No Joke: Our campus visit to Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University
I don’t understand why Cleveland is the butt of so many jokes.
In our sports-obsessed culture, perhaps it is the lackluster record of their teams as to why the rest of the nation picks on Cleveland.
Even the Case Western Reserve University admissions representative, a native New Yorker who spotted my husband’s Mets cap, worked in a jab about Cleveland as he touched upon Cleveland’s cultural and sports offerings at our information session.
“Another big plus about attending Case Western – when your hometown team comes to town to play against a Cleveland team, there is a good chance you’ll get to see them win!”
There we were, the five of us, at my daughter’s first campus visit.
Most prospective students came with one parent. My daughter had her whole entourage. For the most part, her little brothers were good sports. Lesson learned: Next campus trip, we just bring the kid closest to college age.
At the information session, about 20 prospective students awkwardly sat among their parents. Most of the students were from Michigan. All were asked to introduce themselves, what they were interested in studying, where they lived, and one interesting thing that makes them unique.
My daughter, the lone student who declared an interest in studying science AND art, declared that her talent for drawing made her unique.
My freshman son, mistaken for a prospective student, joked that his one interesting quality was that people frequently thought he was older than his actual age.
Jokes aside, Case Western Reserve is a highly competitive university known for its science, engineering, social work, and medical schools. The Huffington Post calls it the “Geek-centric” up and coming school to watch because it encourages students to be interdisciplinary researchers and creative thinkers and problem solvers.
Before releasing us to our student tour guides, the admissions counselor gave us a thorough presentation on Case Western’s place in college rankings.
- In their rankings, U.S. News & World report ranks it No. 37 among 280 national universities.
- Case Western Reserve University was also ranked No. 27 on U.S. News and World Report’s Best Values charts.
- Its medical school is ranked 12 in the nation
- The school encourages interdisciplinary coursework across 200 academic programs
- There is a 9:1 student/faculty ratio, meaning that students get many opportunities for individual attention from professors.
- Undergraduate acceptance rates for the 2011- 2012 stand at 51 percent.
You can get all these stats on a website. But what you won’t get unless you visit a campus is the feel of the campus, the buzz of the students as they walk, bike or skateboard by as they switch classes. You won’t get a chance to peek into a class in session.
Case Western Reserve is located in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood, putting it within walking distance to about five museums, parks, art galleries, restaurants, and lots of commercial and retail development that will only add to the university’s offerings in years to come. During our visit, our family became enchanted with the area’s parks and charming neighborhoods. We stopped into a small art gallery where the owner, upon learning my daughter was interested in studying art, asked if she might be available for a summer internship.
Wandering around the campus and its surroundings is an important part of the campus visit. Outside of the academic rigors, the student has to ask themselves: can I picture myself living here day after day, for at least four years?
An “online visit” to a campus website is a poor substitute for a walk through the campus, eating a meal at a student union or peeking into a lecture hall when a class is in session.
One can even get a feel, or have what they learned at a campus information session, reaffirmed over a bowl of linguine.
That evening after the tour,we went out to eat at an unpretentious but very popular Italian restaurant. Seated near us was a large group of students with an older, bearded gentleman at the head of the table, presumably their professor. I hushed my family so I could overhear the conversation at the table. Indeed, the gentleman was their professor, and the group was enjoying a meal before taking in the Cleveland Orchestra, which plays at a hall right on the campus. Student tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra are only $12, and if you are a Case Western student, going to the symphony tops the lists of things to do before graduation.
There was a steady light drizzle as our student tour guide walked us through some academic buildings, dorm quads with washing machines that TEXTED you when your load was done (!!!) and the student union.
This is pretty typical on a college tour: visitors will first sign in at the admissions office, usually housed in a stately old building with gleaming hardwood floors. An admissions representative will give a talk and present a polished video of current students and alumni before releasing you to a student tour guide, most likely on a work-study program.
For my middle child, a ninth grader, tagging along on a campus tour with big sister hopefully got him thinking of what campus he could see himself on after high school.
I watched them walk ahead with the student tour guide as I hung back with the rest of the parents. I watched my daughter tell my son I wish I had started visiting colleges when I was YOUR age.
One final word of advice from our tour guide as he made his obligatory plug for us to give him a good score on the feedback card back at admissions: Never overlook the colleges closest to your hometown. Our guide was a native of Cleveland, and he never imagined himself winding up at Case Western Reserve. But he did, and is happy about his decision.
