Saturday, December 20, 2014

Star Alliance Gold!!!!

Oh man. Just had to write this down. Never achieved airline status before (and crazily, never tried to...). But just achieved Star Alliance Gold for 2015. I forsee a lot more awesome travel (and future free flights!) in my future... good times! :)

Bike research continues: Specialized Sirrus line

Today I went to a shop in London, Ontario to ask some details about Specialized bikes and got some really useful info. I think I'm now convinced, after a lot of research, bike demos and discussions, that I ought to pick a class-up of city/fitness bikes, rather than just going for the "best bang for the buck" model.

Recently in SF I tried the Trek FX 3 bike, and was told it was "the best value for money" given the price and features. While I still think that's true, it's probably not actually the bike for me. Looking upwards at the Trek FX 5, I'm actually still not that impressed with the whole package -- I do love Trek and will very likely still get one of their Trail Mountain Bikes when I upgrade, but for the city/commuter/fitness/hybrid range, I am leaning towards Specialized. For instance, the Trek FX 5 retails at MSRP of $1200, same as this Specialized Sirrus Comp Disc... but this one comes with a pretty solid disc brake option. Some have said that's not necessary on a light bike, but in damp weather I think it's gonna be a better choice, given the option.

What's funny is that I've all-but-decided I'm going with Specialized before even riding one. Just seeing their general quality and combination of features, I'm very impressed. Turns out my Dad also researched his newly-purchased hybrid bike for the past year (see where I get it from), and he also came to the same conclusion -- Specialized is likely the best choice.

After looking at some at the store today and then going through a bunch of the features, I think I've got it drilled down to one of these three bikes. At least, these are the ones I will take on a test ride as soon as possible, and if I like one best I will probably go for it. This is the Specialized Sirrus line, and it's really awesome. It's a little more "road-y" than other hybrid bikes, with thinner (28 or 30) tires and other road-bike components. But, it's still very much a city-friendly hybrid. I do really quite like the balance that they have struck with this specific line... it's a truly beautiful design and wonderfully functional for the purposes I'd be buying it for.

Check this out.

Sirrus Comp Disc 2015 model (

Sirrus Elite Disc 2015 model (

Sirrus Elite Disc 2014 model (

Sirrus Comp Disc 2014 model -- not going to get this one, but it's here for comparison (

So those bikes sure are epic.

I took a look at the Elite 2015 and the Comp non-disc 2014 model today in the store and they were both in a total different class than the bikes I've seen previously. The combination of features and style is really hard to beat, I think. I didn't try riding them today, so that will be the real test of these for me personally, of course, but in terms of theoretical awesomeness, one of these may be my final choice for my new bike.

The verbage on the Specialized site about these types of bikes ("Multi Use", "Up to the task, ready for adventure") encourages me that I'm on the right track with these bikes. "Whether you need a bike for around the campsite or around town, we've got the solution for you. From recreation and urban exploration to rolling on dirt, our multi-use bikes deliver on their name."  

The Sirrus is classed as both a "Fitness" bike ("Getting fit is no longer confined to just the gym. The Specialized Fitness line will give you everything you need to explore the open road and your own ambition. Whether it's on the road or on the bike trail, all you'll need to focus on is setting a new goal to crush.") and a "Commute" bike ("Who says commuting to work has to be a drag? With bikes that are just as nimble as they are stable you'll be passing the morning grid-lock with a smile on your face. Plus, free donuts never taste as good after a ride into the office!") These both seem like the exact description of why I am looking to get a new bike for riding into work.

These are listed in order of my interest, how you see them above, Sirrus Comp Disc 2015, then Sirrus Elite Disc 2015, then Sirrus Elite Disc 2014, then Sirrus Comp Disc 2014. But first, a video explaining the bike features.

