Monday, May 31, 2010

Back in Royal Oak

Am I still in Israel?  It's hotter here than the desert! Time to get working on the lengthy to-do list...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Heading home from the pre-trip

We're flying home today.  Actually left Israel yesterday and overnighted in Frankfurt, where we got to see cousin Peter Bodansky.  Our days in Israel last week were filled with apartment hunting, punctuated by visits to the lawyer, accountant, university, and Dan's main contacts at Ford in Israel.  But we were able to spend our evenings working the circuit of family and friends, having two dinners with Uncle Igor, two dinners with Kuki, Ohad and Benchik Shoham (and grandparents Tanya and Dano one of those nights), dinner with Tommy, Irit and kids, plus Dana and Ronin, and also a breakfast with Tami and Yishai (plus kids and grandpa Juri).  We didn't make it to everybody's place, so please don't be offended.  We'll be back in a month, and look forward to seeing everyone then!

Overall second impression (I was in Israel in 2006):  welcoming, chaotic, hot, dry, brown, vibrant, diverse, intense, delectible.  A challenging but rewarding place to call home for the next three years!

Day 5, 7, 8 (Tuesday, Thursday, Friday) apartment hunting

We met Mazi again Tuesday at 10am and saw 11 more places.  Then on Thursday, we met with one of the agents of a husband/wife team (Carolina and Ron) and saw another 5.  Tuesday wasn't much better than Sunday, but Thursday delivered 2 great options. 

One was downtown - an addition on the top of a building.  The elevator to the top floor opens into the main room.  The trouble was that the downstairs rooms were cramped.  Also, new construction means buying appliances (places don't come with them), blinds, closets (also not built in), etc.

The second was at Gosh Gadol with a view of the ocean, just over the local airport.  It had a great layout, except the landlord wants to move the kitchen to the area in the far part of the room shown, instead of the space behind the camera.  This wouldn't be awful, except that then you couldn't put a glass door over that room and turn it into an office.  Apparently the lady who owns it owns most of the building, and is stubborn, so it didn't sound negotiable.  Quite a view of the municipal airport though, over the sea.

The third was an architectural masterpiece, but the farthest out of the city of anything we've seen.  And while the lobby was breath-taking (designed for a natural breeze throughout, large waterfall, fish pond, pool, and what you see here), the apartment was a slightly strange layout with an indoor courtyard.

The last one was a great location just south of the shuk ha karmel (big outdoor daily market), in a historic district, and the place has been renovated, but the kitchen and baths are still outdated, and the rooms are small.  It was cute, but the value for the money wasn't there on the inside. 

Thursday we finally saw two places that got us excited.  The first is a little northeast, but in central Tel-Aviv, on the 6th floor on Dubnov street, by a cute park, with a view of Rabin Square. It's quieter, but not completed yet, so it will require more purchases (fridge, blinds, etc). It has more main living space, but the bunker/stairs are an odd situation, as you have a key to your neighbor's apartment for emergencies (otherwise the only access is via elevator).

The second is between Ben-Gurion and Bograshov streets on Shalom Aleichem, with a 6th floor view of the ocean, and a great layout; all new about a year ago.  It's slightly smaller, but that's what you get for one of the hottest locations in town. It's a 5-10 minute walk to the shuk ha karmel (outdoor market full of fresh veggies, fruits, spices, meats, cheap housewares, etc).  You can see the beach, just a 3 minute walk away.  And it's just a couple blocks from some of the main areas for restaurants, cafes, and general downtown shopping.  Because it's the 6th floor, it's taller than surrounding buildings (except the skyscrapers), so it has a great view over the top of the city as well.  The main living space is all upstairs with the porch, and downstairs there's a master bed and bath, 2 spare rooms (one to be used as our office, the other for guests), and a bunker which is either a really small bedroom or large closet. 

We met both owners on Friday with Mazi, our relo specialist, and Carolina/Ron, the wife/husband real estate team.  Each owner had plenty of questions about how they would get paid (in shekels or dollars - they prefer shekels because the dollar has been so weak), who Dan works for and why, and generally where we're from, what we both do, what kind of people we are, etc. 

