Jersey Girl Summer

The beach, I hope, is a given. We also selfishly don’t want to give away our favorite beach spot because it’s so quiet and clean and we want to keep it that way 😉 BUT we’re here to enhance and elevate your Jersey experience during Corona, so be prepared to low-key become a farmer, and gain that COVID-15.

  1. Broad Street Dough Co. 

These doughnuts are out of control – the whole store is kosher, and there are tons of pareve and gluten free options. The earlier the better though, because they do run out of batter most days. These doughnuts are masterpieces.

2. Sunflower Picking at Happy Day Farm

Save this for the upcoming seasons, because this place was Insta worthy. A little pricey because you have to pay for entrance and then additional for the flowers, but they offer other activities such as blueberry picking, and they had cute props to look out for scattered all over farm. Who knew there were so many types of sunflowers??

(The next three are all food related, but within the same block at Long Branch.)

     3. Coney Waffle Ice Cream

The two locations that are fully Kosher are the Long Branch and Asbury Park locations, but when we say fully kosher, we’re talking tons of Cholov Yisroel and Pareve options. It’s cash only (unless you order online in advance), but this place has every topping and ice cream imaginable, in addition to being ridiculously patient during COVID and handling the lines.

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4. LBK Grill

If you haven’t eaten here this summer, you haven’t had a summer yet – so RUN. It’s the place to see and be seen this summer, in addition to great food and drinks, and being on top of the beach. You have to divide and conquer to get a table and chairs here, but you can also grab your food and eat on the shore. Watching the cotton candy pink sunset. With the crash of waves in the background. Convinced yet? We highly recommend the mango slushie, in addition to the combo tray and brisket sandwich.

5. Sugarpop

We saw the mezuzah by the store front, and had to pop into to this well rounded candy store. There’s a marked Kosher section, but you’ll catch on to where it is because there will be gummies you have never seen before in your life… because they’re the non-kosher ones.

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6. Strawberry Picking at Donaldson Farms

This farm had COVID protocol down pat. They were super sanitary, and well priced. We also brought a picnic basket with us, and there was plenty of grass and shade to chill in for hours, after we picked those juicy-red berries. The farm also offers cold drinks and snacks to buy.

7. South Mountain Fairy Trail

The most enchanting hike you’ll go on. More like a stroll if we’re being honest, but to see the creativity of whoever put these little hidden fairy touches all over the trail is quite the sight. It’s kid friendly, and you’re going to see a lot of tiny children dressed as princesses and fairies with their masks on. There’s a Trader Joe’s nearby if you want to grab some snacks before or after. Enjoy this hidden Jersey gem.

8. Bakeristor

The menu here is spot on, but the top part of this place are the dairy pastries and desserts. The pastry chef is the one that works all the top Pesach programs, so it’s like having the world’s top Tea-Room all year round. We have never had a better cheesecake in our lives, but let’s not also forget the drink bar available to wash it all down with.

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9. Urban Pops

Do we talk about this place too often? We still can’t get over that this whole place is pareve!!! Just a heads up, the party cake flavor pop has actual giant chunks of cake in it, and we’re not sorry we discovered that.

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10. Narutto Bowl

New Asian meets Latin street food restaurant in Teaneck made us feel cultured af. It was really cool to have to opportunity to try food’s from other cultures, and there was plenty of space for everyone outside!

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11. Sender’s Smoke Joint

Another Teaneck eatery where you can’t go wrong with anything on their menu. We’re talking giant latke filled with pulled beef. Fries covered in pulled beef and garlic mayo. The portions were great, and the best part is eating in the back where there are fire-pits available.

We were extra grateful to live out-of-town during this wild summer, where there were so many opportunities to spread out, hike, and enjoy being outside, living at a humanly possible pace. We hope you inspired you to come check out what New Jersey has to offer… let us know if we missed any cool places!

Stimulus Road Trip!

Just doing our part to boost the economy in true Corona fashion, because everybody knows Kennebunkport is the Venice of America. Enjoy our safe New England travels.

GENERAL TIPS – having a portable car cooler that plugs into the cigarette lighter was a huge win for this trip for having Kosher food ready on the fly. It was a lot of outdoor activities and parks (all free!), but make sure you have the proper footwear. We lost a lot of good men out there.

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We also felt bad asking strangers to take pictures for us and touch our phones, so having a remote controlled tripod felt like a better thing to do. Also, the hotels felt so safe – they really have everything down to a science at this point.

WEDNESDAY/THURSDAY – drove 3.5 hours (from Monsey) to Ludlow, Vermont, to stay the night and where we ran into frum people everywhere. In the morning, we thought we were going on a casual stroll through a park… almost a full day later we completed the Camel’s Hump Trail which is rated as Difficult! Worth it for the great views, but you can tell by the pictures we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. Then we drove to Hallowell, Maine to spend the night.

FRIDAY – Portland Head Lighthouse which is in Ft. William’s Park (in Cape Elizabeth). It was commissioned by George Washington. (This is near the historic city of Portland, which we didn’t have time to checkout). Our AirBNB had a kitchen, so we heated up Shabbos food we brought with us, and brought fresh salad ingredients. We brought games and books, and there were lakes down the block.

SUNDAY – Drove two hours to Acadia National Park. The visitor’s center is open and has lots of info on the trails – we took Beehive because we were looking for views, and the Gorham Mountain because the trails are all kindav attached, and walked along the shore path which brought us back to our car! Barbecued by a picnic area in Acadia bu the water, and stayed in a hotel in Acadia that night. Also took some pics by Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

MONDAY – Jordan Pond trail in Acadia, chilled, and watched the sunset on the water.