Usually you don't expect a bazillion things to change in a bike release year-to-year, necessarily... but WOW Specialized really upgraded the heck out of both the Elite and the Comp for the 2015 model. First off, BOTH the Comp and Elite in 2015 have a Carbon fork, which is nuts, since the MSRP is the same for both the Comp and Elite in 2014 and 2015, but it's gone from an Aluminum to a Carbon fork. Incredible. That's pretty epic.

The other piece about 2015 that's different is both the bikes are now using the slightly-fatter 700c x 30 tire, over the 2014 choice (700c x 28). This is pretty close so may be neither here nor there, but the tires are quite slick so a 30 is probably a little better for city commuting (eg. damp San Francisco-y foggy weather) than the 28.

One thing the 2015 Comp has over the others is it is a 2x10-speed, while the other 3 choices are 2x9-speed. The 2015 Comp has a range of 12-30 on the cassette, with the 30 being important for those big San Francisco hills. Strangely, both the 2015 Elite and 2014 Elite also have 30 as the max size on the cassette... but the 2014 Comp has a max size of 25! Whoops! Would much rather go bigger on that size in SF, so that's why 2014 Comp actually moved to the bottom of my wish list.

Another thing I preferred on the 2015 models is it seems Specialized consolidated their shifter and derailleur choices -- in general the Elite 2015 picks Shimano Sora components across the board, and the Comp 2015 picks Shimano Tiagra across the board. On the 2014 Comp there is quite a mix-and-match of component types, including the sortof "unbranded" Shimano shifter. No idea if that's good or bad, but it just feel like they are coming into their own and "perfecting" what was an already-pretty-good bike now that they have had some time to think about it in more detail and have designed the 2015 range. Not sure about the truth of that, but that's my impression, and I'll ask the bike store guys in SF about that.

The disc brakes have been changed from the Tecktro Drako to the Tecktro Gemini on both models between 2014 and 2015, not sure if that's a version-up or just the next step from the disc brake manufacturer, but in any case I gave those 2015 ones a look today and they were pretty impressive.

In summary, the Specialized Sirrus Comp Disc 2015 model is my favourite choice from the features -- I like the idea of the 2x10 gears, I like the slightly wider tires given how slick they are, I like the carbon fork (for no extra MSRP?!?! WOW), and the "horn" grips are kinda nice too for climbing hills. Overall, this bike is a real winner, and I think it's gonna ride like a champ. The sad story is that if I like the Elite better for some reason, the 2015 picture here is an awful drab colour. I feel like I saw a picture of it in bright red which would be much better :) But that crazy Orange of the 2014 Elite might be an option. Interesting, the Elite actually changed much less than the Comp did between 2014 and 2015 -- it is a much more similar bike this year -- the most notable change being the carbon fork. But the Comp changed a lot -- and I think for the (way) better, making the 2014 a less attractive option, having a consolidation of the components, a bigger cassette, and the other items in common with the 2014 to 2015 change (carbon fork, wider tires).

One thing I also need to ask about is the frame design change. I am not sure if the "bend" at the back of the top bar is going to move your riding position closer or away from the front of the bike. If it's closer, which presumably it should be, then that will help since I often have to stretch to reach the handlebars and a slightly closer seating position would be much more comfortable.

For now this is all theoretical until I can actually get to the shop and try one out. But, I'm convinced of the kind of bike I want now after chatting today and seeing the options. I am also finally sold on disc brakes -- this bike seems of sufficient quality to purchase disc brakes. I wouldn't want to get them on a cheaper bike, but on this one, I think it's the perfect fit.

Can't wait to try it out and then start riding this bad boy like crazy.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Bike Tests: Trek FX 7.3 vs. Cannondale Quick 4

I am getting closer to deciding which hybrid/city bike to buy and I made some good progress this weekend. I tried 2 bikes, which I thought would ride very similarly but were overall quite different from each other.

The first one I tried was the Trek FX 7.3.

This one has an MSRP of $649 but I found it here in SF for only $599. This is a pretty stellar price for the quality of this bike -- 27 speed (3x9), nice slick 700c x 32 tires, a nice light-enough frame, and of course, it comes in fluorescent green which is a requirement for me (at least, the fluorescent part).

