This is a very loose summary of my time in Israel mainly for my own records. There are many more, deeper observations that aren’t stated here and it should be noted that I’m VERY tired after having not slept on my flights from Africa to Turkey…
June 14th (Late Night) – Arrived in Tel Aviv. – After finally making my way through customs I hopped a cab and made my way over to Hayarkon 48, the hostel I (eventually with Sudar) would be staying in. I spent the first night in a mixed dorm room with some post Birthright kids from the US and Canada.
June 15th, Tel Aviv – While waiting for Sudar to arrive I had a day to myself in Tel Aviv. I took the opportunity to get a feel for the city and spent the day really just wandering, eventually finding my way to outdoor café on Sheinken Street where I did a bit more Israel research. After feeling satisfied I made my way to Tel Aviv’s famed beaches and spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sun. Around sundown I made way back to the hostel and moved into the private room that Sudar and I would share before heading back out to photograph the sunset over the Mediterranean. Sudar arrived around 10:30PM and we PROMPTLY started drinking before heading out. We spent a good portion of the night searching for a club disguised as a deli per Brittni & Jen’s recommendation. After little success we finally headed on over to Clara, a massive outdoor club reminiscent of Reina in Istanbul. After some dancing and making friends we finally turned it in around 6AM.
June 16th, Tel Aviv – After a massive night out we had to be out of our room at Hararkon by 10AM. We were definitely late. Around 11AM we finally stumbled out of the hostel and made our way to another outdoor café somewhat near the Yemenite quarter. After lunch couldn’t save us from our hangovers we stumbled back to the beach and quickly passed out (I suffered burns on my legs which were left exposed). Around 4PM, in an attempt to salvage some of the day we wandered over to the Carmel Market (which, at the time, seemed great but would later be dwarfed by the markets in Jerusalem). Finally felling normal it was time for us to head back to the airport for our flight south to Eilat. After stringent security checks (the Indonesian Visas in our passports caused great concern for Israeli authorities as well as Sudar’s general existence) , we made the flight and safely arrived in Eilat late on the 16th. We checked into the hotel and went straight to sleep.
June 17th, Petra – Fully recovered from the hangover at this point, it was an early morning on the 17th. We had breakfast at the hotel in Eilat, stocked up on snacks and caught a cab to the Jordanian border. After walking across the border from Israel to Jordan we hopped in a cab with our driver, Muneer, for the two-hour journey north to Petra. MIND.BLOWING. There’s no other way to put it. Oh, and massive, and filled with Bedouins, one of whom, a boy, saved us from marching aimlessly off into the desert. It was a learning experience and awe-inspiring all at once. Hard to articulate really. Although Muneer wanted us to see Petra in 3-4 hours (people usually spend 7-8 hours) we took much closer to 5 hours with the famed Treasury and Monastery as well as the Theater being the highlights. It was also interesting interacting with the limitless Bedouins who seem to live permanently in Petra and who, as I learned, were originally the only people in the modern era that knew of Petra. At any rate, we were so late returning to the car, in fact, that Muneer and his cronies tried to hustle us and claim that Muneer had been ticketed for being parked for too long and wanted us to pay the phantom ticket. Yeah right. We thwarted that scheme pretty fast. Then it was two hours back to the border where we were met by Israeli commandos in plain clothes and it took even longer to get back into Israel. This is also the precise moment that the number of stamps in my US passport became a legitimate concern (more on that later). Once back in Israel exhausted, of course, it was pretty much dinner and straight to bed.
June 18th, Eilat à Jerusalem – It was another early morning as we caught a flight back to Tel Aviv where Guy was waiting for us. We hopped straight into the car and zipped to Jerusalem. By now you can tell how busy this trip was. Immediately upon arriving in Jerusalem we had lunch in Le Souk at one of Guy and Gal’s favorite café. From there we walked through the Orthodox quarter near Gal’s old apartment before checking out some views of the tower of David and Western side of the Old City. From there we headed to the Kornberg’s house in Jerusalme to drop our things and get situated before heading back out and returning to the Old City. Entering through the Jaffa gate we made our way through some of the markets in the old city until we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre believed to be the place of Jesus crucifixion and where his body was anointed. That evening we made a brief stop through the incredible Israel Museum where we crossed paths with the US Ambassador. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see one of the artifacts that Guy’s family donated to the museum sparking one of a number of heated arguments in Hebrew between Guy and various employees. That night we ended the evening with dinner at the Jerusalem equivalent of the New York High Line with Gal, Maya, and Guy and then grabbed drinks at Eden’s bar.
