BBC Names Hula as Top Nature Site

Friday, 27 February 2009

We always knew that the Hula nature reserve in northern Israel was somewhere special. Millions of birds migrate each year over Israel, making the country one of the most important bird migration zones in the world. And with this comes great opportunities for bird watching. The BBC's Wildlife Magazine, has just named the site 'one of the most outstanding sites in the world for nature observation and photography.'

Okay, that might seem quite boring, but combined with the sheer beauty of the Hula Valley with fantastic bike tracks and hiking trails, it is an awesome place to go for a rural retreat in nature.

As Ynet puts it:

BBC Wildlife Magazine, the world's best-selling natural history and environmental magazine, has named Israel’s Hula Lake Park one of the most outstanding sites in the world for nature observation and photography.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) park, home to millions of migrating cranes each winter, was ranked 9th on a list of 20 exceptional nature sites chosen by 300 international experts including scientists, photographers and television producers.

In the article announcing the winning sites, acclaimed Scottish nature photographer Neil Benway described his visit to Hula Lake, where he sat amidst a flock of 15,000 cranes, as “an experience of a lifetime.”

Located in the Galilee, Hula Lake is one of the most important bird-watching sites in the world. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are drawn to the Hula Valley Crane Lookout to observe white cranes on their way to Southern Africa, stopping one last time before they begin the Sahara Desert portion of their flight.

Biking through the park

JNF has played a significant role in the development of Hula Lake Park into an international tourist attraction. In 1991, JNF, together with the Israel Land Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture, and local farmers, undertook the Hula Restoration Project to create a rich habitat that would attract cranes needing rest and nourishment during the course of their winter migration.

The major goal of this re-flooding project was to protect the water quality of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) by stopping erosion and preventing pollutants from flowing into Israel’s primary source of freshwater. This upgraded the agriculture and rejuvenated the ecosystem of the area, bringing back riverbank vegetation like reeds and papyrus and attracting a variety of animals that make their home among the plants.

In addition to bird watching at the Crane Lookout, visitors can bike through the park on JNF’s cycling routes or view the birds on a camouflaged tractor that pulls right up to the feeding sites. An educational center offers videos and information about the history of the Hula Valley and the many kinds of wildlife that inhabit it.

JNF also conducts ongoing research on bird migration at Hula Lake.

An international arts festival hosted by JNF and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel will be held at Hula Lake on March 6-15. The festival will feature crafts workshops, tours, lectures, and meetings with artists from around the world.

The forgotten Judean Hills

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Jerusalem Post have just reviewed the Judean Hills. A stunning area, the most most tourists see of them is the breathtaking views on the ascent to Jerusalem. Take a turning off Route 1 though, and you'll see that these hills offer a landscape to rival the Galilee and right on the doorstep of Jerusalem

This is a memorable, varied and demanding full-day hike. Beginning less than 20 kilometers from Jerusalem, the path makes its way through three quality hiking areas: the Sorek Valley, the Ktalav Valley and the Ma'ara Valley.

It starts 600 meters higher than it finishes, so it's generally downhill, with the exception of the short climb out of the Ktalav Valley to Bar Giora. Well signposted throughout, you will have to carry your own water, as the supply en route is quite unreliable.

From the bus stop at the entrance of Moshav Ramat Raziel, follow Route 395 eastward for about eight minutes, up to a wide, black-marked trail heading south. That track becomes aromatic in the spring months, as the marjoram, sage and thyme flower.

It is bordered with one of the few natural pine forests in the Judean Hills; most of the others were planted by the Jewish National Fund. The narrowing track offers an uncanny feeling of going through the hills rather than over them. As it skirts Mount Pitulim (the double-domed "twisted mountain"), you'll get a secret sense of relief that you don't have to pull up to the top quite so soon.

A splendid view opens out to the west, framing the lowland beyond the Judean Hills inside a very wide V. After about an hour of hiking, the trail enters the Sorek River Valley, along a sharply inclined concrete water pipe. The intrepid might slide down, it would be excruciatingly painful for most sensible hikers.

Cross over the Sorek on the metal bridge. Do not swim! The river contains a fair amount of west Jerusalem's sewage.

Pass under the railway and explore the old (now unused) Bar Giora railway station, halfway between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. The new sign is brash, and the old sign is fading. Be sure to take a picture before it becomes totally illegible. It is one of the few double-tracked portions of the Jerusalem-Mediterranean coast railway, where trains to and from Jerusalem may pass one another.

