What do you do when the whole city shuts down to a sleepy quiet, all the stores close up shop and the streets empty?
Sleep, eat and enjoy the company of good friends of course! And quite honestly, I challenge you to come up with a better day than that – because I can’t come up with one. Especially when doing all of this in the exciting setting of a new foreign city.
When I first arrived to Israel I had a few concerns I wanted to address: hugging Maggie, catching up on the last four months of each other’s lives, reviewing our travel itinerary and figuring out how Shabbat figured into our travels plans.
Although I’m supposed to be this traveler that “has it all together” there are things that frequently get in the way of that, for instance when planning a weeklong vacation with your BFF who lives on the other side of the world, things like time zones, wifi and facetime connection errors get in the way. So when we added Safed to the itinerary and I noticed it was on a Saturday, one thing led to another and I completely forgot to ask Maggie her thoughts on the matter. I had a feeling we weren’t going to make it.
I mean technically some transportation services like private taxi and sheruts run on Shabbat for a hefty fee, and Safed offers Shabbat hospitality to visitors, but these seems like things that need to be planned in advance. And obviously we didn’t do that. So when Friday evening rolled around I was feeling especially tired from my Masada sunrise hike and agreed with Maggie that visiting the Western Wall and taking it easy in Jerusalem was the ideal option. There is little I love more than delicious food and relaxing with friends. It was also amazing to experience a bustling city transform into a sleepy town.
First up was the Western Wall at sundown. The times change depending on the season and the sun but this is an experience you don’t want to miss. Hundreds of people coming from all over the city, and the world, to pray, sing and dance by the wall.
Afterwards, readily armed with a list of restaurants that didn’t close for Shabbat and my new friends from Masada, we headed towards Hillel and Rabbi Akiva Street for a dinner at Focaccia Bar. We squeezed our party of 7 in just before the real rush hit and avoided a long wait. Three bottles of wine and a platter of focaccia were promptly delivered while we ordered up a variety of pizzas and pastas. Sure it’s Israel, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat hummus and falafel for every meal of the day, even if it is absurdly delicious.
Feeling full and happy, we walked home and promptly collapsed in bed. We slept well into the next morning before heading back out. I required a little coaxing and kept insisting to Maggie that I fully intended to observe this day of rest. She finally convinced me to move when food got involved.
The streets were nearly empty and the air was crisp. It felt like we had the entire city to ourselves. So few people were out, in fact, that the first ones we ran into were our new friends on their way to a museum. I instead opted for a morning of culinary experiences.
We settled into the Aroma coffee shop with Maggie’s friend Ariel, right next to Focaccia Bar and didn’t move again for hours. If you get the chance to go here, do yourself a favor and order the hot chocolate and a pastry. I’ve heard the salads aren’t bad either but when it came time for a real meal we were looking more along the line of Iwo’s Meatburger two doors down.
Yes you read that right, we were about to have our third meal in less than 24 hours within a one block radius. What can I say? Restaurants that stay open for Shabbat are hard to come by and these all happened to be convenient and delicious options. Plus it had started raining and we weren’t prepared to walk in all that.
Maggie was particularly delighted that she could get cheese on her burger, because while the rest of ‘em may keep kosher, this girl has no plans of giving up her love for cheeseburgers. I on the other hand ordered up their vegetarian option, a Portobello burger with a side of onion rings to compliment Maggie’s fries.
After lunch it was straight back to Aroma for us. Guys, the amount of time we spent in this coffee shop was a serious problem. We practically earned ourselves a reserved table. We firmly planted ourselves back into the same seats while we waited out the rain and made dinner plans.
I’ll give you three guesses where we ate next, but you’ll only need one. On the same street. If you wander down Hillel Street towards the Old City it becomes Ben Sira. On the left is a little restaurant with blue awnings called Hummus Ben Sira. The menu is simple like the name but oh so delicious.
We were back to our party of 7 so we ordered up one of each of the hummus’ on offer. Except the faba bean hummus. There was a bit of debate regarding what exactly a faba bean was… is it fava? Is it good?
Classic hummus, hummus topped with roasted cauliflower and garlic, hummus topped with beef, hummus topped with sautéed onions and mushroom, a bowl of crispy falafel and a platter of pita were swiftly delivered. Service in Israel can be slow at times, but the beauty of the hummus shops are that they are constantly cooking up more of the same so your dish is out in seconds, deliciously fresh and piled with steaming hot toppings.
Can you guess which one got completely ignored? Yep, the poor old classic hummus.
After dinner it was time to walk our new friends back to their rental and say goodbye to Maggie and one of the St. Louis bunch who was departing early. The next morning, the rest of us were waking up bright and early to head to Jordan!
I still want to visit Safed, but our Shabbat day in Jerusalem was perfect in my book. And who says I can’t go back later!
Have you run into a holiday or day of rest when everything is shut down during your travels?
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