September 26, 2018

Booking your destination wedding or honeymoon

If you recently got engaged and started the very exciting and challenging process of planning your wedding; one of the first things on the “to do” list will be to decide where you will have your wedding and honeymoon. There are couples who know exactly what they want and then there are those who have no idea and are feverishly discussing all their options. Will you get married locally or do you have an exotic destination wedding in mind? You could have your wedding in Italy and honeymoon in France! So many options and if you follow us, I will be posting about some dreamy and exciting destinations for any occasion.

Destination weddings have become increasingly popular, especially for those couples who don’t want to go through the “father of the bride” situation! Seriously though, having a destination wedding could mean that it can involve just the two of you, a select handful of family and friends or enough guests to constitute a bona fide week-long family reunion or vacation. They can be much simpler and depending on what you envision, also faster than planning a traditional wedding and reception for two main reasons; Most resorts and cruise lines have made it really easy to have weddings on site and many have experienced wedding coordinators to help you with all your requirements. They are familiar with the Country’s marriage license requirements and offer wedding packages that take care of all your ceremony essentials. All you do is spend time with your loved ones, while the coordinator takes care of the rest and follows your direction.

If you are considering getting married in another country, it may have crossed your mind to book everything yourself online to “save money” … You know the deal – you type “cheap tickets/accommodation” in a browser and then you have to go through twenty websites all offering some deal or another, only to discover in the end, that you didn’t quite get what you expected or hoped for. When asked whether I recommend booking a wedding or honeymoon online, my answer has always been a resounding NO! Not unless you want to spend your time dealing with one issue after another and trying to find resources, instead of enjoying your time together. I have literally not heard of one successful wedding or honeymoon booking that was done online by the couple on their own.

People, this is your wedding and/or honeymoon! This is a trip where you want to spend as much of your precious time enjoying each other’s company before you start your life together and have a fabulously romantic, relaxing experience. This is the one trip where you let the professionals deal with the details, or the drama if something should not quite go smoothly during your trip. If dressmaking is not your expertise, would you try to make your own wedding dress? Of course not!

If you are going to travel for your wedding and/or honeymoon, I suggest you work with a travel advisor; a professional travel consultant with the resources, connections and expertise to add great value to your travel plans. They are your advocate, they negotiate on your behalf, they have relationships with suppliers and can get you into places that you possibly could not and they curate the noise for you. This is their expertise, let them handle the details.

You will be busy with decisions such as the timing of your wedding and honeymoon, deciding whether you will buy the dress locally and take it with you or buy it where you are getting married, who will be in your bridal party, who will be invited to come along, what food you would like and what you will pack. Depending on your religious observance or lack thereof, you will need to find a Rabbi or officiant of your choice to perform the ceremony. When you have a travel advisor all you have to tell them is your vision for your special day, where you want to go for your honeymoon, what your budget is and they do the research for you. You just plan on having the time of your life. They can suggest what time of year will be best for your preferred destination and give you tips on the area to ensure a memorable (and insta-worthy) experience.

If you are planning to invite a group of family and friends, everyone might not be travelling together to the destination or back home. Some guests may want to remain after the wedding is over, or go earlier to enjoy some leisure time on their own prior to the wedding. Someone needs to keep everyone’s itineraries straight and ensure they all arrive in time for the wedding! All you need to handle once you are at your destination should be the details with the wedding coordinator. Not worry about your loved ones arriving on time. One thing I do recommend, is to have a scouting trip with your significant other to make sure the venue can fulfill your vision. Once you have confirmed your destination, ask your advisor if she can connect you with the wedding coordinator and go for a scouting trip at least a few months out.

We all know that we plan for the perfect wedding or honeymoon, but we also know that the flight or location details sometimes get muddled up, or the weather doesn’t play along. As I was writing this post, I had a discussion with a really helpful lady who is a travel advisor, Sharon Bame from Valerie Wilson Travel, who came highly recommended. She said when you are thinking about a destination wedding and/or honeymoon, she recommends you start planning as far out as you can; preferably a year or more. This is particularly important if you have a specific place in mind that is exclusive and also wildly popular. Other important factors are of course the size of your group and how flexible you are. If you do your bookings last minute, you might have to settle for the group to be spread out over several hotels and you might not find that spot you have been dreaming about. Last minute arrangements, especially if you have your heart set on a specific location, might also mean additional cost, so it is always best to book your destination wedding or honeymoon as far out as possible.