Next up: Our visit to Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.
“She’s been training for this for years, and this course is as difficult as they come.”
“Wow, look how she swerves and still can maintain that SPEED and control!!”
“Oh, she is really fighting to stay on the course as she goes around that curve, it’s so difficult but she makes it look so easy.”
Have I just returned from Sochi, competing in the giant slalom?
I’ve just returned from grocery shopping. In suburban Detroit. And there is a pothole that could accommodate a baby elephant on the road between my house and the dairy aisle.
To say that Michigan’s roads have a pothole problem is an understatement. We don’t really have roads here anymore. Neglect of Michigan’s roads have been decades in the making and it’s more like Michigan has miles of potholes with some bits of road holding them together.
Now, I know many of you living in other states also have pothole bragging rights. But a recent article in the March issue of HOUR Detroit Magazine offered the following factoids to set the record straight: when it comes to a pothole problem, Michigan wins, hands down:
- At $124, Michigan spends the least amount on roads per person per year than any other state. Yes, we have low taxes, but the cost of maintaining a car on these roads – (an average of $320 per year per motorist) – makes up for the low taxes.
- 29% of Michigan’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
- 35% of Detroit’s paved roads are rated in poor condition
- The average additional vehicle operating cost for Detroit’s roads is $536 per motorist
- Michigan drivers lose a total of $7.7 billion annually because of deteriorated, traffic congested roads.
Cross into neighboring states dealing with the same rough winters the roads are much better. That’s because Ohio invests in its roads $234 per motorist and in Wisconsin, $231 per motorist. In these states, politicians did the right thing and raised taxes to fix their roads. Now, in an election year, Michigan politicians hoping to be re-elected most likely will not want to be associated with any sort of tax increase, even to fix the road they drive on to get to work. Or maybe they have special smooth roads for politicians.
You get what you pay for. Or you don’t get what you don’t pay for, but in the end, you pay for it anyway.
Between the bumpy rides in the back seat and no one to take care of him at school when he complained of pink eye – because Michigan politicians also doesn’t want to waste taxpayer dollars on school nurses – my youngest child said he actually wants to move to a state with higher taxes when he grows up.
Last night, as I was driving my kids home, my daughter thought she could give me instructions about my driving technique. After all, she has been a driver’s ed student for about 2 1/2 weeks.
“Mom, why are you going over so much to the right?
Mom, don’t you see that pothole coming up? Why are you headed straight for it?”
It’s because, my dear, that pothole is in the very same place of where the road should be. To avoid one of these potholes, I would have had to cross over a double yellow line into oncoming traffic, or drive straight through the even more potholed and gravelly shoulder.
Sometimes, there is no choice but to go through a pothole and just pray you make it to the other side.
Sometimes, You have to Live like a Refugee
Okay, April fools! We’re really not refugees. But during this very weird week of “vacationing” in extended stay corporate housing, you can say we are a family in between states.
This week, the kids and I joined my husband to live in a hotel just outside of Pontiac, the blight-stricken city just outside of Detroit where General Motors has relocated him.
The hotel is just across the street from the abandoned Silverdome, the former home of the Detroit Lions until 2002.
This stadium cost $55 million to build in 1975 was auctioned off in 2009 for $583,000, property and all.
That’s about the cost for a starter home in the Boston area.
I’ll talk about housing in the Detroit ‘burbs in a minute, but back to the Sonesta:
We are in the company of other GM families in our situation: spouses living here on a temporary basis and commuting back “home” (wherever that is) on the weekends. Wives and children also spending their spring break here in hopes of finding their next home. Only problem (and it’s a big one): there just are not that many homes here on the market that are worth living in.
So many of us are scrambling for the same properties in the same subdivisions. We talk in terminology like “foreclosure” and “short sale” and “HUD ownership” over the breakfast buffet in the common dining area.
Our first room was a bit – fragrant. The previous guests liked to cook with a LOT of cumin and turmeric and the pungent aroma invaded our nostrils the minute we entered. The hotel manager claimed that the room was ionized yesterday when we were out for the day house hunting, but the stench was that of “the beast.” Like Jerry Seinfeld’s car that could not be purged of the B.O.
