Bonus Blog: First Meal and Old Friends

Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Jerusalem, Jerusalem District, Israel
One of the first things we did after separating into slightly smaller groups was enter through the Damascus Gate into the Old City and search for food. I must admit, Lena and I feel more comfortable in the Muslim Quarter of the Old Jerusalem since we lived for a year in a Muslim country. We know some of the language and most of the foods. I'm not sure how the Arabs there feel about us, but I hope they appreciate our feeble attempts at speaking in Arabic. We went with a few of the girls through one of the main streets looking in every second or third shop to see if any trinkets caught our eyes. We were delighted to find loz (English spelling varies), tiny, unripe almonds. You eat them whole with the fruit on the outside and the nut on the inside. It turns out almonds are a fruit related to peaches and plums. They are sour, but refreshing. We were excited to share this delightful little gem from our past life in this part of the world.

Right after finding the almonds, but before we discovered a surprisingly large restaurant, we happened upon a popular dessert that must at least be tried when traveling in the Mediterranean . I'll let Wikipedia explain: "Kanafah, also spelled kunafeh or kunafah is a Levantine cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, typical of the regions belonging to the former Ottoman Empire. It is a specialty of the Levant and adjoining areas of Egypt and Turkey" (Wikipedia: It's delicious when it's hot and fresh! I made sure everyone had a sample.

We finally made it to a restaurant we liked. It looked like just another hole in the wall along the streets filled with tiny shops selling anything and everything. Turns out it was a full restaurant with several dining areas and restrooms in the back. The girls ordered enough food to share. For group meals the place served five or six different types of salads. We ordered some fresh juice and lemonade, and sat and talked for a while. It was our first meal in Old Jerusalem.

From there we left the walls of the city to retrieve our cars and head to the third hostel we stayed at on this trip . All three hostels were part of the same chain so everything was slightly familiar. This one was the progenitor of the three. For some reason we didn't have to pay for parking below the hostel building because the parking attendant (who I'm pretty sure lives in a small trailer in the lot) was never there to collect our money. After what seemed to us a long day, some stayed in and got settled while others went out to see West Jerusalem at night. This is a newer part of the city that is inhabited mostly by Jews. It has a clean feel to it like everything is new. It really comes to life in the late afternoon and early evening.

Before our trip I was contacted by several people by chance. One guy had heard that we were going to be in the country. He just happened to be traveling in Israel for business and would be joined by his family for a month of sight seeing. We had hoped to meet up with them for at least a Sabbath or Holy Day, but that never happened . The second contact was a random email update sent out by the wife of an old roommate of mine. Turns out my old friend Matt (as he goes by now) and his wife Erica had moved to Israel six months ago from the United States. Matt was the roommate who helped sustain me during our time in ABC by occasionally feeding me cereal in the morning and open faced sandwiches before I headed off to my night job. I lost a lot of weight that year. He and I got along great back then. He had to leave before he school year was over and we hadn't been in touch with each other for at least six or seven years. I jumped at the chance to get together with him and his little family. We decided to meet up in Jerusalem and have dinner together. It was so good to catch up, swap a few old stories, and have a chance to meet his delightful children.

Lena and I were joined by Steven and Danielle, as well as Matt and Erica and their kids. We walked along Yafo Street next to the tracks of Jerusalem's light rail searching for a certain little cafe that Matt and Erica recommended where they serve the food like a cafeteria but aren't stingy with the portions. We shared hummus and matzo, and ate rice with various meats in the little cafe on Ben Yehuda Street where colorful lights hang above your head to illuminate the night. We parted ways with Matt and his family after stopping off for coffee and milkshakes. Such a wonderful and strange way to meet up with good friends.
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