When Mr. L and I decided a year ago to fling ourselves into a new classification of family, families that travel, we had no idea what to expect. Up until this point we had taken brief family trips to Cuba, Mexico and Florida all with general success. But the idea of organizing a trip to Mr. L’s country of birth, a twelve-hour flight away, seemed too daunting to contemplate. Yet, with the onset of a heart condition by his father who still lives in Israel and cousins asking when we were making the trip, we made the decision that this summer would be the first inaugural trip to Israel for our family.
We agonized over the airplane ride. How would the kids sleep? I hunted for new books and toys. Mr. L uploaded new movies and games to each of their cherished but closely monitored devices. We coordinated with family in Israel on visits, booked the car and apartment.
Traveling with three or more kids, we have quickly learned that you have to be creative and strategic in well, pretty much everything. Mr. L reserved the bulkhead seats for us on the airplane thinking the extra leg room would work well for our brood. His father gently tried to nudge us towards a swanky hotel on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, but having a two year-old we knew a 3 bedroom apartment with full kitchen and separate sleeping quarters for Mom and Dad would be a better choice. We booked a place a mere seven-minute walk to the sandy white beaches along the Mediterranean and a full open market around the corner where we could pick up food on a moment’s notice. We booked a vehicle with a folding down third row to hold the umbrella stroller and luggage and could easily hold a full car seat and two booster seats. Mr. L called and confirmed, twice on everything. We ensured our insurance was all in order. On paper, we were set.
Fortunately, delegating the duties when planning to travel comes naturally to us after three kids and eleven years of marriage. Mr. L takes care of the logistics on the trip, I take care of well, everything else. Shutting the house down, a last-minute run to the grocery store for snacks on the plane, packing and researching places to go to name a few. It works for us, mostly. Forgetting Aloe Vera when you are a freckled redhead is not ideal in a country where the sun is out all day and the temperatures can reach as high as thirty-five degrees Celsius and the locals are putting tanning oil on their bronzed skin. But for the most part, we were set.
Then finally, after rushing to collect school items, drop off teacher gifts, a musical theatre play and all the things you have to do when leaving school two weeks early, we were off!
The kids did amazing at the airport and all slept on our overnight flight, except the Mom holding the thirty-pound two-year old who kept shifting every half hour. It was the most exhausted I felt on a trip. But we arrived intact with our entire luggage to meet his Dad with tired smiles. After a very, very long wait for a taxi shuttle to pick-up our car we were off to our apartment. (Note to self: Next time rent from a car company located in the airport!) His father had stocked our fridge so we were set for a casual dinner at the apartment. After a brief walk on the boardwalk looking at the blue waters, we headed back to the apartment and put everyone to bed. But not before I got a chance to see our first sunset from our fourth floor patio overlooking the water.
The next day began our real trip. Still feeling a bit tired, we headed to the beach for the day. Packing up towels and sand toys, the girls wasted no time in plunging into the warm salty waters and digging in the sand while we watched from rented chairs and umbrellas. The nice thing about Tel Aviv is that every block on the public beaches there are huge lifeguard stations and they will whistle and yell at anyone venturing too far into the waves or where the current may be too strong. Another set of eyes on your kids is not a bad thing. As well, casual restaurants are plentiful with beach chairs and umbrellas at your disposal. For a small fee one can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas in the open spaces. This is an ideal set-up when travelling with three or more kids erasing the need to lug down your own chairs and umbrellas along with all your other gear. The water is also fairly shallow and sandy so a parent of small kids can feel confident that their little ones are safe. Like bath water this time of year, the water provides a pleasant swim and even on a “red flag” day the girls jumped the waves enjoying teasing us with how far they could swim. Jacob was a little more hesitant hearing the soft roar of the sea. Yet, by the end of the day even he was coaxed into the relaxing waters to kick at the waves and spot the silvery fish near the shore. You can take a cooler, which we did that first day, full of fresh watermelon slices and sandwiches. (And lots of water!) Or alternatively (as we have done other days) you can switch it up and order from the nearest restaurant a plate of humus/pita, huge and filling salads or hot dogs for the kids to munch on in between building sand castles or taking another dip in the sea. Alongside your food, beer is available or refreshing Limonana, a delicious drink of lemonade and fresh mint leaves. What other way is there to start a family vacation?
Bringing sand home is inevitable, although there are numerous foot rinsing stations or showers. But back to the apartment we went to have showers, a quick rest and then out to dinner with my father-in-law.
Our first dinner in Israel was at a local favorite restaurant, The Old Man and the Sea in Jaffo. Windowless, it overlooks the sea and families gather here to watch the sun set counting the minutes as the sky turns from pink to orange. Upon sitting down, the table is overflowing with middle eastern dishes; humus, salads, falafel, pickles and pita. A pitcher of Limonana appears and is always filled. One feels as if eating like royalty. Diners munch on the dishes as they await their main courses. We finished early as the restaurant filled up. Still being on Canadian time, our brood was getting tired not used to the Israeli culture of late nights so after watching the sunset, we headed home for a long night rest.
After another morning at the beach and walk around the Carmel Market to pick up fresh chicken for dinner, we hosted our in-laws in our small kitchen, took the kids down to the local shop for ice cream and across the street to the park. Sunburnt but happy, the kids finished their treats, played on newly discovered equipment, squealed in delight at the stray cats that seem to populate the city streets and another day was done.
Our third day we wisely thought a break from the beach was a good idea. Our brood, being Canadian and having a very cool spring, were not used to the heat and sun. So into the car we piled to take a trip to Mr. L’s town of childhood, Ra’anana. Elizabeth asked numerous questions as we drove by his old apartment building and walked down the streets of his youth. Audrey, being affected by the heat more than her sister, trudged along only perking up as we neared a toy store and our destination for lunch, La Trattoria. A well reviewed pizza place in the area. After a toy was bought for each child, we ate our lunch on the patio and awaited the most delicious pizzas. Everyone was stuffed as we left to wander down the streets, stopping as Mr. L pointed out which stores were the same and which were different when he lived here. Ra’anana is a quieter town, albeit still busy. Tree-lined the downtown street is filled with cafe’s, bakeries and fresh fruit stands. Elizabeth pulled us into a bread shop that had cream-stuffed éclairs on display in the window. Lacking chocolate, I was not sure what to expect. As we all tried the soft desserts, we instantly all wished we had bought more. They were simply, divine. Walking back to the car as we wiped cream from our mouths, I said to Mr. L, “this is the type of memory I want them to have from a family vacation.”
More to come…