Two major highways run the length of the country, one goes through the desert in the center and the other snakes alongside the Dead Sea along the border with Jordan. We decided to take the "scenic" route on the way down, even though it took us through Be'er Sheba (the site of some bombings). More than half of Israel is made up of the Negev Desert, and this might be our only trip south, so we wanted to see it. The highway that takes you through the Negev is windy and very scenic. We drove for desert for at least four hours. It was quite a spectacle. Just nothing for miles but deep craters and moonscape-like canyons of desert.
We drove through Mitzpe Ramon, the location of a huge 28 mile-long crater, and Israel's largest national park. The highway descends steeply through its five mile span. It was thrilling and precarious, a great drive!
After five hours, we finally we arrived in Eilat! No wonder most people prefer to fly here!
For New Year's Eve, we decide to take the easy route of going to the dinner that our posh hotel is throwing. The menu looked great, and the stumble back to our rooms would be short. The only problem is that neither Jeff nor myself planned on going anywhere fancy. After deciding that no, my beach cover-up would not work as a dress, I put the one sweater that I brought and lipstick. Jeff wears his sneakers. The dining room is filled with either very elegantly dressed Jewish people on holiday, or tacky tables of Russians.
The night is like the weirdest wedding that I have ever been to, and it went on and on for 6 hours. Playing is a huge band of black Jews from America who sing a range of songs as varied as the crowd. The song list includes Islands in the Stream, Hello Dolly and selections from Depeche Mode.
There are a trio of Norwegians at our table, two of which speak English. We wait for an hour for food and by the time it comes, I have already probably consumed approximately two bottles of Yarden Chardonnay. Please let them bring food soon, I think. Jeff comments on the evening as being, "the strangest cultural juxtaposition as was ever found on the deepest, darkest shelf of Goodwill bric-a-brac." I think he has had some chardonnay too!
The food starts coming out and it is very, very good. I don't mean good, as in, "this is good for a hotel who is serving 500 people," but good as in, "wow, who's the chef?" There are maybe 8 courses served, and in between each, the band plays a few songs and more wine is consumed. A long night. The most memorable of the dishes was a starter that was a sliced torchon of foie gras with a sweet and tangy fig compote. The fish course was also great. It was a fillet of the local specialty called Dennis, wrapped around asparagus spears. We were also served lamb chops and fillet mignon. I was pleasantly surprised the food was as well-prepared as it was. It's very hard to turn to out dinner for that many and have it come out hot let alone tasty.
We love the band. The lead singer looks like one of the Commodores. He says something pithy about the war, and then scats What a Wonderful World. The band is the highlight of the evening, and they all wearing matching suits and dresses. I am momentarily blinded by sequins caught in the lights. Fueled by the bottles of vodka at their tables, the Russians are dancing. Everyone is dancing. Strapless dresses and yarmulkes and fur coats are flying. And I think to myself, after a certain age you really shouldn't wear satin. The band plays a Banana Boat version of Graceland and the lead singer shouts, "feel free, feel cool about yourself." And suddenly, we are imitating the band's moves and dancing with the rest of the crowd. Jeff is in a conga line and I get dragged in too. And the band plays It's Raining Men and I stop and look around at this varied group of people dancing: the Russian trophy wives with fake boobs and plastic faces and dresses, and older Jewish couples with ropes of pearls around their necks, and a trio of Norwegians and two Americans in sneakers. I laugh out loud. We all go out and watch the fireworks and come back in and drink some more champagne. I am falling asleep at the table when they serve dessert and too full to eat it. We head back to our room and I say to Jeff, "that was one of the best birthdays on record."