TUESDAY – Started driving back to tri-state area, and chilled in Kennebunkport for an hour as a stop. Cute port city where the Bush’s vacation, and there was a Ben & Jerry’s which was a great snack. Walked the Freedom Trail in Boston – everything’s basically closed in Boston, but we followed online guides to explore what we could. Went out to eat in Brookline where they had indoor seating.

WEDNESDAY – Went to Boston Harbor to chill, and drove back home to Jersey.

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Viva Las Paradise

Welcome to quarantine! We out here fighting a speeding ticket we got in Nevada, and thought a throwback to this trip would be apropos, since not everything that happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Also, turns out most of Vegas is a complete lie. Shall we?

GENERAL TIPS – this trip was worth going with a crew, because many of the entrance fees were per car (not per person). Which brings us to our next point… rent that car. There are so many beautiful places that aren’t too far of a drive away, as well as lots of kosher food that can easily be accessed via wheels.

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FRIDAY – got the rental, where we found out the Hoover Dam was temporarily closed for emergency repairs. Always great to hear one of the Earth’s greatest dams is in need of repair! We then ran to the Smith’s supermarket at 211 N Rampart Blvd to stop up on Shabbos and trip food – the Kosher selection here was HUGEEEE and super affordable. A giant piece of freshly prepared chicken for Shabbos was like $2, and they had delicious pareve cakes and kugels… literally anything and everything is at this Smith’s. About a 20 minute ride away was Red Rock Canyon, where you can drive your car along a path and stop every so often to hike or take pictures.

We had to peace out of that park pretty early in order to pick up more Shabbos food at King Solomon’s Table. We stayed at the Club Wyndham Grand Desert, which was basically around the corner from the Vegas strip. It was perfect for Shabbos because we had two full kitchens and tons of space… just a little tricky to get back in on Shabbos.

SHABBOS – we went through a run through of the whole building before Shabbos, to figure out how we could walk the strip but still get back into our room. We were able to keep our door discretely unlocked with a thin magnet, but had to venture out closer to the end of Shabbos because there was no way to get back onto our floor without riding an elevator. Most of the doors to the strip are manual, and to every escalator there’s usually a step option as well. Classic the Venetian which has mezuzahs all over the place and a Coffee Bean, was the one place we had trouble getting out of. We know those emergency exits super well now!

Motzei Shabbos we got delicious gourmet pizza at Ariella’s, which is in the same parking lot as a Trader Joe’s, in case you can’t keep away.

SUNDAY – we took a tour of Wyndham resorts in order to earn free travel vouchers anywhere in the world that we probably won’t get to use this year, so JOKES ON US! Drove to Zion National Park which was about a four hour drive away – stopped a lot along the way because the whole ride was scenic and breathtaking. We also passed through a bunch of states along the way and took advantage of the photo shoots.

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There are many different trails within Zion, so make sure you choose the most appropriate one and bring good shoes! We drove at night to get to Page, the roads were empty and dark and we had to use the brights on and off BUT the best part was stopping the car on the side of the road to let the top down and see all of the stars in the clearest, quietest night sky you will ever experience.

MONDAY – Horseshoe bend was a five minute drive from our hotel room, so we went for sunrise (might be a better sunset spot though). It’s a really easy walk for anyone of all ages to do.

After going back to our hotel to chill and eat, we drove to Lower Antelope Canyon, which you can only experience via guided tour by a Navajo Native American (we did Ken’s and loved our guide Tray – he was a sick photographer on top of just being fun and knowledgeable). There are a few minutes a day, somewhere at the 10/11 a.m. mark where you can catch a sunbeam coming through these intricate formations, and we were able to quickly snap a few shots before it disappeared.

Stopped at a Walmart nearby to better prepare ourselves for our convertible on our way to Valley of Fire. We didn’t have much time at this park, but we were able to get to the Fire Wave, and see the petroglyph trail (art carved into dark rock by Native Americans). We thought there would be a large area at the end of the trail with the petroglyphs, but really they were all along the trail – just focus on any darker area and take note of drawings.

What better way to end a long day of hikes than by eating shawarma?? Shawarma Vegas was so so good, and they even made us garlic mayo when it wasn’t even on the menu. We couldn’t not be in the area and not stay on the strip, and staying at Harrah’s was definitely a one and done experience. There was security all over the place, and a lot of aggressive neighbors on our floor (probably most of the hotels are like this, because when in Rome). We gambled a total of $5 between the three of us, and then ate our losses away at the Ben & Jerry’s in house.

TUESDAY – started at the Neon Museum, also known as the Neon Boneyard. It was quite expensive for a tiny plot of land with the original Vegas signs, but the staff there made up for it by spilling all of the juicy history of Vegas, and the meaning behind the signs. For instance, the Vegas strip is not in Las Vegas at all – it’s a place literally called Paradise. To continue this mini history lesson, read the next paragraph, otherwise feel free to skip knowing how much you’re being duped when you come here.

Casinos put in ugly carpets so that you look away towards the ceiling, which is boring white… keeping your eyes on the machines at all times. Machines closest to the bathroom are programmed to win more, because everybody has to go to the bathroom at some point, and you’ll feel those positive vibes when you get there are see so many people winning. Lighting within the casinos is always set to feel like daylight, so there goes your circadian rhythm. The infamous lit up signs are only on lease ten years at a time, so every ten years new signs are put up and Vegas looks completely different. The hotels within Vegas also usually come up with a cohesive theme to tie all of the strip together, with the upcoming projected theme being sports. There’s so much more to say, but we’ll keep it at this 🙂

We then checked out the famous Welcome to Vegas sign (which never got copy-written and never received royalties from all the times its been mass produced. Okay okay, we’ll stop the history). Oh, there’s free parking there! We drove to the Seven Magic Mountains art installment, which was on the way to the Mojave Desert in California!