The negotiation process was quite something for an outsider to observe.  The asking price was 16% over our budget, starting.  At Dubnov Street, it became clear that the owner wasn't that interested in negotiating.  He was more focused on the amount than three years of guaranteed income.  The couple at Shalom Aleichem were more reasonable.  We got pretty close to our budget there, so we're sorting out final details, and we may just have found our home for the next three years!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What's that haze in the sky?

Woke to our first day without sun.  Looked like a haze or fog.  Found out it was a sand cloud from Africa!  Couldn't get an answer regarding how often this occurs.  But everyone is mentioning it, so it sounds like a bit of an unusual phenomenon.


I read something interesting in the new National Geographic on the flight from Frankfurt which keeps popping back into my mind as I try to learn new Hebrew words.  Research shows that people who get more deep sleep (the kind when your body slows, you don't dream, and you're really hard to wake) are better at memorization.  Deep sleep is critical to survival, and it's the type of sleep I was found to be getting too little of in a sleep study.  Memorization has always been a particular challenge for me, so this was kind of eye opening.  On the positive side, people who spend a lot of time in REM sleep (this is the layer of sleep just below awake, when you dream but your muscles are paralyzed so you don't act out), are very good at recognizing patterns.  Well, this one also resonated with me.  Patterns come easily to me.  Making connections between things that don't normally go together is effortless.  I'm constantly doing it.  And I could write a library full of the dreams I've had.

As it relates to Israel, we were walking the other day with our relo specialist and she and Dan pointed out an ice cream shop in hebrew.  They then discussed how the word didn't sound anything like ice cream so they were trying to think of a way to help me remember it.  I said, "hey, it sounds like gelato."  They agreed.  I can't remember what the word was, but I can tell you, it does indeed sound similar to gelato but with an "a" at the end. 

So, I'm taking a poll via comment here - are you a memorizing deep sleeper or a REM pattern connector?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Growing up in Washington State I learned in first grade how to "duck and cover" under my desk at school in the event of an earthquake.  I've seen the "tsunami evacuation route" signs along the southern Washington coast. Returning from Bali just a month before the big tsunami hit, and visiting Thailand this past December, I saw how important knowledge of these routes can be.  In Michigan, I adapted to the 1st Saturday monthly 1pm tornado alarms that ran for about five minutes, and once followed the TV news guidance to get in my basement per a warning for our area in Royal Oak. 

Today, I experienced a new kind of drill.  Israel runs safety drills several times a year in various parts of the country, as a matter of course to keep the public alert.  Last night we received a notice in the hotel explaining that today at 11am, sirens would go off across the entire country as part of a 24 hour military drill, in which they were asking the public to take part by proceeding to their bunkers for 10 minutes.  Apparently Israeli's, while they take security seriously, don't take these drills too seriously.  We were at the accountant's office when it went off, and continued our meeting after a slight acknowledgement of the siren.

Bunkers, you ask?  Yes, all buildings are required by law to have them.  Each apartment we have viewed has had one.  It comes with a large, thick door, and has reinforced walls, even thicker than the foot thick concrete construction of the rest of the buildings.  Interestingly, many of these bunkers have windows that are reinforced.  They show up in apartments as closets, small spare rooms, pantries, laundry rooms, etc.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Last night we learned something a little disconcerting for Alethea.  When we stopped by Igor's place, Dan noticed a TV sitting on the porch.  He asked how it was that they could leave their old TV out there, afterall, wouldn't it RAIN on it?  We received a resounding 'no."  "Not until October/November."  With more than 40 years experience, they are likely right.  But wow!  No rain for nearly 6 months?!?!

Day 4

Today was our second full day in Tel Aviv. Yesterday we awoke, ate breakfast at the hotel lounge (included daily thanks to Dan's platinum status), and met our local guide/consultant, Mazi, at 10am.  She's an Israeli who lived in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years, returning in 2008, because her two sons, now 20 and 21, wanted to do their mandatory military service. 

With her we drove to southern Tel Aviv first, to an up and coming area called Jaffa.  This area is becoming more culturally mixed.  We met a real estate agent who showed us 3 places, and it became clear that this area still has several years or more to go before it truly arrives.  We saw a couple older places badly in need of some upgrades, and one new construction surrounded by construction sites. 

