Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ramallah Guide for Internationals

This is actually not exactly a business idea. It is more of a guide for shopping and living in Ramallah for Westerners. Most recommendations travel by word of mouth, but given the high fluctuation of Internationals, I figured it may be useful to pin some of them down.

Most of the recommended places are marked in the map of http://www.openstreetmap.org/. Therefore I will not provide way descriptions everywhere.

Restaurants

A restaurant guide for Ramallah could fill an entire book. Instead I will just name my favourites and give some links for further research.

  • Orjuwan - upscale restaurant with a good and creative food selection, nice ambiente and good music. 
  • Darna Restaurant - Very good Palestinian cuisine. Try Gaza Salad, if you like it spicey. A bit pricey though.
  • Mövenpick Ramallah, Allegro Restaurant -- Mövenpick prices.. Best Italian food in town. Try the exclusive wine collection!
  • Mediterraneo, a new (2013) Italian Restaurant inside the Latin Patriarchate on Rukab street.
  • Level 5 -- 5th floor above Zaman Cafe in al Tireh. Good and affordable food with a stunning view from the Terrace. Paulaner draft beer.
  • Cafe De La Paix -- The teryaki salad is my favourite. Also check out the fair trade corner with goods from Canaan.
  • Fuego -- Mexican food (or fusion dishes such as Avocado-Hummus) in a nice old stone building. Decent cocktails.
  • Ziryab -- Cosy environment, especially for wintertime
  • De La Vie -- Nice homemade cakes
  • Chili Chilis -- best burger in town (old town)
  • Zaman Al Tireh -- Try the tuna sandwich, or the health salad. Also a nice place for breakfast/brunch. Every other Tuesday morning 8am, it is a gathering place for Ramallah's IT startup companies.
  • Snowbar -- best landscaping in town, comfy seats under trees, includes swimmingpool
  • Segafredo Al Masyoun near Ankars Suites -- franchise coffee bar with large terrace
Further references, check http://yummypick.com also for online order and delivery: http://otlub.ps/ or http://www.clickandpick.ps/

Budget Fastfood

  • Best chicken shawarma: It is on Rukab street, near the green Jawwal shop, a few meters towards Manara, on the left side. They have a horizontal shawarma grill over charcoal, and freshly baked shrak bread. 13 Shekel for an excellent shawarma.
  • Best Falafel: On Irsal street, opposite the JDECO building, a few meters towards the city center, there is a Falafel place, 4 Shekel for the sandwich. The falafel maker has a picture with him and Abu Mazen in his restaurant.
  • Flaming Saj on Irsal street has decent local style pizza at very affordable prices (12 shekel for a large pizza)
  • Best Kunafa (outside Nablus) is available at Helwiat Eiffel - Eiffel Sweets

Buying Food

As of July 2013, a new Gourmet supermarket opened, which takes shopping in Ramallah to a next level: MaxMar on Irsal Street (that's the street that goes from Manara Square past Muqata towards Birzeit, close to Chili House). They have approximately 10.000 different imported and local high quality products on display, including a herbs and nuts corner, a bakery, a sweets corner, great selection of imported cheeses, and so on. Soon they will launch an online purchase system with home delivery. 

