Israel's Good Name

Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

O’ Jerusalem

In Israel, Jerusalem on July 31, 2012 at 6:20 AM

Yesterday marked the first day of my little trip down south, a four day excursion to see new things and do new things – at least while I am still a civilian. The day’s destination: Jerusalem! However, getting to Jerusalem is a journey in and of itself – the early waking, the peach cobbler breakfast, the train ride to Tel Aviv, the getting situated, the train (or bus, I usually take the bus) to Jerusalem, etc. I reached Tel Aviv in good time, as indicated by this dingy clock in the train station:

Dingy railroad clock

As soon as I boarded the Jerusalem-bound train in Tel Aviv, I leaned back and peered out the window, ready to see what I’ve been missing each time I chose the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem bus line instead. It was the tumultuous rise and fall of the mountains just outside of Bet Shemesh, and the Soreq River that runs beneath the train, crossing under a sturdy bridge. It was truly scenic. The only downside to the train ride was that I ended up in somewhere known as “Malcha Mall” (the official name to the mall is Jerusalem Mall) – in southwestern Jerusalem. The biggest mall in the Holy City, Malcha has tons of places to shop in and eat at but it is not near any of the places I initially wanted to visit. So I bought my falafel lunch, ate it and hit the road, heading for the Central Bus Station. The first thing I did was buy a ticket to the Jerusalem Light Rail, the electric train that runs through some areas of the Holy City. This was my first time riding it… and I rode it to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City.

The Jerusalem Light Rail passing by the Old City walls outside of Jaffa Gate

There, approaching the Old City I couldn’t help but lose myself in a photographic frenzy – I snapped and snapped, this is the best that came out (I’m not sure why the sky looks so grey):

The majestic walls and towers of the Old City

Once inside the Old City I headed for the Israel Ministry of Tourism information office and was directed to the correct location to purchase a ticket to walk the ramparts. Something I’ve always wanted to do, the Ramparts Walk turned out to be very rewarding but at the same time, very tiring. I climbed the stairs with excitement and began my walk – a totally different perspective on the Old City unfolding before my eyes.

Walking the narrow ramparts

As the city walls continued, the walk became harder and harder – the uneven surfaces and the intense stairways not helping much. The soldiers who historically roamed the walltops, throughtout the generations, must have been made of sterner stuff. Regardless, the views from the wall really does change how the Old City looks (click on: map). Here, just above the Damascus Gate, I sit and observe:

Sitting in a defence niche just above the Damascus Gate and the Arab peddlers below

All this was just the northern side – the Ramparts Walk is actually comprised of a longer northern walk and a shorter southern walk. At the end of the northern walk, where the Lion’s Gate on the eastern wall is, we (I had picked up some fellow wall-walkers along the way and impressed them with my “knowledge” in the tourism field) reached an observation point – the end of the line. To our surprise and enjoyment, the muezzins started up and pretty soon there were fasting Muslim men and women making their way to the mosque, urged on by the song of the muezzin. Here is a short video clip of the experience:

After watching for a few minutes we turned back and descended all the way back at the Herod’s Gate (be sure to consult map). With my water bottle long dried up in the hot Jerusalem sun, I advanced on a peddler/shopkeeper who sold large bottles of water. The Arab merchant informed me that since I do not speak Arabic… he cannot sell me anything. Fun!

One of the many Arab souks in and around the Old City

After finding an alternate water source and parting ways with my new companions, I headed for the second half of the Ramparts Walk, the southern side. Here, just at the beginning, the Tower of David:

The Tower of David

And here, just a little bit along the way, a pictorial show-piece, looking more like old time Bavaria than the Old City:

A peculiar section of the Old City

After descending at the Dung Gate, basically having done 80% of the total wall walk (all that was offered) and taking somewhere beyond the three-hour mark, I headed inside the City for an obligatory visit at the Kotel. Here, in all its splendour and glory, the Kotel:

The Kotel

After the Kotel is when things started getting hairy. With the sun setting rapidly, a few friends of mine wanted to meet up closer to the “centre of town” so I was determined to hop on one of the buses and meet them there. In spite of my iron resolution, no buses seemed to come – and even the taxis became elusive as the mainly-Muslim drivers wanted to head home to eat their Ramadan dinner. Finally, after some thirty minutes of waiting and meandering from bus stop to bus stop, a bus – no, THE bus – came. I was oh-so fortunate to be included on the bus, albeit the guy who has to watch out that when the doors open he doesn’t fall out. I felt like I was on those crowded Indian trains where the passengers hang from wherever they can.

