Nzar Khoury Guest House & Airbnb, Acre, Israel

If you’re ever in the historic town of Acre, Israel (it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited ones on the planet) and looking for a place to spend the night that is nothing fancy, but clean and HIGHLY affordable, look no farther than Nazar Khoury’s Guest House. I stayed here for almost a full month, and LOVED IT. If you want to book with him you can either call him directly (see number below), or use Booking.com, Agoda, or Airbnb (like I did — you may need to be signed into your Airbnb account in order to see that link, I’m not sure).  That said, while he has four different rooms available, his place is so much more affordable than the other places in town, that he tends to be full almost continuously (or at least was while I was there). UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de83

Be warned, this is NOT a fancy hotel, with elevators and bell boys, but rather his family home that he grew up in, which he has converted himself in order to accommodate guests. He runs it himself (the guy in image above) and for the most part does a pretty good job of it … If you stay here you’ll be getting an authentic experience of how the locals live.

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His home, which is located about four floors up, has a patio that overlooks the mediterranean ocean and the old Ottoman built seawallramparts of this historic, and once militarily strategic town.

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The wall is currently being renovated; I was hoping they’d leave this long enough for me to get a shot of the sun setting in the middle of it, but no luck, it was only there for a few hours.

It is an almost idyllic place to sit and enjoy the ocean. While there you can also get to know some of his other guests (I met more than few people that way) as you all watch the setting sun while nibbling on the free munchies he provides.

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This picture (above) was taken at around sunset — as you can tell by the golden color of the stones, and if you look up towards the Nzar Khoury sign, you’ll spot some guests, particularly the guy in the black shirt, talking to each other while enjoying said it from the patio — next to him was in fact his wife (who was distracting him from the view).

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The moon, just moments after the sunset

The great part about having stayed at the Guest House for almost a month was how many different sunsets I was able to watch… no two ever exactly the same

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From his home you can easily see Acre’s famous lighthouse, and Haifa across the bay.

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On VERY clear days you can just make out the second holiest Bahá’í temple in the world, known as the Shrine of the Báb, it’ll look like a vertical strip from the top of the of the mountain to the bottom, with one very large building in the middle of it. I know all about the Bahá’í because one of their temples isn’t far from the home where I grew up, north of Chicago. But like I said, you can only see it on VERY clear days… otherwise the fog and or smog (depending on the color — fog is white, not brown) will block you from seeing it.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2ba6.jpg

Just to the right of the lighthouse is the remains of a submerged crusader castle. On days when the wind is low and the water is still, you can just make out the walls of the various rooms of the building…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_df48.jpgon other days you’ll see fishermen (who aren’t actually supposed to be there, but the police don’t stop them) fishing either off the exterior wall of that castle, or netting up fish caught in the pools they create.

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Getting to his place is however NOT the easiest thing for people with mobility issues (it is NOT wheelchair accessible). The image above is the first set of stairs you’ll need to climb. These were built by the ottoman controlled Acre and were built more to be comfortable for horses pulling carts, then they were for humans. That said, the built-in ramps would have been a lot more helpful if they were filled in (so to speak). If you try pulling a suitcase up them, or a cart, the wheels will constantly slip off to one side or the other. (I’ve not seen anyone even TRY to negotiate them with a wheel chair.)

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The Stairway and Church’s doorway, decorated for the wedding

Nzar’s home — which is built upon the remains of a Crusader Church — is just next door to the St. Andrew’s Church (Greek Catholic), which is accessed from the parking lot by that same stairway. So, if you’re lucky, as I was, from his balcony you’ll be able to watch an Arab wedding party ceremoniously lead the bride to the altar.

At the top of the stairs you make a hard left (if you go right you see the church’s front door which is usually locked) and you’ll see the big metal door that marks his entrance

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The guest house’s  doorway and staircase

Push it open (it’s never locked)… be careful not to pull the handle (sometimes it’ll come off)… and you’ll see a very uninviting steep staircase that’s about 2 stories high with a banister that is just a rusty pipe bolted to the wall… that wiggles a bit if you lean on it (so don’t if you don’t absolutely need to). That said, while I was there a 90-year-old gray-haired grandmother with a seriously bent back put me to shame on those stairs.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b6d.jpgOnce inside you’ll see an apartment with VERY high ceilings. These are traditional to the region, and act as a sort of natural air conditioning system, as the heat rises above your head, and the cold drops to floor level. That said, no two spaces are on the same level. All the bedrooms are a step up to a place where you can leave your shoes, and then another step up to the bedroom area… the en suite bathrooms are yet another step up.

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The skylight viewed from above

My bedroom, where I stayed, has a skylight (image of it from the building’s roof)… but it’s currently the only one like that does. Unfortunately there were no way to block that light… so I ended up having to go to sleep earlier than normal in preparation for an 8am wake up (after a 6 am one, at which point I covered my head with a pillow)

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The setting sun as viewed through the doorway to the patio

At night, Nzar lights up his sign, so you can still easily see it from the parking lot below. IF you’re in one of the rooms that lines the back alley, as I was, and pop your head out the window, you’ll an large number of swallows (who you can watch at around sunset feasting on the mosquitos, G-d bless them), hanging out on the electrical and telephone wires that line the way.

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That said, I WARN YOU… they wake up really easily from things like the flash on your camera; and if awoken, they will fly around like crazy idiots for the next hour or so, chirping noisily. DO NOT WAKE UP THE SWALLOWS. That said, if you’re there during Ramadan, as I was, the wake up call before sunrise to allow muslims a chance to have breakfast, is ALSO going to wake the birds… you’ve been warned (ear plugs are your friend, as is a pillow over your head).

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Me, blogging while sitting on the patio on an overcast day
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Uri Buri: A World Renowned Seafood Restaurant in Acre, Israel

Located at the edge of the Mediterranean, in a completely renovated 400 year old Ottoman building in Acre, is what many consider to be the best fish restaurant in all of Israel, Uri Buri. According to Forbes Magazine, it is one of the three restaurants in Israel any traveler to the country must try…. and considering the place was literally a 4 minute walk from my Airbnb for a month… how could I not. That said, if you go to seafood restaurants hoping to be able to get a healthy low-fat meal… this is NOT the place for you. The place offers up what can best be described as Israeli/French/Asian fusion food, that’s heavy on the cream and oils.

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The sign faces the ocean and the road… and is translucent (so I was looking through from the back)…  I reversed the image making the writing no longer backwards

I knew Uri Buri was there and that a couple had spent the night at my Airbnb just so that they could have dinner there, and it was supposed to be THAT good… but as it was also really expensive. While in my 50 odd years, and they’ve been odd… I’ve had occasion to eat at some of the world’s top restaurants, I really do tend to prefer expensive meals when someone else is paying for them. If I’m going to pay three times the price for my meal I want it to taste three times as good as the cheaper alternatives… and that rarely happen. ONCE in my life, while in Kyoto, Japan, I got taken to french restaurant that only at like 14 people at a time, and was so expensive that the menu didn’t include prices (as in if you care about price, you probably shouldn’t eat there anyway) and that meal was SO good it was better than sex…. but like I said, I wasn’t paying that night. So, while I knew Uri Buri was just next door… I hadn’t really considered going in.

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That said a friend of the family, when he came to pick me up to bring me to his parent’s for dinner, when he saw I was literally a stone’s throw from the place — well not with my pitching arm but a GOOD thrower could do it from the patio of my airbnb, see the image above — he said that I HAD to eat there at least once while I was staying in Acre. See the red and blue sign on top of the building on the left side image, that’s the patio of the airbnb I stayed at for 29 days; the stone building on the right edge of that image is Uri Buri… as is the low flat squarish building visible from the patio, looking down. THAT is how close I was to the place…

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So of course I HAD to go there…. how often in life are you THAT close to world-famous restaurant? The first time I went was a weekday at three in the afternoon —  without a reservation. In spite of it being mid-week and middle of the day, they told me they had no spare seating inside; but they could, however, seat me outside… if I was willing. It was one of those odd days when it is too hot to sit in the sun while too chilly to be sitting in the shade, and insanely windy…. but, never the less…  I said yes.

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For this first visit, I approached Uri Buri as I do MOST restaurants… I explained about my fatty liver diagnoses, what that meant in terms of my dietary needs, and asked them what they could serve me that would not piss off my doctors. They promised to bring me a very low-fat grilled piece of fish that was healthy… on a bed of purred squash with balsamic… sounded good… and looked very good

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Sadly, on closer inspection the fillet had been pan-fried, and was dripping with oil. My first thought was that maybe the concept of my having a serious medical condition that demanded I eat very low-fat meals had fallen on deaf ears…  Later I considered that maybe the food here was normally SO ridiculously oily, that from the chefs perspective this in fact was their idea of low fat by comparison … as in maybe the dish is normally served swimming in rosemary butter.  That said, it was clear to me that really, no one could eat come here with the expectation of a really healthy meal.

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A picture of my host, Nzar

Afterwards my Airbnb host, who had converted his childhood home into a guest house… suggested that I really should try Uri Buri’s tasting menu at least once before leaving. [For this they charge you for every item you eat, but the portions are smaller than if you ordered each dish alone.] This Airbnb, while GREAT, has a host who loves his guests and demonstrates that love by laying out a daily Smörgåsbord of food… and my impulse control is NULL… as a result my diet has been LOUSY during my stay anyway, and I’ve gained a good bit of weight… so in my mind, I might as well try this famous tasting menu as I’ve decidedly screwed my diet anyway …. and then try hard to get back on the bandwagon afterwards.

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When he got to that table, I heard him speaking in German to the customers, NOT Israelis

So I went back about two weeks later in order to try their tasting menu, and discovered why that is: see the guy who looks like Father Christmas? He’s the famous chef who owns the restaurant. Looking at him as an American, yah he’s a bit on the heavy side… but looking at him as an Israeli… I can not overstate this… he’s morbidly obese. Walking around Israel, IF you see anyone that’s anywhere near as heavy as he is.. than either they’re tourists visiting from abroad, or moved here recently, after having spent most of the lives in countries that have obesity issues. Israeli’s are almost never fat by US standards (at worst they develop a bit of a belly in old age). This is because they eat a diet that’s very low in processed foods, and because meat is very expensive here, if there’s protein on their plates at all, it’s usually chicken, fish, lamb or mutton — and for many its only eaten one meal a day, with the rest being vegetarian (or an egg). Most meals consist of a small amount of meat protein, and high amounts of vegetable ones… like hummus. And all meals arrive with multiple vegetable salad options on the side. As such, the average Israeli can afford to eat his cooking to no ill effect, because it’s not a daily thing. He on the other hand DOES eat his own cooking daily … and well… nuff said.

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All of the folks in this photo were Israeli (I heard them all speaking Hebrew), note the sizes

This time I also arrived mid-week, and without a reservation at about 2:00 in the afternoon, but this time it was during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan (and I had noticed a significant drop in tourists to the guest house since the festival began). As such I was guessing I could probably get a table, and yes, this time they were able to seat me inside the building … and I ordered the tasting menu.

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17 ₪ and 14 ₪, so  $4.76 & $3.92 USD

The first course was a seafood bruschetta, with some sort of white fish sitting on a puréed eggplant with what I thought were poppy seeds and drizzled with olive oil.  It came with an espresso cup full of mushroom soup. topped with truffle oil, according to the waitress. Immediately I was like, “huh?” as this is an ingredient while trendy is usually considered verboten by top ranked chefs, who consider it an abomination. But this guy prides himself on being “self-taught” so … whatever. The soup was consistent with how Israelis like their mushroom soup (there’s a particular taste to it, not how I like it but… this is Israel and it’s how they expect it)… but already between the cream in the soup and the truffle oil, PLUS the oil drizzled on the bruschetta … my body mouth and stomach were going, SERIOUSLY??!! But at this point my body isn’t really used to a lot of oil at one time… most people are. So… fine, whatever…

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18 ₪ = $5.04 USD

The next course was a Scallop sitting on a purée of artichoke with spirulina syrup. First I had a hard time understanding what the waitress was saying — she had a very strong Israeli accent — and then once I did I was kind of surprised. In the states this is usually the word used for the dietary supplement, not the food… which basically is just a high protein blue-green algae (the sort of thing that was supposed to solve the world’s food shortages once upon a time, think Soylent Green). I suppose spirulina sounds better than algae to the average Israeli… most of whom are a bit pedantic when it comes to food. That said, The scallop was a few seconds under cooked (you can see that in the picture… it should be clean white ALL the way through, not just at the edges… while not being rubbery (which is over cooked). This one is solid white at the edges and then shifts towards a sort of translucent white … which means not fully cooked. But that said… I regularly eat scallop sashimi and/or sushi, but still, this was supposed to be cooked, not seared. And, if that weren’t bad enough… it tasted slightly fishy (so not particularly fresh). Also, you couldn’t really taste the artichoke at all while the after taste of olive oil was strong. When the waitress asked me how I like it, she get defensive and said that was how the scallops are supposed to be when cooked… ah no, sorry.