June 19th, Masada & The Dead Sea – with guy in Tel Aviv on “official business” Sudar and I set out in the morning to retrieve our second rental car. Once retrieving it we set out on our adventure to Masada and The Dead Sea region. Incredible. Masada was one of King Herod’s massive palace-fortress complexes and exploring the ruin made for a great first half of the day. The second half was spent at Mineral Beach floating in the Dead Sea and soaking in Dead Sea mud, which is rumored to have mystical qualities. I hope the level of painful stinging the mud inflicted was simply those properties in action.
June 20th, Jerusalem – This may have constituted one of our busiest days in Jeruslaem. We started with a brief visit to the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) before entering the Temple Mount and visiting the Dome of the Rock at noon as soon as it was open to non-Muslims. Once absorbing all that the temple mount represents, we made our further west in the Old City to the Tower of David (The Citadel) where another heated argument ensued when we weren’t granted the appropriate student pricing. It was also on this afternoon that we stopped through Guy’s favorite hummus restaurant in Jerusalem located in the Islamic quarter of the city. In the afternoon we attempted a visit to the Armenian church, which led to yet another heated argument when we weren’t granted access because we were wearing shorts. Later we embarked on one our most interesting activities while in Jerusalem: walking the ramparts of the Old City walls. We nearly circumnavigated the entire city and got a great birds-eye view of all the different quarters as well as gorgeous views of the Old City as a whole and the surrounding areas. We ended the day on the rooftop of the Austrian Hospice just as the sun was setting the Imams were calling Muslims to evening prayer. Gorgeous experience all around. After picking up Hannah and grabbing dinner at a café we decided to leave that same night for Haifa and Akko.
June 21st, Haifa and Akko – After arriving late in Akko we got a relatively early jump and checked out the old walled city of Akko, which formerly served as a Templar stronghold and one of the most important port cities in the Holy Land. After cruising through the walking tour in Akko it was back in the car to shoot over to Haifa for a tour of the Baha’I gardens. The Baha’I gardens in Haifa are easily the most symmetrical and well-manicured gardens I’ve ever seen in the world and offer stunning views of Haifa, the Haifa Bay, and surrounding areas. After completing the tour we hiked ALLL the way back up to get the car and then quickly grabbed lunch in the German Colony in Haifa. After grabbing food we continued on up to Bed in Breakfast in the Golan Heights overlooking the Sea of Galilee. This was by the far the most relaxing place/activity we’d been a part of during our time in Israel and it almost felt like a tropical locale. With the start of the Sabbath we ordered dinner from the best restaurant in the area which Sudar and I wen t to pick up. It turned into a nice family dinner with me, Sudar, Guy, and Hannah.
June 22nd, Nazareth – With Guy and Hannah honoring the Sabbath on Saturday, Sudar and I went on another solo mission, this time to Nazareth. The drive into Nazareth itself was quite an adventure, but we managed it and found parking. There was really only time to see the main attraction in town, the church of the Annunciation built around Mary Magdalene’s house and believed to be the place where the Angel Gabriel spoke to the Virgin Mary telling her she would be with child. After visiting the church we grabbed some shwarma and falafel and made our way back to the B&B. From there Sabbath was virtually over so Guy took us up to the old Roman city of Susita, which is still an ACTIVE archaeology site. This means that most tourists don’t know about it and the place was deserted. It also made it feel like we were actively discovering bits of the city (mosaics, columns, rooms) ourselves. It was an amazing experience that also provided a sunset over Galilee and run-ins with left over minefields from past conflicts with Syra. Once the sun was down it was straight back to Jerusalem. Getting back late we made an attempt to go out, but that simply turned into dinner at a lounge/club.
June 23rd, Jerusalem – You’d think that on our last day we would take it easy. Nope. After returning the rental car we headed back to Guy’s house to visit Safta (true honor to meet her) who then convinced us that we must absolutely visit to the Holocaust museum to have any understanding of Israel. We obliged. We left Safta’s and went straight there. Most startling is the last room of the Museum which houses a project by the Museum and the state of Israel to document EVERY single person killed during the Holocaust. From the Museum we headed back to the Israel museum to soak up a few more of the exhibits that we missed on our first go-round. Then it was on to the Western Wall for the wall tour where we really got a feel for how high and strong the walls of the Temple Mount really were as we were in tunnels below the walls themselves. After the tour it was a stroll down Jaffa street and dinner at one of the new swank restaurants in Le Souk, which lasted until about midnight. By 1:30AM on June 24th we were back on the road to Tel Aviv to hit the airport for our early flights to Croatia.