We realized upon our arrival that our pre-formed ideas about Israel were based primarily on the little we knew about Jerusalem: old and religious. Eilat was a culture shock; the mix of European scantily clad bikini bods, Chasidim in wool frock coats and black hats, Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, and young Arabic families strolling together at the beach in a, “Disco/Atlantic City Boardwalk/Riviera” themed world was… bizarre and wonderful. Perhaps cosmopolitan, high tech and religious Israel needs one super relaxed, tolerant secular city (like China has always needed Hong Kong) as an outlier? Our first Shabat in Israel was so sweet and quiet among the waving date palms in our lovely airbnb host’s garden.
The beach/hotel area is hemmed in by the Red Sea to the South, the Negev Desert to the North, the Kingdom of Jordan to the East, and Egypt to the West. It is a unique juxtaposition of culture.
Then put the airport, with roaring jets taking off next to the charming cafes, right in the City Center, add a lot of uzi-toting Israeli Defense personnel, then add a huge dose of relaxed, resort feeling, and lots of ice cream and shopping….you get the drift…a strange and unique kind of Israeli Disneyland.
Thanks to our super hospitable airbnb.com hosts Yosef and Leah, we relaxed at a quieter beach, Dolphin Reef, that has scuba diving with dolphins, or just beaching it with a cafe and pastry. We were glad to see disabled adults getting animal therapy being with the dolphins, one morning at Dolphin Reef.
We took a scuba refresher course at home, to ensure we would safely dive the world famous coral reefs of the Red Sea. No need to worry ourselves, our Russian Dive Masters were very professional and the equipment was in good condition. With beautiful coral reef available as a shore dive, we literally ran into other divers on the reef, especially near a popular sunken wreck. The hordes that feed fish on the reef have conditioned one particularly enthusiastic 14 inch Clown fish (Nemo’s big bruiser, dark blue cousin) to rub up against us throughout the dive cadging for food. It was a bit unnerving at first as he had huge overbite fangs protruding from his mouth.
The food in Eilat was healthy and affordable, but mediocre in the cafes. More expensive restaurants such as Eddie’s Steak House, and Fish Only, are available when you need a higher end meal, in the hotel district.
Surprisingly, in our quiet airbnb.com neighborhood up the hill with a charming garden, we found the best fresh pastries, and great sandwich shop. Sally had to wait 30 minutes for three deep, triple parked taxis to clear out of the Nevi’ot intersection to take a picture. Note for future travel: for fast food, go where the local taxi drivers stop for a quick meal!