 

It’s part of a boom town, besides for the desert itself being incredibly vast and beautiful and impossible to trek through (bring some sort of light sled to slide down the sand dunes – our biggest regret was not having one). After stopping at the Joshua tree’s on the way out, we grabbed a snack at Coffee Bean in the Venetian, returned car, and ate instant soup cups with hot water we got from Starbucks. Our flight home was an entire experience on its own (imagine someone so drunk and high they try to pry the cabin door open mid flight because the ride was too long), but our plane was parked to AirForce One, which was pretty cool.

There was a crazy amount we didn’t get to see in the Vegas area that we already have written down – we can’t wait to go back!

Check out our Instagram page @thewanderingjews.blog for video content of what there is to see and do!

HaKenya Matata

Check out our instagram page @thewanderingjews.blog to get a quick full experience of what there is to see and do!

We flew into Nairobi and toured through the company Shadows of Africa, whom we highly recommend. They arranged everything for us and we didn’t have to plan a single thing – they even drove and back and forth to the airport, even though our tour wasn’t near our flight days. They have different price ranges, super reliable communication, and fabulous tour guides – we felt safe the whole time.

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Chabad of Kenya wasn’t around when we were there, so we brought all of our own food from America. Lucky for us, our suitcase of food was not on our plane with us! They forgot to put it on the plane. YOLO. Side point, it’s also not safe to eat the fruits and vegetables there due to contamination, so we had a while where we survived on carry on food… for Shabbos. Chabad was able to put us in touch with a supplier who imports kosher grape juice and wine, and they even delivered it to our hotel (Rachel Baraka +254 721 107732)! Our hotel had manual keys so it was great for Shabbos, just nowhere near the synagogue there.

GENERAL TIPS – you need a visa to visit Kenya, and it saves you time to do it online before (can be done in the airport technically, around $40). We brought an electric pot to cook noodles and other foods in. Our hotels all offered bottled water, so we used that to brush our teeth, etc. You must bring tons of mosquito repellent – the lotion is the most effective, but we used bracelets and sprays as well. We used Passport Health for all of our immunizations before the trip – we needed to get shots for Typhoid and Yellow Fever, in addition to taking Malaria pills pre, during and post trip (close to $500 alone for the immunizations). Bring small bills to tip around the hotels, and it’s also $40 a day to tip the driver from the company. Also, have tons of snacks and road trip games around because Kenya is hugeee and you will drive a ton!

SUNDAY – they picked us up early, and broke up the five hour drive with a stop at Rift Valley. Maasai Mara National Reserve was the main attraction for the day, which was our first game drive (seeing animals in their natural habitat from our safe car).

MONDAY – game drive day two – we saved other tourists whose jeep got stuck in the mud. We also stopped to visit the Maasai Tribe, and learned all about their culture and interacted with the locals. Most tribes are not open to visitors because they don’t want to feel like attractions at a museum, so this is one of the select tribes you can interact with. We brought lollipops and gave them out to the children there. They love answering questions, and are super friendly. They will definitely try to sell you their hand-made goods as well, but they will also show you how they make them.

Our jeep got stuck in the mud, so other drivers got us out of the mud. More game drive. All of the drivers help each other out and have walkie talkies to each other, so that if one jeep sees something cool or different, others can quickly drive to see them as well. We even got a ticket driving off road to see a jaguar because of a tip from another group.

TUESDAY –  drove another five hours to Lake Naivasha, which used to be land, but now is super flooded – many people had to evacuate the region and move elsewhere. We took a boat around the lake to an area that had giraffes, and other animals that you can see first hand and get closer to (for most of the game drives you’re solely in the car). Heads up – you will be walking through water, so you shoes and outfit will get ruined. Ours were not ruined, as you can see from the pictures, but that’s a very long story for a different platform 🙂 The hotel they arranged for us had our backyard open to nature, and we literally were surrounded by zebras and other cool wildlife.

WEDNESDAY – drove to Amboseli National Park, where our hotel was a glamping experience! It borders Tanzania, so we were able to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is the tallest mountain in Africa, and tallest single mountain in the world (so ruled out Har Sinai locations). Game drive. This hotel had a bonfire every night, and we had brought marshmallows from America… it was our guides first time ever seeing marshmallow! Maasai tribe ran shows at night.

THURSDAY – more game driving. Noomotio Observation hill, which has a nice view of the whole park. That night the bonfire was empty, so we had our own kumzitz and Girl Scout experience. Perks of being the only ones that can’t eat dinner at the hotel!

FRIDAY – Amos drove us the five hours back to Niorobi in time for Shabbos, and then we peaced out on our flight motzei Shab. What an experience of a lifetime!

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Newkraine Ukraine

Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

Just as a heads up, I thoroughly enjoyed my three day stopover in the Ukraine and would go back! As another heads up, I did not realize that the Ukraine is currently in a physical war with Russia on Ukrainian soil, and that Ukraine also had a pretty crazy civil war in 2014, which wasn’t too long ago. Now we can begin 🙂

I flew Ukraine International Airline and loved it – staff was great, two free checked bags (I flew with one carry-on only regardless), and Kosher food on the flight. I was seated between two really cool people – one was the mother of current WNBA + NFL players, and the other is an almost NBA star who happened to also be Jewish. They were ridiculously tall so their knees were in me the whole time, but I loved every minute of it. The future NBA star showed me on the flight map how Uman is about a two hour drive from the war field, and also let me know that an Uber driver might leave me on the side of the road and ask me for more money to continue a ride from the airport. On that note, him and his uncle drove me to my AirBnb and we had a mini Chanukah party to celebrate the first night.

