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ACRE
Acre, Israel
Lat: 32°55'58.98"N Lon: 35°4'57.65"E
I'm writing these paragraphs years after this remarkably delicious evening in my life transpired. I really wish this wasn't the case; I wish it were all yesterday because then the sensation of the food I ate then might still be flavor and not just memory. I would also still be in Israel, where I seem to love life a little bit more than most anywhere else.

I am in a town in the north called Acre at a seafood restaurant there eponymously named Uri Buri. The owner, Uri Yermias, is a kindly, stout, white-bearded man who we had met earlier in the day whilst out and about in the city. I'll confess that, at first, I suspected this man of self-interest, of being a bit too curious about the showbiz Americans shooting down the street from his new bed-and-breakfast. But, sadly, my suspicions say a lot more about my judgmental tendencies than anything about this sweet man. Uri is a wise, cool dude with a great spirit—and magical skills with seafood.

Since I'm not a food writer or a chef, I'll spare you the culinary adjectives and recipes. I'm sure you can find plenty to read about Uri Buri if you care to—it's a very well known restaurant even outside Israel. Within Israel (oy!) the place is legendary. I'll say this much: I never knew how delicately a fish could be sauced until Uri brought over a few personally cooked items for the table. I can also vouch for the fact that my seafood-allergic companion (reluctantly present that night) still speaks glowingly of the place. Uri served her something vegetable that, years later, still touches her soul. The guy is that good.

Such a supreme gastronomic experience would really be enough for one day. But this was preceded a few hours earlier by shooting an exploration into the basement of Uri's aforementioned bed-and-breakfast. This is why we met him, at first; Uri had approached our guide to recommend that if we really wanted to see something super-cool, we should follow him under his recently acquired building. And so we did…and soon found ourselves climbing in spaces dating back to the 12th century that hadn't seen light in three hundred years--and this was just some guy's cellar. Crazy.

Acre—Akko, if you're an Arab—is, like so many in Israel, several cities in one. The modern town, where you drive and shop, is a Jewish-Arab settlement complete with both synagogues and mosques. In the earlier half of the 20th century, prior to the creation of Israel in 1948, it was British-occupied territory and there is still an old prison complex from the days when the Brits were despised by both Arabs and Jews. But what makes Acre truly unique and mysterious is its oldest section, the French Crusader castle presently being excavated beneath the modern street—and as it so happens, deep in Uri's basement.

Acre was the Mediterranean harbor for many a conquering army dating back to the Egyptians. In the 11th and 12th centuries, it traded hands several times between Christians and Arabs, finally landing in the possession of the Knights Hospitaliers who held it for six decades, erecting a fortified castle designed with high walls and gloriously vaulted interiors. But when the Ottoman Empire rose up in the 16th century Acre soon became an Arabic city once more. And over the course of the next several centuries this ancient French city was filled in to create foundations for a new Arab infrastructure.

It would not be until the latter half of the 20th century that Israeli efforts to excavate this incredible archaeological site would gain real momentum. At the time of our shoot, the buried city wasn't even 25% excavated. Basements like Uri's were all over the city. I'm sure they still are today.

Go to Israel. Go several times in your life. You will not regret it, no matter if you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic or atheist. You will learn the fundamentals of our western civilization and come home renewed. And, if you visit Uri Buri, as a bonus you'll get some damn good fish. What more can you ask for out of life?
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