A sea of black hats separated me from the bus driver

As I made my way out of Jerusalem, after some quality time with my old friends, I snapped this shot of the Jerusalem Bridge of Strings where both people and the light rail make use of the arc over the traffic. (Sadly, night-time photography is usually ill-received by my camera):

The Jerusalem Bridge of Strings

Back in Tel Aviv, nearing midnight, I happened to have missed the last bus offered to the area I needed and was then forced to share a taxi with some other Tel Avivians to get back to my hosts. Always an adventure!

Saslove Winery

In Galilee, Israel on July 12, 2012 at 6:34 PM

First and foremost let me apologise for being negligent in my blogging – nearly two full months have gone by empty of interesting content. I hope to remedy this with a post about a lovely little boutique winery that I had the pleasure of touring, thanks to friend Dovid Bloom who works with the bottling crew. Here is Mr. Bloom, presently a freshly bottled sample of Aviv 2011 Shiraz:

Dovid Bloom – striking a silly pose

The winery featured today is the Saslove Winery, founded by Barry Saslove (formerly of Canada). The production and bottling is done in Zuriel, just minutes away from Ma’alot – within eyesight even. However, the vineyards are mostly on the other side of Mount Meron, in the Eastern Galilee, where the air is dryer and the climate is more suited for fruits of the vine, all at an average of 800 metres above sea level. Here is a photo of one of the vineyards, at Kerem Ben Zimra:

Saslove Vineyard (credit:

Getting back to the Western Galilee, we drove along the windy highway and arrived at the winery, greeted by Dovid Bloom. He began by taking us inside and showing us the bottling, explaining the steps as the bottles trudged past on the conveyor belt. First, of course, someone has to load the empty bottles into the machine:

Loading the empty bottles into the machine

The bottles are then rinsed and nitrogen is shot into them, then the wine is piped in. In an adjacent building the wine is stored in huge metal vats (it should be noted that the top-of-the-line Saslove wines are aged in wood barrels), here is an unglamourous glimpse:

Huge metal wine vats

After the bottles are filled, a cork is pneumatically forced into the open neck of the vessel. Dovid opened the doors so that photographic efforts would yield a more favourable result. Yes, there is no flash reflections disturbing the shot but I’d still say it is a mess of glass, metal and wine. The bottles in the background are those attached to the wine-spouting nozzle, the bottle headed to the right in the foreground is about to be corked:

The inner workings

After the corking comes the labeling and boxing. The labels are particularly beautiful at this winery although it seems as though every winery and brewery I visit has a great sense of style (Malka Beer and Adir Winery come to mind).  Just look at this label!

Aviv 2011 Shiraz label

And after the bottles are boxed and those boxes are sealed, a pallet of full boxes is brought back into the warehouse containing the wine vats and joins the others, ready for shipping. At 2,000 bottles an hour, if I remember correctly, this was just the start (we visited in the morning):

Waiting to be shipped out

Just after photographing the pallets as seen above, the proprietor and winemaker, Barry Saslove, began talking to us. He went into great depths explaining how the climate and geographical location of the Eastern Galilee made it, in his opinion, one of the best places in the world to grow grapes. Being an expert in the field, knowing that the fertile low mountains would yield great crops, Barry staked his claim and now runs a distinguished boutique winery. A French wine authority named the Saslove Winery one of the top 100 wineries in the Mediterranean, of just three in Israel.

Barry Saslove speaks to us

Eventually, as all impromptu tours go, we broke apart, thanked the correct personages and made it to the car. Due to the fact that we visited the factory, and not the visitor centre which is in another village. we didn’t do any tasting or buying. Maybe one day… But as we leave, one last parting shot:

The ”factory” of the Saslove Winery

Visitor Centre info: