So I haven't had a proper vacation in ages. Sure, I've had days off on
occasion, went on trips on Saturdays etc., but not a vacation per se.
The last time I spent any amount of time doing nothing specific was
about a year and a half ago when I went with my family to Eilat
(the southernmost city in Israel, and its most [only?] popular tourist attraction).
A very good friend of mine went to live in Eilat a few months ago,
so I figured since I haven't seen him for a while it might be a chance
to make good use of a few days off (weekend combined with the Shavu'ot
holiday). So midnight on Thursday I took a bus from my home town of
Haifa to Eilat. I'll take this opportunity to extend a hand of
friendship and understanding to the poor buggers who live in countries
where several hours-long bus rides are a fact of life; busses suck. It's the most uncomfortable thing in the universe. I spent two 5.5 hour trips trying to find "the position"
which would actually allow me to sleep a bit and failed miserably, the
direct result of which is my coming to work today tired and quite off,
not to mention cramped muscles, knees and back. Yech.
That said, Eilat kicks much ass. First off, coming to Eilat in your
own vehicle is idiotic: to begin with parking is difficult
(particularly around the city center, promenade and major attractions),
the roads are quite packed and there's a constant stream of pedestrians
crossing the street everywhere at all hours. Add to that the amazing
availability of low-cost (particularly compared to the Tel-Aviv area)
taxis that literally materialize out of thin air the second you raise
your hand, where the cabbies are knowledgable and even courteous (in
Israel, no less!). All that combined with the fact that everything is a
short walking distance away (the entire city center, promenade
included, can be crossed in a comfortable one-hour stroll) mean that
it's cheaper, more efficient and certainly healthier and more enjoyable
to just stroll around the city. The climate was difficult to get used
to at first: the temperatures are considerably higher in Eilat than in
my native Haifa bay area (37C vs 27C by day), however moisture is
considerably lower - 20% vs 65%. The direct result is that it's
generally quite a bit hotter but far easier to breath, and it's much
more convenient to move around by foot: I'm now back north and a short
walk from the bus to work got my all sticky, whereas in Eilat I would
walk the 2km from my friend's house to the promenade and not feel the
worse for wear.
Eilat is either a shopping heaven or a shopping nightmare, depending
on what you're looking for and how hard you're willing to look. Being a
free trade zone the prices in Eilat are VAT free - Israeli VAT is
currently at 17% - the direct result of which is that certain
commodities (CDs, cameras and books for example) are considerably
cheaper, whereas simpler things are ridiculously expensive (like a can
of coke). The promenade offers an insane variety of tidbits mostly
aimed at tourists, but there's still pretty cool stuff to be found: I
finally tried on a sharwal (also known as "fisherman's pants")
and actually liked it in the extreme - I'm starting to understand the
Japanese and the scots, even though the lack of pockets can be an
encumbrance. Even the local shopping mall has its moments: every time
I'm in Eilat I find myself spending $100-$200 on CDs; the local CD shop
(Disc Club) is VAT free and cheap to begin with.
The beaches in Eilat are terrific. I've only been out of Israel once
so I wouldn't know how they compare, but the beaches are clean, the
water is cold and transparent and you get to swim alongside a huge
diversity of wildlife. If you're into diving I probably don't have to
tell you about the possibilities as the city's pretty famous for its
diving attractions. There are various tourist attractions (desert trips
on jeeps and camels, etc.) and it's also pretty relaxing just strolling
all over the place on foot.
Being used to some pretty high quality pubs back north I was
slightly disappointed with what Eilat had to offer in this area as it
was particularly hard to find reasonable beer. I've found a couple
places that sold Leffe Blond and Weinstephan (and the mandatory
Guiness, Carlsberg, Heineken and local Goldstar that I personally
dislike), but that's pretty much it. The pubs themselves however are
pretty good - at least the ones I've been to (DeBar was absolutely
terrific, thumbs up David!) Lastly, food-wise there are some really
great places to eat in Eilat, my personally favourite being Casa Do Brasil:
an absolutely terrific all-you-can-eat south-American grille. I make it
a point to go there and crunch my body weight's worth in meat whenever
I'm in Eilat, and this time was no different (with one exception:
apparently they make the best beef fillet I've had yet in Israel).
Basically everywhere you look there's great food in abundance, just
take your pick and ask around for recommendations.