Next we went into downtown Tel Aviv and saw three places.  These started to feel a bit more livable.  However, we discovered that even at our rather posh budget, it doesn't go that far in a city that has continued to see the real estate market jump by 35% year over year despite the world economic recession. Two are new construction, missing all appliances, closets, curtains, etc.  Of those, one had a very strange layout, with the entrance coming onto a floor with the bedrooms and living room, and stairs up to the top floor with the kitchen and porches.  Not sure how that's supposed to be functional?!?  And the real estate agent said the owner ran out of money while building so he isn't interested in any additional work (or for that matter, able to pay for repairs, etc).  So that one isn't hot on our list. 

The other new construction is in our top three.  Trouble is, it's priced quite a bit above our budget, and the agent isn't confident we can negotiate him down that much.  It's also a bit further east and on an intersection, so there's more road noise, and less of a neighborhood feel to it. 

Finally, we saw one in town on a cute side street that is currently occupied, but it was also a split level (they call two story apartments duplexes here) where the upstairs had the two additional bedrooms and patio.  I'm wary of having the outdoor space up a flight of skinny stairs from the kitchen, as I think we'll take advantage of it a lot less.  The master bedroom is right off the main room, with sliding pocket doors, which also limits privacy.  The baths are older and the kitchen is small as well.  So that was it for Tel Aviv.

We went to north Tel Aviv next, and saw the last of our top three.  It was a great building with a great view, but not walking distance to anything.  So, if we could pick this place up and move it to one of the side streets in central Tel Aviv we'd be happy as clams.  Any suggestions on how to get this accomplished? 

Today we walked around town for several hours, trying to get a feel for the neighborhoods, and then drove to the place in north Tel Aviv again.  Unfortunately, it didn't help us decide.  It just reaffirmed our general feelings of the pros and cons of each. 

We also went into a few grocery stores to price check and survey variety.  The only item I could think of that I couldn't find were tortillas.  Most groceries appear to be about a 10-20% premium over US prices.  They have three different categories for toilet paper, by the way - single, one and a half, and double.  Oh the choices!

This evening we went out to Uncle Igor's.  We visited Grandma Aranka (she's nearly 93) and then went to a mediterranean dinner with Igor, Nechama, Maya and Tom.  Absolutely amazing hummus (and different than in the US), eggplant salads, spicy olives, kebobs, pita with sesames, and israeli lemonade (with mint in it).  This is the way to eat!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 2

Arrived in Tel Aviv almost an hour late.  Our two experimental checked luggage items made it.  The suitcase was fine, but the box clearly split on the handlers as it was wrapped in a new round of packing tape.  Good thing it just contained the aerobed, sheets, blankets and towels.  Also one jar of canned prunes from Mom, buried in the middle of the aerobed which seemed to have protected it. 

Kuki brought Benchick (her one year old son) to meet us at the airport.  Thanks to the smashed box, we were able to squeeze our luggage into her Subaru Impreza (cars are much smaller here).  After checking into the Sheraton, she drove us around a bit of Tel Aviv to give us a first impression of neighborhoods.  Tomorrow morning, Sunday, is the first day of the work week, so we will meet Mazi, our real estate agent, at 10am with plans to see at least 15 apartments.  They're in various neighborhoods, so we hope to get a better feel for it all.

Time to sleep!

Day 1

Effective June 21st, Dan has been assigned to be the Ford Motor Company rep to Israel for the next three years.  While we learned of this decision nearly a month ago, today is the day we fly out on our pre-trip.  It is becoming real.  Yes, we've been busy the past four weeks - renting our home, sorting, ebaying, craigslisting, and donating household items, gathering paperwork for Alethea's B1 Visa, and generally trying to keep our heads screwed on straight.  But in one hour we get on our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, then on to Tel Aviv, where we will arrive Saturday in the late afternoon.  Kuki will meet us at the airport (thanks Kuki!), and later in the evening we will celebrate Nechama's and Maya's birthdays with the "other" Bieliks (Uncle Igor and fam).

Sunday we have a packed day of apartment hunting.  If you're interested, stay tuned....