Trip to Israel, Part 3: Jerusalem

Saturday was our one day off and a chance to see some interesting sites in Israel. Jerusalem was on the top of my list, plus I contacted Yehuda Berlinger of the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club and arranged for a face-to-face visit. Our morning started with a 9am departure from Tel Aviv to make the 45-60 minute drive to Jerusalem. We found a nice place to stop for some pastries and coffee along the way (not sure where we were, but there was an IDF military museum with a tank static display right near the store).

We drove straight to the Old City and parked near the Zion Gate (no particular reason - the parking was just easier there). Jerusalem is striking as you enter it, even the newer portions. The city planners work hard to keep the old city look and feel, and many of the buildings have a tan stone facade. Erich and I opted to go it alone without a tour guide, or rather, Erich volunteered to be my tour guide as he had visited about 2 months prior.

Our first stop was the Christian quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. There was quite a bit of activity here, clearly across a wide range of Christian denominations.

The Greek Orthodox chapel in the Church.

It would have been beneficial to have a guide or at least a detailed guidebook, as I probably missed a number of the more revered locations in the church.

The dome within the Church.

The most interesting parts of the Old City (to me) were the plethora of markets and shops, mostly Arab, featuring touristy goods and some very decent food. I picked up a nice silver necklace for Julie and Erich and I sat down for a rest and some lunch (humus, falafel, pita, etc.).

A market within the Arab quarter.

Erich and I both wanted to visit the Dome of the Rock, but unfortunately that wasn't an option on Saturday. We did visit the Wailing Wall, but took no photos as it was still Shabbat.

Some ruins in the Old City just beyond the Wailing Wall.

At around 1pm, Erich and left the Old City for our car and ventured up to the Mount of Olives, famous for its wonderful view of the city. At the base of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane. The views were spectacular from there, affording us our best view so far of the Dome of the Rock.

The view from the Mount of Olves. You can see the ruins pictured in the above photo in the middle left of this shot. You can also see the Jewish cemetery at the bottom of the photo

Erich was keen to ride what is probably the only camel in Jerusalem. He didn't actually ride it - he just paid to get on it, stand up, then sit back down.

Next it was time to try and navigate our way to Yehuda's home. Our drive away from the Mount of Olives took us to an interesting surprise in East Jerusalem:

The security wall being built to encompass East Jerusalem.

There were quite a few (10-15) IDF soldiers patrolling this end of the wall.

Yehuda gave us some fine directions from Tel Aviv, but that's not where we were coming from and Jerusalem is, shall we say, a bit difficult to get around. Erich has a fine memory though and remembered some street signs to a common landmark from Yehuda's directions, and we were able to find our way there right on time for our 3pm arrival.

3pm on Saturday is still right smack in the middle of Shabbat for Yehuda, and we had discussed ahead of time what this specifically meant for his family. We decided to take a short stroll to see the area surrounding his neighborhood, and he took us to a beautiful park overlooking most of Jerusalem. We returned from our walk and jumped right into some gaming (you can also read his session report). First up was a playtest of Yehuda's prototype cardgame. This is a fine little game themed on learning eletricity safety (sounds right out of KC's playbook!) that involves collecting a set of numbered cards, where cards are generally purchased in auctions. I've simplified it a bit but don't want to give too much away. The theme needs some work but the mechanics are solid and Yehuda should continue to develop this one.

Michael and his son Elijah arrived and we decided on El Grande. This is a game I love but get to play way too infrequently; in fact, this was only my third play. Erich, new to these types of boardgames, was a quick study and was in contention for the entire game. Yehuda made a huge comeback in the second scoring round, going for a wide range of second- and third-place showings rather than concentrating on controlling provinces. This was in contrast to Erich's strategy: focus on controlling 2-3 valuable provinces at any cost. Between the last two scoring rounds, Erich (I think - it might have been Michael) bought the card that scores first place across all the provinces. This helped Erich the most, helped me a bit, but crushed Yehuda as he was not in first in any of the provinces. This turned out to be the difference in the game, allowing me to eke out the victory with Erich a fairly close second. Erich loved the game and asked where he could purchase it back in Portland... perhaps another closet gamer drawn out?

Next up was a splendid dinner with Yehuda and his family. Their hospitality was unsurpassed and it made our journey feel like we were visiting old friends down the street.

Last up was a four-player game of Puerto Rico with Yehuda, his wife Rachel, and friend Nadine (Erich sat this one out to learn). I didn't know what I was getting myself into - these folks are sharks! They've clearly played this game enough to know a wide range of strategies, something I clearly have not done (nor do I ever expect to). Yehuda (aka Jon) won a fairly close game. He was kind enough to leave my score off of his session report.

Rachel, Erich, Nadine, and Yehuda playing Puerto Rico.

All in all, our visit was a great day of site seeing and friendship. We returned to Hasharon in Herzliya that evening around 11pm we quite a bit of work to do in prep for the next day, but it was worth it and I'm glad we took the time to visit Jerusalem.

Trip to Israel, Part 2: Tel Aviv and Herzliya

Erich and I arrived early Thursday morning at about 4am local time. We weren't terribly well rested but got to the Hotel Sharon in short order and managed a couple of hours of sleep before our meetings were to begin at 8am. Our hotel was completely booked for Friday night, meaning we would have to check out Friday morning and move to a new hotel in Tel Aviv for Friday evening, then return to Hasharon on Saturday. This hotel is situated on some amazing Mediterranean coastline, but the amenities were somewhat utilitarian. This is a theme throughout Israel - not much gloss with a focus on the pragmatic.