It rode pretty well on the streets of Cole Valley, lots of potholes and random sidewalk jumping etc. The grips on the handlebars were nice and had a nice squishy feel to them. The bike had good pickup (though, at first glance, not as fast as the Cyclocross I tried a couple weeks ago, as expected). The pedals were nice and the shifters were in the "good-enough" category. I didn't love the brakes (not super responsive) but the sales guy (who was very good) said they could be tightened up a bit. Overall, pretty excellent, and this might be the winner for me. You can upgrade to a Trek FX 7.4 or a Trek FX 7.5 which comes with a carbon fork for a nominal extra fee. This seems like a potentially good idea as it dampens the bumps in the road without adding extra weight of a front suspension. That said, Trek reaaallly sucked it up with the crappy colour schemes in the 2015 models.

Dude. Seriously. They need to hire some more wild artists up there -- beautiful bikes, but man they need some more pizazz! This Trek FX 7.3 thankfully not only comes in drab something, but also comes in this epic green beaut. But the 7.4 and 7.5 both only come in plain and simple, black, white, grey. It's really plain, and suuuuper boring. Not a fan. Honestly, I may by the lower model just because the upper models look so boring. Not a great reason, but what are you gonna do when your colour choices are Grey or White?!?! Bah. C'mon guys.

Something that does rock a lot is Trek's 2014 model of the FX 7.5. This is super awesome, really funky, and I love it. I am trying to find this one in my frame size (17.5") currently... it sure is epic. :)

Now THAT is how you paint a bike! The extra blue on the pedals? Nice touch.

So I did really like the Trek FX 7.3, and I'm kindof a Trek man these days given all my Trail bike testing. I may go with one of these, and I really do like how this year they are putting the cables inside of the frame -- that's nice when you're constantly stuffing a bike in a trunk. Nice to have those tucked away. Overall, a great and comfortable ride, but a little bumpy. I need to try the carbon fork and see if that makes a difference. The tires were 700c x 32, so a little wider than I was planning maybe but they are slicks, so that's good.

Today, I went to go try to Cannondale Quick 4, as well. This does have a Carbon fork, and is somewhat equivalent to the 7.4 or 7.5. This was a fun ride as well, but I didn't like it for a couple of reasons as compared with the Trek.

Cannondale definitely hired someone to pick out colours other than black and white, so they beat Trek on that front (at least for 2015). But otherwise, Trek is the winner.

The Quick 4 is one of the highest of the Quick range of bikes, comes with 700c x 32 tires as well. Having not just been on the Trek this weekend I would have probably enjoyed the Quick more, but I felt it was missing a few things. I didn't like the (presumably, nylon) pedals only -- I thought that Trek's metal caging was a nice touch. This bike also comes with 3x8 gears instead of 3x9, with those extras being pretty useful on the San Francisco hills. The brakes were more responsive than the Trek 7.3, and it did actually feel a little less bumpy on the roads (may be due to the carbon fork). The pickup was pretty good, but the tires were a bit knobbly compared to the Trek. I feel like the shifting was similar. The "feel" of the Trek was better since I am so comfortable with Trek.

In general, this was a nice bike, but some components of it felt "cheap" and not as buttoned-up as Trek. The cables inside the frame was a nice touch on Trek as well as the metal pedal cages. I also prefer the slick tires, since I'm getting this thing to do a faster commute on. The seat on the Trek was better, just generally it felt like a better "final product" than the Cannondale, though this Quick sure does market itself well -- all the parts of it, the tires, the seat, the pedals... everything says "Quick" on it.

I think my next step is to try out a Trek FX 7.4 and 7.5 and see if I like those. I think the Carbon fork may offer some nice shock absorption and I suspect those will be a bit lighter too. The only concern I may have at that point, stupidly, is the lack of colour choices. If I can score a 2014 Trek FX 7.5 in that crazy blue, I might be all set.

