I must admit: Israel is not a country where you feel welcome with open arms from the first moment. Long control checks at the airport, an unknown alphabet and breath sounds, interrupted train line for not clear reasons, bags check at every station and shopping mall. I count endless military uniforms and weapons, causing in me mixed feelings of anxiety and safety, and I stare men wearing dark suites, large black hats and with two long perfect curls to frame the face.
Not a typical Mediterranean Country, not Asia, not South America, nothing I can relate to.
I feel inappropriate and the echoes of my friends’ and family’s warnings resound in my head – “Damn, was it a good idea to come here?! “.
Trust me, it is!
You might need some time to adapt, but if you have a close look you can see that the same young boy wearing an army uniform and holding a Kalashnikov, is just waiting for his train licking a tasty ice cream (in Israel the National Service is mandatory, it lasts 3 years for men, 2 years for woman and during this period the uniform is compulsory). You notice that the man with the weird look is travelling with the wife and the little cute daughter, maybe he will ask you to take a photo of them with his smartphone.
Finally you order your first meals: hummus, shawarma, mezes and other exotic names for known dishes and taste that brings you home. And I don’t need to mention the millenary history, layered in little and fascinating towns, the blue sea and the infinite desert. Everything in such a small, efficient and proud Country.
If you decide to dig more and to start talking to locals, you will be able to solve some initial doubts, but be aware that you will open a Pandora vase with countless open questions about religions, ancient and recent history. Take your time at home to find your truth.
Maybe Israel will not enrich you with absolute answers, but for sure with deep experiences: at the end this is the purpose of travelling, right? Don’t be scared and embrace it!
For an Israel travel itinerary and practical info, check the post Israel ReadyToGo
- #1 Tel Aviv/Jaffa
- #2 Jerusalem
- #3 Masada, Dead Sea
- #4 Akko
- #4 Haifa
#1 Tel Aviv/Jaffa
Tel Aviv is a young, dynamic and a modern/contemporary city. They say that Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays… and plays a lot!
Years ago, when I was still living in Italy and I was a happy member of HomeExchange community, I received a request to swap my apartment with a super cool loft in Tel Aviv. “Tel Aviv? Mmhh, let me Google… I know it is somewhere in the Middle East, but… 1 week? Isn’t it in a war zone??” – I was not convinced at all. Until I saw the photos of the promenade, the beach and the skyline: “Wow, is it Miami? Is it Rio?”. In that specific moment I decided: I had to visit it, forgetting war fears and any other kind of social/political doubts. I know, I am so easy to convince. But have a look of these photos, wouldn’t you like to have a swim now?
Known as White City, Tel Aviv had a great expansion during 30’s and the International Style developed by the Bauhaus School in Germany was the natural choice to express the desire of modernity. Now I am talking like an architect (I’m sorry, you can virtually kick me, I can’t help!), but even if you don’t like the white/yellowish house blocks, take a chance to learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Check out for walking tours organized weekly by the Bauhaus Center and the Municipality of Tel Aviv, it is like a dive in the past!
Jerusalem is the origin. You can read it in the eyes of tourists/travellers: the emotional excitement to be finally there, touching the big stones of the Western Wall or falling on the knees at the entrance of the Church of Holy Sepulchre. I feel almost guilty: I am there too, feeling the energy wave of women shacking while praying, and I wonder if I have the right to be there, like if I stole the dream to someone else worthier than me.
Jerusalem has different faces, at every time of the day and the week. Quiet streets in the early morning turn into a crowded babel few hours later, in a dense mixed of spicy smells, horn sounds, languages, smoke and religions identified by guises. It is a lot to handle, but fascinating.
The Mount of Olives can be your holy escape: the view embraces the walls that embrace the town, framed by secular olive trees. Just stop, sit and breath. This is my holy Jerusalem.
#3 Masada, Dead Sea
The shuttle bus crosses the tunnel, we leave Jerusalem on the back, on the other side of the hill and in few seconds we are in the desert. Houses are replaced by Bedouins camps, the landscape becomes dry and with shades of ocher and brown, camels along the way confirm that yes, we are really in a desert. It is not a tunnel, it is a portal on the moon!
We reach Masada, ruins of a stunning fortress built during Herod’s kingdom, 2000 years ago. The Snake Path is closed due to excessive heat and we are forced to take the cable car: 3 minutes and we are on the top of the Desert. The view is simply breathless and the story of Masada linked to the tragic resistance of the Jewish rebels is heartbroken (no spoiler here…:) ).
It is now time for what every touristic dépliant describes as “relaxing and healthy day at the Dead Sea”. Well… first: forget to spend there a full day, it is just too hot and the salty water dries you even more. Second: if not relaxing, it is extremely hilarious! You can float in a such ridiculous pose, surrounded by a group of aliens covered in mud, while a male voice with the megaphone invite you to move back to the beach. Almost like in The Lobster movie. Believe me: 2 hours are enough.
Akko, Acre, Antiochia Ptolemais, St. Jean d’Acre, Akke. Different names follow each other in the town’s timeline and determinate the arrival of a new conqueror and a new era. Everybody came here, attracted by the perfect harbour in the Mediterranean Sea: Phoenicians, Greeks with Alexander the Great, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, British and at the end Israelis. Napoleon tried hard, but did not succeed.
Akko is a bit off of the beaten path, but it encloses everything you can hope for: beauty, history, medieval constructions with underground tunnels, a small medina with the Arabic market, an hammam converted into a museum, the greatest hummus ever (eat at Humus Said!), golden beaches and a so instagrammable harbour. Did I convince you?
Haifa doesn’t have a breathless beauty to make you fall in love at first sight. It is like the nerd sister of two charming models (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), too busy to study or work and with little time for make-up and hair style. It doesn’t mean she is not pretty, but you need to search for the beauty, even if it means climbing mounts or move to few km: it is an effort that will be paid out!
Get up early, forget walking (for now) and take one of the frequent buses to reach the top of the Carmel Mount: the road is tortuous, lively and it will make you thank yourself to have spent few NIS for the bus ticket (our best expense in 10 days of travel!).
If the ascension is worthy, the view from the promontory of the city downtown and the blue sea will transform forever your opinion about Haifa: the fresh morning air, the delicate flowers that falls from the rocks and the magnificence of the Bahai Gardens is the perfect postcard. Your Instagram account will explode!
Bahai is a two century monotheist religion born in Iran, that seeks world peace and celebrates faith freedom. It counts millions of proselytes around the world and the Gardens with the Golden Dome in Haifa is probably the best representation of their (economical) power. The real landmark of the city (just try to Google “Haifa”, you will understand what I mean!). You can join free morning tours to know more about the religion and to walk down to the terraces.
Downtown district of Wadi Nisnas has interesting Arabic craft shops and the market. Train station is not far, Carmen beach is at only two stops and a great idea to lay down on the soft sand.
All this has been my Israel. I am still in the phase to process the trip, it will take time and many books, but I am so happy to not have listened my friends and family comments for once! 😀
If you are planning an Itinerary and you need practical info about sightseeing, transport, budget and general info don’t miss the post Israel ReadyToGo
Have you been to Israel? How was your experience? Let me know, I am curious to hear your stories!