If you have any questions, Sharon is clearly experienced, creative and on top of it. The colleague who referred me to her for destination travel tips, said she has amazing attention to detail, was extremely focused and is passionate about her work and that is the perfect combination. Sharon specializes in Italy and France; particularly, Paris, South of France, Rome, Florence, Venice, Positano, and the Amalfi Coast. She is also into exquisite food and wine experiences, yoga, and hiking which means she can help you with any additional activities you might want to experience whether you are travelling locally, or outside of the US. In addition to her own travel experience she also has resources through their partners throughout the world and the cherry on the top is they are a member of Virtuoso: an organization with access to resources not available to the general public. You literally cannot go wrong when you have experience and almost endless resources at your disposal and while Sharon may specialize in the above areas, she can help you with just about any location. Sharon’s info is below. Do contact her if you have questions.

Sharon Bame Associate Advisor sharon.bame@vwti.com  | O 650.485.4545 | D  415.215.1079

Last but definitely not least; congratulations on your engagement – we wish you every happiness in the world!

Thank you for spending this time with me! More info on weddings and event planning, wine and food pairings and much more coming on this blog.

Batyah

 

Croatia: The Trending Wedding Destination

Whenever destination weddings come up in conversations with my wedding clients, the countries that usually pop up first are Paris or Italy which are known as the most romantic places for lovers and are the usual Countries that inspire romantic visions. Lately though, couples have been asking more about off the beaten track destinations which got me doing some research about the latest trends that are NOT France or Italy of course, and Croatia kept popping up as trending. In case you were wondering… The country is situated just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. It’s no wonder that it has the perfect climate for making wine and olive oil! Well there is no better way to get the down low about a country, than from a dynamo travel agent with many years of experience and hails from Croatia!

I have followed Julia’s travel pictures for a while now on FB and seen her posts about a variety of exotic Countries, but her pictures of Croatia really got my attention. I am just a pushover for blue waters and bluer skies! She told me about the stunning beauty of Croatia’s coastal areas and judging by the pictures I saw online and on her website, I could not agree more!

Apparently Croatia is fast becoming a leading wedding and honeymoon destination, which is no surprise considering its historical cities, vibrant culture, breathtaking scenery and fairytale islands, which all combine to make it a gorgeous location for a wedding abroad.

An ideal wedding needs at least ideal weather and Croatia has an abundance of sunny days. The Adriatic coast has a Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. Kind of like Los Angeles. This means that Croatia gives you beautiful weather on the coast throughout the whole year.

Additional points in Croatia’s favor are excellent value for money, safe cities, the tourist resorts are extremely clean, it definitely has the WOW factor effect every bride wants at her wedding and English is widely spoken in the cities which is always helpful. In addition the destination wedding industry there has a proven track record. Beautiful, clean and stylish are all adjectives that describe Croatia.

If you are a foodie you are in luck.  You cannot go wrong with Croatia’s gastronomic delights. Fresh Adriatic fish and seafood combined with homegrown vegetables and fruits; not to mention perfectly balanced spices, will reassure  you that the food for your wedding will leave your guests very pleased!

With all this amazing food you will also expect good wine to accompany those scrumptious dishes! Whether you prefer white, red or rosé – Croatian wines are some of the best in the world! Istria’s signature wine varieties are Malvazija and Teran. Malvazija, an easy-drinking white wine with good minerality and apricot and apple notes, pairs well with seafood dishes. Teran, a robust red, goes well with meat dishes including boškarin and pršut. Your wedding venue management will provide a connoisseur to help you choose the perfect wines for your meals.

This gorgeous country has become quite a festival destination over the years. Ultra festival, Hideout, Electric elephant, Fresh island, Soundwave, Sonus, Dimensions, Outlook…  some of these could be a fun start to your wedding celebrations, or…. be the ideal bachelorette party or girls night out!

With all the festivals, film events, music events, folklore events and carnivals, yacht parties and cocktails, your wedding could be one continuous celebration and become an adventure your guests will never forget. Just imagine the photos on Insta showing a gallery of breathtaking locations with crystal clear turquoise water surrounding them? Imagine the envy from everyone who didn’t join you!