Oh yes, and by the way, these are the first flat-bar hybrids I've tested. They are great, much more comfortable and city-friendly than the other bikes I've tried. I think my arms are actually just not long enough to ride a bike with my hands over the bike "hoods" on a road/cyclocross bike. I didn't find either of those as comfortable as I suspected it should be, and I think I'm pretty sure I'm gonna end up getting a flat bar. I could always add new handlebars later if I really need to... but this seems like it's going to work better for my needs.

Judging for upcoming SF Web Series Festival 2015

Hi friends,

Exciting announcement time: I'm going to be judging for the inaugural SF Web Series Festival in San Francisco next June, 2015!

Here are some details about the festival. And for more information, check out the website at: Film submissions are being accepted now!


SF Web Fest seeks to connect premium content, platforms, and reach in this growing digital space of entertainment.


SF Web Fest vision is to create the key link between original content, digital platforms, and marketing reach by leveraging our critical seat in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. We discover and showcase emerging talent and develop relationships between creators, capital and audiences.


A forward-thinking hub where independent web series and show runners can network with fellow creators and distributors, screen and receive recognition for original content, and develop and share new formats in digital entertainment.


Poised at the center of the digital stage, the SF Web Fest is the exclusive channel which  merges premium web content with next generation distribution.. We aim to grow and nurture the top web series  by developing a market festival to bring together creators, executives, sponsors, partners, and viewers to discover original content and tap into new audiences.


Create an engaging and responsive forum that provides access to industry experts and distribution channels, accomplished speakers and panelist, networking opportunities and theatrical screenings of premium web series.


We grow and nurture creative innovation by developing a market festival for creators, executives, partners, financial channels, and viewers to discover original content and tap into new audiences.


SF Web Fest participants include web series creators, content seekers, distribution and finance channels, filmmakers, film industry, music composers, marketing and PR professionals, animators, engineers, and festival goers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Final Israel Journal post: Links to all blog posts

That's the end of another Trip blog! Here are links to each post from my Israel 2014 trip. Thanks for reading :)

Israel 2014 Journal

Israel 2014 Day 12: Home and Gifts

Israel 2014 Day 12: Home and Gifts

For our last day of the trip, we got up early and just had a small breakfast before making the trip to TLV airport. We dropped off the car, and got to the airport with lots of time. The airport is quite huge and we had a great time there -- there is a pretty epic duty free area with crazy stuff like fridges and TVs and so on. Funny.

Back to the airport!
Definitely the first massive mezuzah I've seen at an airport
Kosher Aroma
We stopped by Aroma one last time, of course... to get, as usual, an Ice Aroma. So epic. We also picked up an apple pastry for later (mmm), and got a tasty cheese bureka filled with egg, pickles, and tahina! So good.

Hebrew DreamWorks and Blue Sky movies
Ratatouille and Wall-E!
Tasty Aroma meal before the long flight!
We had an hour and a half or so, so we spent a bunch of time in the Duty Free shop. They had a huge section of unusual whiskies so it was fun to check those out. They had the Laphroaig "Qa" Cask (not "Quarter Cask", but "Qa Cask", a totally different one), and some other interesting choices like Talisker Dark Storm and a strange Jura one. They even had my Bruichladdich Bere Barley -- which was supposedly Distillery-only, but I knew was also available in "travel retail", i.e. in airport duty free shops like this one. They had some Port Charlotte too and some other interesting things to check out.

I bought some Pop Rocks chocolate which was epic and would be fun to take home to my colleagues, as well as some Max Brenner chocolates for the airplane ride. After a nice Aroma breakfast, we headed to the plane for the long trip back to SFO, via Toronto. The trip to Toronto was good -- I didn't actually watch any movies on such a long trip!! It was a nice opportunity to catch up on some things: reading all of my buddy Matt's Scotland travel journal, answering tons of emails, organizing my to-do list, and also finishing the notes for this journal. After many hours of doing that stuff, I still had 3 hrs left of the flight, and decided to get a little sleep. What an awesome trip.