Then, there were the roaches.
Yes, it was starting to feel like home more and more.
So, after I woke this morning to find a tiny cockroach crawling up the wall of my bedroom, I demanded the front desk to be switched from our cumin-encrusted suite to a smell free, cockroach free one. So now I am sitting in a much better suite.
I may have to like it for a few more months into the summer.
Yesterday, our realtor, sick with a horrid cold, greeted us at the first property.
Now, as we get ready to list our home (no, I can’t call it that anymore. It’s our house. A house. An investment.), we fret about the chipped brick on the front porch stoop. Or the grouting around the kitchen sink.
When I saw these properties, listed for way more than my house could ever fetch, I wondered, “WHY am I killing myself about the clutter?”” The hardship that the previous owners must have faced, to walk away from a house with an underwater mortgage, was evident with each cracked door, torn off sheet of wall paper, or appliances ripped from the wall:
Still, there are friends who have settled happily here, who have transplanted themselves to Detroit, who gave us shelter from the house-hunting storm to feed us not one home-cooked dinner but TWO, and show us around the neighborhood that they are glad to call home.
So, I will still hold out hope. It’s early. Too early to settle for a house that will need months of work before it can even be lived in. Come May, I’ll start to panic. There’s got to be a house out there somewhere that will be our new Detroit home.
Photo Challenge: Big
Now, full disclosure here, this is not my photo.
I DID take a photo like this on a summer road trip but, thinking I would never use it, erased it from my camera, to be gone forever. The WordPress weekly photo challenge this week makes me realize, you never know when you are going to need a shot, so hang onto everything!
When you take trips on long stretches of roads like we do, every now again at a rest/truck stop, you come across a tractor trailer carrying something enormous. Curiosity piqued, we HAD to drive closer in the dusty truck stop parking lot to check it out.
Conclusion: Wind Turbines are BIG. Let’s hope that our use of wind energy in this country only gets … bigger.
Niagara-on-the Lake: Where to Stay, Where to Peddle, Where to Sip, Where to Sleep
Upon check-out at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Antique Slumber Inn, after a great breakfast of freshly cut fruit, homemade blueberry muffins and French toast, I was asked to sign the guest book that sat on an — antique — desk.
I flipped through the pages to see what other guests wrote. Our proprietor Cathy, a native of Niagara on the Lake said, “you’ll find many folks from Rochester in there, it seems like we get a visitor from Rochester nearly every week.”
And why not?
Niagara-on-the-Lake (on Lake Ontario,Canada, that is) is 100 miles from Rochester, NY , but it feels at some times as if you have gone abroad. Canada is another country, after all. You need your passport to get there. In Canada, where people say “aye” instead of “huh?” in conversation, things are measured in metrics, you will find a wine country that rivals Napa or Sonoma.
First, where we stayed
The Antique Slumber Inn has been in the same family for five generations. While the house itself is 130 years old, inside it was gutted and completely new, you could still smell the newness of the paint.
The bedroom we stayed in had a cathedral ceiling, an octagon window and our own bathroom – all bright, clean and new. The location was right off the main strip but close enough that , once we parked our car, we didn’t drive it for our entire stay, chosing to walk or bike everywhere we needed to go.
At breakfast, we chatted with a young couple from Luxembourg. They were touring around New York and Canada and we asked them where they had been. As it turns out, on their visit to New York City, they went to the same Yankee game my parents attended, left at the very same time at the sixth inning as the skies opened and thunder roared.
Of course, I asked what else they saw and where they ate, and — if they had any good pizza.
They said that the pizza was very disappointing. I asked them, how could this be, disappointing pizza in Manhattan? Until they told me the only pizza they ate was
Completely mortified, I apologized to them whole heartedly.
As a New Yorker, my heart went out to them. I still think of them now, the poor young couple from Luxembourg who think that Sbarros is New York Pizza.
After consoling the folks from Luxembourg, we were on our way to rent bikes. Bike rentals in town go for about $50 a day, but at our B&B, Cathy rented them out for a nominal fee of $5, just enough for their upkeep. She also gave us coupons at selected wineries for tastings. We first peddled into town to stop to buy some sunglasses at the apothecary.
