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Our week in Israel

Our week in Israel
via Lufthansa First Class
January 2018

Mrs. SFO777 and I are off today on our first visit to Israel.  We'll meet our SoCal travel buddies in Tel Aviv for 8 days of touring.   Unfortunately, our first stop on this trip is Montreal to attend a family funeral.  I've always hated Air Canada and still do today.  But it has the only nonstops from LAX, so today it won over jetBlue and a connection in Boston.  Naturally, we are departing the day after New Years, one of the busiest travel days of the year.  Although the 405 was clear, major traffic at LAX.     

We almost never check bags.  But the forecast of below zero temps in Montreal necessitated a winter wardrobe bag... and the need to stop at the Air Canada counter to drop off and check a bag.   Unfortunately, there was no outside bag drop that I could find, so we're forced to stand in line.  The pax in front of us either had complicated issues and/or the agents were simply clueless, but this line wound up going nowhere fast.  Fortunately, a competent staffer was manning the kiosks and she printed my baggage tag and directed me to the regular Economy line which had fewer people waiting. 

Air Canada recently moved from Terminal 2 to Terminal 6.   Unfortunately, that meant giving up a spacious lounge in T2 for someone's old dump of a lounge in T6.

Food offering were garbage so we decided to eat on the plane.  What a bad choice that turned out to be.  

Mrs. SFO777 sent me on a mission to find her a Diet Coke.  For the life of me, there was nothing obvious.

Oh there it is.   Could they make it any more difficult to find?

Interesting warning sign.  I guess that some Air Canada pax are so hard up for crappy food, that apparently there's a theft problem at LAX.

At T-40, we headed for the gate.  

Los Angeles LAX to Montréal YUL
Air Canada AC 784
January 2, 2018
Seats 3AC

As bad as the lounge was, the flight was even worse.

The tired old A319 Business Class cabin, with thin and uncomfortable seats.

Not only are the seats painfully uncomfortable, the cabin departed nearly full as it filled up with non-revs.  What started this morning as 3/14 left as the AC Employee Express at 10/14, Other than Mrs. SFO777 and me, there was only 1 other paying Business Class passenger.  EF showed J8 right until the end even after 10/14 seats were occupied. Well done AC.

And now the fun part.  This is a five hour 1pm lunch time flight and AC forgot to cater meals.  Seriously?  We had to raid Economy Bistro before they ran out. FA was apologetic and gave us a USD$15 food voucher. Not sure what good that does us at 30,000 feet. Funny thing was that we got a 2nd $15 in another name, persumably one of the non-revs.  Here is what lunch on a Skytrax 4 star airline looks like.  Think about this the next time you read airline rankings from Skytrax. 

Mrs. SFO777 had a few bites of the complimentary BOB chicken wrap and then went for the snack basket.

Yeah, that's a really healthy meal.

While the chicken wrap wasn't bad, the beef wrap was downright disgusting and inedible.

Our FA gave us compenation claim forms to fill out.  Like AC is going to give us anything.

Mrs. SFO777 trying to watch a movie while the non-rev's hair kept flopping on the screen.  

Mercifully the flight only lasted 4:25 and we landed in Montreal just a little after 9pm... to sub zero temps.  

One of the nice things about YUL is that many of the jetbridges are heated so we no sense of how cold it was when we deplaned and headed for customs.   Another great thing is that the airport has one of the most convenient in=terminal hotels in North America.   And it's located directly above the US departures wing.  

Our corner suite 842.

And the view.   OMG, does that look cold.

We tossed our bags in the room and headed downstairs for a proper dinner in the lobby restaurant.

A burger for Mrs. SFO777...

... and Lobster Mac and Cheese for me.

... which we both shared.

The hotel accept the US$60 in vouchers so the net cost was less than $40.   In the morning, more great views from the elevator lobby as I headed up the Executive Lounge for breakfast.

Nice enough lounge but the food was pretty weak. 


One of our sons arrived from SFO and ORD just after 10am.  He showered and changed and I headed across to pick up our rental car.  OK, that looks cold.

OMG.  It was even worse than it looked as I made the long walk to the Avis Preferred booth.