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Specialized shops tend to be better than supermarkets like bravo. My favourite is, coming from Ein Musbah street, turning right onto Tireh street, and next to the right down the hill, on the right hand side.  And of course the fruit market near Manara.
  • Bread: Zaman Cafe has good dark bread, in case you miss it. Al Bayt Al Kadeem Baker makes good  fluffy Arabic bread. Dark arabic bread is available at MaxMar. Whole wheat arabic bread is avialable at AlKiswani in the old town. If you miss German style bread, you can get it on Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Can be cut and deepfrozen. You get packaged dark bread by German "Mestermacher" company in most Bravo or MaxMar shops.
  • Alcohol: The best collection available, and the cheapest prices you find at Jubran, you find him on a side street of Rukab street. From the gas station, walk 300m uphill, and turn left at the corner of the stationary shop. After 50, Jubran is on the right side. If you are a frequent customer, ask for a customer card that will give you 5% discount.
  • Pork: There is one butchery in Beit Jala (central square of Beit Jala, ask for Khansil, which means pig/pork), and otherwise you will find a smaller selection of things in a small shop in Ramallah tahta, on the street of the mosque, 100m on the left side, almost in front of a bakery, with red painting. Also there is Yanni Grocery across from Stones.
  • Meat: There is a good chicken shop (Aziza) three doors down from the Ramallah Old Town Pharmacy (around the corner from Arab Bank Tahta). The Butcher of Bravo Plaza Mall supermarket is quite good as well.
  • Cakes: Next to Stones, you find a cake shop, with three letters, something like QMH. The dark chocolate cake is amazing.

Nightlife

Among the Arab cities of the world, Ramallah probably ranks #3 in nightlife after Beirut and Dubai. Most of the night life takes place on Thursday though. Here are a few places to go in Ramallah:
  • Snowbar is nice to hang out in Summer, and occasionaly they host events with DJ. Summer season only.
  • Andareen resembles something between a bar and a disco with occasional salsa classes. Entrance is somewhat hidden, via elevator, 4th floor, opposite Rukab ice cream.
  • Sparkles in Mövenpick has mostly House music and Arabic dance music -- the audience mostly upper class Palestinians. Often it is the last resort after most other places close. Decent cocktails. Winter season only.
  • Basement is a proper club located in a basement (hence, the name) with DJs and everything else
  • Beit Aniseh often hosts life music or DJ on Thursdays. Sometimes couples-only policy. Somtimes you pay for entance. Otherwise a place to mingle. Mix of internationals and Palestinians who care less about the allegedly "bad reputation" (whatever that means) of this pub.
  • Orjuwan is a decent restaurant with cocktail bar, with occasional DJ events, especially Thursdays. Cocktails are nice. Entrance policy somewhat restrictive. Smart casual business clothing helps, or reserve your table in advance.
  • Barameal is a nicely decorated pub, a few steps uphill from Sangrias. They host occasional life music or DJ parties, sometimes private events.
  • La Ween is a pub with occasional DJ and dancing -- its style looks somewhat boheme, with Arabic poetry on the wall. Located three doors down from Qasaba theatre.
  • La Grotta, across the street from Fuego Restaurant, is a pub, and a nice "after hour" place, once other places are closing down. The bar looks somewhat improvised, but with a nice and diverse, slightly artsy crowd.
The Ramallah municipality with its female Christian mayor has a relatively liberal regime -- still recently they introduced a general closing hour which is enforced some time between 1am and 2am. Clubs with good sound insulation, which don't disturb neighbours, like Sparkles or Basement may be running a bit longer. After Ramallah closes down, the only option is Jerusalem (e.g. the Palestinian bar Beer, and next to it the Israeli club Uganda, and a few blocks down Sira aka D1), or Tel Aviv (e.g. Radio, Deli, etc.). A good indicator for Israeli clubs with Arab-friendly audience is the fact that they serve Palestinian Taybeh-beer.
In the Negev desert, there are many Israeli desert raves, and more recently, there is a Palestinian desert rave group emerging, and another one for Psy-Trance called Mukhti Gathering, which makes events in '48 territory, with music acts from Germany, West Bank and '48 Palestinians, and invites mostly through Facebook and word of mouth.