In the heart of downtown, Niagara-on-the-Lake can make the visitor also feel like they are back in time. There are Victorian bed-and-breakfasts with vast porches, streets lined with gardens
There are even ladies on their way to tea after taking in a play from the Bernard Shaw Festival walking with gloves and parasols:
Where we sipped
The wine trail is clearly mapped out with signs bearing a grape logo. Some of our route took us along the Niagara River. Other parts took us along long straight roads called “lines” that went out into the vineyards and orchards.
After we cycled across town and through the Commons, our first stop on our bikes as we traversed the trail along the Niagara River was Riverview Cellars, where our pourer Greg did an impressive job of switching back from English to French as he poured for us and a couple from Quebec.
This was our first stop on a WHOLE day of biking and sipping, so Craig took notes on which wine we liked from which winery. Copious notes. The Pino Grigio was a safe choice, but the Reisling and Cabernet, which had hints of leather (so we were told. Yes, it did taste like leather, but that’ what made it taste good) had much more character, and they were our favorites here.
We tried ice wine at Reif, a winery specializing in German varieties of grapes.
And then did more tasting at the Frog Pond, an organic winery:
I was really routing for the wine here. They use no pesticides on their grapes, rather they rely on a bird they imported from Africa that roam free in the vineyards to gobble up the pests. But really, this was the poorest tasting wine we sipped all day. It’s a new venture so maybe they’ll get it right in a few years.
In all, we peddled over 20 miles and sipped from seven wineries.
Be advised, that if you bike and taste, there are police on bikes to check the sobriety of bikers along the wine trail. After my fifth winery, located out on the “lines” – that’s way out in the vineyards, where each “line” road is separated by a square kilometer of vineyard – I was less interested in wine and more interested in water.
So I stopped to get wet by one of the many irrigation devices that sprayed plumes of water into the parched vineyards.
After a 20 mile bike ride, it was great to get back to our inn and rest in the hot tub.
But I still haven’t told you about the Ice Wine slushies. Yes. Ice. Wine. Slushies. I’ll save that for a later post.
I … um…. “Chimney Bluffs State Park” … New York?
Governor Cuomo, just don’t mess with a good thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
To kick off the summer travel season, New York State has revamped it’s iconic I Love New York tourism ad campaign created in the 1970’s. I loved those commercials as a kid!
Now, the heart has been replaced by a number of symbols of New York. Think: The Statue of Liberty, Niagra Falls, a beach ball to represent Long Island beaches…
The reasoning behind this tweak in New York’s decades old ad campaign is that the whole I heart thing has been overdone. And, to get all New Yorkers involved, Governor Cuomo has asked us to draw our own symbol and submit it to www.iloveny.com. Maybe my talented daughter can come up with a logo for this park.
So, I’d like to add my own symbol, although it might be hard to draw in a simple red outline.
Chimney Bluffs State Park near Sodus Point in Western New York is definitely worth the road trip even if it may not make the most recognized logo for an ad campaign.
From Rochester: Take 104 East until you see a sign for Chimney Bluffs State Park. It’s that easy. It’s about an hour’s drive.
You will be then treated to these views along an easy hike on a trail that hugs a cliff that looks out at this:
On the way back to the park entrance, which has great amenities like a pristine brand new bathrooms, picnic tables and a nice shoreline, walk back on the wooded path. Just bring your mosquito repellant:
Will you be visiting upstate New York this summer? If so, why don’t you write a guest post for my blog and tell me what you discovered? Governor Cuomo and I would love to know where you went.
But, I have to say, nothing beats those old I Love New York sweatshirts.
The Bronx is Blooming
Just got back from a visit from “the old country,” New York City, to visit family and friends. And I can’t stop raving about The Bronx.
We just returned from a place blooming with lilies and hyacinth, filled with beautiful views of the Palisades, the Hudson River and gracious stately homes and gardens.
I’m talking about the Bronx here. Da Bronx. Really!
As a fifth-generation native New Yorker, a lot of my family has roots in the Bronx. My father and grandfathers were born there as well as my father-in-law. But, at the height of the urban blight of the 1970s and 1980s, it was not exactly somewhere we went exploring when I was growing up outside of a trip to the Bronx Zoo.