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The next items were “Caramelized Tilapia on a bed of Beets” along with their signature dish  … “Salmon Sashimi with Wasabi ice cream/sorbet” — which the waitress I had the first time I came here had been trying to push at me as something “really special!”

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27 ₪ = $7.56 USD

 

 

Firstly, lets start with the tilapia… a fish I HATE by the way. Sometimes referred to as the aqua-chicken, because it’s the easiest sort of fish to farm in pools and hence super cheap… it’s not any one sort of fish, actually, but rather a random assortment of small white fish that have been selectively bred in order to assure they grow quickly and survive in captivity. Basically the same way we’ve screwed with chickens and cows … which is how it got its other nickname, “frankenfish.” There’s a lot of debate about this fish and how healthy it may or may not be at this point. But, that said, it’s almost always a very very mild fish, and as such is great to serve to people who don’t like fish…. because it barely tastes of anything. If you then go and  give it a teriyaki glaze, which is what they did… calling it caramelized was a bit of a misnomer, then you’re not really going to taste ANYTHING because teriyaki is a pretty strong flavor. If you then place it on top of pickled beets… YUP, not fresh beets which would have been great… these were pickled… sort of Jewish food 101… well then between the pickled beets and the teriyaki you’re REALLY not going to taste the fish. The fish was completely overpowered by the other items on the plate. This time the waitress said I didn’t have to eat it if I didn’t like it… but beets are good for you, and pickles are probiotic… so I finished it like a good girl…

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Then there was salmon sashimi with wasabi ice cream, their signature dish… which I was told to eat on the provided bread (good bread, tasted like multi grain)… I skipped the butter cause… butter

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The salmon was ok, except for once again having been drowned in a sweet teriyaki sauce rather than just soy (there was something really glutenous about it). I think again it is because Israelis who eat sashimi do so because they want to be seen as cool, not because they actually enjoy raw fish. So add sweet soy and they’ll like it more. As to the Wasabi ice cream… firstly it didn’t taste anything isn’t wasabi, not even the American sort which ISN’T (no really it’s not) … the American stuff is usually made of the mildest horseradish they can find, with color added (actual wasabi has to be ground fresh and eaten within about 15 minutes of grinding… and has a mild floral sort of thing going on that opens your sinuses gently, rather than painfully) …. This stuff however was a very STRONG horseradish, as in it didn’t even TRY to approximate wasabi.

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52 ₪ = $14.56 USD

It was like the horse-radish Jews eat at passover … straight.. so we can experience the suffering of slavery. Only this was that… with a lot of sweet added to it. When the waitress asked me my opinion of this dish, she was like: “well you’ve never had wasabi ice cream before!” And I was like, actually I have, many many times. The waitress was shocked as she had believed the chef had invented the stuff…

 

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17 ₪ = $4.76 USD

The next dish was finally one that made me happy. It was seafood soup, what looked like squid and shrimp cut up small, with coconut milk and a touch of curry.  The heat began as barely perceptible, although the taste of curry was there, and then grew as I ate it but never past the level of a soothing warmth. Total winner! One thing to know is that in Israel seafood does not mean a mixture of fish and shellfish, as it does in the rest of the world; rather, it means shellfish. Fish is fish, but seafood is shellfish; this is a way of distinguishing between kosher and not… fish in Israel is always KOSHER fishes (fins and scales that are easy to see and remove), and seafood is not… so it might include catfish, shark, dolphin, etc., but I’ve never seen it.

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69 ₪ = $19.33 USD

The next dish was Shrimp in a Mediterranean sauce—- LOTS of garlic, oil, what I thought was fresh parsley but the menu said was coriander …and enough lemon that the garlic tasted almost pickled … along with a few bits of sliced up jalapeños.. this dish had a nice fresh flavor and wasn’t TOO oily (once I allowed the sauce to drip away from the shrimps)

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free apparently

She then asked me how full was I, as there are still two main dishes to go, and did I have room for both? I thought about it, and said, no I really could only do one more, so she gave me a choice from those two options. Then she brought out a sorbet to clean my palette of all the garlic… first taste was still full of garlic so I thought it was mango but she said it was mandarin orange… when I said it wasn’t sweet enough and had a bit too much bite… she said that’s how they are in Israel… ok fine… it did what it was supposed to do, clean the palette.

