Stops along the way included a HOT AS BALLS exploration of Masada. I wish I could tell you that I found it to be an educational dream come true and I wish I could write about the stunning history that we absorbed up on that mountain top, BUT I’ve already shared with you that I don’t deal well in extreme heat. This was categorically the hottest heat I have ever felt. As we stood outside trying to absorb the story of Masada as told by Yonatan, I felt as though my insides were cooking. I’m not kidding. Can I be dramatic? Yes. Is this one of those times? Uh, nope. I can feel my husband rolling his eyes at me as he reads this, but I don’t give a frog’s fat ass what he’d tell you, it was truly unbearable. And every time Bazz stopped us to take another family picture against the truly breathtaking backdrop of desert and sky, I fantasized about killing him. I could have happily pushed him right over the edge of Masada and chucked his iPhone after him. Nuff said.
Back on our sprinter! AC! Ice cold water! Ahhhhhhh.
Is it wrong to tell you that I was dreading the Dead Sea? Are you getting a glimpse into my “low energy/please just let me be vibe” when I’m on vacay? Israel is for the worker bee in all of us. It requires a good attitude, a flexible go with the flow mentality, and a get up and go get em mindset. I am none of these things. Welcome to me. But guess what? I loved it! And I almost didn’t do it. And by do it, I mean float in it. One of the coolest experiences of my life made even better by the fact that I floated with my kids, my husband and my mother in law. A shared experience that cannot be duplicated. Armed with the knowledge that The Dead Sea is quite literally disappearing at an alarming rate of three feet per year, it felt even more significant. I floated, I soaked, it felt like a baptism of sorts. Back on that sprinter. Let’s get to The Negev!
Wednesday, August 21 – Saturday, August 24th
Hitting the high notes in The Negev Desert –
We checked into The Hotel Beresheet at sunset. Hot, sweaty and in need of a cocktail, the hotel appeared like a mirage on the horizon of Mitzpe Ramon. Staying at Beresheet is what I imagine staying on the moon might feel like. Perched atop the Ramon Crater, the landscape is vast and lonely, the light incomparable. The days are hot, the nights windy and cool.
We spent two full days exploring the desert. On Thursday, Bazz and the boys sand surfed on the dunes of the desert (don’t even ask, you already know the answer as to whether or not I participated), we rode camels (this I did), and on Thursday night at 10 pm we climbed aboard our trusty sprinter and ventured out into the middle of the Mitzpe Ramon crater. We stared for hours into a night sky velvet black and studded with fiery silver stars. I had to continuously blink hard, squeezing my eyes shut tightly, my mind and eyes almost unable to register the depth of the ever changing night sky in front of me. Moshe Kogan, our astronomist for the evening, guided us through the swirling sky with the assistance of two massive telescopes set up for us to gaze through. Laser projectors helped us to see the planets that much more clearly. For our son Madden who has always been interested in astronomy, this was the perfect Bar Mitzvah gift. “Love you to the moon and back” took on a whole new meaning on this night. Madden’s heavy, sweet thirteen year old head leaned on my shoulder as we rode back to the hotel, the sprinter rocking back and forth gently over the crater floor. We slept soundly that night, our heads filled with images of the milky night sky.
On Friday, we visited the Mitzpe Ramon fire station, a tiny but crucial facility located minutes from the hotel. Dedicated to my husband’s grandparents, it was a highlight of our trip. And you know what? Should you find yourself in Mitzpe Ramon, go take a peek cause I guarantee you it will be a highlight of yours too. The firefighters were warm and gracious and our boys were in heaven. It was like the hands of time turned back for a moment and we had our three and five year old little boys back again. They climbed the trucks, they sprayed the hoses and more importantly, they saw a piece of their great grandparent’s legacy. A legacy that includes a deep love of Israel, of giving back and of leaving the world a better place when you leave it. Look for the framed photo of Ben and Yetta Rosen and blow them a kiss. Then find your inner child and climb on a fire truck and while you’re at it hug a fireman. PS they were hot. Yeah like that kinda hot. You’re welcome.
Our last night in Mitzpe Ramon happened to fall on Shabbat. For observant Jews around the world, but particularly for Jews in Israel, life slows down for Shabbat. Shabbat is the 24 hour period from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. It offers an opportunity to slow down, spend time with family and friends and come together in a more meaningful way.
We spent Shabbat dinner at the home of a local Jewish chef named Iris. Petite and soft spoken, she greeted us outside of her home and led us up the outdoor stairs that hugged her garden home and led to a large terrace overlooking the desert sunset. We sat outside in the pink twilight, lit the Shabbat candles in the soft night air, blessed the wine and then the delicious food that Iris had prepared for us. It was a warm and welcome reprieve from restaurant and hotel dining for an evening and provided an opportunity for us to relax and talk in an intimate and beautiful setting.
Saturday, August 24th
Saturday was a travel day. We would be heading to Tel Aviv later in the day but first the boys wanted a little more desert adventure. Bazz and Madden rose before the sun and headed out with Yonatan into the crater for a sunrise off-roading experience in a Land Rover Defender. For our 13 year old car enthusiast this was teenage boy heaven. While Dexie and I slept, Madden and Barry zipped through the crater in the Defender. It was one of the highlights of their trip. They returned ravenous for our last Israeli breakfast at Beresheet and ready for their next activity, repelling down into the crater. Gulp.
They repelled. I tried not to shit in my pants as I watched. It was hot as f*ck. Everyone survived.
A few notes:
In Mitzpe Ramon you’ll likely eat every meal at Beresheet. Other than breakfast, which is a culinary highlight throughout Israel and an experience like no other, prepare to be underwhelmed. While Beresheet is breathtaking architecturally, the service can be spotty and the two in-house Kosher restaurants were lackluster, both in atmosphere and the food itself. In Kosher dining, milk and meat are eaten separately. I preferred the “dairy” restaurant which offered a more elegant and serene setting and meant pasta, salads, pizzas and fish were found on the menu. If we’re being totally honest (and when am I not?), I really kinda hated the meat restaurant. As always, throughout Israel the wine flowed and was delicious.
A note about our Shabbat experience: If you are looking for a religious Shabbat experience while in Israel make sure you indicate that to your guide or travel agency. Our evening with Chef Iris was beautiful, but also entirely secular. While we left with our bellies full, both Barry and I would have loved to enjoy a traditional Shabbat while in Israel. Note for next time!
Still reading? Still with me? Wanna come to Tel Aviv? Check back tomorrow because that’s where we’re heading next!