Food options abounded! We particularly loved the night life at the Old Railway Station, now converted into a dynamic outdoor shopping space and music venue. We sampled fantastic fish at Adom restaurant (4 David Remez, 02-6246242). It was a lovely family night out...both because of and in spite of rentable tot-sized ATVs...watch your ankles is all I can say!
While walking down Bezalel Street, I came across Barbara Shaw's playful and colorful designs. One of two Jerusalem locations, the Bezalel store offers a complete selection of Shaw's fantastic baby and kids designs: onesies and t-shirts with charming expressions in Hebrew and English.
Not far from the the outdoor Mamilla mall, we also came upon Barood Bar Restaurant (31 Jaffa Street, 02-6259081), tucked away in a shady alley...both the cool and the refreshments were very welcome as the thermostat climbed. Then bracing ourselves for the cobblestones and steps, we steered the stroller into the heart of the old city and made for the famous Western or Wailing wall and the Dome of the Rock.
The scents, the goodies on sale and the creative arts being practiced are all very different. We particularly loved the George and Dorin Sandrouni Workshop and Showroom. You can see a talented circle of ladies hand-painting traditional Armenian ceramics: trays, tiles and plates and of course buy a sample. Baby enjoyed stopping for fresh pancakes and pomegranate juice!
Continuing our voyage through Israel, we drove out of Jerusalem and headed up the Mediterranean coast to Haifa via Caesarea. A perfect family day out, the park offers Roman, Byzantine and Crusader ruins for the history buff, restaurants with spectacular food and views for the foodie and beaches for the bored toddler.
A quick drive further north delivered us to hilly Haifa. The coastline on either side of the city is perfect for beach days but, with limited time, we stuck to tourist hot-spots and child pleasers. The Baha'i Gardens are world famous for a reason, manicured within an inch of their life, they are sprawled up the hill from the restaurant row of the German Colony. Best for the little one however was the hillside cable car, taking you from the tippy top of Haifa down to the beachfront promenade. A nice little selection of restaurants greet you at the hilltop cable car station which offer great views.
Another a toddler favorite was the Haifa Zoo. Although hilly (prepare to work those stroller-pushing glutes) the zoo has Bengal tigers, camels, monkeys and a lovely little petting zoo. My only complaint was that it was overseen by a pre-teen volunteer who seemed to care little that the young visitors were playing whack-a-chick and I had to bring out my best disapproving mommy speech...pretty ineffective given that it wasn't in Hebrew.The zoo exits right into a park with an ancient but none the less enjoyable carousel.
Out of Haifa we went west to the Sea of Galilee. We were disappointed by Nazareth (overrun by traffic) and were unable to visit Bethlehem. But the Sea of Galilee offers many sites including the Mount of the Beatitudes and Peter's primacy. All an easy drive from our home base in Tiberius where we stayed at the historic and elegant Scot's Hotel.
There is not much to see in Tiberius itself, but we did enjoy the local lakeside beaches (the Sea of Galilee is actually a fresh water lake). I can't recommend the Bora Bora Beach more strongly - a delightful paid access beach and bar/restaurant. We found this to be a much better option for us with the baby than the very popular dead sea destinations for sea side fun.
While floating in the Dead Sea is assuredly a bucket list experience, it is not one I recommend with the littles (under ten). Any small splash can result in eye stings guaranteed to ruin any day at the beach.
Other treats in the Galilee region were the charming town of Rosh Pina. We loved the Gallery Gershon (04 6996189). The area also has multiple wineries making delicious blends. We picked up a yummy Pinot at the Tabor Winery.
We spent our last night by the lakeside enjoying the Decks restaurant in Tiberius (ideal for grilled meats) and a walk along the quays.
The final stop of our Israel trip was to the cosmopolitain seaside city of Tel Aviv. It was here that I found many highly creative designs and superbly curated shops. I started on Dizengoff street, a famous shopping thoroughfare.
Here, chic boutiques abound offering delightful dresses and inventive jewelry. I scored a delightful dress at Shlomit Ofir (and sadly had to leave behind several "must have" goodies at the urging of my packing restriction conscious hubby). But I did score a gorgeous (and light!) a pair of gold peace dove earrings at Malka (054-5444510, look for their distinctive logo, a hipster glasses-wearing Queen Victoria).
I also stumbled on Kelim Shloovim, an eclectic shopfront with a wonderful back story. It is a social enterprise that partners various non-profits serving those with special needs to offer them rehabilitation and vocational training and sells the unique items they make at the store. I wanted almost every pillow, poster and knick knack in the place.
But the real treasure trove was in Old Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv but an easy beachfront walk. Beginning in the local tourist office, we found the work of a Jaffa cooperative of Arab and Jewish Israeli women who work together for female empowerment and create dolls. If your Hebrew is better than mine (read: non-existent) you can read more about the Arous Albahar Organization on their website. But the dolls were an adorable first look at the inspired creations and ever so cool boutiques I would find in Jaffa.
There was Asufa Design which spotlighted Israeli creative talent in ceramics, artwork, metals - you name it. Just around the corner we found Maasiya, a delightfully cozy shop offering a range of products for the home but we were instantly drawn to their old- fashioned but oh so cute array of children's toys and cuddlers! If you stop by, don't neglect to try the chilled lemon verbena tea across the road at Puaa Cafe (YUM!).
Then we hit gold at Marioneta (050 4333554), where Israeli and international collections for kids merge under the guiding hand of mom and store owner Keshet. It was at Marioneta that my little guy, now full of beans after his nap, stocked up on entertainment for the airplane ride home. Our undying devotion was also won when Keshet pointed out her nursing and changing station at the back of the store. Bravo! Our visit there was the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that was the Old Town Jaffa Flea market. Do not miss it should you find yourself in Tel Aviv.
About Natalia Rankine-Galloway: founded CultureBaby in 2011 when her son was five-months-old. She loves seeking out new global products for CultureBaby, and hearing from mothers worldwide about how they celebrate culture with their kids. Natalia's upbringing and education predisposed her to be fascinated by international education and cultural exchange. Living in four countries before the age of twelve, she was always surprised by how little her friends in her new country understood the old friends that she had left behind. Her personal life kept her moving after she married a military man, and she continues to love roaming the world with her husband and young son. She can currently be found in Washington DC. You can read more about her personal adventures at The Culture Mum Chronicles.