After vegging for a bit and watching the Menorah, I walked on over to the National Circus of the Ukraine and bought the best seat in the house (indoor circus). Pro tip – best seat in the house is you basically being IN the circus, and you don’t necessarily get to experience the full effect of the show, but it was also $20 so yolo. Walking back to my AirBNB I got to walk through many winter markets in Sofiyivska Square that were beautiful and had lots of fun activities, and I also heard some awesome music coming from nearby… didn’t realize I was staying so close to the People’s Friendship  Arch, which had lots of fun activities as well, such as snowball fights and free live concerts! There’s a clear bridge leading up to the arch with beautiful views of the city, but in the winter, the clear glass was fogged up. Side point – the arch was built to celebrate communist Russia, so many people want this arch torn down with Kiev’s push towards decommunization, and even made a temporary crack in the arch in 2018.

Day #2 – Started with a quick walk to Independence Square, which used to be an area of noble buildings, fun, and rallies. Since the killing of many Ukrainian civilians in this square during the Euromaidan in 2014, fun activities have been moved to Sofiyivska Square (where there is a wall many blocks long with faces of all civilians killed and injured during Euromaidan riots), and it is mainly a commuter hub area now. In 2001 they added the Independence Monument (to celebrate Ukraine’s independence), as well as the Lach Gates (to represent a Polish medieval gate).

(I did a little walking from there to see some Jewish sites and architecture. It was raining when I was walking so I didn’t see as much as I had wanted, but this is a great link to see some important Jewish sites.) First stop was the Golden Gate (passed by Prybutkovyy Budynok Sirotkina first), which is another controversial Soviet Russia reconstruction of a medieval gate that might not look anything like the original. There used to be three main gates into the walled city of ancient Kiev 1)  Southern (Golden Gate) 2) Polish (Ladski, now reconstructed as Lach) and 3) Jewish (Zhydivski… literally why is everyone so obsessed with us). Nearby is the House of Baron Steingel, which apparently has a ton of history that is mysterious and unknown. By far the coolest thing I discovered was Karaite Kenesa, essentially a shul that Karaim built (people that follow Judaism exclusively according to the Old Testament and quite literally… think and eye for an eye). It now houses the Ukrainian House of Actors, but there apparently has been a pretty prominent community in Kiev since the 1200’s. National Opera House was nearby and hosts many ballets, concerts and operas. Honestly Kiev is the place to get super cultured with almost no money down if you’re into that type of stuff.

I feel like all these explanations are getting boring, so here were the next stops… Bessarabsky Market -> Golda Meir’s House -> Brodsky Synagogue (which is now the Chabad, and also has a kosher market attached on the side). Behind the Brodsky Synagogue is Mendi’s Kosher Restaurant, which was my absolute favorite food in Kiev – the prices were great, cute environment, and had more cultural food available. I ordered the lamb dumplings and low-key I would fly back to Kiev just to have them again. The statue of Sholem Aleichem is across the street from the synagogue as well (his writings inspired Fiddler on the Roof), and had been vandalized with a swastika days before my visit.

I couldn’t leave Kiev without going to the Microminiatures Museum, which is a museum filled with microscopic art that can only be seen via telescope. Because the pieces are so tiny, it’s just one room and doesn’t take a long time to view, but such a cool concept. As a heads up, you first have to pay an entrance fee to the land it’s on, which is church land it seems, and then pay another cash fee to get into the museum (altogether this was less than $5). I Ubered there because it’s a little far out, and also Uber rides are pennies here. On the way out, I got to meet the artist who is often at the museum, and made a new friend from Greece, and we traveled the rest of the day together talking politics and life which was fun. Also nice to have a built in photographer around 🙂 The Motherland Monument is nearby – you can pay to climb to the top, but we weren’t down. We then Ubered to the Podil synagogue, where I got to explain Jewish culture to my new bud, and buy fresh apple sufganiyot in the market downstairs (Podil synagogue has lots of kosher eateries attached to it, including a pizza store and a nice fleishig restaurant called Taki Da). Walked to Andriviskyy Descent, which is a beautiful historic part of Kiev, which they consider the Montmarte of Kiev, and got a great view of the city from what we thought was Castle Hill, but was actually probably the outside of St. Andrew’s Church.

Split ways with my new Greek friend to light for day two of Chanukah (because it’s kindav ironic to be spending Chanukah with yevonim), and then headed to the National Philharmonic of Ukraine. From the Philharmonic I ran to the restaurant Taki Da, where I ordered a burger to stay and one to go for my long road trip the next day.

Day #3 – Couldn’t have done this day without the best driver in the world, Alex. Not only was he a great driver and super responsible (and saved me from missing my flight), he also speaks a perfect English and was such a mentsch. I can’t imagine not having had him as my driver (Whatsapp +380 50 462 7682)! He also does day trips from long layovers in Kiev from the airport if that’s more your jam, such as heading to Uman for the day. We started at Babi Yar, which is the site where over 33,000 Jews were murdered within two days. It used to be the site of one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe, but almost every kever was destroyed by the Nazi’s, and a radio television tower was put there instead (in Kiev they call this building the pencil). It is also where the Malbim is buried when he was travelling through Kiev and passed away on Rosh Hashana (they founded this kever only about a year ago, in 2019).

