Day 3: Ayalon Institute, Weizmann Institute

Trip Start May 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 17, 2008

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Monday, May 19, 2008

So much to learn!
We were taking a taxi to the railway station and we must have been at least ten blocks from our hotel, when I look at the meter and see that it is not running. At this point, I remembered the taxi meter tips from my TripAdvisor friends.  I point to Harvey and he asks the driver about that.  He wants an exorbitant flat rate and when we refuse and insist on the meter he starts yelling and telling us it is not a lot of money so we should just pay it.  When we refuse he turns the car around to take us back to the hotel.  We are so concerned that we might miss our train and the driver was so argumentative, that at the next traffic light, we just get out of the taxi.  We quickly flagged another!  This one also wanted a flat rate, but less than the other.   At this point, we are going to miss our train to Rehovot, so we take it.  We have the distinct impression that we would miss our train if we went with the meter, but have plenty of time for a flat rate.  More on this when we tell you about our return trip from Rehovot back to Tel Aviv.

In the train station, as we go through security we are asked to show our passports and are informed that we cannot take any photos within the rail station.   Harvey gets us our tickets and with about five minutes to spare, we quickly make our way to the train platform.   Actually Harvey is moving a lot faster than me.  Eventually he turns around and realizes that I am not next to him.  When I catch up he informs me that he was following an especially attractive young woman in an army uniform.  I have no problem with this.  He can look all he wants... We have never seen so many young men and women dressed in their military fatigues!  All so physically fit!  We ask one of the soldiers about the green and khaki colored uniforms and who wore what.  And then an older woman walks up to Harvey and asks him in Hebrew where the Rehovot train is coming.  He understood enough to point to our platform!  Slowly, Harvey is starting to remember some Hebrew from Hebrew school.  He has fond memories of being told to be quiet and sit down.  Amazingly some other concepts must have been absorbed.

Avi meets us at the Rehovot train station and we drive to the Ayalon Institute, an underground ammunition factory during the British mandate period (it was built and disguised under a kibbutz).    The factory has been converted into a museum and is open with guided tours.   You reserve an English speaking tour in advance.  Our guide is an out-going young man, who imparts the commitment, goals, and life of those who worked on the kibbutz and in the underground factory.   He isn't simply reciting information; he is sincerely trying to use stories and objects in the underground factory to bring these people alive for us.  A small window into the current kibbutz movement opened for us as our guide describes that he was brought up in the Israel youth movement and is now a member of a kibbutz, whose focus is on education.  This is our first clue of how some kibbutz are taking on other activities other than agriculture.  We really enjoyed this visit and are glad that we came.

We get in Avi's car and it might as well have been a space ship.  Our destination is the Weizmann Institute of Science.  At the visitor's center, we see a brief five minute film introducing the Institute.  The main theme is "Back to Basics:  Back to the Future with Basic Research".  In just a short drive, we had gone from learning how Israelis made ammunition from hand to how modern day Israelis are using their minds for high technology basic scientific research, with far ranging functional every day applications.

Prior to our tour, I admit to not knowing anything about Weizmann.  In this next visitor center, we watch a ten minute film that sums up the 78 years of Weizmann's life, as a politician and scientist.  He was the first president of Israel, started the first university in Israel, started the Israel Defense Fund (IDF), and I can't remember all the other organizations he was involved with!  Plus, as a scientist he earned 192 patents!   After the movie, our guide takes us on a tour of Weizmann's home.  Our guide is a young man who gives us a feel for how Weizmann lived, his accomplishments and also a feeling for Weizmann as a person, who was committed to tolerance.   The Weizmann home had many innovations in its time ("eco friendly" would be today's term) and is beautiful architecture.  It was a worthwhile tour, giving us insight into the beginning period of Israel and personalizing it around one individual.  History came alive.  It was interesting that of all the gifts Weizmann received, his most cherished was a 400 year old bible given to him by the city of Vienna.  He also had a 1950 Ford motor car, serial number 18 that was given by Henry Ford II.  This seemed ironic, given Henry Ford I's attitudes.

