Spring 2016 Trips to Israel, England and Death Valley

[Whoops, this got stuck in the blog queue. Posting now despite its datedness.]

In April, I spoke on online trademark and marketing issues in Israel, legal education for high tech law in London and Section 230 in Brighton. Lisa and I (without the kids!) spent 4 days in Tel Aviv, 2 days in Jerusalem, 4 days in London and 2 days in Brighton. It was a remarkable trip, made even more meaningful because Lisa could successfully make the trip. We mostly focused on mainstream tourist destinations and classic landmarks, and we also saw some old friends, visited other folks with ROS1 lung cancer, and ate lots of vegan food. Photo album from Israel. Photo album from England.

I’ve posted several reviews from the trip to TripAdvisor. I’m reposting them here:

Rehovot: Ayalon Institute Museum

This is a tour of the “kibbutz on the hill,” also home to Machon Ayalon, a secret bullet factory for the Israeli independence movement done right under the noses of the British Mandate. You get to see it all: the kibbutz, the underground factory, and some of the equipment used in both. The tour guide answered all of our tough questions, ranging from “why here?” to “why this particular type of bullet?” to “how in the world did they keep it a secret from the British and everyone else?”

My wife and I found everything about this place fascinating:
– the courage and idealism of the factory workers
– how many people were involved yet it remained a secret
– the thoughtful planning, patience and cleverness of the independence movement leaders (the process of getting this factory running took many years and lots of clever moves)
– that no significant industrial accidents occurred despite the suboptimal working conditions and explosive materials. As the tour guide noted, we celebrate the miracle of Chanukah and oil for one day lasting for 8; but it’s REALLY a miracle that they manufactured 4.5M bullets without a mishap.

Regardless of how you feel about Zionism, this tour gives you fresh and thought-provoking material to consider the issues.

This is a destination better known by tourists than locals. When we told Israelis we went to Rehovot, they had no idea why; and many of them had never heard of the tour. It’s a mild schlep from Tel Aviv. It took a full afternoon, including $40 taxi rides each way; and there won’t be any taxis waiting to take you back, so keep your taxi driver or plan on calling a local Rehovot cab. Despite the logistics, the time and money was totally worth it. This visit was a major highlight of our Israel trip.

Jerusalem: 7Kook Boutique Hotel

I consider this hotel a real find. The location was terrific: a block away from Jaffa Road and less than 20 minutes to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. Because the hotel is set back from a quiet side street, our room was remarkably quiet. It is rare to find a quiet room in such a great location. At $100/night, we thought the hotel was a very good deal.

London: Norman’s Coach & Horses

As a vegetarian, I love the idea of getting traditional English pub food vegetarian-style. Plus, the restaurant was just down the street from our hotel, so we had to go!

We were confused about arrival about where to eat. The downstairs bar is a little more crowded and rough-edged than we were looking for. When we told the bartender we planned to eat, he directed us to the upstairs dining area, which was more to our liking. The room wasn’t large but it was calm and quiet (there was only one other group eating there) and charming in a typically precious English way (the pink wallpaper is a little much).

We met a foodie friend for dinner, and I instantly became nervous that he would hate me forever for dragging him to such a funky place. Surprisingly, he seemed to enjoy his chef’s special (a savory pie), and he cleaned his plate. My wife tried the black bean burger with a stack of onion rings on top and barely ate half of it. She also tried the french onion soup and stopped after one bite (I finished it off and thought it was fine for what it was). At the waiter’s recommendation, I got the tofuish and chips. I loved the concept of a vegetarian fish and chips, but the taste was a little bland.

I’m glad we tried the restaurant, and I really enjoy vegetarian adventures like this regardless of how good the food is. But given the high level of vegetarian restaurant competition in London, I wouldg prioritize other options over visiting this place again.

London: St Martins Lane London Hotel

St. Martins Lane Hotel met or exceeded all of our expectations. The room was tastefully decorated, fully equipped and spacious enough. Despite its central location, it was remarkably quiet; we didn’t hear any internal noise and minimal noise from outside. We slept well each night. The breakfast was excellent, and my picky wife even praised her options. And the location! Right in the heart of Covent Garden, it was an easy walk to restaurants, shopping, tourist attractions and the Leicester Square tube station. We would gladly stay here again. We paid about $330/night including breakfast for 2, which we felt was a nice price given its location and quality.


Separately, I took my son on a quick father-son trip to Death Valley. My photo album. So photogenic!

At TripAdvisor, I wrote this review of Darwin Falls:

I love desert oases. I never get tired of the contrast between the hot and dry desert and a cool and lush oasis.

Darwin Falls is a great example. There are other riparian areas in the Death Valley area, but most of them are shadeless and salty. In contrast, Darwin Falls has it all: trees, mossy and grassy areas, flowers and cooler temperatures from the mist and shade. The hike starts in a hot and shadeless canyon, then you’ll start to see some greenery, then hear burbling from the creek, and eventually reach a small but lush riparian area framed by the bone-dry cliffs. The falls themselves are lovely, and they feel like a wonderful reward after the short hike. My 13 year old son ranked the Darwin Falls hike as one of his top 3 moments in Death Valley.

Access is via a gravel road that’s easily passable by passenger cars. Just drive carefully. There are no services at the trailhead, Route-finding is easy–just stay in the canyon (or follow the water pipes). Watch out for slippery rocks, and it may take some careful maneuvering to keep your feet dry on the hike once you get into the riparian area.