothing to impede the ocean-front views. Sitting beside the tall windows, I wanted something light so I asked if I could just have a mix of dishes, a little humus, baba ganoush, that sort of thing. Wonderfully, 15 small individual plates arrived, each with a tasty salad: baba ganoush, lentils with onions, curried cabbage, tomatoes with garlic, tabouli and much more. Plus, warm pita bread. These simple but varied dishes and a view that can't be beat makes this a winning locale.
continue reading "Chilling Out in Tel Aviv"