Next stop on my itinerary was Israel. Unlike most of the places I visited on my grand adventure I was not limiting myself to a particular city but instead trying to see as much as possible. This was aided by a friend I already had in Israel (who was the reason that it was added to the plan in the first place) and his family who were happy to schlep me around and show me their world.
Israel was a nice break from Europe. I love Europe, but so much time traveling Europe had me getting a bit jaded about the architecture and history around me so taking a short break was a nice change of pace.
My friend lives in a small town at what he once referred to as ‘the end of the world’ and which was rather accurate. It was a nice retreat from the regular hustle and bustle of the trip. I arrived late at night and as soon as we got back to his place I basically passed out into sleep – we had an early morning ahead of us because we were heading to Jerusalem first thing!
Jerusalem was amazing. I don’t know how else to describe it. Knowing that I’m a politics nerd, the first thing we did was take a tour of the Knesset. It was us and a bunch of America teenagers who were there presumably for some sort of Birthright type trip. Our guide was great and we had audio guides as well which I always appreciate. My friend also had a story or two for me about his time being involved with the Israeli youth council where he got to have actual meetings at the Knesset which I thought was pretty cool.
Just up the road from the Knesset was the Supreme Court of Israel and so naturally we took a detour over there. We even got to watch a bit of ongoing court proceedings. Obviously I could not understand a word of what was going on, but it was still super interesting to see. Also, one wing of the court was dedicated to a small museum of Israeli law and history which I thought was an interesting touch.
After that we headed to the market where I was super overwhelmed, but tried a lot of things that I to this day have no idea what they were. I do remember the halva though. Yummy, yummy halva. After that we went to the main attraction of the day – the Old City.
Old Jerusalem is split into 4 quarters – the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. We entered through the Jewish Quarter for a few reasons – the most obvious one being that that was the entrance my friend was most well acquainted with.
Our first stop was the Western Wall (aka: Wailing Wall) where there were (of course) separate entrances for men and women. We split and agreed to meet up in ten minutes of so. Despite not being Jewish I did leave a note and spent a few moments in quiet contemplation trying not to seem like a watching weirdo. There was also a bar mitzvah going on nearby so I stopped to watch the festivities for a few minutes as well.
Next we waited in line to head up the Temple Mount. My friend was almost not allowed to go because Jewish people are not supposed to go up as it is against Jewish law. He got a talking to by the guards, but they eventually relented because he was with me. I’m definitely glad we got around that one because it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
Non-Muslims are not allowed in the Dome of the Rock which was unfortunate, but not entirely surprising. It was amazing just to get to see it and it was not an opportunity I ever expected to have so I count myself fortunate to have had the experience.
We wandered around the Old City some more and eventually decided to check out the Via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa is believed to be the path that Jesus walked to his own crucifixion. All of the stops are numbered and there are maps you can get that show you the way and give a little explanation about what was supposed to have occurred at each of the stops. It took us a lot longer than I am proud of to find our way through it.
After that we wandered around a bit more – including showing me Hell (which is an actual place in Jerusalem apparently) before heading back for the night. Another, strange thing that was pointed out to me in Jerusalem was a telephone booth that has survived two terrorist attacks. Strange what passes for a landmark sometimes.
Jerusalem was the big one, but my friend’s family made sure I saw a lot of other things too. One day we went to Masada – an ancient fortress that was subject to a siege in the first Jewish-Roman War and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
Another day we went to the Dead Sea of course. I didn’t own a swimsuit so I had to go in in a dress – the dress no longer fits, but I do not regret it in the least. Naturally I got salt water in my eyes because that is how my life works, but it was still worth it. My friend couldn’t go in with me, but his sister was kind enough to float away with me.
We also went to Ein Gedi National Park. We hiked the shortest trail, but it was still beautiful and amazing.
It was so much greener than anythingI expected to find in Israel – most of which had lived up to my imagination of desert. The final big stop which we did on my last day in Israel was to go to Jaffa and Tel Aviv. We spent the morning in Jaffa which is right beside Tel Aviv and used to be the main port city in Israel. We did one of those free walking tours and it was a really neat experience.
In the afternoon we met up with my friend’s sister for lunch at a place that my friend found fit to tell me had been the site of a terrorist attack a month previous. I was a bit jumpy over lunch to absolutely no surprise. What can I say – Canadians are very isolated from that sort of thing whereas it’s much more part of the public consciousness in Israel.
We also went to Independence Hall which is where Independence was declared in 1948. It was neat to see. Obviously very rah rah rah as any site like that is bound to be, but interesting nonetheless.
We also went to the memorial site for Yitzak Rabin who was assassinated in 1995. Rabin was a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was well known as an advocate for peace between Israel and Palestine.
All in all, my trip to Israel was amazing. There is still a lot to see obviously, but I feel like I managed to cram a lot into a very short time. One of my friends asked me if I went to any of the more controversial places (i.e.: places in the Gaza Strip or West Bank) and the answer is no. It’s not that I would never want to see those places because I do, but the time just was not right. Plus, the friend I was with obviously would not have been allowed over there so it just didn’t seem wise.
The chaos was not over yet though. They almost did not let me leave! For some reason they could not find anyone in the airport who spoke decent English when I was supposed to be leaving, but thankfully they found someone who could speak some English. Enough to ask me whether I would just let my friend speak for me anyway. I didn’t care. I just wanted to move onward. Israel was great, but I was ready to head back to Europe. They did eventually let me go and I raced for my plane arriving with approximately 10 minutes until boarding. That was terrifying, but soon I was back in the sky heading to Sofia, Bulgaria. More about that next time!