View from my second room at Hasharon. That's the lifeguard station down on the beach.

We spent a full day in prep meetings on Friday, finishing at 7pm. I took a quick swim in the indoor pool then Erich and cabbed it over to the Marina in Herzliya for a nice meal in this shopping district. Thursday evening is the start of the weekend in Israel, with Fri/Sat being the traditional days off. We still had a lot of prep work to do so we worked through most of Friday with our partner, finishing about 4pm.

Our partner was generous enough to provide a company car for us to use to get into Tel Aviv and then tour Jerusalem on Saturday. We grabbed our luggage and took the 20 minute drive into the beach area in Tel Aviv to check in at the Sheraton Tel Aviv. This is a very nice hotel situated right in the downtown beach area, and shortly after check-in Erich and I strolled down to the water. I swam for about 15 minutes - the water was very nice and relatively calm thanks some rocks/reef to break the tide a ways offshore.

Erich and I strolled out on a jetty to watch several fisherman. The tall building in the background is our hotel.

That evening we enjoyed a meal at the Old Port Tel Aviv, a boardwalk area with some decent restaurants and immense nightclubs. We aren't exactly the clubbing types, so we stuck to dinner and some ice cream afterwards and returned to our hotel to catch up on some sleep. Saturday was spent in Jerusalem - more on that in my next post.

Saturday evening through Tuesday were spent back in Herzliya. The days were packed with meetings with our prospect and we were fairly exhausted by the end of each day. We did manage to get out to the beach on Sunday after work. The swimming wasn't as pleasant - there's a significant undertow that made me a bit uncomfortable (this is a popular surfing spot - there were always 10-15 surfers offshore).

Erich and I enjoying a beer after taking a swim.

Tuesday evening our flight departed Ben Gurion airport at about midnight. We managed to get a bit of shopping in, and it was in the duty-free toy store that I had my first glimpse of games offered in Israel. I had visited two shopping areas around Tel Aviv and failed to see anything resembling family strategy games.

Looks like Hebrew versions of TransAmerica and Chicken Cha Cha.

As you can see, a limited selection. But still, would you ever see TransAmerica in an American airport? Doubtful...

Trip to Israel, Part 1: Frankfurt

I had hoped to post some of this trip content while on the road, but generally poor internet connectivity in my rooms in Israel combined with an extremely hectic work schedule precluded me from doing so.

My colleague Erich and I departed for Israel last Tuesday. Lufthansa has a daily non-stop flight to Frankfurt that is quite convenient and allowed us to connect into Ben Gurion airport with only one stop. The downside (sorta) is a 12 hour layover in Frankfurt. Rather than sit around the airport for the day, Erich and I ventured into downtown on the S8 subway to the Hauptwache stop, conveniently located near the Zeilgalerie. This is a vibrant shopping area and was a great place to shop, people-watch, and hunt for some games.

The game selection at the Gamestore in the Zeilgalerie.

Only a five minute walk from the subway stop is the Gamestore in the Zeilgalerie. This is a traditional hobby game store like you might find in the US, with a broad selection of RPGs, miniatures, CCGs, and family boardgames. Prices were very comparable to the US but I found a few decent deals on card games. I picked up Sticheln and Geschenkt for a total of about 13 euros.

Erich and I then proceeded to do some museum hopping, visiting the Goethe Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Both were OK, not spectacular. The Goethe museum had too little content on his actual works, and too much content on the artists that surrounded him at the time. The modern art museum had some interesting exhibits but was very small in comparison to others I have seen and nothing overwhelmed me.

Erich and I stopped for a drink at a floating bar/restaurant on the Main river.

We spent a good part of the late afternoon just walking around the city, especially the attractive waterfront around the Main river. The city seemed to be much cleaner and vibrant than when I last visited in 1990.

We ended the day with some more shopping in the main department store at the Zeilgalerie. Erich was looking for some action figures for his 5 year old son, so we headed up to the 6th floor toy section. I was pretty blown away by the game collection there.

The game section of the department store.

The selection in this store was larger than that of the game store, with a wide range of games including a decent collection of American games. There were some great deals here as well: New England for 10 euros, some good clearance items for 5 euros (I picked up Hellas). These games certainly are more mainstream in Germany than in the US. I wonder if we'll ever see a selection like this in a Target?

Next it was back to the airport to catch our flight to Israel. More on that later...

My Travel Profile, Heading to Israel

I'm finishing packing and other prep for a business trip to Israel, departing tomorrow afternoon. I noticed that Scott just posted his "travel profile" (ahem, I agree with his assessment on the city choices in the quiz). Anyway, here's mine:

Your Travel Profile:

You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the Midwestern United States (100%)

You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the Southern United States (92%)

You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the Western United States (89%)

You Are Very Well Traveled in Western Europe (79%)

You Are Well Traveled in Canada (60%)

You Are Well Traveled in the Northeastern United States (57%)

You Are Well Traveled in Southern Europe (47%)

You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in Eastern Europe (40%)

You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in Australia (25%)

You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in the United Kingdom (25%)

You Are Mostly Untraveled in Scandinavia (20%)

You Are Mostly Untraveled in Asia (13%)

You Are Mostly Untraveled in Latin America (7%)

You Are Untraveled in Africa (0%)

You Are Untraveled in New Zealand (0%)

You Are Untraveled in the Middle East (0%)

How Well Traveled Are You?