In no particular order:
1. Shabbat dinner with an Israeli family
After more or less getting kicked off the market place by the orthodox jewish man blowing his “you better close your shop coz it’s Shabbat”-horn, we headed to our Israeli friends’s home where we were welcomed with an extensive and delicious Shabbat dinner. We learned about Shabbat practices and rituals. If you’re heading to Israel: get yourself invited for Shabbat!
2. Bicycling in Tel Aviv
It’s certainly the best way of exploring the city. Especially during Shabbat when there is significantly less traffic. The city is flat and features long bicycle lanes and cycling routes that lead you to the city’s highlights or allow you to enjoy the back alleys. Cruising the empty streets and beach boulevard while the warm sun caresses your shoulders and the wind gently re-styles your hair, I can’t think of anything more pleasant to do in a big city. Stop anywhere interesting for a snack, a drink or a power nap.
3. Tel Aviv’s hip but laid back night life
Semi-spontaneous rooftop parties, clubs you may enter wearing flip flops and quirky underground bars with retro ms. Pac-man machines. That’s the kind of nightlife I enjoy! Everyone is out doing what they like, not caring about what you’re doing or how you’re dressed. I mean how many clubs allow you to enter while carrying a huge backpack?
4. Daily doses of hummus, falafel and charcoal grilled meat
Not a single day went by without consuming one of these staples, preferably all of them. Why? Because they’re just that tasty! I’m usually not the biggest hummus or falafel fan, but I quickly realised that what I knew as hummus and falafel, were just the ugly stepsisters of the real thing. Don’t even get started on the grilled meat…
5. Wandering the streets of Jerusalem’s old city
Despite the massive amounts of tourists, there are still plenty of back streets to be discovered by the independent traveller. There is a unusual yet calm and somewhat charged atmosphere hanging around the old city. Almost as if you could feel the weight of a thick millennia old history book pressing on you. At times, once away from the crowds, you get the impression you’ve stepped back 2000+ years. I hardly visited any churches/buildings. Just strolling through the quiet streets had a much greater impact on me.
6. Watching the religious and pilgrims reaching spiritual bliss in Jerusalem
Muslim, Jewish or Christian, people from all three religions have a good reason to pilgrim to Jerusalem. Christians flock to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus Christ was allegedly crucified and buried. The Jewish community pleads by the Wailing Wall while Muslims pray in the Dome of Rock. I found it fascinating to see people complete their pilgrimages in full ecstasy and tears. Others were sliding their written requests to god into the cracks of the holy wall. I spent several hours marvelling at the way people were so intensely and positively touched by religion.
7. Crossing into Palestine and back
It was a very bizarre and uncomfortable border crossing. One that involves strong men and women carrying heavy machine guns, endless rolls of barbed wire, an uncountable amount of security cameras, intense passport checks, high concrete walls and firmly gated passageways. It’s how I imagine a heavily guarded prison to be like. It wasn’t really a fun experience but definitely an important one; a real eye opener. I won’t get deeper into the issue, as I chose not to talk politics on this blog.
So on a lighter note:
8. Floating in the dead sea
A big touristic cliché, but still… Such a peculiar feeling! I tried going underwater, I really couldn’t! The floating was the main draw, but I also found it quite interesting to amble on a salt beach. More fun yet, when it was time to play around in the mud!
9. Talking politics over beers and nargileh
When in Israel, at one point or another, politics do come up. The discussions I had with locals were so interesting and surprising, that they made my ‘top-experiences’ list. Meeting new Israeli friends made the entire trip much more fascinating… intriguing even. The beers and double apple flavoured nargileh (water pipe) added spice to the conversations. As it did to all the following conversations, for that matter. Smoking nargileh is a crucial part of the regional culture, so when in Rome…
10. Learning, Learning, Learning (and being confused)
I could cite another tourist attraction here, but one of the things that really set this trip apart from others was the amount of new things I learnt. About conflicts, about people, about religion, about history, about peace, about beliefs, about the human race… It was overwhelming and memorable. I realised that during a trip to Israel one must really open his mind and heart to get the most out of it.
What I wish I had done in Israel: stay at a kibbutz; have a drink in the underwater restaurant in Eilat; party at a secret desert psy trance gathering and explore the Galilee, land of milk and honey. I guess I’ll have to go back.