When most think of the Bronx, they conjure images like urban blight. A crumbling school in the south Bronx that caught fire shortly before game 2 of the 1977 World Series inspired the book “The Bronx is Burning ” by Jonathan Mahler
Or, perhaps they think of the massive, impersonal apartment complexes they sluggishly traverse the Cross Bronx Expressway on their way to the Long Island Sound or the George Washington Bridge :
But on my last visit, my family and I got to visit the Bronx’s best-kept secrets: The Cloisters Museum and Wave Hill.
The Cloisters, right on the Manhattan-Bronx border, is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art that specializes in European Medieval Art. It is set in a castle-like building jutting over the Hudson River set on four acres of parkland. If you have the time on your next visit and already paid admission to the main branch of the Met on Fifth Avenue, you can treat yourself to this as well:
Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center
Further up the road, and I’m talking a country road that makes one feel as if they are in the middle of the countryside and not just 10 miles from Midtown Manhattan, is Wave Hill. Surrounded by 19th Century mansions,
Wave Hill is a semi-private park that consists of gardens and mansions once leased by the Roosevelts and Mark Twain. In the 1960’s, the Perkins-Freeman family, founding partners of J.P. Morgan, donated the land to New York City, allowing the rest of us New Yorkers, for a small admission fee, to afford views like this:
So, next time you find yourself in New York City, do yourself a favor and visit upper Manhattan and The Bronx. You might find a unicorn:
Or even a fair Bronx princess:
What to do when you are the “not-quite-Out-of-Town guests?”
To anyone reading this who lives in a BIG metro area like Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto…. let me ask you this:
If you are invited to a wedding/Bar Mitzvah/christening/fill-in-the-blank life occasion across town with a religious service in the morning and party at night,do you get a hotel room for the weekend?
I didn’t think so.
If you are the planner of a big life event occasion and invite many out-of-town guests, do you pull out all the stops in providing them with extra special treatment: (reserve a block of hotel rooms, extra dinners and brunches, goodie bags in their hotel rooms)?
Of course you do, they are the out-of-towners!
This past weekend, my whole family was invited to the Bat Mitzvah of a friend my son made in Camp Ramah. My daughter is friends with the girl’s sister, and our two families have developed this great Camp Ramah connection over the years. We were very honored to be invited to this happy occasion as a family. There are too many sad occasions in life that we juggle our lives to attend,so why not do a little schlepping for the happy ones?
As a kid growing up in Staten Island, I remember going to weddings and bar mitzvahs, and later on youth group dances “out on the Island” – in this case Long Island. My dad had a special name for this stretch of suburbia that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. It didn’t matter where your destination was on the Island. Any trip from SI to LI was to a place called “all the way out” on the Island.
I remember the traffic as we traveled and my dads angry muttering at the wheel. There was traffic on the Belt. The BQE. The LIE. And the GCP. (If you don’t know what these stand for, you are not from NYC.) It would take what seemed hours to get anywhere. And still does.
In reality, the distance in miles was only 40 miles or so, but it was the traffic that made the journey take hours. But never did my parents think about getting a hotel room or consider staying overnight. Because LI was still considered “in town.” I remember drowsy drives back to the other island, Staten Island, when my brother and I would fall asleep in the back in our party clothes, my parents singing doo-wop oldies tunes to their heart’s content in the front seat.
Drive over an hour in the New York Metro Area, you are still in the New York Metro area.
Drive over an hour in Rochester, you are in Buffalo
So, at the beginning of the weekend, when we parted with friends at a Friday night dinner and announced to our Rochester friends we were headed to Buffalo for a Bat Mitzvah, they actually said to us “Have a nice trip!”
When you are transplantednorth, traveling an hour to go for a visit is nothing. Staying at a hotel overnight was out of the question.But the question remained, how were we going to pull this day off?
The day came with logistical challenges. We left our house very early Saturday morning to get to the synagogue in Buffalo**. We had to pack two extra sets of clothes for each family member, one casual outfit for hanging around the hotel, and then more formal attire for the evening party. Plus bathing suits because the kids were invited to swim in the hotel pool, so that meant toiletries too, but where to shower?
When we got to Buffalo, we sat through a very nice warm service and at the luncheon reception, known as the kiddush, we made fast friends with several couples who all were from out-of-town to bring their children, also campers, to celebrate their friends’ Bat Mitzvah. I told them we were “from” Rochester, but as conversations went on, our native accents revealed themselves.
As we relaxed that afternoon in the hotel lobby, one of the dads spoke up and asked my husband and I: “You didn’t grow up in Rochester, did you? Where are you really from?”