Take the green-marked path which leads up the Ktalav Valley. Ktalav, by the way, is Hebrew for "strawberry tree." Its reddish bark peels off easily, and its leaves fairly glisten. It is a spring bloomer with sweet-tasting berries that ripen year-round; get in line before the birds strip them bare.

There is a famous Arab legend which tells of a shepherd and his father falling in love with the same beautiful girl. The besotted and infatuated son took a heavy stick and beat the older man to death. Out of the blood-soaked staff sprouted the red-barked tree, which immortalized the father. Ktalav is from the Arabic "katlib," which means "killed father."

The green-marked trail zigzags its way up long-neglected and overgrown ancient farming terraces to the domed remains of a pre-1948 Arab village, centered around the tomb of the locally venerated holy figure, Sheikh Bader. It continues to wend and wind upward, becomes black-marked and eventually climbs out of the Ktalav Valley on the only major incline of the day, ending up at the parking lot at Bar Giora junction, on Route 3866. It's a good spot for a well-earned halfway rest.

Turn right, and walk along Route 3866. After about 10 minutes, a red-marked route to the left starts its eight-kilometer westward trail down Nahal Hama'ara - the Cave Valley - so named for its large cave on the northern side. Follow it the entire length, to the terminus of the hike.

Beit Attab, an abandoned Arab village built on a Crusader fortress, appears on your left, after a half-hour of gentle descent. The red-marked path pushes upward to nearly 700 meters, giving the opportunity to explore the vicinity with care.

The Crusader fortress was excavated in 1962. Search for the remains of an olive press and a secret tunnel. Also, look out for the tomb caves on the southern slope, which are thought to be from a pre-Crusader Jewish settlement.

The trail narrows and steepens, and within another half-hour reaches Ein Sufla - Sufla Spring. Here the descent becomes tricky, though not dangerous, and it should be negotiated slowly, step by step.

The actual spring is covered by large oak and carob trees. Those with some remaining energy might change clothes and crawl through the short but challenging narrow passageway leading to the spring source.

From here onward, the final four kilometers are downhill and mainly on the streambed. Progress is not fast. The surface is ridden with potholes created by the seasonal fast-flowing water eroding the karst-based riverbed with swirling stones. The sheer speed and power of the stream in full flood has also worn down rock precipices into a series of slides, which you may care to test personally.

The typical Mediterranean vegetation features oak trees, with daisies blooming in early winter, and rock-roses in late spring. Under no circumstances should you attempt this section in the dark.

It is that fluvial erosion which appears to have exposed the Teomim Cave, indicated by signposting on the left side. This large natural cave, nearly 100 meters in length, was the most popular cave in the Judean Hills until the opening of the Sorek Stalactite Cave nearby. Entry is forbidden between November and March, when the cave's permanent residents, a large fruit-bat population, are in hibernation and must not be disturbed.

These bats, by the way, eat only ripe fruit - and fruit is generally picked unripe. The bats get the leftovers on the trees after the harvest. Formerly, ripe fruit was the breeding ground of the crop-damaging Mediterranean fly. Fruit bats thus keep their population down.

Soon after the cave, the trail widens out and Moshav Zanoah and Route 3855 appear in front of you, marking the end of the hike. Three kilometers to the north is plenty of parking, but there are no buses to Beit Shemesh. Those without transport might consider hitching at the entrance of Moshav Zanoah.

Exploring Southern Israel

Southern Israel is bouncing back with a great array of cool things to do and see. Just last week, a new tourist information center opened in Beer Sheva.

Beersheba has bounced back from last month's Hamas rocket assault, unveiling plans last week for a new tourism and information center called The Gateway to the Negev.

The ceremony on Monday in the heart of the Old City, took place in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Mayor Ruvik Danilovitch, and was sponsored by the Or Movement - a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of the Negev and Galilee.

Over the past eight years, the movement has focused on helping to realize David Ben-Gurion's dream to make the desert bloom by boosting the Jewish population of the Negev.

According to its marketing director, Sharon Buenos, the tourist center, due to be completed in 2010, will encourage newcomers to an ancient area that once provided a watering hole for Abraham's sheep.

"The center's purpose is to get more people to live here," Buenos told The Jerusalem Post. "There isn't enough room in the cities anymore, but there is here!"

Many of the South's important figures, including former Labor Party chairman and Yeroham Mayor Amram Mitzna and Ben Gurion University President Rivka Karmi schmoozed outside, awaiting Peres's arrival. Singer Dudu Fisher, who was there to join his son - executive director of the event - led a spirited Hatikva.

Also in attendance were four students from Ben Gurion University who participated in the Nora Program, which assisted Or with its management and business plans for the city center.