Sports, Outdoor Activities and Chilling Out


  • Turkish Bath: There is a nice turkish bath in Al Bireh including all types of massages, and another one located in Al Masyoun area
  • In a nearby village (Jifneh), there is an affordable, large outdoor swimming pool
  • Hiking. Aid worker Stefan Szepski used his free time to hike and write a book with his hiking recommendations. Also you can take organized hiking tours through tour operators, or political and historical hikes through organizations such as AIC or the Center for Jerusalem Studies. Also Riwaq has a number of hikes and maps to be explored. Be careful when venturing out alone, as in some remote areas near Mar Saba monastery near Bethlehem, incidents of robbery have been reported.
  • Mountain Biking: The Palestinian desert has some challenging routes. Palestinian bikers are a very small community. Contact them on their Facebook group.
  • Jogging: Ramallah is really not a good place for jogging, but the best routes are probably either the remote part of Al Tireh street, which stretches a few kilometers down with a decent sidewalk, or you can go from Ein Musbah street steep down the hill until you reach the bottom of the valley, and you will find a long tarmac road with very little traffic that stretches about 8km.
  • Sarayyet offers contemporary dancing classes, swimming pool, and many other sportive activities.
  • Popular fitness clubs are Solo gym and Tri Fitness. In the same building of Solo Gym you find a massage center.
  • Affordable Yoga Classes are offered by Farashe Yoga near Manara -- see http://farasheyoga.org
  • Classes for Transcendental Meditation are offered in Al Tireh. Call Kevin 0598 752 813 
  • The terrace of Level 5 restaurant offers comfortable sofas with a stunning view (including Tel Aviv skyline)
  • Snowbar has comfortable sofas and sun chairs by the swimming pool
  • Mövenpick and Grand Park Hotel have a nice pool area, and there is another fancy pool opposite Grand Park hotel, which sports an In-Water cocktail bar.
  • Reef Cafe, Azure Restaurant and Jasmine are nice places to hang out and smoke a waterpipe.
  • If you have an entire weekend, and enough money to spend, you should consider going across the border to Kempinski Ishtar Hotel Dead Sea -- they have pure luxury, the largest Spa in the Middle East, an excellent Thai Restaurant, and sparkling wine for breakfast. If you use Allenby bridge, you need a Jordanian visa from the Embassy in Ramallah, and also check the opening times of the bridge. A taxi can take you from Ramallah to the bridge, and taxis are waiting on the Jordanian side of the bridge to take you to the hotel.


Tourist Sites

  • Traditional gift items: A few meters downhill from Al Bireh Municipality, turn left, and immediately right, there is a shop with handicrafts from all regions of Palestine. Also you can buy delicious gifts from Cafe de la Paix, which has Fair Trade organic products from Canaan/Burquin (infused olive oil, sandwich spreads, maftool, zaatar, almonds, etc.).
  • Tourist office: Opposite Ramallah Municipality, next to Cafe de la Paix. Has maps, and some other useful information
  • The only real tourist sites are the Arafat memorial and the Mahmoud Darwish memorial, each with an adjacent museum (the Arafat one being under construction). 
  • Dar Zahran Gallery exhibits a traditional christian palestinian house, some photography, an excellent collection of Palestinian traditional merchandise.  You find it opposite Arab Bank in Ramallah Tahta (on the other side of Ruqab street). 
  • Futher locations for the art scene are Sakkakini Gallery located uphill from Beit Aniseh, and the International Academy of Arts Palestine, and in Bethlehem the Dar Al Kalima college.
  • Further recommendations you find in Lonely Planet and on Wikitravel