Traveling via Toronto, as you can see
We transferred in Toronto, almost missing our flight back to SFO due to customs taking forever, but you can't keep me away from Tim Horton's even if I might miss my flight. I ended up haulin' it across the airport, carrying tons of stuff and running like a fiend so that I could grab a Tim Hortons coffee, and get Michal a Tim Hortons muffin. I sprinted to the plane and made it back just in time -- with a nice warm cup of Timmy's coffee for the ride back to SF. Sweet. :)

After getting back and unpacking, here's a few of the interesting things I received, bought or got for others as gifts.

"Yu-tan" letters, tea
Salad chopper, tea, and yarmulkes from Tzfat
Zaatar, shabbos napkins, and a hamsa
Israeli pop-rocks chocolate!
Special dreidels, plus 3 Mezuzahs and 1 scroll
Artwork I bought in Tzfat
Magen David surf necklace
Salad dressing pourer
...complete with a recipe
Awesome placemats and coasters!
And... time to prepare my own labne/zaatar combo at home :)
Looking back on this trip, I am very grateful to my girlfriend Michal for encouraging me to come with her and to her family for making the trip such a welcoming and enjoyable experience. I had always imagined that "one day" I would go visit Israel -- I even said that to Michal, "well, one day..." when she asked if I was ever interested to go. I never expected that "one day" would be so soon, but I am very glad for it. I look back on my first experience at the Western Wall with extreme gratitude and appreciation for the importance and weight of that opportunity. It was totally awesome, in the full sense of the word. I was welcomed with open arms, and met so many warm and sincerely caring people.

I am also grateful that I felt safe the entire time. To be very honest, this was a big concern of mine, visiting for the first time. It was not without reason -- the very tragic story of the three boys kidnapped happened just as we arrived, and very soon after we returned home to San Francisco, the terrible news that the bodies of the three boys were found; and violence broke out which has lasted for months. It is such a sad occurrence; for a place so beautiful and with so many incredible natural experiences, that there is so much hate and anger in the world for its existence.

I met some wonderful people there and felt so welcome and encouraged by their community spirit and good nature. I saw Hasidim dancing and singing in the street to encourage happiness and joyfulness. I ate an odd McDonald's Hamburger and saw Hebrew writing written in "Chinese-style" for a Chinese restaurant. I floated in the Dead Sea and walked the ancient mystical streets of Tzfat. It was an incredible experience, and I am so happy not only to experience it for the first time, but for that experience to have been led by an epic girl whom I admire and appreciate more than she knows. :)

Where to next? Well, wherever it is, I'm sure it will be epic. :)

-Mike Jutan

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bike Test: Specialized Tricross Comp Disc (Cyclocross)

A short note on a bike test I did last week.

As you've read in earlier posts, I'm trying to figure out what commuter bike makes sense in San Francisco (no, I'm definitely *not* getting a fixie).

I've tried a road bike (fast, but drop-bar position was a fail for traffic, and didn't have enough brake access while biking with hands on the break hoods) and now also a "Cyclocross" bike thanks to my buddy Nick, which is somewhere between a commuter hybrid/fitness bike and a road bike.

Specialized Tricross Comp Disc

It was a pretty interesting vibe. Interesting that Cyclocross bikes (or at least, this one) add an extra set of brakes on the top bar... presumably due to the necessity for faster brake access when commuting. So, that was pretty good. I found this one had a much more comfortable brake hood than the road bike I tried recently, and a bit better brake access.

The tires on this one were 700x32's -- wider than the 700x25's I was riding on a few weeks ago with the road bike. I sure do like the taller 700c vibe, that is awesome and I can feel the speed. These tires were pretty slick, but certainly the 25's ran faster. I suspect this vibe is somewhat closer to the Quick's tires.