The CEO of the Or Movement, Roni Flammer, called last month's Grad rocket attacks from Gaza, which emptied the streets of Beersheba, "an obstacle when convincing young people to come South."

But, he hoped this hurdle would be overcome, appealing in English: "Go South, young men!"

In his address, Danilovich - who at 38 is one of the youngest mayors in the country - spoke of "the potential of the Negev" and how he hoped the center would help make the South an attraction for young people.

Peres, who once served as minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, remarked, "This is a very young city. There's no reason why it won't be the most popular."

Then Peres, using a hammer and chisel, uncovered a piece of the Ottoman-era brickwork that makes the location unique and will be integrated into the upcoming restoration.

Avner Cohen, a civil engineer living in the Negev who will supervise balancing the preservation of the old building and renovation of the new city center, was excited about the opportunity.

"Beersheba is a sleepy city," Avner said, "but this will wake it up!"

Where Bar Rafaeli Eats...

Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli speaks about her favourite places to eat in Tel Aviv

· Brasserie is a 24/7 French restaurant (how original!) where a friend of a friend of a Trip Advisor commenter once saw Bar. They're known for their Friday and Saturday brunches, which are quite pricey. The rest of the time you can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $50 per person for dishes ranging from breakfasts through pastas all the way to hamburgers.
Address: 70 Ibn Gvirol, Tel Aviv.

· Benedict is a 24/7 cafe where it's always morning and where Bar hung out last December (Hebrew and no pics, don't bother clicking). The menu is literally intercontinental, bringing together breakfasts from Israel, England, France, and the great state of Texas. The house specialty is - wait for it - eggs benedict. Portions are extremely generous but you still have to make a concentrated effort to get above $20/person.
Address: 171 Ben Yehuda, Tel Aviv.

· If you're looking to expand your horizons beyond 24/7 fare, there's the Tel Aviv outpost of international Brazilian-Japanese fusion chain Sushishamba where Bar got spotted last October. The menu includes the green bean tempura and edamame that she munched on, plus the expected array of rolls, salads, and teriyakis. Prices can get as high as $70/person.
Address: 27 Habarzel Street, Tel Aviv.

Another Festival for Tel Aviv's 100th

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Contempo Festival is another uniquely cool festival being organized in celebration of Tel Aviv's 100th birthday!

Never before has Israel experienced such a rich and diverse collection of contemporary musical events as in this year's Contempo Festival. The contents, the artists, the performers and the stylistic diversity present a rich panorama of what is going on today in all fields of contemporary music, starting from experimental electronic music through the most up-to-date video-opera performances to a rock and new-media party at the Caliph club. Top Israeli and European artists will participate in performances taking place in venues all around Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Israeli music will also have its place at the festival, with debut performances of Israeli composers. The festival's stylistic richness enables a varied audience to enjoy the quality offerings
It looks awesome - here's exactly what happening where!

17:00 -22:00

"If you speak, it is no legend" - Sound Installation

"If you speak, it is no legend" - Sound Installation
17:00 -22:00

"If you speak, it is no legend" - Sound Installation
Tel Aviv Museum of Art

An Index of Metals
Einav Auditorium
The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble. Cabaret to Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Tribute to Luciano Berio (Italy 1925-2003)

14:00, 21:00

ME (Opera)

Levontin 7

Night of the Unexpected - part 2

Looks awesome - so dont miss out - there has to be something there for everyone!

Be Cool in Israel

Even the Politicians cant resist Tel Aviv's nightlife

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

So next week, Israel goes to the polls to elect a new government. As the elections have got closer, the politicians have, as you would expected, stepped up their campaining. But in this election, their campaigns have reached some unexpected locations. They are campaigning at some of Tel Aviv's most popular bars!

Whose been where?

  • Haoman 17 was where Tzipi Livni hit the dance floor last night along with fellow Kadima members Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On and MK Tzachi Hanegbi
  • Tzipi Livni also took a stroll around the port last week and the Kadima party are arranging pub crawls in Ashkelon and Jerusalem
  • Last week the Labor Party rented out Landen in Tel Aviv
  • The Labor Party also were at Lehman Brothers, a bar at the Tel Aviv Port
  • Tonight Meretz chairman MK Haim Oron will be out meeting younger voters at Landen, and tomorrow the Meretz Youth Wing will hold a party at The Apartment.
How many other countries can you imagine the Minister of Finance, Science or even the next Prime Minister out partying as part of their campaign...

This is Israel and this is Tel Aviv's nightlife!

Be Cool in Israel