Out There: How to relax

The food is great at these breakfasts, but it is by no means a stress-free experience.

How to relax (photo credit: Courtesy)
How to relax
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Waze, the disc-on-key, cherry tomatoes, drip irrigation – those are the types of Israeli innovations regularly hailed by the government as examples of how Israel is enriching humanity. But ask tourists here staying at one of the country’s nice hotels, and they may give you a radically different answer: the Israeli breakfast.
You know the breakfast: it’s the one you want to get invited to when a relative comes to town. It’s the buffet breakfasts with four varieties of fish, eight different salads, shakshuka, scalloped potatoes, blintzes, burekas and about 20 different varieties of cream cheese (who knew there could be so many different ways to whip cheese?).
The wife and I have a weakness for those breakfasts. So much so, that over the summer we decided to stay in Israel for a short vacation, rather than traveling on one of those cheap flights abroad to Romania, Italy or Slovakia.
Because of the breakfasts.
Well, not only because of the breakfasts, but that had a lot to do with it.
Every summer, the wife and I are keen on going somewhere relatively cool for a few days. For instance, last summer we went to the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus, thinking that because the Troodos were mountains, it would be cool.
We were wrong. The Troodos were lovely, but not cool. In fact, it was hot – Israel hot.
This year, we considered going to the Dolomites, or the Carpathians. But then we were worried it would be hot there, too,
that we’d arrive during a heat wave and be stuck in one of those European hotels with malfunctioning air conditioners.
So we opted, instead, for Safed. That’s right, Safed; up north, near the mountains – Mount Canaan and Mount Meron. We hadn’t been there for years, and it had to be cooler there than where we live on the cusp of the Judean Desert. And, at the very least, we could eat.
EATING, AT our age, is a big selling point for a vacation. Well, not exactly the eating itself – neither of us are such big eaters – but not having to worry about eating.
As kosher travelers, we’re just tired of all those years of having to schlep an extra suitcase filled with cup-of-soups, salami, tuna, rice and a portable burner, and then feeling like drug smugglers as we passed through European airports without declaring our meat products. Likewise, we’d feel like a criminal as we fried eggs on our portable burner in a hotel room – praying the smell would not waft down the hall, or that the burner would not set off the room’s smoke detector. So this year we decided to stay put, and just book a nice hotel in the north with breakfast and dinner. And if it was unbearably hot in Safed in August, we’d stay in our air-conditioned room, nibbling on the pastries and dried fruit we’d sneak out of the cafeteria at breakfast.
We might not see any quaint European villages, but – as my dad would say – “If you’ve seen one quaint European village, you’ve seen them all.” And we’d seen our share in the past of quaint European villages.
THE THING about making decisions is that once you make them, you then talk yourself into their wisdom.
“You’re going to Safed, rather than abroad,” my daughter said, dumbfounded at her parents’ lack of wanderlust. “Are you crazy?”
Not crazy, I explained, just wise enough to realize that relaxation and contentment can be found in your own backyard, without flying across the ocean with a suitcase full of food.
“This is the right thing for us,” I explained. “We can just eat breakfast and relax.”
Well, I got the eating the breakfasts right, but the relaxed part was more or a challenge.
The food is great at these breakfasts, but it is by no means a stress-free experience.
First, you have to strategize when to go eat. You want to beat the crowds – especially in the summer when the hotels are full of families with kids – but you don’t want to get there too early, because what good is a vacation if you have to get up at 6:30 for pancakes?
On the other hand, you don’t want to get there too late and risk getting the “backwash.” Who wants to go to breakfast only to find that one of those 20 varieties of cream cheese is gone? And what if they run out of herring?
Then there’s the question of where to sit. Israeli hotel breakfasts are great, but frequently they are crowded and the tables are jammed too close together. You can eat all you want, but often end up doing that pretty much on top of another family also eating all that they want – and loudly taking their time doing it.
But the most stressful element is the omelette line. I hate the omelette line.
Dozens of people on vacation have paid good money for an all-you-can-eat breakfast, and as a result are feeling a sense of entitlement. The last thing they want to do is stand in line and have to wait for their personalized omelette.
There are tons of food, but suddenly everyone has this urge at the same time for an egg with mushrooms. So you wait in line – shuffling your feet, and momentarily detesting the guy in front of you with an order not only for himself, but his whole family. You might as well be in the post office.
Generally there is only one omelette maker, with one stove top. You can complain, but how is that going to help? An egg can only cook so fast.
It dawned on me, standing impatiently in that line in a Safed hotel, that I left something critical out of those words of wisdom I imparted to my daughter regarding finding relaxation and contentment in your own backyard.
It’s all true, but there’s a caveat: make sure your spouse gets you the omelette.