A Travellerspoint blog

Israel

The Modern Day Promised Land


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When we arrived in Tel Aviv it had a very modern and liberal feel, especially in comparison to Jerusalem. After departing the bus station we made our way to the Florentine district which is supposedly the upcoming artsy/bohemian neighborhood. Our first day was spent walking all over the city and taking in the humanity. We walked through the markets and shopping districts with a stop in a mall for a movie (The Ides of March – pretty good). We also had a fabulous lunch at “Benedicts”. The restaurant chain serves breakfast 24-hours a day American style and has the classics such as Eggs Benedict and chocolate chip pancakes – yum! I tell you what – life is not bad when you are eating Eggs Benedict and drinking champagne on a Tuesday at 3 pm!
IMG_9948.jpg Our feast at Benedicts!
On our second day out in Tel Aviv we headed to the beach for some sun. The city is set on the Mediterranean and from the beach we had some great views the city. We ended our day on a high note with dinner at Choco-Lulu. They bring out your pasta on a giant wheel of parmesan cheese, mix it all around, and then put it back on your plate with the sauce of your choice- it was ridiculously good. Plus, they had gelato for dessert and you can’t just walk away from that! We enjoyed our two days in Tel Aviv a lot and were really impressed with the city itself and the people. The city has a European feel to it and is really very trendy, and everyone speaks English.
IMG_9966.jpg Tel Aviv view from the beach
IMG_9977.jpg Dinner at Choco-Lulu and the giant Parmesan wheel
Renting a car in Israel is surprisingly affordable, so we went that route to explore the northern part of the country. It is so strange- they drive like us (right side of the road, driver on the left, obeying traffic laws), but we are so screwed up from Africa and the rest of the Middle East (left side of the road, driver on the right, what traffic laws?), nothing feels natural anymore. We had to constantly remind ourselves what side of the road to drive on. We stopped initially in Caerasara to view some Roman ruins, but the weather was uncooperative, so we quickly headed on to Haifa. Haifa is situated on the Mediterranean and the city slopes all the way down Mt. Carmel into a busy industrial port. Their big claim to fame is the Baha’i Garden which takes up an enormous space in the center of town and is spectacularly beautiful (even in the rain). I myself have never had an eye for gardens or gardening, but you have to be impressed by the perfection of the grounds.
IMG_0015.jpg The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa leading down to the shrine
IMG_0080.jpg More of the Baha'i Gardens
After spending the night in the small fortified city of Akko, we headed inland to travel around the Sea of Galilee. The area around Galilee is lush and surprisingly reminiscent of Tuscany. It is particularly known to be the area of Jesus’ most influential ministry and where he recruited many of his famous apostles. We spent time in Tiberius, a city on the sea, and went to several historic sites from the life of Jesus.
IMG_0060.jpg In the escape tunnel in Akko
IMG_0066.jpg Akko
IMG_0203.jpg This church is built on what was thought to have been Jesus' home while in Galilee
IMG_0243.jpg A view of the Sea of Galilee (it's actually below sea level)
We also drove to the far north of the country along the border with Syria, commonly known as the Golan Heights. The area is chalk full history and has been heavily disputed over the last century. During the Six Day War in the late 60’s, Israel captured the area from Syria and expelled 90% of the inhabitants, only to have Syria unsuccessfully attempt to recapture it in the 70’s. Thus, the area continues to be a sore subject for Syria and will likely be an important factor in any peace accord between Israel and Syria. Despite sharing a border, the countries do not currently have diplomatic relations and it is virtually impossible for a tourist with an Israel stamp in his or her passport to visit Syria (or Lebanon).
The Golan Heights boasts some beautiful scenery so we completed a few hikes. We stopped at Banias Nature Reserve to see their famous waterfall as well as the remains of a former temple complex. A short drive away was Nimrod Castle which is set fairytale style on a hilltop. It is a very well preserved Crusader castle and, because of its location, had some beautiful vistas. Our last stop before heading back to Tel Aviv was the Gamla Nature Reserve which is set amongst canyons with a view of the Sea of Galilee. The ruins in the reserve come with a fascinating story: the small town of Gamla was located on a steep hilltop surrounded by ravines and during its time was a Jewish stronghold. When the Romans came to capture the town, rather than be conquered, almost all 5,000 residents dramatically leapt to their death. Only two women survived to pass the story on to those who came after. You can almost feel the story come to life when you’re there and standing on the end of the ravine.
IMG_0122.jpg At the waterfall in Banias
IMG_0148.jpg Nimrod Castle
IMG_0173.jpg Another view of Nimrod and the surrounding hills
IMG_0217.jpg A view from Gamla- really georgous
IMG_0224.jpg The top of the ruins in Gamla
That ended our tour of the northern part of Israel, so we headed back to Tel Aviv to get ready for our flight to Istanbul. We had to stop at Choco-Lulu for dinner a second time- it was that good! We’ll write more when we get to Turkey!