As it would anywhere, your budget will depend on many variable factors; the region you would like to get married in, the time of year, the number of guests attending, your personal tastes … and on and on. Although Croatia is still less expensive than many other European countries such as the UK, France or Italy, do not expect to have a full wedding for pennies.

However, what comes as standard, are breathtaking and luxury ceremony and reception venues (near the crystal clear sea), delicious haute cuisine, amazing wine and the summer breeze!

The best dates for a wedding are between April and October (June and September are great for milder weather and less crowds). Its natural beauty however, is just one of the many reasons why so many couples are choosing to marry here.

Croatia is a truly a best kept wedding destination secret!

I am betting once there, you will also want to spend some time exploring this beautiful country as part of, if not your entire honeymoon, as it is considered one of the hottest travel destinations. From what Julia told me the country’s appeal is its unique combination of culture, history, cuisine, accessibility and affordability. To me, these are all the essentials that makes for a great wedding abroad.

Don’t hesitate to stop and ask the locals for their favourite konobas (taverns), which are casual establishments, where you’ll find some of the most authentic cuisine. Julia recommends you try simply grilled fish drizzled with piquant Istrian olive oil, garnished with parsley and paired with a glass of crisp, dry malvazija wine. Yummy food, delicious wine, summer breezes and those views! What is not to love!

Croatia might be one of the most overlooked destination wedding for the past few years, but it looks like it’s making it’s way to the top, as couples are paying more attention to this gorgeous travel destination. It offers many amazing venues and talented wedding vendors so you will have all the help you need with planning and finding all the vendors you need.

Croatia has been heralded as the “Next Riviera” and with its stunning beaches and islands it makes an affordable alternative to the pricier Mediterranean. The fairytale Medieval cities, warm friendly locals, magnificent cuisine and especially the fact that it has has not yet been “over-touristed” makes it an even more desirable destination and it has an excellent tourism infrastructure that suits both adventurous travellers and those who need a degree of comfort in their planning. Guests who are invited to a wedding in Croatia will be thanking you and their lucky stars for ever!

It is a truly magical country and will be a great choice for your wedding. There is so much more to tell about this often overlooked wedding or travel destination, so don’t hesitate to click on the link below for Julia’s blog about Croatia and contact her directly if you need more information.  http://www.juliastravels.com/croatia/my-croatia-3/

BTW – for those of you who are Games of Thrones fans… Ever since the city of Dubrovnik was selected as the filming location for the fictional city of King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, travelers and digital nomads have been flocking to this seaside country known for its rugged beauty and uniqueness.

Last but not least… if you are Jewish and want to get married in Croatia but want to have the ceremony in a synagogue… there is a small but active community in the country.

Warmly;

A kiss of the grape — and other adult libations — in Jerusalem

Wine bars, a new twist on an old theme, are drawing huge numbers of clientele in most metropolitan cities. What about the Holy City? Although the selection in Jerusalem doesn’t quite compare to that of its American and European rivals, there are enough choices in the Jewish capital to erase the so-called vapid reputation of kosher wine forever. Kosher vintners have long been removing the stigma, but at these establishments, with fine wines available by the bottle and the glass, it is a much more distant memory. An evening exploring these wines, savory dishes (many of them finger foods) prepared by on-site, professional chefs de cuisine, and memorable desserts that pair equally well with certain vintages or spirits, are a definite recipe for relaxation. Check them out while you traverse the spiritual center of the universe at the New Year and all year. 

ADOM

In name and spirit, Adom, Hebrew for “Red,” embodies the pleasure of fine wines and fine dining. Tucked into the hip, bustling alleyway of bars called Rivlin Street, just off Jaffa Road, guests enter the picturesque gated patio. A quick peek at its retaining wall, studded with embedded wine bottles and corks, is a not-so-subtle introduction to what’s in store. An impressive list of 160 wines is paired with three seating areas, whose stone walls and curved arches warm up by candlelight. The rotating wine of the month enables guests to sample new varieties by the glass at a discount. And a menu of international bistro cuisine, including beautifully presented salads, meats, fish dishes and more gives way to a late-night menu of finger food after 11 p.m. Adom is clustered in the only area of Jerusalem where anything close to a wine bar exists, in the tight mix of restaurants between the light-rail tracks and the Mamilla and David Citadel hotels. This restaurant is not supervised kosher but it, of course, relies on Israeli products that are certified kosher and it does offer kosher wines on its extensive list, making it a great option for a stop on your tasting tour. It is admittedly a little tricky to find, but the search is worth it for its ambience and charm. Simplify your search for Adom by entering from Jaffa Road No. 31, near the light-rail stop. Head down an intriguing path lined with many other establishments that draw huge crowds on Thursday and Saturday nights. Pass through this maze of hopping joints and heavy foot traffic to the tranquil Feingold Courtyard. 