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The final main dish was Trout in a cream sauce with green onions, and a side of risotto. It arrived with … lots of fan-fair in a super hot cast iron pot. The the fish was allowed to finish cooking in the bubbling cream sauce, and was then moved to the plate and a dish of yellow rice was then dumped in the cream and stirred “to make risotto” according to her. My brain went straight to… “risotto isn’t just rice with sauce added to it” … but I kept my mouth shut (it’s a starchy variety of rice cooked a specific way).

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67 ₪ = $18.77

The resultant side dish was heavy on the cream but tasty … and the fish is good

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For dessert I decided to getting the Palestinian dessert knafeh which she promised me would be the very best example of this dish I’ve ever had. In Acre they make it differently than how its done in Tel Aviv — where to my taste it is WAY too sweet… in Acre its subtly sweet, and to my mind, much tastier. She promised me that this one would be way better than even what’s sold by the local bakeries in town. After my having “already had wasabi ice cream” issue, she wanted to know if they had a flavor I’d never had… She assumed it would be Cardamon, but I’ve had that and rose….  so she’s said she’d bring it with date ice cream … but brought the requisite rose-water ice cream as well

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42 ₪ = $11.76 USD, and she threw in the 2nd ice cream free

the Rose Ice cream was actually Meh… inferior to what I’ve had before, but the date ice cream was really nice… the knafeh was … eeeh… again not WAY better than the other places in town. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2b2b.jpg

Toward the end of my meal a young German couple arrived who were VERY excited to eating here (like seeing a movie star excited) … according to the girl there’s a German travel food show that this restaurant was presented on as a MUST experience once in your life kind of place….

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That said, my very FILLING lunch (my stomach was distended) took two hours to eat and came to 323 ₪/shekels…  ~$90 USD…. before the %15 tip… and in spite of it feeling like I’d eaten a lot of food (mostly because of how much cream and oil my stomach was having to deal with… it was almost gurgling because of all the gas… I was a farting machine for the rest of the day) with the possible exception of that one soup… nothing struck me as being worth the price. By US prices (and keeping in mind it was small portions of every item) it doesn’t seem to bad… but any other restaurant in town would give you a triple portion of that shrimp dish for $14 USD and with it would be huge portions of at least six different salads (humus, tahini, Jerusalem salad, beet salad, cabbage, tabouleh, etc.) which are ALL YOU CAN EAT, like at a Korean place…. plus all the pita bread you need to go with it.

How to eat during Ramadan in an Arab town, such as Acre (Akko/Acco), Israel

This month is the first time in my life I’ve spent Ramadan in an Arab town. I’m SO naive about these things that I didn’t even THINK about that when planning this trip.

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  1. First thing to remember is that while Arabs are of two predominant religious groups, Muslim AND Christian. The first keeps Ramadan, the second does NOT…
  2. … and not all sects of those two major groups are alike. While Bahá’í and Druze are both, historically, offshoots of Islam, the Bahá’ís DO keep Ramadan but the Durūz/Druzim [transliterated Arabic & Hebrew spellings for the plural] do NOT …
  3. Christian owned restaurants tend to hire mostly Christian workers (friends and family), and are in retrospect easy to spot because they’re the ones that offer beer and wine options on the menu.
  4. Muslim owned places do NOT have beer or wine on the menu.
    *Noting this distinction in advance will tell you which of your favorite eateries are likely to be open or not
  5. And of course, Acco being in Israel, there are a handful of Kosher places in town… that hire Jewish workers and as such will be open: This includes the VERY expensive Uri Buri (which will demand reservations), which has won all sorts of culinary awards, is considered to be one of the best resturants in Israel, and while it has shellfish on the menu is also set up to cook Kosher food. (Warning: its “French” style, so after a full meal here, you’re going to want to go out to eat)
  6. That said, NO restaurant can afford to be closed for one month every year!!!
    According to my Airbnb host (a Xtian who has lived here his whole life) the first THREE days of Ramadan is when it’s an issue. Employers give their muslim workers that much time to acclimate into the pattern of NOT eating during the day, and then will open back up for business because there’s a tourist market that has to be served.or of course you can load up the fridge in advance and feed yourself… something I neglected to do…

When in Israel, which cell company should I buy my sim from?