Finding a Flat

Panoramic view from Area D hostel in downtown Ramallah
  • For short stays and for guests, check out the brand new (July 2013) youth hostel called Area D, which will also hook you up with helpful information and tour guides. contact via https://www.facebook.com/AreaDHostel
  • If you read Arabic or trust google translation, look for apartments on http://www.shobiddak.com
  • Otherwise, a lot of shared flats are offered on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ramallahramallah/
  • Also you find flats at http://www.englishpal.ps/ 
  • Common prices for a room in a shared flat is 250-300 $ a month, to be paid on a monthly basis, utilities come extra, and can be quite expensive especially with heating in wintertime.
  • Furnished 2-3 bedroom apartments in a central area of town go for around 500-800$.
  • Written contracts are rare, many want cash payments in dollar within the first week of each month. That gives you a negotiation chip -- if you encounter long delays for the required maintenance of the flat, you may decide to delay your payment.
  • Flats have lousy insulation, and often come without heating. If you have central heating, fuel is going to be very expensive, like up to 500$ a month for a decent sized flat to have it warm and cosy in January. Many go for the cheaper option of a gas catalytic oven, which you put right in front of you when sitting on the sofa.
  • Many Palestinian landlords are, according to European standards, control freaks. They want to know exactly who goes in and out of the apartment, and any suspicious activity is immediately reported among neighbours.
  • Neighbourhoods in the Christian city center of Ramallah tend to be slightly more liberal.
  • Generally we westerners, being far from parental control, are suspected to fall for random sex and prostitution. After I had some female friends over, my landlady came to me telling me that the neighbours were complaining I was allegedly having sex in the living room -- to me a very surprising observation. Later I understood that having unmarried boys and girls in the same room leads to the logic assumption of sex taking place. In Islam this weird logics is called "khulwah" but also conservative Palestinian Christians seem to have a similar way of thinking. For people who enjoy tight parental control throughout their lives, it seems to be hard to imagine that westerners learn taking responsibility for their own lives when left alone.
  • Many landlords will not permit male visitors to female-only flats, because of the widespread suspicion of prostitution.
  • Some cases have been reported of male Palestinians claiming to be very open minded, offering rooms in their flat, inviting exclusively young western girls to live with them, expecting to benefit from the alleged sexual liberty of westerners. To avoid this, maybe you want to have a male friend calling to ask for availability of the room, if the answer is no, then you should be suspicious to receive a different answer calling as a female.
  • After you are warned about all these horror stories, I am sure you will be ready to find a nice flat with friendly neighbours, install some curtains for privacy and enjoy the great hospitality that Palestine has for foreign visitors!


Miscellaneous

  • Hairdresser: In the same building of Level 5 restaurant (Al Tireh Roundabout), there is an excellent Hairdresser called Hana Eideh studios. Well equipped with a collection of Schwartzkopf hair products, and staff that has been trained by Tony & Guy. Very friendly and professional. Main target group is women, but they may make some exceptions if you ask.
  • Dentist: In the same building as the hairdresser, you find an excellent dentist, Munther Tibi.
  • Tailor for small repairs: At the corner of Rukab/Al Tireh Street with Ein Misbah street, there is a tailor (you find many more in the center)
  • Shoe and bags repair: From Manara, walk towards the police station, on your right side you find a tiny shop for shoe repair, right next to a smelly chicken shop.
  • Drycleaner: Jamal who is located opposite the supermarket next to the Arafat Memorial does good work. Carpets I tend to bring to the drycleaner next to Bravo supermarket Al Tireh, Al Tireh street.
  • Money: Arab Bank ATMs disburse Shekel, Dinar, and USD in large amounts for Credit and EC cards. Bank of Palestine also works, but has lower transaction limits. Arab Bank Tahta on Rukab Street next to the Gas station is an option, also Plaza Mall al Bireh has many ATMs
  • Internet. Ask your landlord for DSL, for which you will need a Paltel phone line. MADA is a good DSL provider. Otherwise check your Wifi -- possibly your home is covered by Coolnet, Yalla or Globalcom providers. Otherwise, an Israeli SIM card offers 3G coverage in many areas of Palestine. The last option is somewhat controversial. Check my other blog post.
  • Rental car with yellow plate can be obtained from Middle East car rental on Jerusalem Road, shortly before you pass the red crescent building. Price approx. 200 Shekel per day. Reserve at least one day in advance to make sure you get a car. Phone 02-2963141. Sometimes rates are better and cars are newer with Israeli companies in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but be aware that those companies don't cover insurance for A-Zones in the Westbank such as Ramallah. In East Jerusalem you find some alternatives with Palestinian insurance, for example "goodluck" car rental, opposite American Colony Hotel.
  • Checkpoint Guide: How to get in and out of Ramallah conveniently -- read my other blog post.