Adom, 31 Jaffa Road, Jerusalem. 972-2-624-6242. 

THE WINERY/MIRROR BAR

The gorgeous Mamilla Hotel is one big bite of eye candy. After you enter this modernist retreat, head upstairs to its long and inviting wine bar, simply called the Winery. Sure, there are many other lovely places to sneak away for a romantic gourmet experience in and around the uber-chic Mamilla part of town, but only here will you find a massive slab of beautiful green glass atop a long wooden bar. Behind the counter, the Winery is tricked out with state-of-the art chilled, nitrogen-equipped dispensaries. Request your wine on tap or from the enticing selection along the exposed cellar, facing you along the wall behind the bar. 

The Mamilla Hotel has staffed this unique bar with trained sommeliers who offer curated tasting experiences. About 80 Israeli wines, from larger houses as well as boutiques, are on the menu. If you’re hungry late at night, take note that the Winery serves only small, cold plates of meat and fish from 3 to 8 p.m. After the Winery closes, you’re in for a treat. The green glass functions as a mere navigational device of sorts. Continue past the bar to the inviting entry point of the chic Mirror Bar. After 8 p.m., it opens up to a large, dimly lit area with comfy seats, perfect for viewing the massive flat-screen TV. Or, along small bar tables and chairs, you can take in the sounds of a live DJ working his groove at the internally lit marble bar. Take your party outside on the balcony with a view of the stone-lined pedestrian mall below or slip inside the separately enclosed glass-walled cigar lounge for more indulgence. 

The short bar menu here is heavy on meat dishes — think scrumptious mini burgers on brioche buns. But it also features delicious ceviche with fresh citrus and avocado and focaccia with herbal aioli for vegetarians and those seeking lighter fare. Every option available from the Winery menu remains available here as well. So you’ll have your pick from the fabulous menu-within-a-menu “Cellar” selections. Our favorite was a Katzav’s Merlot, aged in French oak barrels and bursting with ripe, tart fruit. Ready to indulge more? The almond sachlav with coffee truffle is one cup of steaming, hot ambrosia worth every gram of its heavy caloric cost. Kosher. 

11 King Solomon St., Jerusalem. 972-2-548-2211. mamillahotel.com. 

SCALA 

Just in case you had any doubt, this tiny neighborhood is one of Jerusalem’s key centers of gastronomy, spirituality and hospitality. You’re only minutes from the Old City and a host of other fine dining — and drinking — establishments that have long hosted tourists, foodies, gourmands and more. 

As you exit the Mamilla Hotel, head up King David Street to the massive David Citadel. Take the elevator up to the Scala Restaurant for another celebration of the senses. This high-end establishment caters to a clientele made up mostly of non-hotel guests. One taste of its menu, and you’ll understand why. 

Scala boasts the romantic night out trifecta. Its extravagant combination of cocktail bar, restaurant and wine bar all in one leaves little wanting. A stunning glass wall-to-wall wine cellar boasts 60 select Israeli wines, yours for the choosing. The labels range widely in provenance, taste and price, with nearly every imaginable kosher option, including renowned wines from the distinguished label, the Cave, to suit whatever you order for dinner, and high-end spirits, such as top-ticket Johnnie Walker Blue Label, paired with decadent chocolate desserts. 