International roaming is NEVER as good as it should be, and can also be very expensive. As such, IF you’re a tourist, traveling in such a way as to stay in a country a month or more, than you’re going to NEED to buy a prepaid sim card from a local carrier (suffering for a week or so is manageable, but not a month). I only spotted one carrier company selling prepaid sims in the airport and as I later learned they’re not necessarily going to be your best choice. Various carriers in Israel, such as Orange (which is changing its name to partner) offer a wide variety of sims for travelers with contracts of 1 week, 2 weeks or a month… BUT because of data coverage issues, its best to research in advance which company’s sim to buy based on your specific travel plans… IF you’re only going to Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, then pretty much any provider will work and you can just go with the cheapest one… but if your plans include historically Arab towns, or more out-of-the-way locations, then you’re going to have explore which carrier provides coverage where. In other words, there’s no easy “best” answer… sorry

Israel is a TINY country, and is one of the most advanced high-tech countries in the world; as such I’d EXPECTED them to have great coverage, just like equally high-tech and even more mountainous South Korea does — a country also in a state of war. In Korea it really doesn’t matter which company you sign up with, cell phone coverage is affordable, and not only is connectivity a given assumption (your phone works in Seoul’s train tunnels AND at the tops of mountains in bumblefuck Korea), but with that phone connectivity also comes access to the internet that is omnipresent, fast, and reliable. So you’d expect this to also be true in Israel… but it’s not. Up until recently only two providers existed and it was expensive and bad; recently an opening of the market has brought down prices and increased coverage, but at the price of customer service (which has gone from bad to worse).

When I arrived, My US provider’s roaming (T-mobile) completely failed me my first night out, even though I had read that their roaming coverage in Israel was actually pretty good and there’d be no need to buy a sim. When my plane first landed my roaming worked just fine in the airport (phone and data), so I had hopes, and didn’t buy the sim cards sold there (which actually turned out to be a good thing). However, once I’d arrived, and unpacked and was ready to go out… I discovered that once I was a few steps away from my Airbnb, which was located right next to one of the major tourist hotels and smack in the middle of two major tourist draw areas (so you’d expect coverage)… I could talk and text but found I could NOT contact Uber to call myself a taxi to the restaurant where I was meeting up with friends (see my post on how YES Israel has Uber, no matter what you’ve read), and had to walk back within range of the house’s WiFi to do it.

Then, later that night, when I ordered my return Uber (using the restaurant’s free WiFi), I found I could no longer see the taxi’s progress to my location or even which taxi was the one sent after I had stepped on to the pavement in front of the place. Again, I had to go BACK into the boundaries of their WiFi signal and reboot the app, and then had to stay there till the taxi arrived, rather than at the edge of the street as I normally would. Forget about using google maps to give me walking directions from place to place, unless I downloaded the map to my phone, but even then, the directions function didn’t work (I had to go low tech and actually READ the map for myself). So with US roaming I had 3 bars for making phone calls but NO DATA!!!!

I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking at cell providers nothing pisses me off faster than seeing three or four bars for cell coverage, and NOTHING for data. Not to be repetitive, but in this day and age ISSUE is increasingly becoming data, NOT the ability to make a phone call. This is ESPECIALLY true when you’re traveling to see the place, rather than on business (business folks still need to make calls). But I’m retired, I really don’t use my iPhone much as a phone anymore. I only makes calls when I really need to and almost no one calls me other than doctors offices and businesses, I’m far more likely to text or use a messenger app of some sort. My friends are either on Facebook or they email me, or use videophone applications to reach me … As such, my iPhone is my link to the world, when out and about, and it’s how I find my way around strange cities, call myself a cab, and decide where to eat.

That said, once I started doing my due diligence (rather than just buying the first sim card I saw) which sim card to buy turned out to be a far more complicated question than I would have imagined. As this web page that I found shows (it tracks current data coverage by carrier/provider, with distinctions for 3G, 4G, etc.), data coverage in Israel kind of seriously sucks.

When using the page you have to select a provider from the pull down menu, and then zoom in to specific neighborhoods to see actual coverage. Looking at the results, the map shows that if you stay in Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, pretty much any sim will work. However, if like me your trip is going to include spending a full month in places like the Historic town of Acre (pronounced as Akko), located just north of Haifa, not so good. Haifa has GREAT coverage, Akko’s kind of sucks. What was REALLY irritating was learning that even though my T-mobile is roaming using Cellcom’s network, and I was IN neighborhoods where cellcom had STRONG coverage, my T-mobile sim wasn’t seeing that data stream …

I have a theory that this may be because T-mobile’s roaming only sees 3G and 4G and in areas that have upgraded to 4G+, it just can’t read the stuff… but its a theory only.

