Saturday, March 04, 2006

Israel: Mini Israel, Latrun

It was a nice enough Saturday in March when I organized an outing to Mini Israel (See it all small!) in Latrun with my good friends Andy and Yoav.

As we started the trip, we weren't five minutes down the road before Yoav started complaining about the music I was playing. Not interested in the whining, I let him select a different CD from my collection.

He chose Yo-Yo Ma.

Unfortunately, we were flying down the highway with the windows down, and the subtlety of the classical music was overwhelmed by the roaring wind. In order to compensate for this, we had to crank the music to a completely inappropriate level, which we did. Thankfully, though, the complaining ceased.

Latrun is about halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and we arrived in about half an hour.

Mini Israel is a tourist attraction (trap) that features over 350 models of the top sites in Israel. Nearly all are rendered at a scale of 1:25.

While the models were scaled down, the entrance fee certainly wasn't, and we all experienced sticker shock at the ticket window. An adult ticket cost 65 shekels, which was about 15 bucks a person.

After a moment of serious deliberation, we decided to tour the place in spite of the price.

The park was divided into six parts that were loosely laid-out in a Star of David pattern. The six zones included three cities (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa) and three regions (the North, the South, and the Center).

We started by touring Haifa and then moved on to the North.

At about this point, Yoav casually asked if anyone was up for grabbing coffee at the little café that was near the park entrance. Andy wasn't interested, and neither was I, so we continued looking around.

Yoav's query was more of a cry for help than a question, however, and when Andy and I passed on the coffee break, Yoav basically stopped functioning. He was debilitated by his lack of joe. It was 2:30 in the afternoon.

Before things got too theatrical, though, we trouped over to the snack bar, and Andy and I watched Yoav drink a coffee.

When he was sufficiently revived, we finished touring.

Mini Israel, while expensive, was actually pretty nice. The detail work on most of the models was impressive, and some were even interactive. For example, at the Western Wall, you could make the crowd pray by pushing a button.

On our way out of the park, we noticed a coming attraction that, when completed, would make Mini Israel loads better. They were installing a go-kart track.

It was after 4:00 when we hit the road back to Tel Aviv, so I tossed out the idea of stopping for an early dinner. Andy and Yoav were agreeable, so we set about deciding on a restaurant.

Yoav was from Bat Yam, which we would pass on our way to Tel Aviv. I suggested that we stop there for a bite, and Andy seconded.

We were both completely serious, but Yoav was convinced that we were making a joke. Bat Yam is a suburb of Tel Aviv, and it has a big inferiority complex. It is one of those places that people with Tel Aviv addresses like to mock, kind of like people in the U.S. used to (still do?) laugh about living in Jersey. I had been to Bat Yam several times prior to our trip, though, and it seemed like a perfectly fine place. Besides all the usual shops and apartments, there was an attractive boardwalk by the sea, and its reputation as the “armpit of Israel” didn't seem to fit.

The more we pushed the issue, the more adamant Yoav became that we shouldn't go to Bat Yam. By the time he wrapped his brain around the fact that we really did want to dine there, we were already back in the heart of Tel Aviv. I turned the car around and drove back.

Even as we parked the car outside the restaurant, Yoav continued resisting. “There - now you've seen Bat Yam,” he announced before we went inside. “We can go now.”

Of course we didn't.

We went to a branch of the chain steakhouse, El Gaucho, and it wasn't nearly as horrible and backward and uncivilized as Yoav would have us believe. We could have been in Tel Aviv as far as I was concerned.

Yoav never could relax, though, and so I stopped short of suggesting a second Bat Yam stop for after-dinner ice cream, lest the strain prove too much for him to bear.

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