Israel’s tale of two cities
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Israel’s tale of two cities

Lucy Daltroff discovers the wonders of technology and tradition on a visit to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

Thousands of visitors flock to Tel Aviv for its golden beaches, eclectic food and nightlife
Thousands of visitors flock to Tel Aviv for its golden beaches, eclectic food and nightlife

Israel has a fascinating combination of both tradition and innovation – all of which adds an extra layer of interest for tourists.

Certainly on my recent visit, there was a palpable sense of pride around the Beresheet space shuttle, which despite narrowly failing to reach the moon this time around, still represents an amazing achievement for such a small country.

While in Tel Aviv, there was also a call-out for hundreds of volunteers for the Eurovision Song Contest, which will be hosted by the city next weekend.

As Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv, said: “The contest is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to show the beautiful face of Israel to the world – as in surveys, it emerges that one of our main assets is that we are nice, welcoming and warm.”

That may be one of the reasons Israel reported an all-time high in tourist numbers last October of 485,000.

The infrastructure is working hard to keep pace.  An underground in Tel Aviv, which at the moment looks like a disorderly collection of building sites, will eventually transform the city.

Add to that the fast train that now runs from Ben Gurion airport to Jerusalem and the more national network of trains that will connect many out-of-town urbanisations.

However the main enthusiasm was reserved for the new Ilan and Assaf Ramon International airport in the Timna Valley in southern Israel, which has just opened.

Dan Hotel’s new Link Hotel, Tel Aviv

Currently,  in common with other busy cities, trying to find a parking space in Tel Aviv is a  bit of a nightmare, so  it was impressive witnessing technology in action when visiting my friend‘s modern flat.

When she needs her car, she simply presses a bell in the lobby and can see it on a television screen being selected from the basement parking lot onto a revolving ramp and brought up to ground level outside the front door.

I’m not sure many residences have this level of sophistication, but it presents a fascinating solution to the problem of parking cars on the street.

Away from the technology and innovation, I came across the small but important Hagana Museum in Rothschild Boulevard, which tells the story of the development of the central defence during the British Mandate and the establishment of the state.

Visitors can fully appreciate the tremendous amount of blood, sweat, courage – and even chutzpah – that was necessary.  It was difficult to procure planes for the newly-formed air force because of the US Neutrality Act of 1939 forbidding American aircraft being sent to Israel.

Britain also imposed its own embargo.  So although Emanuel Zur managed to acquire four war-surplus aircraft, he was blocked from taking them out of the UK.

His creative solution was to set up a bogus motion picture company to make a film about the Second World War. While the cameras rolled, the planes took off, but instead of flying over the movie set, they disappeared from view.  It was not until the next day that the British discovered they had arrived in Israel!

On to Jerusalem, where the light railway system, opened in 2011, has completely transformed the centre. Its presence along the main road in itself has eliminated many cars and makes reaching the Old City much easier.

We took it to the very last stop, Mount Hertzl, and then travelled on a short bus ride to Ein Kerem, in the west of the city.

We were enchanted by the beautiful natural groves and the tree-lined landscape of the Jerusalem Hills.  With its charming town centre, filled with cafes, restaurants and hotels, Ein Kerem is an ideal place to visit to escape the bustle of town.

Later in the day, we returned to the elegant Waldorf Astoria, which provides the perfect base from which to explore Jerusalem.

It was previously The Palace Hotel, which closed its doors in 1935 and later became the government offices of Israel’s Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Although the building has undergone an extensive revamp, it retains elements of its previous architectural heritage.

The Waldorf Astoria, Jerusalem, provides the perfect base from which to explore Israel’s capital city

On one evening a week, the spectacular, modern lobby is transformed into Shidduch heaven, for the Waldorf is deemed a safe place for young Charedi men and women to meet up, often for the first time – and some with chaperones positioned a safe distance away.

Observing this sight, I couldn’t help but be struck by this very traditional method of dating.

As the milkman Tevye continues to tell us, this “tradition” is still very much a part of Israel’s society – however modern it is in so many other ways.

Lucy stayed at Dan Hotel’s new Link Hotel, Tel Aviv, link-tlv.com, and at the Waldorf Astoria, Jerusalem, waldorfastoria3.hilton.com. She travelled to Stansted Airport with National Express coaches, nationalexpress.com

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