The drop bar, as before, was fun and fast on a flat road, but those are hard to come by on my commute. Otherwise, down the massive hills in the Presidio, the drop bars were pretty nuts and I preferred to be more upwards so as to not break the speed of sound.

This bike also had SRAM shifters, which took a bit of getting used to since I am so used to Shimanos. I can see the pros and cons, but I think I am a Shimano guy (too many years of riding with those, I think I prefer them a lot). The ability to double-down on a shift in on direction or another is pretty sweet.

Nick had clips on this one, so I actually tried out real clips. The pull on the up-pedal sure is nice, but I don't like the fact that your feet are locked in. I think those would take a fair amount of getting used to. I could always consider adding that at a later date if I really found I wanted them.

Finally, this bike also had disc brakes. Those supposedly run better in the rain which is nice for San Francisco, but I've also heard that with a bike as light as one of these, it's not super necessary.

So... as much as I liked the Cyclocross, I still don't see myself doing super long-distance rides that would necessitate a drop-bar. Now that I've tried it, I feel like the 700x32 tires are pretty good and still have very good pickup. I think I am zeroing in on a straight-bar hybrid, without drop bars. I think I am still going to be able to get the speed I want as long as I have 700xsomething tires and a frame that is light enough. I may want to try the Quick and the Quick Speed next to see how those go. It's been really a great experience to try these bikes out and I think I've learned a lot about what I want to get from trying them on my actual commute.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Israel 2014 Day 11: Akko Hummus and Moshav Cheese

Israel 2014 Day 11: Akko Hummus and Moshav Cheese

Our last full day in Israel for this trip started, as they all did, with a glorious breakfast.

Breakfast in Rosh Pina
The pool in daylight

Our plan was to meet Ilanit and Nir in Akko but they weren't feeling super well, we decided to go anyway though, in search of epic hummus. Since we didn't have as much of a schedule as originally planned, we took the morning slowly in Rosh Pina and had a nice long breakfast upstairs at the B&B. We had cheese, dips, an omelet, a cappuccino, all excellent! The other couple staying there were from Oakland, California, so we had lots to talk about. We checked out after a nice breakfast and I wrote my journal at the pool cabana (man, a lot of cabanas on this trip so far!) We collected our stuff and headed out to Akko ("Acre").

Chillin' in Akko with some Pomegranate "Spring" juice
We walked along the shore to the Old City. Again the weather was quite hot so we stayed hydrated with some "Spring" Pomegranate juice. We continued walking along to the Akko old city/Arab village. It was super cool to walk in there, there was both a Mosque AND a Synagogue in there! It was nice to see a small village where people of different faiths lived in harmony together.

Cute kitten
Into the Arab village in Akko to go seek out epic hummus
Awesome-looking Mosque in Akko
Alleyways leading to epic hummus
We were walking in this area, seeking out Said (Say'eed) Hummus -- a shop that was, according to several websites online, the #2 Hummus in the country (after our previously-visited Abu Hassan hummus in Old Jaffa)! It was SUPER cheap and very tasty. It was only ₪7 for a tub of hummus (about $1.80) and only ₪2 ($0.50) for 4 epic pitas, which were still warm. It was very awesome. Still in my mind nothing can ever be as good as Abu Hassan's hummus, but this one was also just incredible. And it was truly unbelievable how little it costs compared to how much you are charged for Hummus at home, and how much better the quality is and more authentic the whole experience is. Super fun.

Here we are at Hummus Said, rated one of the best Hummus shops in Israel!
Wow, that Hummus smells amazing
From here we walked back to the car, via some pastry shop and to get some more liquids. From there we drove south to meet Michal's brother and sister-in-law at a Moshav, a small village which had been there since 1887! They were cheese makers, and had a cool tent atmosphere there. Lots of cats were running around, so obviously that made me super happy. We sat down at a table beside some roosters and all the cats and ordered a plate of 18 different cheeses!! It was all awesome and they were all freshly made there.