If you’re not sure which way to proceed, ask the wait staff or Scala’s talented resident chef for their advice on the best way to enjoy whatever libations you choose. Every dish on the menu, from the tapas to the entrees, has a drink-in-waiting. Our selections ran the full spectrum, and each dish, from salad and fish to chicken and beef, was worth a return visit. Ditto for the desserts. Swoon-worthy, surprising blends of flavors included a hazelnut and coffee cream. The Dark Chocolate Delight is an artful ensemble of hot chocolate lava cake with apricot sorbet, served with additional whipped hot chocolate pudding with brandy and rich dark chocolate garnishes. It all went down smoothly with a Yatir 2007 Merlot-Shiraz-Cabernet. Definitely an experience to be repeated. Kosher. 

Scala, David Citadel Hotel, 7 King David St., Jerusalem. 972-2-621-2030. scala-rest.com.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.” Her new book, “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” debuts in October. She is online at lisaklug.com.

Israeli hotels showcase a summer medley of adventures

Spurred by a record-breaking number of foreign tourists who visited the Holy Land during the first quarter of 2012, Israel’s burgeoning hotel industry is gearing up for a busy summer tourism season by sprucing up their facilities and offering a variety of titillating vacation packages.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the 752,000 foreign visitors who entered the country between January and March 2012, not only eclipsed last year’s figures by 2 percent, the first-quarter figures also represent a 1 percent increase over 2010, which Israel’s Ministry of Tourism declared was Israel’s best year ever for incoming tourism.

Despite the generally optimistic picture, many hotel managers aren’t assuming that North American Jewish tourists will reflexively book a vacation to Israel when there are myriad interesting destinations to choose from. In order to attract both veteran and new foreign tourists to their facilities, some of Israel’s best-known hotels have undergone a series of physical transformations in order to broaden their appeal, while others have focused on offering newfangled experiences to both couples and families with children.

Ilan Brenner, executive assistant manager of marketing and sales at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem, said that the hotel’s staff knows its clients, and in a growing number of cases they have literally grown up with entire families.

“So when a new generation emerges, we already have a good idea about their needs. Both returning and new tourists are always searching for and asking about upgrades, so we are constantly adding incentives, whether it’s a free car, a multimedia game room for youngsters, new spa treatments, trendy gastronomic experiences in the dining room,” he said. 

Rafi Beeri, the Dan Hotel’s vice president of marketing and sales, said renovations at Dan properties have included some innovations. “The King David has undergone a major makeover with a new section of rooms and suites. At the Dan Carmel, which debuted in 1962, we have completed a top-to-bottom renovation [that] includes new executive rooms, which overlook Haifa Bay and the Carmel Mountains. With the Dan Jerusalem, which we acquired in 2010, we realized that renovating this huge hotel would have to be done in phases and feature some unique aspects.”

According to Beeri, the Dan Jerusalem highlights a unique hotel-within-a-hotel concept, where both guests and groups can benefit from more personalized services and amenities.

“It can be compared to an airline’s business-class environment,” he said. “We’ve upgraded a wing of 120 rooms, where guests or groups who wish to stay in this section will enjoy a separate check-in area, separate lounge and dining facilities, as well as a special staff that will cater to them in a more personalized manner.”

The Ramada Jerusalem Hotel has acquired a stellar reputation among families who seek discounted long-term vacation packages (from seven to 21 days) with a variety of summer activities for adults and children, including its “We Love Kids” program, which features daily entertainment for children, including magicians and petting zoos.

“During weekdays, we offer complimentary shuttle bus service to the Old City, which is an attraction for the parents. And, our outdoor American-style barbecues out by the pool area during August always attracts a large audience of both adults and children,” said Yacov Shaari, general manager of the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel. The growing Rimonim chain recently rebranded four of its upscale properties to create the “Royal Collection,” which includes the Royal Dead Sea, Rimonim Eilat, Ruth Rimonim Safed and Rimonim Galei Kinnereth. Each hotel accentuates contrasting experiences for the mind, body and soul.

“During the summer months, the Royal Dead Sea will feature special spa packages that include the hotel’s new Royal Lounge,” said Anat Aharon, Rimonim’s vice president of sales and marketing. “At the Ruth Rimonim in Safed, we invite guests to let their soul breathe amid the mystic beauty of the hotel’s Galilean surroundings. The hotel also features a wine cellar, where you can sample the best Israeli wines and enjoy small talk.”

At the Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel, where North American, British and French tourists converge during the summer months, the “accent” will be on indulging kids and parents alike.

