A virtual visit to Israel with Michal Grundland
An exuberant love for life. This is what immediately pops into mind when you meet Michal Grundland, a resident of Tel Aviv. She is the mother of three (12, 10, 6), a career woman and a marathonist, having over 20 years’ experience in TV Broadcasting and sports production. Michal holds a LLB. and a Master’s Degree in International Sports Law and was the head producer of the food channel in Israel, and a presenter of her own segments. Today She is the VP Business Development & Global partnerships of a sports-tech accelerator and Match operation specialist, working as a freelance with European Football Association and the IFA. During the covid lockdown she found time to open her own line of gluten-free, veggie super food products, under the name Blonde AlpacA.
Michal’s love for Israel is palpable and conversations with her will evoke in you an impatient yearning to visit as soon as it is safe to do so. But what is it that makes Israel so pleasurable? Admittedly, when many people think of this country, thoughts gravitate to its religious significance, and tours to the Holy Land does bring a stream of visitors here every year. Israel’s appeal however, is that and so much more. Mélange visited virtually with Michal and enjoyed a delightful exploration of her homeland.
Michael admits to being a foodie so our journey starts there, with the palate.
Israel’s culinary scene is unique, offering a delicious melting pot of food options, indicative of the many cultures that live here. The refreshingly diverse population, with people from all over the world embracing Israel as their home, has resulted in a food scene representative of places like Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Poland, Denmark, Greece and many other countries. “You can definitely see the multiple cultural influences in the food, and choices are extensive,” Michal said. “You can have Asian food, Mediterranean or fine French cuisine. Whatever’s the mood, there is something for every everyone.”
The culinary landscape is delightfully expansive, but the country’s agricultural produce is definitely worthy of note. Because of the weather here, vegetables grown are of very high quality, therefore every morsel consumed brings pleasure to the palate. “The Israelis products are so good that you can taste and smell the sun in every bite. That is what we’re exporting it to different countries – avocados, oranges, cherry tomatoes. And it’s just evolving all the time” Michal gushed, “especially with Israel being an innovation and technology leader. For instance, growing amazing red peppers in the middle of the desert and dates ‘to die for’ like no place in the world”.
A colourful picture is painted of a lively, diverse food culture. One can easily visualize walking into a restaurant or strolling through city streets and being disconcerted by the many choices that abound – what should you eat? But one thing is certain – visitors must not leave Israel without trying Shakshuka, described by Michal as “one of the most traditional, and definitely my favorite taste of Israel’s” It is a dish made of eggs, tomato sauce, herbs, pepper and onions. “You can have it for breakfast, brunch or dinner,” added Michal, “you can add topping such as feta cheese, Mozzarella, eggplant or without at all. . And you can also customize it by adding cheese – whatever’s your preference, but you’ve got to try Shakshuka.”
Another must-have traditional “Taste of Israel” is the Challah Bread, typically eaten on ceremonial occasions, Jewish holidays and every Shabbat family dinner. A braided loaf made with egg, slightly sweet with a moist texture, this bread is of important significance to every Jewish house. Michal explained: “Shabbat dinner is a special meal being held on Friday evening. Getting together, family, friends with a unique sense of ‘belonging’, it is very integral to the Israeli lifestyle. It can be formal, or informal but almost every home in Israel will have a lovely Shabbat dinner every Friday evening and there will be Challah bread on the table, among so many more dishes.”
The more popular ‘Taste of Israel’ is the Hummus, made with long cocked tender chick peas eaten with Pita bread (Michal suggestion is you also try the ‘red lentil’ version and actually drop the Pita bread as “it is really not god for your diet… too much carbs, mot really worth it”
Michal considers Jerusalem to be one of the most amazing places on earth. “There is a special something that I can’t quite put into words that overcomes me when I get to Jerusalem,” she shared, “a sense of excitement, mixed with awe that grows and grows, everywhere I go – awe of what Jerusalem represents.” She admits that although she is a true believer, she is not religious, yet this amazing feeling persists and is magnified when she goes to the Western Wall.
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. This is where The Western wall, King David’s citadel, Parliament, the Supreme Court of Justice and governing bodies are located, but in her mind, Michal sees Tel Aviv as the “capital” and Jerusalem as the sacred place where she travels very often. Jerusalem is just 50 minutes’ drive away from Tel-Aviv. During Covid, the new train last segment was finalized and it is now even great to get from TLV to Jerusalem by train in 60 minutes.
The culinary scene in Jerusalem is also amazing, with a stellar assortment of restaurants offering cuisines from all over the world. Michal’s favourite places to eat and hang out in the Jerusalem market is Machneyuda, owned by Michal’s friends, Itzik Ruham, Chef Ori Navon & Chef Assaf Granit. Granitisan awarded 1 Micheline star for his restaurant in Paris named Shabour. Michal usually celebrates at her friend’s restaurant on every occasion but also “celebrate without any special reason. When I have guests coming over from abroad, it’s a must for me to take them to Machneyuda. Otherwise, I feel I failed hosting my guests”.