With the detour to Montreal, we had to cancel tomorrow's LAX-FRA Lufthansa First Class flight and find an alternative.  Fortunately, there were two First Class awards seats on both the JFK-FRA and IAD-FRA flights.  I had opted for JFK since Lufthansa has a JFK First Class Lounge, and there are a lot more YUL-NYC flights than YUL-WAS.  Plus the flights are cheaper.   I opted for an 8pm Air Canada flight to LGA with an overnight before getting rid of our winter clothes at FedEx and heading to JFK.   WIth the rapidly detriorating weather, we decided to switch to the IAD-FRA flight and drive from LGA to IAD since the snow wasn't scheduled to hit until well after we would be in DC.  WIth a late check-out, we headed to the funeral planning to be back at the hotel by 5pm and then head downstairs for our flght.  

We were at the reception after the funeral when I got this message from Air Canada, advising that despite no snow scheduled until well after the return flight would have departed and landed back in Montreal, they cancelled our flight. 

Unfortunately, part of your itinerary has been CANCELLED. 
We have REBOOKED you on the flight(s) as indicated in your REVISED ITINERARY below.
Montreal Trudeau to New York La Guardia
Departing: Wed Jan-3, 2018 at 20:00
Arriving: Wed Jan-3, 2018 at 21:27
Montreal Trudeau  to New York La Guardia
Departing: Fri Jan-5, 2018 at 8:35
Arriving: Fri Jan-5, 2018 at 10:02
Seats: 2F

Loved that I'm rebooked on a flight 36 hours later.   LOL.

Back at the Marriott and with access to my computer is was clear that we couldn't make it to DC that night or even tomorrow for that matter as everything was sold out.   The only European option that night was Swiss and it was departing in 5 minutes.  I guess that's not an option.  Air Canada, ugh not them again, had Business Class award seats on tomorrow night's YUL-BRU 788 with an SN connection to TLV.   With that settled, we headed down to the lobby restaurant with our SFO son, whose YUL-LAS flight was delayed until 8pm.

Next morning after planning to sleep in for our 7:55pm YUL-BRU, I saw that UA released 2 seats on their 9:50am YUL-IAD flight. and the exit row was available.  So I changed YUL-BRU-TLV back to IAD-FRA-TLV and we headed downstairs to check our "winter gear" bag, clear security and PreClearance.  At YUL, the only way from Preclearance to your gate.

Natiurally, someone eyes something she likes.

With a 60 minute flight delay, we passed on the AC lounge and headed for breakfast.

Oh yeah, that would be a no if you are heading to BOS, NYC or PHL.

Our inbound UAX flight finally arrived.

Montréal YUL to Washington IAD
United Express UA 4698
9:50a-11:30a (est.)
11:15a-1:10p (actual) 
Seats 18CD


Yikes. A little salt with your flight?

Meanwhile on the ground at IAD, no more snow but frigid temps and gusty winds made it feel even colder than Montreal.   No jetbridge certainly didn't help.

With our gate check carryon bags in tow, we walked all the way from A4 to B50 which is a pleasant walk in the only IAD terminal that is worth visiting.

And finally to the Luftansa Lounge where I dropped off Mrs. SFO777, while I headed for baggage claim and Avis.

OMG, it's cold here.  Naturally, every RAC bus but Avis passed by.   Then to nearby FedEx to ship our winter clothes back to CA.   And then back thru security to get the vacation underway,

The Lufthansa Lounge at IAD is an uninspiring Business Class lounge with a pathetic roped off area for First and HON. 

The Lounge Dragon escorted us to the First Class area which had a few two top dining tables...

... and a meager 2, count 'em 2, lounge chairs.   And some counter seating all behind a rope.   Classy. LOL.

The best feature of the lounge is the First Class Boarding door, which supposedly leads directly to the jetbridge... if your plane is at Gate 51.  Not so much for today's Gate 45/47.

No special a la carte menu for First pax.  Just the basic Business Class grub.

No idea how well this First Class/HON section was policed but only the mother and daughter on the left were in First.


Washington IAD to Frankfurt FRA
Lufthansa LH 419
6:05p-7:50a +1 (sked)
6:45p-8:00a +1 (actual)
January 4, 2018
Seats 1A and 1K

After a 30 minute delay "due to the late arrival of the inbound aircraft" the First boarding door was opened and we were invited to board. 

Once on board, all is forgiven as we had 1AK on one of the best planes in the sky, and a wonderful cabin crew.

Someone is happy.  


Today's Rimowa amenity kit.