We then drove a few hours to the kever of R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, and then a few more hours to the Baal Shem Tov (and his bais medresh, where I davened mincha). We were going to also visit the Baal Shem Tov’s springs, but there was crazy traffic building up and I could have missed my flight (Alex literally parked his car right outside Kiev, and took me on public transport for an hour, and then had a getaway car to drive us the rest of the way. Like I said, he’s the literal best and I could never thank him enough! Also, wearing a backpack with a giant Torah on my back while on public trans was such a boss move that I didn’t choose.)

I chose the Baal Shem Tov over visiting Uman for a few reasons 1) there’s a physical war with Russia happening right now just a mere two hour drive away from Uman 2) I had time to take the very long journey to the Besht and co. (like four hours each way vs. the two hours to Uman) 3) there are actual highways and roads the whole was to the Besht 4) I understand the works of the Besht better than R’ Nachman.

 

Third Time’s a Charm

VENICE, ITALY

It’s only slightly embarrassing how many times we’ve written about Venice this year alone… but also the city has been under water this whole winter so maybe it’s a good thing we’re seeing it all now. For more detailed information on some of the things that can be done, you can read previous posts here and here.

We arrived on a Thursday night on a flight from Berlin, and paid to take a shuttle bus from the mainland to the island of Venice (about a 20 minute drive, easy to find, and bus let’s you off by a bridge right by the train station).

FRIDAY – summer is peak tourist season, so make sure you lock in your kosher food options early Friday morning before you tour. Chabad has three meal options for Shabbos, and the more expensive private dining options sell out months in advance… but also the cheapest option is THE most fun, just not a crazy amount of food. (In general getting lunch/dinner alone in the summer on a regular night is pretty cray so brace yourselves). We bought some wine and a takeaway shnitzel for our airbnb (had manual keys for Shabbos and right by the ghetto!) just in case, and hit the road with some pizza to eat later for lunch. First stop (because it’s the farthest island out), bus boat to Burano! Some highlights were dangling our feet over the water as we chilled and ate our pizza, and also painting one of their famous colorful houses.

Then we headed to Murano, known for it’s glass blowing – apparently glass blowing ends pretty early in the day, so watch the times. Scrambling to find a glass blowing place, we ended up having the most mesmerizing and mind-blowing glass blowing experience that they had started just that week, where they blow glass while playing guitar. As a heads up it was in a restored 12th century monastery and we were staring at a glass Jesus statue for the whole show, so we may have been converted in the process. YOLO. (But also we did not realize at the time and consult your LOR. Avodah Zara is not a joke). There’s a Jewish cemetery from the 1300’s on the island of Lido where some famous rabbanim have been buried, but we only learned about this retroactively. Before running to prepare for Shabbos, we stopped into a local supermarket to stock up on a giant case of water bottles and fruit… which altogether equaled $5. Get it together America.

SHABBOS – there were hundreds of frum Jews in the ghetto that Shabbos Nachamu, so every meal had a kumzitz and lots of new friends. The Jewish ghetto is one of the top attractions of Venice, so tourists would stop to take videos of the army of Jews who were welcoming Shabbos and reclaiming the space. We did a free walking tour of the city at some point, and paypaled a tip after Shabbos. There’s also a nice sized community that’s not Chabad, so we were able to hit up two great kiddushes and get to meet the locals. Havdalah was out of this world, but the real fun went down motzei Shabbos.

We started with a romantic wine and shnitzel melave malka by the water (obviously we lit some candles and youtube has a great Italian music selection). But is it even a motzei Shabbos in Venice is you don’t have a Frulala run (alcoholic smoothie stand under the OK – check the menu)?! The streets at night were ridiculously empty (now that we think about it, it was also 2 am), so we also chilled with our new Shabbos buds at some famous landmarks with no other people in sight. GhettoGang. Our ride or die. You know who you all are and you’re loving this shout out.

SUNDAY – our last hustle before our flight out to Croatia. We split up for A to take the Jewish ghetto tour (A MUST DO!), while R got to explore the little nuances of the island. It started with Calle Varisco, the most narrow street in Venice. On the way to the boat bookstore from there, you can pass the Venice hospital – all landmarks are easy to miss in Venice because they maintain the original ancient facade, and then redo the entire interior. No picture can properly capture the Libreria Acqua Alta, which is a bookstore with many twists and turns and quirks. Right next door to the library, there’s a window where you can see famous Venetian masks being made from scratch.

There’s a famous spiral staircase called Palace Contarini del Bovolo that I was able to hit up before meeting back up with A to check out San Marc’s square. We downloaded a Rick Steve’s audio guide to the area – we found out the hard way that you can’t casually sit down in the middle of the square… don’t say we didn’t warn you. Stolperstein sighting in the ghetto. We obviously couldn’t leave without having one more pizza by the water, what could be better?! (Pro tip – stock up on pizza to take with you to different countries that have no food).

 

Where Memories are Croated

Split, Croatia

We both went to Croatia a year apart from each other, so we’ll do a run through of each of our trips and itineraries. We highly recommend this location if you want to do beautiful, outdoor activities, and are on a budget.