“The best city in the world! No doubt at all. This city never goes to sleep, never. 24 hours you can find what you are looking for, and even if you don’t know what you are actually looking for”. Tel Aviv is an amazing city anyone can enjoy. Families, singles, the youth and seniors will all find it appealing. As Michal describes, “on one street there’s a place where you can hang out with your kids. Next door tons of coffee houses and restaurants and endless variety of bars. The weather is super amazing – humid, yes, but everyone is outside, at the beautiful beaches of Tel-Aviv, sitting at cafes or bars and enjoying the outdoors in various ways, and the city is so alive!” She quickly inserts that this feeling about Tel Aviv is also shared by people who are not local. On her frequent travels abroad, friends in other countries often express enthusiasm about the city “I’m dying to go back there,” they would say and those who have not yet visited are eager for the opportunity to experience it.
The city is indeed alive! The nightlife is electric and if you are an outgoing socialite who loves to party, you can do that here at any time of day or night. But you can also find calm if you seek it. Michal usually starts her day at 5:30 am with a jog in Park Hayarkon, running towards the beach, breathing in the clean air, creating the perfect, quiet start to her day. She’ll head back home, grab a shower, get the kids off to school then head to a coffee shop before staring her day in earnest. There are three favorite coffee shops she visits a few times per week. She usually goes there to grab a coffee on the way to work, for meetings or to just to relax with her husband before heading off on their own separate ways for the day. The ambience at Bucke Café is at the heart of Yehuda-Maccabi it’s in the northern part of Tel Aviv and is an instant reminder of the funky ‘New-York style’ coffee houses. Reviva and Celia is a posher restaurant-coffee house and fancy level baking factory with unique sweets and special pistachio pie “to die for”, and Juno Wine bar although having this heavy name, it is a great coffee house for early morning meetings, brunches and quick take-away picks. “This is my regular daily place, at least 4-5 times a week.” It comes highly recommended whenever you’re in northern Tel Aviv.
If you’re a marathoner, Michal suggests that you visit for the annual Tel Aviv marathon which takes place every last Friday in February and will resume post-pandemic. The Jerusalem marathon follows the 2nd Friday of March “so people can combine between both Marathons,” Michal advised.
“Purim is the best holiday ever!” – it is the “Jewish Halloween” also in March, where people dress in costumes and enjoy three days of nonstop parades, parties, gift-giving and socializing with friends and family. The weather is great that time of year because it is not cold, neither is it too hot, so enjoying that festive time outdoors is pleasant.
One of the biggest pride parades in the world is held here in June, albeit it will resume post-pandemic. This event brings thousands of people together. Music, party, food, drinks – a gargantuan social event whose presence in Israel is indicative of the inclusiveness this country embraces.
If you have just 24 hours to spend in Israel, you can drive from the north where it borders Lebanon, to the south where it borders Egypt, in about six hours. “I do not exaggerate when I say six hours max, and this is if you’re taking the long road,” Michal explained. “If you go east to west, it will be a shorter drive.” A lot is packed into that relatively small country with a terrain that’s as diverse as its people. Snow will be seen in some areas and within six hours you can be standing in the desert. Amazing views, places of quiet where you’ll actually feel alone, then very hectic, modern, futuristic places in cities like Tel Aviv.
According to Michal, a basic vacation in Israel would require at least seven or eight nights. The first two can be spent in Tel Aviv, then head up north to visit sea of Galilee and Ramat Hagolan. You should definitely visit the wineries in the area just make sure you are not driving yourself after that visit. On your way south, visit the Dead Sea as it’s a must on your ‘check list’ being the lowest place on earth!!! then head to the southern city of Eilat, the Israeli version of Vegas on the beaches of the beautiful Red Sea which sits on the border with Jordan and Egypt. Stay for two nights then head back to Tel Aviv on your last night and don’t forget to party again! Also, don’t miss an opportunity to have a great run on the shoreline of TLV.
Even if you don’t have much of a vacation plan, Michal says you can ask for advice when you get here – even random people on the street will provide guidance. Israelis are warm, friendly people who will immediately make you feel like they’ve known you all their lives.
“Israel is noisy,” Michal said jokingly, “and it is because the voices of children all around you are relentless.” It is a very child-friendly country and travelling here with kids is an easy process. Municipalities have free activities for them in the parks and on the beaches. There are a lot of great attractions to keep them occupied whether you’re in the cities or suburbs and accommodations are welcoming. Families are encouraged to consider Israel as a vacation destination.
The weather in Israel is generally warm but during October to March it will be cooler, even really cold in some places like Jerusalem and up north, but the cold spells does not linger.
Although Michal has an active social life that warrants an extensive wardrobe, she confesses that shopping does not interest her. “I don’t have a lot of time to shop, because I already have a limited ‘twenty-six’ hours in my day and can’t waste it on shopping but, when I do out of necessity, I am a smart shopper – I am a minimalist.” She does mention that you’ll find known international brands to fit every budget, including Zara, H & M, Nike, Footlocker and others.
Israel is tourist-friendly and signs are usually found in Hebrew and English.