“Last year, we opened a children’s pool. This year, we will complement it with a guarded kids’ playground with games and toys, where families can relax and enjoy the pool while their children are playing,” said Jean-Louis Ripoche, general manager of the Sheraton Tel Aviv. “During the summer, we will be extending breakfast hours in the dining room till noon, so couples and families can enjoy a longer, relaxed morning. After breakfast, we offer adults a free bicycle, so they can pedal around the seaside boardwalk area and beyond.”

It’s important to note that despite a 15 to 20 percent rise in the cost of airline tickets to Israel since last summer, many Israeli hotels have not raised their basic rates. Israeli hoteliers are cognizant of the fact that families are looking to maximize their vacation experience without blowing a hole in their budget.

Here is a guide to some of the hottest summer deals across Israel:

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel
July rates begin at $150 per person in a double room, based on a minimum five-night stay. The hotel’s Web site features several unique summer deals. Guests who book three consecutive nights in a “superior room” are entitled to a free car. Guests who book at least three consecutive nights in “executive rooms” or higher category are also entitled to a vehicle upgrade (such as Mazda 6). In August, the hotel’s popular Kids Club will feature a supervised multimedia game room and Gymboree. The Splash Bar situated poolside highlights an American-style barbecue menu as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for adults and children. The hotel’s Mediterranean-accented Sofia restaurant has received rave reviews for the unique fish and pasta dishes served up by executive chef Moti Buchbut. 
inbalhotel.com.

Ramada Jerusalem Hotel
The hotel’s “We Love Kids” rates start at $198 based on a seven- to 14-night stay, including two adults and one child in a room (including breakfast). Rates are discounted even further based on stays exceeding 14 nights. Amenities include large indoor and outdoor pools, health club and sauna, as well as supervised summer children’s camps and a teen corner during July and August. This hotel highlights OU mehadrin glatt kosher cuisine.
jerusalemramada.com.

Dan Hotels
Rates for July and August for guests who book “Golden 7 Nights” at the King David start at $480 a night per room (per couple) based on a bed and breakfast excursion. The “Golden 7” special also includes pampering amenities such as free round-trip transportation between Ben-Gurion Airport and the hotel. Guests who stay a minimum of three nights are entitled to a free voucher to the Dan Lounge at Ben Gurion Airport on the day of their departure from Israel. At the Dan Jerusalem, guests who book a minimum of three nights in “deluxe rooms” will receive a free upgrade to “executive rooms,” which includes the use of the hotel’s new King David Executive Lounge.
danhotels.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv
Hotel & Towers

The hotel is offering an “early bird package” starting from $370 per person with a minimum booking of five nights, or three nights non-refundable. The charge for a child in the room under the age of 17 is $30 per child. There is no charge for children under 3 years old. There is a limited promotion whereby guests who stay for a minimum of five nights between Aug. 5 and Aug. 25 will receive complimentary tickets to the world famous Cirque du Soleil, which will be playing Tel Aviv during August. Rates start from $400 a night based on double occupancy. The special deal can be booked direct via the hotel’s Web site.
sheratontelaviv.com.

Rimonim Hotels
Various deals are available for guests who book directly via the Web site. Rates vary for midweek and weekend vacations. At the Royal Dead Sea
guests staying in suites and preferred room types will enjoy a separate check-in at the lounge, private breakfast and dinner, as well as snacks and drinks during the day. Galei Kinnereth’s luxurious spa highlights a “domed Jacuzzi” overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Rimonim Eilat’s “Serenity & Action” package includes a choice of two hot attractions for the whole family: IMAX Theater/Underwater Observatory/Ice & Space, when reserving for a minimum of three nights. The hotel’s “Romantic Serenity” deal for couples features pampering amenities such as, breakfast for two in your room, one gift dinner, spa treatment for both, as well as a 45-minute pedicure and manicure.
english.rimonim.com


Rimonim Royal Dead Sea pool

Tel Aviv is Lonely Planet top 10 city

Tel Aviv is among the world’s top 10 cities for 2011 listed by the popular Lonely Planet travel guide website.

Lonely Planet puts Tel Aviv in third place behind Tangier, Morocco, in second and New York in first.