Posted by geldere 23:44 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Jerusalem and the West Bank


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We traveled to Israel via a shared taxi with some locals which made for good fun. The old lady next to me and the two men in the front were having what seemed like a very animated debate about something- I think it was the Palestine/Israel conversation, but I’m not sure. Here, people are very enthusiastic about everything and they might have been discussing who makes the best hummus in town- you just never know. We had heard that crossing into the West Bank via the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge can be very slow due to security, but we passed through with no trouble and headed straight to Jerusalem. Once we were situated in our hostel (Abraham Hostel), we asked for a good, cheap, and local place to eat and were directed to the “Market”, an amazing amalgamation of shops, food stalls, and restaurants. We stuffed our faces at Pasta Basta and then stocked up on dried pineapple and dried strawberries – delicious!
IMG_9498.jpgThe Market and an assortment of dried fruit
Jerusalem from day one has totally blown my mind. It is a coming together of modern and old and is a true melting pot of religions. Our hostel offered a free tour of the Old City… so we, of course, signed up. It was really a great tour and took us through the major sights of each of the four neighborhoods. The Old City, an enclosed area less than one square mile, is made up of four neighborhoods or quarters - Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish - and each neighborhood has a distinctive feel. It was amazing to watch the character of the city unfold from street to street and to watch Muslims, Coptic Christians, Orthodox Jews and many others pass in the narrow streets. The Old City contains major holy sites for each of the three largest monotheistic religions. First, for Christians, there is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected. Interestingly, several Christian sects have laid claim to the church, so in order to prevent chaos, the keys have been in the hands of a Muslim family for centuries. The church attracts thousands of pilgrims every week all wanting to retrace Jesus’ final steps before he was crucified. In the Jewish Quarter is the Western Wall, better known as the Wailing Wall. It is the only part left of the Second Temple which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. For some people it is a lifelong quest to come and pray at the wall and watching people do so can be a moving experience. People also leave notes and prayers in the cracks of the wall in hopes they will be answered. In the Muslim Quarter is the Temple Mount which houses the Dome of the Rock, Islam’s 3rd holiest shrine. It is the supposed site where Mohammad ascended to heaven. Lastly, it is strange for some to think that a section of the Old City is devoted to Armenians, but they were the first to adopt Christianity in 303 AD. Not to be out done, the Armenian Quarter contains the site for the Last Supper and the Tomb of King David, one of the most important Jewish figures in history. Jerusalem really is the most fascinating and stimulating place I have ever been. It is amazing how all this history exists in such a small space, but the constant Israeli police presence and numerous security checkpoints remind us that not everyone gets along all the time.
IMG_9521.jpg The Church of the Holy Sepulcher
IMG_9598.jpg Inside the Sepulcher church
IMG_9539.jpg The Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall)
IMG_9550.jpg Sneaking a peek of the Wall (you could walk up to it- there was a men's side and a woman's side)
IMG_9650.jpgA view from the Citadel (the Dome of the Rock and the Holy Sepulcher church in the backgroud)
IMG_9770.jpgThe Dome of the Rock (it is only open for 1 hour in the afternoon for tourists and we were the last people admitted in a very long line- total luck!)
IMG_9676.jpgThe market in the Muslim Quarter
IMG_9714.jpgA view from the Mt of Olives (you can see the Armenian Quarter and the Old City Wall)
IMG_9697.jpg One of the Hasidic Jewish folks in town- they really wore the most fabulous hats
We also participated in a cooking class at our hostel for Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) where we cooked a traditional Jewish meal. Jeff was in charge of the baba ganoush- it turned out to be one of my favorite things – and I was in charge of the salad (it was a masterpiece :)). We also had someone give and explain the traditional blessing and, of course, we had to bless the wine. It was a fun night with good food and it gave us a better understanding of Jewish traditions.
IMG_9623.jpg Our Shabbat cooking class
After getting our fill of the Old City, we traveled to Bethlehem and the West Bank. Before you go thinking we’re out of our gords for traveling to the West Bank - it was fine and there were scores of tourists. Security checkpoints of course, but you can’t go to the mall here without walking through a metal detector and having your bags searched. Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank are under the control of the Palestinian Authority and thus have a very different feel from Jerusalem, more akin to Jordan and Egypt. In Bethlehem, we went to the Church of the Nativity which was built above the supposed site where Jesus was born. There are “Free Palestine” signs everywhere and propaganda to make Palestine the 194th country in the world. The other interesting experience we had was in Hebron, a Palestinian town with a few thousand Jewish folks living in isolated settlements under tight security provided by a few thousand Israeli soldiers. There is a mosque built above/around the graves of Abraham and Sarah as well as Jacob and Leah, important figures in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. Hebron has become the flashpoint for the Israel-Palestine conflict and with occasional violence flaring. In 1994 an Israeli opened fire on Muslims at prayer in the mosque killing dozens. In response, the mosque was divided in half and today a part of it is now a synagogue. Thus, security in Hebron is tight in general and even more so around the Mosque, where Palestinians have to go through three security checkpoints to enter. The West Bank is a different experience and our day there provided us with the Palestinian perspective on Israel. The whole time thus far has been a fascinating experience.
IMG_9857.jpg Inside the Church of the Nativity
IMG_9884.jpg The supposed site of Jesus' birth
IMG_9894.jpgA classic meal here- hummus, bread, falafel, and veggies
IMG_9917.jpg Just outside the mosque in Hebron- you can see the security just to get in
IMG_9906.jpg My snazzy outfit I was required to wear to enter the Mosque
We head to Tel Aviv in the morning and will write more later!!!

Posted by geldere 12:36 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

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