R’s Trip

SUNDAY/MONDAY – It’s about a half hour plane ride away from Venice, so we landed in Split, rented a car, and drove straight to the Plitvice Lakes National Park area to stay the night (three hour drive). We wanted to break up the driving as much as possible, and also potentially hit up Krka National Park as well. As we got closer to our destination, Waze kindly told us we’d casually be passing through border patrol… the AirBnb we rented was not only 15 minutes away from Plitvice, but it was also in a different country. WASSSSSSUP BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA!!! According to google it is currently 80% Muslim, hence the mosque across the street during shacharis. They basically just got out of a war with Croatia, so our passports were checked many times – but we hear Bosnia’s the country to go to if you want to party hard, according to the Croatian locals.

Croatia is still not used to having such an influx of tourism, so days before we got there, they implemented a new system in order to get into Plitvice Lakes… long story short, get tickets in advance. And even if you get tickets in advance, you won’t be able to move around easily within the park itself and there are people EVERYWHERE (and dogs, everyone brought their dog to the park as well). There are many beautiful waterfalls around and the color of the water is unreal… very clean as well, and boat rides and bus rides throughout to help you get around (many different trail options also – read the map carefully! The ‘hike’ was also hours shorter than expected, but we also didn’t stop to take too many pics). Because we had to wait hours to get into the park, and we had our own car, there are options of things to do nearby such as bat caves and zip lines. We took our pizza from Venice and had a picnic in a nearby town called Rastoke, and also stopped at a supermarket to buy water bottles.

Returning the car in Split was tricky because of major traffic and no addresses available. Our AirBNB was an adorable converted barn that has been in her family for generations. Ivana’s Tiny House was the best stay with the best hostess – we had everything we needed, from laundry pods to ac.

TUESDAY – The next day we did the Extreme Canyoning tour which might honestly have been the best part of our Europe trip, hands down. It’s a full day adventure with transportation, and the best guides around. You don’t have to bring your phones with you because they took hundreds of pics. You’re also in and out of water the whole time so dehydration’s not a thing, but also jumping from cliffs most of the time, so just a heads up to bring great shoes and lots of energy – you will burn every calorie in your body. You can also choose not to do the Extreme part, which is the exact same tour minus rappelling (I personally chickened out of the second part of rappelling, so me and the guide did some extra hiking and had some nice quality time discussing Settlers of Catan, Trump, and the meaning of life).

Our new bud Sebastian from our group told us about ROOF 68, a rooftop bar on the Riva (main street of Split) overlooking the pier that had free drums – turns out it wasn’t a drum night, but they had excellent Coca Cola and great views. We then stumbled upon a giant square outside LVXOR where everyone sits, orders drinks, and listens to awesome acoustic covers of classic songs. Highly recommended hangouts!

WEDNESDAYFive Island Speedboat Tour Featuring the Blue Cave – beware you will be hanging on for dear life for hours on a glorified banana boat with a motor.  Another full day adventure! Our guide Barbara and our skipper Kiki were amazing. The longest stretches of ride on the speed boat are about 1.5 hours, and they played great music the whole time. The islands were packed, and another one abruptly closed (apparently classic Croatia), but they quickly came up with alternative nearby and the trip ran smoothly regardless because they know the area well. They had free water bottles and snorkeling gear, and we were able to see some cool underwater life, and WWII jets. You get dropped off to explore the islands on your own. Because we couldn’t eat at any of the restaurants, we found some alternative free activities to do, like yoga.

After washing up, we went back to the Riva for a free Split music festival, more chill sessions outside of LVXOR, and fireworks by the pier.

THURSDAY – Our final morning in Split was the most meaningful, as we were able to discover a lot about Split’s Jewish routes that are just becoming re-discovered. We were told to walk up from the Riva to a cafe called Vidilica (on Marjan Hill) that is supposed to have a beautiful view of Split. When we got to the cafe, we noticed there were gold Hebrew letters inscribed at the top, and that it was also the ancient Jewish cemetery of Split, established in 1573. You can ask the cafe to open the gates for free so you can look around – some very unusual styles of kevarim, including porcelain photographs attached to some of the tombstones.

We ran to catch our free tour of Diocletian’s Palace, which in actuality is an entire city that we had been walking through the entire time. There is apparently a Menorah inscribed in one of the gate cellar walls, which was also the location for filming parts of Game of Thrones. Let us know if you find it!

We then made our way to Morpurgo bookstore, which until last year was one of the oldest operating bookstores in Europe (from 1860) in the Pjaca, and was established by a Jew from the Split community, who is buried on Marjan Hill. They recently installed a golden book monument on the ground outside the bookstore to commemorate the book-burnings of Jewish books that took place there, as well.

Our last stop was to quickly visit the old synagogue of Split, which no longer has consistently active or Orthodox services. What we expected to be a quick stop turned into an almost two hour conversation with one of the members of the Jewish community, a Roman Catholic tour guide, and a German family who is working on putting together a touring book of Split. It was incredible to try to piece together Split’s strong Jewish roots, but the most interesting of note was the unfinished zecher l’chorban wall from when the shul was first built, which is the same wall and bricks of Diocletian’s palace from the time of the chorban – it was literally a zecher l’chorban wall from the times of the Roman chorban (center picture, top left corner). We had a fascinating conversation trying to explain these little nuances to everyone in the conversation, and we hope we did it justice. They are expected to build a Jewish history museum within the synagogue soon, and can’t wait to check up on it!

Have a local tell you about Croatia’s own uber app to get you back to the airport. The day before we were supposed to hop on a plane to Amsterdam, the bus or boat company which usually shuttles to the airport had shutdown (again, apparently classic Croatia). Luckily it was pretty cheap taking a cab to the airport, and the airport had lots of Haagen Daz ice cream available.

