In the midst of preparing for an upcoming trip to Israel, I size up my free time and look for ways to plant interesting, rare seeds to grow those spaces into a permanent garden of memories.
The first person I consult on my pre-trip quest is Myriam Miller, an American-Israeli based in Jerusalem who penned Introduction to Jerusalem: A Guide to the Holy Cityand its user-friendly companion website www.jerusalem-insiders-guide.com.
A fan of unusual neighborhoods herself, she first recommends a visit to the Horev Synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia, as well as the village-like Mishkenot Sha'ananim, one of the first neighborhoods built outside the Old City walls.
For shopping, one of her go-to spots for knitwear is Mahogany, located near the intersections of King George and Hillel streets.
Miller also stresses there are many memorable gems to be discovered outside Jerusalem's city limits.
Outdoor types on the hunt for good day trips may also want to consider the police Latrun fortress and Ein Hemed national park, with great hiking.
History buff Asaf Braverman, known in the travel industry for the blog he runs, "The Road Less Traveled" www.rltblog.com, encourages me to think outside the (Western) wall.
"My favorite site to visit in Jerusalem," that is often overlooked, the travel expert avows, "is the Kotel Tunnels that run along the unexcavated wall from the time of Herod.
" The tour is spectacular and the guides helpful. It gives a useful overview of the layout and history of Jerusalem."
Another smart bet when it comes to getting trip tips is to approach somebody who lives and breathes the Israeli travel industry, and Danny Saadon, EL AL Israel Airlines' vice president for North and Central America, exemplifies this.
For men's and women's shopping, he is partial to the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Tzedek, whose galleries, outdoor markets, boutiques and trendy restaurant scene are enlivened with local regulars.
People Who Like People …
He advises architecture buffs to get in some people-watching where austere-chic Bauhaus structures come up against 1880s houses.
Yael Adar of the "Gems in Israel" online site www.GemsinIsrael.com believes HaTachana, a restored railway station situated beyond the Tel Aviv beach on the road to Neve Tzedek, fits the bill. Besides offering a number of upscale boutiques and cafes, it also has a most helpful unmanned tourist information center offering a mix of interesting maps and brochures.
I find a true kindred spirit with American-born Andrea Mann, who works at one of Israel's top travel services, TLV VIP, and contributes to the company's posh English-speaking websites www.tlv-vip.com and www.tastetlv.com.
If you re interested in talking to locals, always choose to sit at a restaurant's bar – not a secluded table — advises Mann.
Israelis are genuine and friendly, she claims, so whether you're dining at a nice restaurant or just grabbing an evening drink, bartenders and other restaurant patrons will almost always spark up a conversation and start offering you travel tips when they hear you speaking in English.
OK, I'm ready to go!