Meeting Michal's brother and sister-in-law at a Moshav
Massive assorted cheese plate!
Cats running around, so I was happy
A cat at the cash register
The first one was very "goaty", followed by lots of other interesting cheeses -- all very different and unique in their own way. We also ordered Labaneh and it was INSANELY AWESOME. I have never tried it like this, and it came with incredible olive oil, zaatar, and some other interesting and amazing spices on it. It was the BEST. We dipped some fresh laffas in there and it was pretty darn life-changing. Michal's brother and I crushed some olives too, and we also had fresh apple juice and lemonade. We ate tons of cheese, dolmas filled with goat cheese, and eventually ordered another plate of Labaneh before heading back to Ra'nannah.

OMG this labane
Then we ordered another one
Awesome little hut where we ate all the cheese ever
Great vibe here
Old scale
Cheese or Olives to-go if you wanted
Hanging out with a cow
We arrived back and went straight to Orit's for dinner and to have a nice chat. It was great, we had lots of time to get to know each other better and to talk about interesting cultural differences. I always love having that opportunity when in another country, to talk to some local people about their culture and to share my own... I find that is one of the best ways to learn about people, by seeing how they live, thinking about it, talking, and eventually comparing their life experiences with your own. It's always very enlightening and I've enjoyed doing this sort of thing wherever in the world I go.

Of course Orit was very insightful and I learned a lot. We talked a lot about the Israeli sense of community, and how if your car tire went flat on a road, people would actually pull over to help you -- very different than my experience back home, where more commonly there is a "it's not my problem" mentality. She talked about how the communication is more direct, and when in less-direct countries it can be very confusing. She used an example, if in the US people might say, "Your clothes look very comfortable" if they think you are dressed too casually for an event. In Israel someone might be a bit more direct, "You are dressed too casually." :) Some of her friends who went to school in the US were at first quite confused by the indirect manner of speech, and didn't always understand what people meant because phrases were wrapped in pleasantries or fake-positivity which can be very subtle and especially confusing if English is not your first language. And if USA is confusing, imagine Canada or Britain, where language can be even further distanced with layers of subtlety and indirection.

We talked about Israeli vs. American vs. Canadian ideals, immigration, racism, building a country's culture, the rich and poor gap, problems caused by a shrinking middle class, the dream of home ownership, a neighbourly culture of "we'll work it out together" vs. "not my problem"... we may have covered about 50 different topics in the span of an hour or so!! It was wonderful to chat, and as I mention, quite enlightening. I love talking about these kinds of things with someone who is open to discuss these things. In a non-judgmental atmosphere, you can really learn fascinating things about another culture this way.

After our super engaging conversation, we had dinner and I mailed some postcards home. We had pizza and "sticks", and chatted more with all the kids. It was super fun. We said our goodbyes after dinner and headed to go fill up the car with "Delek" (Gas). This was super complicated, as you needed some sort of Israeli driver's license or something like that. It was confusing. So we drove to another gas station and the dude there was super helpful. As Orit had suggested, he was very much in the "let me help you out" mentality, and it was so funny. He was so excited and happy to help us, and excited that we were travelers. He just about gave me a hug!! It was hilarious, I called him my "gas bro".

Back we went to the house to pack and clean up, and prepare to head home the next morning. Our wonderful hosts said we should leave plenty of space for gifts... uh oh!!!! They were INCREDIBLE. Michal's uncle and aunt presented us with many super thoughtful and kind gifts: tea, a salad chopper so we could continue to make Israeli salad at home, Organic Tahini for making Tahina sauce, and even some Tea infuser mugs!! This was wild, as the whole week from these lovely people was a true gift, and this extra generosity was totally unexpected and so kind. They had given us a home for the week, and then picked us up such perfectly-chosen gifts. Wow. :)

Of course it was time for more eating! We had some ice cream, and reminisced about the trip. What a great family. We said our goodbyes, and thank yous, many many times.