Great la prairie products but just the mini-size version.

Today's menu...

And wine list...

We pushed about 45 minutes late on a frigid yet clear night in DC.

After take off, a quick trip to one of two First Class lavs.

Complete with full size version of la prairie.   I'm guessing that there's been an epidemic of pax walking off with the full size versions as they were gone from the lav on my last visit around 30 minutes prior to landing. 

On the way back to my seat, Mrs. SFO777's drink of choice tonight.

While Mrs. SFO777 enjoyed Johnny Blue, I opted for the Henriot Champagne to start.

Showtime, LH style... starting with caviar.

And fresh garden salad.

Making the rounds of the Henriot, the Santenay Premier Cru and the delicious 2012 Le Mortelle Poggio Allenane from Tuscany.

While Mrs. SFO777 ordered the salmon, I went with the Beef Fillet and Lobster Mac 'n Cheese.

Despite being well done, the beef was delicious and still quite moist. 

My friend for tonight. I loved this Cab Franc, Cab blend from the estate which the Antinori family purchased less than 10 years ago.

Line 'em up.  And a little cheese.

Followed by desert.

By the time I was done with dinner the were only 4 hours left on today's 6:45 flight.   I dozed off for more than 3 hours and woke around 45 minutes prior to landing. 

Yet another wonderful Lufthansa First flight with amazing and flawless service from a marvelous infight crew.   

With just under two hours until our Tel Aviv flight, we headed for the long walk to the First Class Terminal. 

Once outside the terminal, we turned left for the short walk past the taxis to the First Class Terminal.

Upstairs we were greeted by a Personal Assistant, and went thru civilized private security for our 75 minute visit.

The current crop of First Class duckies.

The deparure monitor showing just the flights with First Class passengers departing from the First Class Terminal.


Frankfurt FRA to Tel Aviv TLV
Lufthansa LH 686
January 5, 2018
Seats 4AC

At around T-25, a new grouchy, people-challenged PA came by to pick us up, take us a bizarre TLV-only second security check.  Broom Hilda then escorted downstairs to pick up our passports and then to our van. 

To the tarmac of Gate C13...

... and the elevator up to the jetbridge...

Where we were the first to board.   Seriously, you rushed us here just to wait for 150 other people??    And spend more time in the joke that is Euro Business Class?  I can deal with this crap hard product for an hour, hour and a half, but sitting on a plane and in this seat for 4 hours is just painful.

A peek into Economy which looks exactly the same... because it is!  At least LH also used 2L to board so thru traffic thru the forward cabin was minimal.

Hey, you might have to sit in a crap seat but at least we give you an amenity kit...

... filled with crap.

And there were the 2 jackasses (2C and 5C) would couldn't bear to be apart and were apparently hard of hearing since they had to shout at each other during boarding and our ATC delay.

Today's menu.

LOL on the "lean back and relax".   Sure, with all of 2" of recline.  "We have only one goal, your complete satisfaction?"  No doubt that's why you force us into spending more than 4 hours in these horrid seats. 

The good news is inflight Wifi and at a reasonable price. The bad news was that it wasn't working today.

Mrs. SFO777 wasn't hungry and just had a roll for lunch. 

On the other hand, I was hungry.

My veal...

... in peppecorn sauce was delicious.  

Excellent meal and crew on this flight despite the terrible hard product for a 4 hour flight.

Wet and windy conditions led to more ATC delays and we arrived about 30 minutes late. 

Our tour company arranged for something called VIP Arrival Service at TLV.   

Indeed at the end of the jetbridge, our jovial guide Daniel was waiting for us with open arms. 

At the top of the stairs, we took an elevator down to the tarmac level.

And our waiting van.

A couple minutes later we parked in front of the side entrance to Passport Control.

Daniel walked us thru and around hundreds of incoming passengers to a special customs booth.  We had no doubt been profiled and pre-screened as we were processed by passport control agent in under a minute.

... and into the arrivals concourse...

... up an escalator and outside where are driver was waiting.  

Wow, simply amazing.  From the plane to our waiting car in less than 15 minutes.   What a great welcome to Israel.

For our first two nights in Israel, we're in Tel Aviv at The Norman.   The Norman Tel Aviv is a lovely boutique hotel in the heart of the city.  Pics from the next morning...

Our first room here Suite 22, a Loft Suite in the Suites Building across a courtyard from the main building.   