Anyway, If you can I STRONGLY suggest contacting your host and or hosts and asking them WHICH provider has the best data coverage in the places you’ll be spending the most time. My Host in Tel Aviv had suggested the provider Golan, as the best and cheapest, but I discovered it had NO coverage, NONE in Akko, where I was going to be on my 2nd month. So I contacted that host, and he suggested that I buy the Orange sim (which recently changed its name to Partner)

ALSO, MOST of the shops that are selling sim cards in Israel have HORRIBLE customer service — they’re NOT like in the USA. (At this point I want to kill the guys who sold me my orange card just for being asses). Most of the sellers are just little stalls in malls and such and the folks working them only know what he has in stock and expects you to show up knowing what you want. If you want help making the decision based on needs you’re going to HAVE to go one of their Customer service centers . A way to know is if there’s a guy standing behind the counter and you didn’t have to take a number to talk to him, expect NO CUSTOMER SERVICE. The ones where they actually know enough and have been trained to help you, for those you’ll have to take a number and then sit and wait to see a guy who is SITTING behind a counter. Standing means no customer service, while take and number and sit = customer service.

Israel DOES have Uber, of a sort.

Before coming to Israel I was trying to find out DID Israel have Uber, and every website I saw said they did not. Even locals I spoke to told me “Uber doesn’t work in Israel.” This is in fact WRONG…  It does … at least for as much as you the customer actually care… You open your app, you call for a ride, you get one… it’s just going to be from an actual taxi with a yellow taxi thing on its hood… but you get your ride and pay via the app, and let’s face it that’s all we care about.

That said, you ARE going to want to use Uber. When I grabbed a cab at the airport without Uber, the girl who talked to me when I got into the cab at the designated cab stand, officiously informed me that my cab would only cost 110 shekels because the cab could only charge me based on the distance (not the time) and because of the location I was going to that was the charge. She handed me a print out with a website to reach for feedback (but no mention of the set charge), and she promised me he would take my credit card. When I got there he said his WiFi didn’t work, so he couldn’t charge the card… and when I asked how much, he said that because of how backed up the highway had been, and how long it took to get here, the fee was 145 shekels. I was too tired at the time to make a stink — because Israeli’s LOVE to argue and I was once punched in the face by an Israeli shoe repair man, in Israel, because I had refused to pay as he’d totally botched up the job, and now know better than to NOT expect a potential for violence when in Israel … I’ve seen more than a few minor fender benders turn violent over the years (keep in mind a good chunk of the population has PTSD) ….  So I just paid the extra and let it go… but knew I’d just been ripped off.

So yes, you’re going to want to use Uber if for no other reason than the cab drivers get paid via the app, and this gives them no opportunity to pull that kind of con on travelers.

Oh, and in Israel cab drivers are NOT generally tipped, although waiters in restaurants and bars still are. Cab drivers don’t expect it, and the app isn’t set up to do it. I do NOT however know if they’ll give you bad feedback if you don’t, which is what was happening in the USA which is why Uber added after the fact tipping.

In Israel it’s not Uber so much as the Uber business model of the gig economy that’s illegal; i.e., individuals using their own cars to drive as taxi’s. If you think about it that’s probably a good thing as Israel is a country in a state of war and terrorism is most definitely a thing. You’ve all heard the stories of the folks faking being Uber drivers in order to rape or steal from people, well in Israel using Uber to kidnap and kill could easily become part of the terror campaign, so I understand why the Israeli government wouldn’t allow it.

That said, you can STILL use your Uber app to get a ride. Apparently, Uber has teamed up with licensed cab drivers and given them access to their software. When you call an Uber what arrives has a formal yellow “Taxi” thing attached to their roof. I think what’s happened is all the small independent companies and/or drivers, who can’t afford to have the sort of software/app/etc that Uber has are the ones who have teamed up with Uber. Israel has in fact a LONG history of this sort of small businessman… before it was nationalized all busses in Israel were privately owned and operated by their drivers, even though they were on organized routes. (My mom had more than few friends who were doing this for a living back when I was like 4 years old).