Thursday, July 10, 2014

There Really is an App for That: How to Tech Your Way Across Israel

It was somewhere in the Jerusalem shade where I learned I need a portable charger.  After walking in the sun for nearly three hours, saddled down by two bags and finding out that being conservative in a cardigan and maxi dress in August is akin to living in a tea kettle, I swayed off to the side of a science museum to rest.  Sitting, cooling, sipping water, I recharged my lifeline, my iPhone; like a fungus on a tree, it recharged its cells by draining those of my MacBookPro. Awkward, yes; necessary, oh yes.

I didn’t expect to rely on my iPhone so much during my first round in Israel; I had spent tons of time on Google Maps before my vacation, planning and printing so I would be prepared.  But as much as I loved my paper itinerary, there was nothing but convenience with the use of a smartphone and its apps as I tried to find my way to the Knesset that mid-August Sunday.

Especially once I got a portable charger.

With that Anker portable charger, I was able to freely use the six following apps to make the most of my time, my budget, and my vacation.

GOOGLE MAPS:  I found out in 2013 that getting mislocated in Tel Aviv is not impossible, and it is even easier to do so in Jerusalem.  So, by yourself, in a foreign land, with minimal language skills, what do you do?

Open Google Maps, and benefit from free GPS service.

Yes, free.  Even without cell service or Wifi, the GPS aspect of an iPhone will still “ping,” and a user can still see their location on a map.  This was a life saver on more than one occasion last year, but what I learned this year was even more helpful. 

See the real-time changes? Totally free.
I was in Jerusalem during the Israel Festival—a celebration of the music and arts of this culturally rich land.  I was lucky enough to be in town when Nigoi, a jazz ensemble, was performing at the Jerusalem YMCA.  This was not too far from Harmony Hotel, but since I have the directional fortitude of a paper compass in the wind, I knew I would need help.  I opened Google Maps, set my path while still on my hotel’s free Wifi, turned off data, popped in earbuds, and was on my way.  I was surprised to find my playlist interrupted by the familiar voice of Google Map’s navigation; it turned out that not only does the map stay loaded sans data, but the navigational voice does as well.  This allowed me to easily find my way to some terrific jazz.

Viber and XE, together again.
VIBER:  An Israeli creation, Viber is a money saver.  I get an Israeli phone from IsraelPhones, and they provide great service.  However, sometimes the prices can be a bit steep (I get the $1 a day plan where any call I make to Minnesota is roughly 42-cents a minute, which adds up fast).  A nice supplement has been this app.  As long as both parties have it installed and are connected to data, a free call can be made, and since all three of my hotels provided free WiFi, this was more convenient and cost effective to connect to home.

XE CURRENCY EXCHANGE: This was the app I chose to use for currency conversions, and I thought it was helpful.  It has a nice user interface, and will auto-refresh for the most accurate information it can provide. 

Click on the "Free Guided Tours" and
the bottom is what you get
VISITTLV: I believe this is the official app for the municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo; if it is not, it should be.  This app contains a wealth of information to help guide your body around Tel Aviv—including a list of free guided tours.  This app also provides the user with nearby cafes, pubs, and restaurants for those just can’t decide; it’s not quite UrbanSpoon, but it is something helpful.

The look of full...and then not so much.
TELOBIKE:  Like many European cities, Tel Aviv-Yafo offers daily bike rentals that they cutely call “Tel-O-Fun.”  Not just for tourists, it is a fun, efficient way to get from one end of town to the other; for these wheeled wanderers, nothing is more frustrating than getting to the closest station, and finding few or no bikes.  The app “telobike” solves this problem by giving the user real-time availability of bikes (think of it as “Waze” for Tel-O-Bike).  Station names can be set in either Hebrew or English, which helps those that haven’t quite mastered either.

The many layers of Hebrew in HebrewNEXT.
HEBREWNEXT:  Created by NEXT, a division of the Birthright Israel Foundation, HebrewNEXT to me is a dual-purpose language app.  I say this because it offers a flash card option for those that are intent on becoming someone proficient (or at least committing some Hebrew to memory).  It also has a phrasebook option as well as a search to quickly find what you are looking for. I find this to be a very thorough language app and has the potential to be very helpful; I do feel that at times it is a bit too thorough, and may become a bit much for those in a hurry.  Nonetheless, it does contain a wealth of information, has multiple angles at which to take that information, and comes from a reputable source, so I have no problems relying on it for all my Hebrew needs.

These are definitely not the only free apps that aid your Israeli iadventure, but these are the six I have personal experience with while in the thick of what Tel Aviv and Israel has to offer.  Have your own personal favorite? Comment and let us now so we can add to our devices!

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