T’s Trip

We took a long bus ride on a FlixBus from Budapest – the bus first stopped in Zagreb (which is where the Chabad is located) for a half hour, and then we took a second bus to Split. Just a heads up – there is zero kosher food in Split, so come prepared! We arrived at the Split bus stop, which is located across the street from where the ferries are, and there were taxis there to take us to our hotel. Split does have Uber, and in the main town area they have specific pick up locations.

Extreme canyoning – they had a pick up location in main area of Split. They drove us to the start location, where we had to change into wet suits, with helmets, life vests and water shoes (unless you brought your own water sneakers, we paid extra for their shoes). It was a combination of hiking, repelling, and swimming – should be very fit, because it’s a full day active activity! We made the mistake of getting really sore and not being able to move, right before going to Plitvice National Park. (We went the year before R did, as these are almost literally all the pics we had gotten! Times have changed.)

Plitvice Lakes National Park – picked us up from our hotel, and it’s  really far drive – 7:30 am pickup. Suggest going with a tour because it’s super crowded and they know how to get around and took us backwards through the park. Stunning pure lakes and waterfalls!

Took a ferry to Bol Beach on Brac Island – you can even bring your car on the ferry, in case that information is necessary. One hour ferry ride. Chilled on the beach, but there are plenty of water sports you can do. Be careful of the nudist beach section… or maybe that’s your thing. Just a friendly heads up.

Friday we did a tour of Diocletian’s Palace, did some shopping, and ran around getting ready for Shabbos. We had ordered food from the Chabad of Zagreb, and it was not able to make it in time for Shabbos, so we washed some vegetables to make a salad and had some deli with us and called it a day.

Sunday we did Zip Split zip lining for the day, and then took a flight to… Slovenia!

Pura Vida en Costa Rica

La Fortuna, Costa Rica

WEDNESDAY + THURSDAY

We left straight from school to start our winter break in Costa Rica! This was our first trip with our iconic Vacation Crew varsity jackets. To explain, for each country T’s crew now visits together, they buy a patch of the place visited, which then gets added to the jackets. Keep an eye out for them in future posts 🙂

We landed in the middle of the night, and we hired a private driver to take us from San Juan (the only city in Costa Rica with a Chabad + kosher food) to La Fortuna, about a three hour drive. We stayed at the Springs Resort and Spa and got the honeymoon suite in order to accommodate our crew. It was by far the nicest resort we have ever stayed at with breathtaking views – the Bachelor and the Kardashian’s have all called this place home in their past visits.

Aside from the beautiful scenery, there are many activities the resort has to offer. We personally went horseback riding there, as well as visited their zoo. They also offer river tubing, hot springs + water slide, rock climbing, mini golf, and many other activities!

Also, every day, the cleaning service created a new animal creation surprise with our towels!!!

FRIDAY + SHABBOS

We were picked up from our hotel to go on a coffee and chocolate plantation tour near the Arenal Volcano, where we were shown the process of making such delicacies (don’t worry, we also got to taste them). They took us on a ride in a Bullock Carriage pulled by oxen.

We then went back to get ready for Shabbos. The Chabad had brought our food to the airport in San Juan, which we brought back and stored in the hotel – the food was double wrapped, so the hotel warmed up our food throughout Shabbos. We had a spacious balcony, so we set up our seudahs outside with our volcano jungle views. Because it was yeshiva break, there were many yiddin on campus, and also all of the microwaves had been claimed by the other Jewish rooms.

SUNDAY

Full day tour of the rain forest (we were picked up at 7:30 a.m.), where we hiked a waterfall and a mountain on the side of a volcano (you can’t hike the actual volcano as it’s currently active). They also provide lunch which we couldn’t eat, but always offer to our drivers and staff. You need comfortable shoes and some sort of poncho, as it actually rains in the rain forest.

MONDAY

We got picked up for white water rafting, where we experienced some of the best rapids we’ve ever went down. It was really adventurous while also feeling safe. They take great pictures that you can pay extra for, but they also provide fresh cut up fruit for free.

Later we did the hot springs at our resort, which was relaxing, but can also be fun if you go on their monkey slide. They have a bunch of these hot springs around and many of them are in enclosed spaces, so you can have your own private chill. There are also drinks available to buy spring-side.

TUESDAY

We went to Monteverde, which was about a three hour drive each way. Many people typically spend a longer amount of time there, but we didn’t want to switch hotels and just used it as a day trip location. We went to 100% Aventura, which is the longest zip line in Latin America. It was well run, and there were guides stationed at each zip stop. There are also two Superman zip lines, with the option of doing a Tarzan Swing. We also went ATVing there after zip lining.

WEDNESDAY

Our last day in Costa Rica, which we kept chill as a spa day. We took advantage of hotel amenities, such as the pools and game room. We followed this trip with a stop in Orlando on the way back, so it didn’t technically end here 😉 More to come!

 

 

 

Mai Oh Mai!

Chiang Mai, Thailand

TUESDAY

Arrived at our hotel close to 2 PM, where we stayed on a main road, but they set the hotel up in such a way that it feels like you’re not in a busy city. Got massages right away at the hotel because they’re 30% off earlier in the day. Went out to eat by Chabad, and checked out the night bizarre (right by Chabad) where there’s lots of souvenir shopping. Took a tuk tuk back to our hotel… first of many! They charge a little more than the regular cabs because they’re cultural, but otherwise there’s nothing faster or safer about them versus a cab.

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WEDNESDAY

Hired a private driver and tour guide, with the goal being to take us all the way north to the border of Thailand, near the Golden Triangle (where three countries meet). We first made a pit stop by hot springs that had little markets nearby. One lady was selling baskets of eggs which we cooked in the hot springs (we didn’t eat them because we didn’t recognize the type of egg).

