Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Israel Part 2: Coastal Playground

Much to my pleasure and surprise, Israel is a coastal playground. Here are just a few activities that I either did our saw happening during the week I was there.

Surfing - On the first day of my arrival, I arrived at the Daniel hotel (on the beach) and upon opening the curtains in my room was greeted with 2-4 foot waves peeling in consistently. I immediately dropped my bags and went down to the beach. Again to my surprise I found a surf shop with some great, friendly guys, who spoke English, rented me a board and wetsuit (not that you need one because the water is in the high sixties) and a rash guard. It cost me about $150 to have the board at my disposal. I did get some funny looks at the hotel from visitors, but the Israelis knew exactly what I was doing at 6AM. In addition to board surfing, kite surfing is also popular as is diving and free diving. You can book these activities all within a 5 minute walk from the Daniel Hotel at the diving and surfing club.

Sea Kayaking - Our CTO, Ori who is a paddler, took me for a great tour of his home waters in Northern Israel. I was amazed at the clarity of the water. We paddled past ruins that are 4000 years old, navigated sea caves in bouncy seas, explored a ship wreck and capped it off with a wonderful breakfast with his parents in the kibbutz where Ori grew up. Additionally, every morning from my hotel window, a kayak club would launch for their morning paddle. The Med is ideal here again as the gentle wind waves make for a sea kayakers paradise. Surf the waves on the inside or glide just past the sand bars for great fun and a solid workout. You can find some great kayak posts and videos on Steve's blog. You can get a sense of how the surf is in the Med and how much fun it can be on a kayak.

Fishing - I did see a lot of guys surf casting with conventional gear as well as some of the longest guideless poles I have ever seen. Unfortunately I didn't see much action. I did see a needlefish stuck in a net while kayaking with Ori, but that's about it. It appears that the Med is in dire need of cross border conservation that looks at the Med as a complete ecosystem. Letting the Nile deliver its intended nourishment would be a great start followed by bipartisan adherence to rebuilding the baitfish and pelagic fish stocks.

Yachting - In the marina down the street there was everything from small runabouts to sailing yachts for charter to 120' yachts. This is a huge marina, not some enclave with some floating docks. Boating is serious in Israel and again the Med is ideal here for all types of boaters.

Even though this was a business trip, and we got a lot done - meaning I spent mostly all of my time working, being so close to the coast was a real treat. The water is warm, the people are friendly and helpful to first time visitors and if you can squeeze a few hours in, there are a variety of fun marine activties to please anyone.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Israel Trip Part 1: "Israeli Peeps"

Recently I had the good fortune to make a business trip to Israel. Weeks before my departure most every American I know said “be careful & stay safe.” So naturally this has an effect. But as you will see from a series of blog posts I'll publish, that Israel is actually quite safe, and in fact some places I felt safer there than the USA. As an example, how often does every car's trunk get checked before entering into a crowded underground parking garage here in the USA? Almost never.

But let’s start with the people. From the moment I landed and was greeted by Eran my trusted driver, I had a great time interacting with Israelis in every capacity from the hotel staff, shop owners, co-workers and many others. Israelis remind me most of Italians. That’s not a far stretch for me as I am Italian and have spent considerable time in Italy. Like Italians, Israelis are direct, loud, argumentative, competitive, caring, very hospitable and intelligent. Some Americans don’t understand that disagreeing is like a sport in some countries. In Israel, it’s definitely a sport. This is how people like Israelis stay sharp because they are constantly trying to not get caught on the “short end of the stick.”

(TRAVEL TIP) - Do not drive in the right hand lane or you will be mistaken for a “friar” - and in Israel this is not admirable.

Pretty much everyone speaks English and is eager to communicate with foreigners. Those that have traveled before know that when the endemic people don’t care to speak English, the experience can be very different. As an example of Israel's strong connection to English, every road sign is written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

I also noticed a high level of sophistication in both men and women regarding fashion, design and decor. Drive through Tel-Aviv at 11PM and this is most obvious as the night clubs spill their denizens into the streets. One can see a mix of European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures coming together to form a handsome populace.

On the business side I met some great people, both inside our company and its affiliates. As many bloggers have already said, Israel is a hotbed for technology and it’s easy to see why. Israelis are tenacious, smart and have a healthy outlook on reward, risk and failure. This environment breeds creativity and the capital to underwrite the entrepreneurs who take the lead. I was especially impressed by the engineers on our team and their commitment to service and the customer. But hey - don’t take my word for it, do some research and see where Google, Microsoft, Intel, HP and others have created entire campuses.

Aside from all this, it's the mandatory military training in Israel that really binds the country. The time Israelis spend in the military results in the formation of a very strong and unique social network. All those “social media” mavens should look at this social model to see what real connection is made of. I felt this connection during many aspects of my trip, even down to quick glances I caught being exchanged between checkpoint guards and the people I was with. Seeing a twenty-something year old with a submachine gun in his grip may be unsettling for the first time Westerner in Israel, but after some time there one can see and feel the sense of strong camaraderie that binds the Israeli people together whether you are 20 or 95 years old.

Essentially the people of Israel are great to interact with. I recommend a trip there highly, especially if you want to understand the underpinnings of what is happening in that part of the world. If you go no need to worry about safety, instead be ready for lots of smart Israelis to welcome you with a smile, a sense of purpose and community and above all - a strong and positive spirit.