After a relaxing nap, we headed down for dinner with our SoCal friends.

My lamb ravioli starter was amazing.

After dinner, we moved to Suite 5 as an unsolvable lighting issue in our original suite forced a move, with an upgrade for our troubles.

The next morning, I headed for breakfast in the main restaurant.

Impressive buffet spread plus order off the menu hot dish.

And the next morning...

Eggs benedict.


We booked our 8 day sightseeing tour with Touring Israel.  Our guide Daphne met us a the hotel at 9am and we headed out on our first day to Jaffa.  Inhabited in the early Bronza Age, it may be the world's oldest port city.   From our guide overview... Jaffa is mentioned four times in the Hebrew Bible. It was where King Solomon's ally, Phoenician King Hiram of Tyre, landed cedars of Lebanon for the construction of Solomon's temple, and where the Prophet Jonah embarked on his fabulous adventure with the whale. The Ancient Greeks were here too, as were the Romans. This is also where St. Peter was visited by the angel Gabriel as he slept on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house. Christian and Jewish pilgrims came through. Jaffa for generations and so did Napoleon in 1799. Today, Jaffa is a mixed Israeli Arab Christian, Arab Muslim and Jewish city and is part of the Tel Aviv - Jaffa municipality. Gentrification is making the city a vibrant and hip place and today it boasts some of Israel’s best galleries, shops, bars & restaurants. 

From Jaffa, we headed back into Tel Aviv proper, past the Bauhaus buildings to Sarona, one of eight colonies built by the German Protestant Templers in Palestine towards the end of the 19th century. When the Templers were deported from the land by the British, it became a military base and eventually was given over to the Israelis. The quaint, stone buildings were painstakingly preserved and restored and today Sarona houses boutique stores, artist galleries, quaint cafes, and some of the city’s hottest restaurants and bars.  Sarona Market is an upscale covered food market created in the European style, chock-full of delicious, gourmet chef food stands, beer and wine bars, ice cream and dessert parlors, bakeries and some of the best food in Tel Aviv. 




We stopped for lunch at Fiori, where the pasta was indeed fresh and delicious.

Then back to The Norman for a drink.

After relaxing back in our room, we took a taxi to dinner at wonderful Yaffo Tel Aviv (or Jaffa Tel Aviv), owned by renowned Israeli chef Haim Cohen and describes itself as a quintessential combination of everything Tel Aviv and Jaffa — with hints of Jerusalem and lots of Europe.


OMG, the bread was to die for.

Fabulous salads...

Oh yeah.

Gva'ot Masada was an extraordinary Pinot.

And finally back to the hotel to rest up for day 2. 

Our first stop today is the ancient city of Caesarea.  From our guide summary, Caesarea was built in the 1st century BCE by Herod the Great, became the Roman and Byzantine capital of the district and was later rebuilt by the Crusaders. At the time of Herod it was the 3rd largest port in the ancient world. Today, Caesarea is a National Park includes a large Roman theatre where concerts are still enjoyed in the summer season, a hippodrome, a Roman bathhouse, mosaic floors, warehouses, a Crusader fortress and a beautiful ancient aqueduct. 

While we waited for Daphne to bring the van around, we tried some fresh squeezed orange juice.

About 45 minutes away is the opening of the Jezre’el Valley and the ancient city of Megiddo. It was here that Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III won a glorious battle in 1478 BCE and inscribed the battle description on his temple walls, making it the first “recorded” battle in history. In the New Testament Book of Revelations, Megiddo is described as Armageddon, the prophesied location of the gathering of armies for the battle at the end of times. 


Our next stop, 30 minutes beyond Megiddo is Nazareth, the boyhood home of Jesus.  From our guide summary, Nazareth was then a small Jewish village nestled in the Galilean mountains. It was here that the Angel Gabriel visited Mary at the well, announcing the upcoming birth of Jesus. Today, Nazareth is the largest Israeli Arab city in the country, home to Muslims and Christians and together with Nazareth Heights (Nazrat Ilit), a Jewish Israeli city, make up a large industrial, commercial center in the Galilee. 

The Church of the Annunciation, built atop Byzantine and Crusader churches marking the traditional location of Joseph and Mary’s home. 

Before we left Nazareth, a quick stop for lunch.

After lunch, we headed for Tiberias which would be our base for the next two nights.