We then went to the White Temple, which was beautiful to look at from the outside (has an entrance fee, we didn’t go in… and also straight up avodah zarah in its prime) – the bathroom was equally as beautiful. There are also something called Lucky Trees in the complex, where we purchased and created our own leaves to add to the trees (but actually we just brought them home 🙂

Got to the border area where we took a boat to Laos (there are three different boat options to take to Laos). We didn’t need to go through customs at Laos, and there wasn’t much to do there, but we were able to go to the markets to by knockoff brand purchases (haggle them down there). Also, just beware, Laos is known as the  most bombed country in the world… and it was mainly done by the US, so the American rep there isn’t too hot.

We then took the boat back to the car to go to Myanmar. Passports are a must! There’s also a visa fee in order to get in (around $16 a person). It was also just a huge market area place, more clothing than crafts to buy, so not much to write home about. The drive is three hours each way – on the way there we had a lot of stops to break up the drive, and there was also free WiFi on board.

THURSDAY

Hired another driver (without a tour guide) to check out Pai. It was also a three hour drive away, but it was one of our top days of our trip (most people usually spend two days here, so we tried to cram as much possible in as we could). Pai Canyon was our first stop – it’s a self hike, with lots of narrow nooks and crannies (sporty clothing recommended), and beautiful scenery. Cafes are at the bottom where you can buy pure fruit drinks and coconuts post hike.

Our driver then took us to a Chinese village called Santichon Village. It’s one of the three Chinese villages in northern Thailand, populated by the Yunan tribe. Lots to do there – cultural clothing, archery, horseback riding, shooting, and our favorite, man operated Ferris wheel (all activities require an extra fee).

We checked out the main Pai town next, where we attempted to ride a scooter, but had to settle for tandem bikes to get around. It was a quite town and wasn’t hard to get around. After biking our driver took us to a tree house place, but also throughout the town they have cute stops to take pictures by, like an all pink house. There’s also the Pai Memorial Bridge that has bamboo rafting nearby, and potentially elephant rides.

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Mok Fa Waterfall was on our way back to our hotel – there was a little hike to get there. It was quite and didn’t have many tourists around, which was nice.

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FRIDAY + SHABBOS

Elephant Retirement Park! The elephants seemed really happy and well cared for there, and we got to take care of the elephants there – bathing them, feeding them, playing in the mud with them. They take some pictures for you on their own, but they also offer professional shots for purchase. Bring a change of clothes, it gets pretty messy! They have lockers for your items as well. We went back to the spa before Shabbos 🙂 Friday night, the Chabad has two meals, an earlier one for families, and a later one for everyone else. It was about a half hour walk from our hotel – the food was great, and there were about 150 Shabbos guests. (Most of the food was also gluten free, for all of those who need that information like we did).

** The hotel room we had, had electric toilets, which we were kindav able to turn off. Our hotel lobby had manual toilets though, as did Chabad, so we made an effort to use those. The concierge also was able to open the doors for us, which we had left unlocked but had been re-locked by the time we got there.

Shabbos meal there started a little after 12, and there was only one meal option, with less people this time. Every Saturday there’s a special market in Chiang Mai, so we went Motzei Shabbos and it was really fun and packed. We also bumped into some new buds from our Chabad meals!

Thailand was such a great experience, and we hope more people go and check it out 🙂

 

Phu Phu Phuket

Landed Friday morning from Bali (around five hours in flights), and took a paid shuttle from the airport to our hotel villa. Took a cab to Chabad of Phuket’s pizza store (about a 20 minute drive), and also picked up our Shabbos food while we were in town. That block was also mini Israel, with tons of Hebrew writing and services everywhere… beware there are other restaurants in the area that claim to be glatt kosher and are not. Thailand also has more 7/11’s than in America, but there are no slurpees! There are red cabs everywhere along the streets – they don’t have doors or windows, just as a heads up. Got massages in our hotel room and got ready for Shabbos.

SUNDAY – it was a fast day (shva asar b’Tammuz), so we tried to do more chilled out activities. We went to the Thalang Maneekram Floating Market, which was under repair, so we had to do more indoor shopping, with a boat ride as well. You have to walk into this white building, and beyond that is the whole village of activities. The Thalang Maneekram village also has many cultural activities available, such as cooking classes and shows. You can also rent a Thai outfits to wear as you explore. After that, our driver took us to Phuket Old Town, where there are a lot of colorful buildings, and more markets where we got cool souvenirs made for us.

Then we went to a viewpoint (giant misunderstanding, he took us to the Big Buddha instead of the other one that’s not near avodah zara), and then got dropped off at Chabad where we broke our fast on really yummy and cheap food. Highly recommend the chili potatoes! They have classic Jewish food, as well as more cultural food options.

MONDAY – 6:00 a.m. pickup for Phi Phi Islands tour. First they give you breakfast (not kosher), and you go on a boat ride as the sun rises. They take you to all the popular islands – we recommend sitting outside in the front of the boat, lots of fun! The first island is called Bamboo Island, where we chilled on the beach with mats. We davened shacharis there 🙂 We basically had awesome tour guides, beautiful islands, and lots of snorkeling available at all times!

At night, we went to FantaSea, which is a cultural “theme park” – there’s a big show at 9 PM (they take your phones away during said show), but if you want to do other things like ride elephants (the elephants looked real sad in our opinion), those things cost extra. Fell asleep again during the show – whoops.

TUESDAY – took a two hour flight to Chiang Mai! Lookout for Thailand part #2 🙂

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