That night, after eating and dancing to the sounds provided by a DJ company called the Bar Mitzvah Boys – who are from Rochester – we didn’t get home until 1 a.m. For my husband and I, it was now our turn to stay awake and sing while the kids slept in the back all the way home.
**Yes, we drive on Shabbat. Conservative Judaism has a decree that allows one to drive if it is to worship at a synagogue. There was some irony to all this, because once we arrived in Buffalo, we had nowhere to go and nothing to do but read and chat with some real “out-of-town” guests who invited us to spend the afternoon at their hotel. So, we did drive, but in the end had a very relaxing Shabbat.
Finding Color in Corning
“I returned to New York wondering why we made so little use of our eyes, why we refrained so obstinately from taking advantage of colour in our architecture and our clothing when nature indicates its mastership.” — Louis Comfort Tiffany
Mr. Tiffany certainly had a point.
It’s late February in Western New York. In the bleak late winter landscape, you can be hard pressed to find any color. Unless you consider muddy brown fields and yellowing corn stalks color.
This February break, my family did not escape to Floridian blue skies or green palm trees. With no white snow, Western New York this time of year is nothing but grey.
So, we decided to go to the Corning Museum of Glass for color.
I came across the above quote by Louis Tiffany in front of one of his gorgeous windows that had been salvaged from a mansion on Hastings-on-Hudson.
This quote made me think – we really are afraid of color.
How many of us take the safe route and dress in black or beige because we don’t want to stand out from the crowd? Yes, we see models wearing bright fuschia or tangerine. But in our closets, we always go back to black.
Tiffany’s quote holds true to the home as well. My in-laws are in the process of selling their home. Most rooms have been repainted to – you guessed it – eggshell white.
That’s a good thing for my husband’s childhood room, which was brown. Um, my mother-in-law referred to it as s*&t brown. In this case, repainting was a wise move.
But I was sad to learn that they had to paint over the crimson dining room as well as the hand-painted grey and silver squiggles my father created on their kitchen walls.
Color in and on a house was also the talk of my street when homeowners who since moved away painted their home dark purple. That really stood out on a block of beige, tan, and grey homes.
When this house came on the market to sell, potential buyers were scared off and could not get past the purple hue of the home. During an open house, my husband and I took a peek inside. The colors continued inside as well: a brick-red dining room, cobalt blue kitchen and an orange bedroom. And, in the bedroom, the lady of the house proudly displayed her collection of 30 different shades of nail polish.
I actually loved how these soon-to-be ex neighbors embraced color.
Finally, the house sold. The first thing the new owners did was repaint the house. To grey.
But, I digress. Back to CMOG, as we Western New Yorkers call it.
When you think of Corningware, certainly this image comes to mind:
Your typical casserole dish. Very practical. Very white.
At the Corning Museum of Glass, the visitor learns that glass is science. It is everywhere in our everyday lives: light bulbs, windshields, windows. Fiber Optics. Casseroles. Glass insulates our houses, we can cook in glass, conduct scientific experiments with it. Tempered glass is used for shower doors and car windshields so they will not shatter into sharp shards if they break.
But, step into another section of the museum, into the more contemporary galleries, and the mundane is left behind.
Artists worldwide have taken this medium, and with it practical objects, and stretched both glass and our imagination to rethink the most practical of objects.
Imagine asking your kids to set a table with a top like this:
Or placing flowers in vases like these
Or putting your feet up at the end of the day on a glass-beaded ottoman
Some artist visualised the human torso in glass:
Still others beckoned us to take a gondola ride suspended along an invisible river:
On our way home, we left all this color behind and re-entered the grey, rainy late winter afternoon. But, we were treated by Mother Nature to one last blast of color:
Chocolate, Love, Olives and Lemons
I love the land of Israel. I only wish that in this land, there could be more straight roads.
It was about the sixth day of our tour of Israel. We had left sacred Jerusalem for a tour of the more secular, serene northern region of Israel, full of fields, mountains and seaside scenery.
