Before we dive in I just quickly want to talk about something here: I'm well aware of the political situation in Israel/Palestine and that there may be people wondering why I even bothered visiting this area instead of boycotting it. The simple answer is that I am a world traveler and I don't like mixing travel & politics! Because if I did I wouldn't have made it to some seriously awesome countries. Another reason is that I was super excited to finally visit all the places from the New Testament - some of them just happen to be in Israel, others in Palestine. So there was no political motivation involved, just a curious Christian with a biting travel bug! ;) With that said, let the journey begin!
This part of the world had been on my bucket list for quite some time and two weeks ago I finally stepped on a plane to Tel Aviv! The plan was to spend 5 nights in Jerusalem and 3 in Tel Aviv. I'd use these cities as my base for trips to Nazareth & the Sea of Galilee and Palestine. I wanted to see as many places as possible in the 8 days I had there but at the same time I wanted to be able to chill and soak it all up. This trip was jam-packed with culture, religion (the 3 big world religions - Judaism, Islam & Christianity - converge here), yummy food (hummus anyone?) and history (did you know that Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited place on earth?). Add to that some roof-top yoga & paddle-boarding and there you have it: my perfect getaway!
In this post I'll show you around the main cities I've visited in Israel. But there are three more posts to come over the next couple of weeks: one dedicated to Palestine, another one about all the Christian sites I've visited (in more or less biblical order) & a post about the amazing cornucopia of vegan foods I've been lucky enough to enjoy on this trip!
Here we go...
In Jerusalem I spent five nights at the Abraham Hostel which is probably one of the best hostels I've ever stayed at! It's clean, the common rooms are awesome and I feel this place has really been designed with travelers in mind: from multiple hooks in the bathrooms and bedrooms & free shower gel to spacious lockers and towels included free of charge! And the breakfast... OMG! It was seriously better than in some hotels! Pssst: there was a even a yummie vegan chocolate spread and a proper barista style coffee machine!
From here I also did two excursions with Abraham Tours (booked through the hostel website - if you combine tours and accommodation you get a discount!). The first was the Holy City Walking Tour through the old town of Jerusalem and the second was the Best of the West Bank (Palestine) tour - and I can't recommend them enough! Both our guides where funny, talkative locals who were only too happy to share their knowledge with us about each region and I had a great times on these tours!
The new city of Jerusalem & mandatory cat picture...
...the Western Wall where Jewish people come to pray and where tourists get to seriously cover up (and put a message to God in the cracks of the wall if they wish). Even though this place is divided by gender - one side for women, the other for men - you still need to dress modestly as a woman here!
And let's stay with the dress code topic for a second: Covering up near religious sights is really a no-brainer and should always be done out of respect to the people praying and worshiping there. If you plan, however, to visit Mea Shearim - the oldest and certainly most conservative Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, then you'll have to cover your elbows and knees, no trousers are allowed for women and no shorts for men. And that's just for walking in the street, you're not going to enter any holy sites here! That said, you really only get to stroll along the main street. There are numerous signs that will deter you from venturing into any of the residential side alleys. It's interesting to see this part of town, to get a rare glimpse into the daily life of these people but don't count on seeing many friendly faces. People here are not extremely fond of visitors and generally prefer to be left alone. So try to be respectful!
Temple Mount - a place that could be straight out of a fairy tale!
On one side you have the Al Aqsa Mosque and on the other the Dome of the Rock with its stunning colorful mosaics. Only Muslims are allowed into these buildings but tourists are welcome to stroll around the huge square up here. To Muslims this is the third holiest place after Mecca and Medina. Two things I learnt before entering the site: you will have to go through a proper bag search and metal detectors on the way in and it's advisable not to bring in/wear any kind of religious symbols - so no crosses, no bibles etc. Again, modest dress is necessary. I wore a long skirt, a t-shirt with a loose blouse and a head scarf. I must have looked convincing enough as I was asked if I was Muslim and if I wanted to enter the mosque. As much as I would have wanted to see the inside of it, it was a good thing I was honest. Turns out if you try to get in as a non-Muslim or even if you just don't look Middle-Eastern but are a Muslim, they'll ask you to recite something in Arabic before deciding if you're fit to pray inside. Anyway, walking around and admiring the buildings from the outside was awesome enough for me!
True story: there was this kind man with a backpack full of cat food and bird seeds in the middle of the square and he put on a pretty decent breakfast for his four-legged & feathered friends! Considering that nobody apart from the tourists looked very surprised, it made me wonder if this kind man comes up here every morning to do this...
And then there is the absolutely stunning walled old city of Jerusalem! You can almost imagine what this place must have been like 2,000 years ago... (granted, the windmill is a bit random but you can actually see it from outside the city walls!). You can enter through one of seven gates and each one leads you to a different part of the old town.