“Tel Aviv is the total flipside of Jerusalem, a modern Sin City on the sea rather than an ancient Holy City on a hill,” Lonely Planet writes of of Tel Aviv. “Hedonism is the one religion that unites its inhabitants. There are more bars than synagogues, God is a DJ and everyone’s body is a temple.

“Yet, scratch underneath the surface and Tel Aviv, or TLV, reveals itself as a truly diverse 21st-century Mediterranean hub. By far the most international city in Israel, Tel Aviv is also home to a large gay community, a kind of San Francisco in the Middle East. Thanks to its university and museums, it is also the greenhouse for Israel’s growing art, film and music scenes.”

The other cities on the list are Wellington, New Zealand; Valencia, Spain; Iquitos, Peru; Ghent, Belgium; Delhi, India; Newcastle, England; and Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Lonely Planet also selected its top 10 countries for 2011, ranking Syria in ninth place.

Jewish Groups Join Quake Relief Efforts

For thousands of young Israelis, the sun-drenched archipelagos of Southeast Asia were the perfect destination to forget the rigors of military service.

But this week, that post-Zionist nirvana became a nightmare. The tsunami that swept India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands on Sunday plunged hundreds of Israeli families into a frenzy of worry over relatives feared lost while touring.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that witness testimony suggested that at nearly 70 of the approximately 500 Israeli tourists still unaccounted for in hard-hit Southeast Asian nations may have been swept out to sea and drowned. At least 33 Israelis are receiving treatment in hospitals in the region, the Foreign Ministry said.

For thousands of families living in or visiting the Indian Ocean region, Sunday’s catastrophe confirmed their worst fears: At least 45,000 people were killed by the devastating earthquake and tsunami, mostly in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.

A Belgian Jewish couple reportedly lost their 11-month-old son in the disaster. According to Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, Matan Nassima’s body was found Tuesday near the Thai resort where his family had been vacationing.

Details were not immediately known, but it also was believed that members of the South African, Australian and New Zealand Jewish communities were missing.

Immediately after the tragedy, Israel and Jewish groups swung into action. Israel’s Foreign Ministry set aside $100,000 in aid for each of the countries hit by the tsunami. Four top doctors from Israel’s Hadassah Hospital were dispatched to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the ministry’s request, Hadassah said. Among them were the hospital’s head of general surgery and trauma, its chief of pediatrics and two anesthesiologists.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka turned down an Israeli offer to send military personnel to help with search-and-rescue efforts but said it would accept a smaller team.

North American Jewish groups also were participating in the relief efforts. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) was expecting to send its first shipment of medicine Tuesday to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. It has been coordinating with 23 partner organizations in the region to assess needs on the ground. The group is hoping to receive donations to cover the cost of emergency supplies.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is working with its office in Bombay and elsewhere to coordinate relief efforts. The organization is hoping to provide food, water, clothing and shelter to countries affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Chabad of Thailand responded to the crisis by dispatching a rabbi to Phuket to aid rescue efforts and turned the three Chabad Houses of Thailand into crisis centers where survivors can call home, get a free meal or receive funds for new clothing and medical help.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a Southeast Asia Relief Fund. To contribute, call (323) 761-8200, or send a check payable to The Jewish Federation at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 and write Southeast Asia Relief Fund on the memo line.

For families of potential victims, the waiting for news was excruciating.

At Erez Katran’s home in Haifa, a 24-hour vigil was set up next to the telephone in hopes that he would call. His family hoped Katran’s silence was due to the fact that he was incommunicado while sailing in the Bay of Bengal. Katran was among the Israelis who remained unaccounted for Tuesday, despite urgent Foreign Ministry efforts to track them down.

In addition to delivering bad news, the Israeli communications industry pitched in with the search efforts. Every major Web site set up a page where pictures of missing tourists could be posted in hope that someone would report their location, and one cellphone company offered its Israeli customers in Southeast Asia 10 minutes of free air time to call home.

JTA staff writer Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

Relief Donations Sought


The following Jewish organizations are seeking funds to assist in the relief effort:

• American Jewish World Service, ” target=”_blank”>www.jdc.org, (212) 687-6200, ext. 889.

• B’nai B’rith, www.bnaibrith.org or by mail to the B’nai B’rith Disaster Relief Fund, 2020 K St., NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

• Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200; www.chabadthailand.com. For U.S. tax deductibility, checks should be made out to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand.)