Airport logistics

With an international passport, for most people it is convenient to use Ben Gurion airport.

  • By car: If you travel westwards by car, e.g. to the airport or to the beach, it is good to know that there is a way to avoid Qalandia CP. Drive towards Beitunia, at the entrance of Beitunia, there is a big roundabout decorated with giant fruits. Take first exit. Continue that road which leads through Ein Arik village, to Deir Ibzi village. In Deir Ibizi you see a big gas station on your right, you drive past some Olive trees, shortly after, you see a car dealer on your left. Take the next turn right (road sign to Ras Karkar), which leads a steep road winding down the hill. At the bottom you reach settler road number 463. Turn left and follow signs towards Tel Aviv. Using this way, it is a mere 45 minutes from Ramallah to the airport, and at Hashmonaim Checkpoint you can expect to pass without delay (as opposed to Qalandia). Long term parking at the airport costs 40 Shekel per day.
  • To reduce parking cost, you can park at the Modiin industrial zone train station (along Road 431) for free, and take a train (15 minutes) to the airport. The station is called Paatei Modiin, and check the schedule because during night-time the train doesn't run.
  • Without a car, you can take bus no. 18 from Ramallah to Jerusalem, Damascus gate, and you can call Nesher taxi (02-6257227) to pick you up from Jerusalem Hotel. Make the reservation with Nesher taxi on the previous day. As an alternative to Qalandia checkpoint, you can take at the Qalandia parking a white minivan that passes through Hizme checkpoint to Jerusalem. That may save you some hassle with your baggage. Bus to Jerusalem costs 7-10 Shekel, Nesher taxi (it is a mini-bus) to airport costs 60 Shekel.
  • Direct taxi from Ramallah to the airport costs between 280 and 350 shekels -- you will need a taxi with yellow number plate and a driver who knows the above described route via Deir Ibzi. Here are two numbers of people who can get you such a taxi: Bassil 0598735180 and Rami 0545774318. Sometimes you can find people to share a taxi ride if you write a mail to the ramallahramallah group on yahoo.
  • A cheap and relatively hassle-free, but controversial option is using a settler bus: You take any green-plate taxi or servees bus towards Ras Karkar. Tell the taxi to drive towards Ras Karkar, and as soon as you hit the settler road (you can tell by the Hebrew roadsigns), turn right (or get off the bus), and you will have the Ha-Parsa Bus Station after 200 meters. Take Egged bus number 181. Check time table online. The bus takes you through Hashmonaim checkpoint to Modiin train station. From there, it is two train stops away from the airport. This works only during daytime as the train and bus are not going at night.

        

Links


13 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  2. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Orjuwan/101697162617?ref=ts&fref=ts

    ReplyDelete
  3. They should also go and buy shoes from Imad at Rahallah:

    http://books-politics-sparklyshoes.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/and-you-thought-i-forgot-about-shoes.html

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is really helpful, thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow so detailed, I have gone back and forth there so many times and some of the above places I've been to and some I will try the next time I go back! Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Very informative post. Though this post is not exactly a business insurance, you are still able to bring up travel business ideas to aspirin entrepreneurs. I hope you can post more articles in the future.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anyone know where Http://www.yummypick.com came from ? Its a great site and would love to know who is behind the scene ...

    ReplyDelete
  8. check this new site for Palestine www.albaazar.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi
    Hi, you make mind blowing ideas about regarding. and a spectacular article here. Last time, when I saw your site this was a little good but today I visit the web site again and find that you guys making a very smart work on the site

    ReplyDelete
  10. A one stop consultancy solution for all your business & marketing needs to profitably reach out to your targeted customers. edurar providing list of Companies in Dubai, Business Directory in Dubai, Services in Dubai, Products in Dubai and Brands in Dubai.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you for all the tips! You convinced me to stay in Ramallah instead of Jerusalem during my next trip to Middle East :-)

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'd still have to find another job, or come up with another home business to help pay the bills. blog

    ReplyDelete