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STRANGERS IN A FAMILIAR LAND
By Martin B. Deutsch
April 10, 2014 -- During the height of the so-called Great Recession, I produced a column about a couple whose travel mania was in no way deterred or even modified by the severe economic downturn. Calling him "my peripatetic urologist," I wrote about Dr. Michael Brodherson, an in-demand New York surgeon, whose passion for his work is rivaled only by his relatively newfound love of travel.

Based on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and affiliated with prestigious Lenox Hill Hospital, Brodherson always travels with his wife, Merry, and usually with another couple, a retired Federal judge and his wife. And just recently, despite the inflammatory situation in the Middle East, the foursome made their way for 18 days through Israel, where he and his party were "totally relaxed and without any kind of tension."

Relaxed they may have been, but, as I listened to Brodherson recap some of his experiences, I realized that he and his fellow travelers were strangers in a familiar land. Things that business travelers take for granted--airline policies and amenities, for example--are strange to them. And terrain well-known to frequent flyers--Israel--is new ground for upscale, but less experienced, travelers.

Although he's used tour operators and travel agents in the past, this time Brodherson arranged everything--flights, hotels, guides and sightseeing--with input from his traveling companions. Departing from New York's Kennedy Airport on Delta Air Lines for Tel Aviv, Brodherson was not exactly thrilled with their business-class experience.

He found Delta's JFK lounges crowded and noisy and he was unfamiliar with the new layout in BusinessElite on Delta's Boeing 747-400s. He felt the seat arrangement hindered conversing and dining with his wife. And he was unaware that Delta's business-class bed has the reputation of being too short and too narrow.

He thought the seats "very cleverly engineered" and easy on the back, but the 6'2" doctor found the beds "claustrophobic and confining as one's legs slip further into this coffin-shaped box."

The in-flight service was also something he found wanting. "Although we were sitting near the front, the most-wanted of the dinner entrees offered, the chicken salad, was unavailable."

After the less-than-memorable nonstop of 10+ hours, Brodherson and company were met by representatives of Israel Welcome, a VIP operation that he had researched and booked prior to leaving home. For about $50 to $75 a person, the package includes meet-and-greet service upon arrival, expedited escort through customs and immigration formalities and chauffeur service to your hotel.

"It is very reliable, it was easy to book online and pay with credit card and you get an E-mail confirmation," Brodherson said of the little-known service. And it certainly eases navigation at one of the world's most regimented airports.

But if you're a stranger in a familiar land, things won't always go smoothly even when you are being fussed over by a VIP service.

"The driver dropped us off at the hotel and left our luggage in the lounge of what looked like a nice, clean and modest" property called The Rothschild, Brodherson remembered. "A lovely woman greeted us and offered us cappuccino, espresso and very good coffee. We spent an hour in the lounge and when asked our names, we were told we didn't have reservations.

"It turns out we were booked at the other Rothschild hotel," one of two on Tel Aviv's renowned Rothschild Boulevard, Brodherson explained, "So we took a taxi to The Rothschild 71."

Frequent travelers to Tel Aviv know The Rothschild 71 well because it is one of Israel's best hotels for business and ranks No. 5 on TripAdvisor.com. Not that Brodherson and his party would have gone wrong at the Rothschild where the chauffeur left them. That's the top-ranked hotel in town, according to TripAdvisor.

The Rothschild 71 is an upmarket European-style boutique hotel, of course, and is located in a beautifully renovated Bauhaus building. The rooms are spacious and, unlike other Israeli hotels, it offers a sit-down breakfast with four or five excellent choices rather than the traditional grand buffet.

The Brodherson party spent a good deal of time in Neve Tzedek, considered the oldest Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv. After a few grim decades, Neve Tzedek is on the rise again and the party of four could not help but notice. "It has a SoHo or Tribeca feel to it," he said. "Lovely restaurants with reasonable prices. And it has shops open on the Sabbath."

They also spent time in Jaffa, Tel Aviv's beachfront community. "It was nice to walk along the promenade and there are numerous Arab restaurants in the area," Brodherson remembered.

What struck Brodherson and the other Tel Aviv first-timers? For one thing, Beit Hatfutsot, the museum of the Jewish people. "It is exceptional. They have, which I do not think is appreciated enough, an excellent fine arts section with a terrific collection of Impressionist art."

Another must-visit, Brodherson concluded, was The Palmach Museum. "It's interactive, very vibrant, lively. It tells the story of the original framers of the state of Israel."

After they had their fill of Tel Aviv, how did the Brodherson party spend the remainder of their 18 days? That's a tale for another column.

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ABOUT MARTIN B. DEUTSCH Martin B. Deutsch created Frequent Flyer magazine in 1980 and was editor-in-chief and publisher for 15 years. He also wrote a column called "Up Front" for Frequent Flyer during those years. In a 50-year career, he created, published and edited dozens of other travel publications. Deutsch is based in New York.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Martin B. Deutsch in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Mr. Deutsch. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of Mr. Deutsch.

This column is Copyright 2014 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.