Our tour now shifts focus to science.  The next step on our tour is the "Solar Tower".  We use our car to get to this area on the beautiful landscaped Institute grounds, which look much like a college campus in the U.S.   We don't have a tour guide with us, but we walk to a spot that has a brief audio description and a plaque for us to read.  This really is fascinating how the scientists are set up to do experiments on solar technology, capturing and storing the solar energy.  Instead of using solar panels they use mirrors to focus the sun's energy to a tower.  The tower has three huge doors that can be opened.  The energy can be focused to an open door where equipment can perform experiments.  The mirrors used to focus the energy are computer controlled so that they can maximize the collection and focus.  We learn that all the sun that hits the earth in 2 hours has enough power to supply the world's power requirements for 1 year!!!!  In the experiment that is underway, they multiply the sun's power 10,000 times through the use of mirrors!

There is a very modern café on the Institute grounds serving dairy.  We have salads and vegetarian sandwiches for lunch, and control ourselves by not choosing any of the scrumptious looking deserts!

Our next stop is the Science Garden where Avi's mother, Bella, has somehow arranged a private guided tour in English.   This area is supposed to be for kids, but I've got to tell you, it is so much fun for adults as well!  The garden has about 80 experiments that are set up like sculptures, and our guide chooses about 15 for us to do together.    I think if I had been taught science with someone like our guide, along with these visual experiential experiments, maybe I would have been more interested in science and less intimidated.  If you are curious and are interested in learning how things work, then I highly recommend this tour...but with a private guide.   If anyone is interested in this, I can find out from Bella how she arranged for the private tour.

For those of you who get glassy eyed when you hear words like math or science please read this paragraph.  It is not magic.  It is not voodoo.  There is great beauty in understanding how things work.  The Science Garden covers important concepts in ways to appeal to the youthful imagination buried deep inside us.  For example they demonstrate conservation of angularity.  That sounds so complex, but it is simply the concept that when a bicycle wheel is spinning in an upright position is resists the tendency to lean over.  I've just been told to limit this to one example, so I hope that those non-techies who read this realize that even though scientific concepts sound complex it is just because you are not familiar with the lingo.  Most science is pretty simple to understand if you break it down into little concepts.

Following this last tour, we make our way back to the Rehovot train station.  This time, we check the board to find the name of the train station prior to our destination, so we will know when to get off the train.  And here, with the help of two young women, we figure out that the morning taxi driver had taken us to a rail station far from our hotel so he could charge a higher fare!  We could have walked to the closest station in less time than we waited for the taxi to arrive at our hotel!  On this return trip, we walk back to the hotel rather than take a cab from the train station.  So, the final lessons for the day are the following:  When taking a train: 1) Know the name of the station you want to leave from so you can specifically ask the taxi to take you there. There are 5 stations for Tel Aviv!  2) Before boarding the train, find out the station before your destination station, so you will be attuned and know when to get off the train!  3) Sit in the grouping of 4 chairs, to open the possibility of talking with someone.  On our return trip, we met an Israeli ballroom dancer who is now into ballet!  So far our experience has been that meeting people and having conversations is very easy here.  Everyone has a story.  Our joke repertoire is expanding.  And we get advice on every subject.

Our day ends back at the Hotel Cinema, where during the evening I focus on writing this journal and getting the photos ready for upload.  But we do not want to forget Josef and Bella, Avi's parents, who helped to make the arrangements for our day at Rehovot, the music tickets for our stay in Israel, as well as on our first Shabbat, inviting us to their home.  With Sunday's intention in mind, "Communicate from the Heart", I call Josef and try to impart, as the guides had done earlier in the day, not just the thanks for what they had done for us, but also a personal appreciation of how much we enjoyed the experiences and noting their thoughtfulness.  All from my heart.
Click here for today's photos!
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private guide matters
I agree that a private guide can make a big difference in a trip, but we wouldn't want to have an entire trip privately guided. We like to find a balance between time with a private guide and time on our own. Private guiding allows for going at your own pace, developing your tour around your interests, the opportunity to ask questions and meet a local person who will share their enthusiasm and knowledge about the place. We believe our private guides made a big difference in these locations: the Science Garden at the Weizmann Institute, Tsfat, Jerusalem, Jordan and the Eilat Mountains, Masada. We like to have guides as special treats, but not to over do them. We enjoy finding our way from place to place, pacing ourselves, meeting people and experiencing the unexpected - which is daily fare when we travel by ourselves.

We found our private guide recommendations on That being said, even with a positive reference, it is important to communicate with the guide before engaging him/her to ensure you are compatible. There are numerous discussion threads about this on in the Israel forum.

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