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# Tuesday, 14 June 2005
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.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005 08:31:24 (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
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