After a morning jeep ride, our family got back in our minibus and we began our long and winding climb climb climb to the top of Mount BenTal, one of the highest points of Israel. Here, there is a lookout point where Israelis fought the biggest tank battle against invading Syrian armies in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Thank you to Jewish Virtual Library for this source of information:
In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Mount Bental was the site of one of the largest tank battles in history. Mount Bental is a key strategic point for Israel due to its advantageous observation point. Israel knew it count not risk losing this mountain, nor any of the Golan Heights . The Syrians attacked the Golan with 1,500 tanks and 1,000 artillery pieces. Israel countered with only 160 tanks and 60 artillery pieces. The long stretch of valley in between Mount Bental and Mount Hermon became known as the Valley of Tears. The 100 Israeli tanks were reduced to seven under extreme enemy fire. However, the Israelis managed to take down 600 Syrian tanks in the process. The Syrians eventually retreated, but not without inflicting heavy casualties on Israel.
In the backdrop of all this very recent history, mount Bental is also a great place to have lunch.
High atop on Mount Bental is Cafe Annan (anan means cloud in Hebrew). A great play on words, Israel’s highest restaurant is named after the former UN Secretary General.
There, we were treated to steaming bowls of sweet potato soup, salads, tuna and grilled mozzarella sandwiches, bagels, and great cups of hot coffee.
Afterwards, we walked among the bunkers where Israeli troops fought off invading Syrian army during the Yom Kippur War.
The mountaintop also affords a great view of Har Hermon, blessed this winter with snow:
And right into Syria. Damascus is only 60 kilometers away.
My son the Bar Mitzvah boy was nearly eaten by a rusting metallic giant insect, made out of scrap metal from leftover Syrian tanks:
Then, we boarded the bus and went down the winding road to our next stop, the de Karina Chocolate Factory. A small factory created by Argentinian immigrants, de Karina specializes in micro batches of different kinds of confections we all had an opportunity to taste and then make our own chocolates in a workshop. We all had fun getting our hands dirty, except for my dad. My dad doesn’t even like to get his hands dirty eating french fries or barbecued chicken. He can dissect every piece of meat from a chicken breast like a steely surgeon. So you can see the disgust on his face when we all were up to our elbows in melted chocolate:
I however, didn’t mind in the least:
As we were waiting for our chocolate creations to cool, we had a chat with our chocolatier guide, Sigi. When he found out my in-laws were from Long Island, his face lit up:
“Are you near Syosset? That’s where my girlfriend lives!” exclaimed Sigi with a big grin.
“How do you know a girl from Syosset?” We asked.
“I met her when she came on birthright trip when I was still in the army!”
A match made through birthright. My heart melted like chocolate.
Then, it was onto another winding road to an Olive Oil Factory in the Katzrim village. Israel has no shortage of Olives. Groves of olives are everywhere. As it happens, we were in Israel the very week of Chanukkah, when we celebrate the miracle of the olive oil that burned in the newly restored temple for eight days.
It was about the end of this tour that my day started going, well, downhill. I had already started feeling the effects from a day riding a jeep and riding through the winding hills of the Golan. I am sure that chocolate tasting and then olive oil sampling were not much help either.
On the winding way back to our hotel on Kibbutz Halavi, I tried to remember tips to ease motion sickness. Look to a still horizon. Don’t talk. Don’t move. Deep breaths.
Our driver had to pull over about twice for me. The second time was in the thick of the afternoon traffic rush in Tiberias. I lost sight of the horizon of the Sea of Galilee to the houses and buildings of this ancient and thriving town in Israel’s north. I also lost my lunch, chocolates and olive oil.
Our guide Vivi (have I told you yet about the incredible guide Vivi?) hopped off the bus and held back my hair as I puked into the street curb. I was completely humiliated and apologized for making the bus stop so much on account of my weak constitution.
“Aeyn Ba’ayah,” she said, no problem, in Hebrew.”This happens all the time, I’ve seen it all,” she said. Indeed, Vivi has 13 years of experience leading small and large tours through Israel.
Out of nowhere, our driver Eli also came to my aid and handed me a freshly-halved lemon. The lemon’s zingy scent was instantly refreshing and reminded me of how an Arab shopkeeper decades ago revived my brother on a hot August day in Jerusalem in 1982 with a lemon.
I guess Eli had this lemon stored away for this very occasion. Israeli guides and their drivers are prepared for anything and keep their tourists in very good hands.
I spend the rest of the drive sucking on the lemon, rubbing it on my forehead and inhaling its citrus aroma. And I felt much, much better.