I overcame my indecision about what was truly noteworthy about my recent trip to Israel and finally compiled a list of my favorite things. This post is late because processing my mixed feelings regarding the journey and my thoughts on the country took awhile. As such, my trip summary is divided into two different post, a high and a low. This post is the high, so if you are interested in the things I enjoyed about Israel keep ready!
As background, I attended Israel with my friend’s law school. A plus one in a sea of of mostly law school students *sigh*. The trip was educational first with spurts of fun interspersed. I hadn’t taken an educational trip overseas since I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain in college, so this trip was a different pace than my usual drink, pool, rinse and repeat.
A travel company, along with the help of student leaders organized the event, and a tour guide accompanied the group.
Given the structure of this trip, I had no parts in logistics or researching accommodations or sites before the journey. As a result, I can’t provide support or advice on that front but I can answer all other questions!
The list is in no particular order and its mostly based on the order I visited the attractions mentioned.
1. Tel Aviv
The city of Tel Aviv is as cosmopolitan as they come. With Tel Aviv you get lively nightlife, picturesque food spots on the mediterranean, and chic urbanites parading the streets. Its a dream for both people and purse watching! Every new place I go I make it a point to look at purses the pedestrians carry. In Tel Aviv, I spotted all the fan favorites Gucci, Louis, Chanel and Fendi. And Gucci loafer galore!
I went in early March so it wasn’t beach weather, but I still enjoyed a comfortable walk on the beach and admired everyone experiencing shabbat in Tel Aviv, which is unlike any other place in Israel. Usually during shabbat most businesses close, but in Tel Aviv bars and restaurants are open and people celebrate by being merry outside.
Additionally, the graffiti in Tel Aviv is remarkable. Its colorful, vibrant and above all serves as medium for artists to communicate their sentiments on the geopolitical tensions that exists in the region.
My favorites activities in Tel Aviv included walking around Martini Beach and Saragota market.
2. Jaffa Port
While on one hand Tel Aviv is a bustling modern city and the start up capital of Israel, Jaffa, which is not too far away is filled with old narrow streets and courtyards. Jaffa (also known as Yafo) is the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv sprouted from. Jaffa contains cobblestone roads and idyllic alley ways. Its the infamous location of the Jonah and the Whale story and other biblical anecdotes.
More information on Jaff, here.
3. Sea of Galilee
Apart from Jaffa Port and the Jonah and the Whale story, the Sea of Galilee was another historical site that I could instantly recall from the bible. According to the New Testament, Jesus performed many of his miracles here, including: walking on water, miracle of the five loaves and two fish, and calming the storm. The site is filled with Christian pilgrims and it was heartwarming to see people from all over the world enjoy this site.
Jerusalem is stunning! There is a local ordinance that mandates that all structures use “Jerusalem stone,” a wheat colored stone that gives the city cohesiveness and uniformity, which can not be said about where it stands politically. Jerusalem is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority as their capital. The history that surrounds Jerusalem is so complex that its refreshing that at least visually everything is in harmony.
So many of my favorite moments in Israel were in Jerusalem. If you only have a limited time in Israel, Jerusalem is a must. First up is the Western Wall.
a. Western Wall/ Wailing Wall
The Western Wall or alternatively the Wailing wall, is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people. Each year thousands of people make the trek to this sight to pray and place written prayers in the cracks of the wall. As a catholic, so many site in Israel should hold a special place in my heart because its where Jesus’ ministry began; however none of those places moved me as much as the western wall. I prayed and scribbled my own intentions and placed them in a tiny crevice along the wall. This act alone moved me to tears. I felt so at peace and honored to pray and lay my intentions along with hundreds of other pilgrims.
The wall is divided into two sections, one for women and the other for men. The section for women is smaller, yet more populated and than the section for men. The bifurcation was upsetting, but a part of visiting locations like this is respecting the rules. More information on the western wall, here.
b. Shuk Tour (Mahane Yehuda Market)
The lure of Jerusalem is not limited to holy sites. The ambiance is almost magical because at night the wheat colored buildings (remember jerusalem stone) have a slight glow from the dim lights that pepper the streets. There is also something electric about walking and drinking through streets that Jesus frequented. That energy and vibrant energy is acutely felt at the Mahane Yehuda Market.
Mahane Yehuda Market has all the traditional trappings of a market: local delicacies, fast food, plenty of haggling; however, most recently it also reflects the pace of the times. It’s hip filled with bars, food, and public art. All the ingredients of a good time.
5. The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea has the lowest elevation and is the lowest body of water on earth. It’s extremely saline, which means the high density keeps bathers buoyant. The salinity also prevents all forms of life, except bacteria, so you won’t encounter sea creatures.
Its also said that bathing in the Sea Dead has healing properties and its good for your skin. Its difficult to describe, but the water is oily/ greasy so after a quick dip you are covered in an oily residue that burned for me, but after I rinsed off I felt like a baby. My skin felt new and supple.
Pro tip: Don’t pee, pass gas or, rub your eyes while bathing. It will burn!!!
Masada is an ancient fortress positioned on a high flat plateau above the dead sea, and its a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by King Herod in the year 30. During the revolt against Rome in the year 68, the fortress was conquered by a group of Jewish Zealots, and Masada became their refuge. Years later, the Romans succeeded in finally besieging Masada. The jewish zealots living at the top of Masada died by suicide rather than to be captured by the romans alive. Those actions are still revered as symbols of determination and heroism and many Israeli soldiers are sworn in at Masada.
As for the climb, this fortress is high up there, and can be reached by walking the snake path or by cable car that runs from the tourist center at to the top top of the fortress. My group choose to walk up. Warning: this is an actual hike and its difficult. If you aren’t used to exercise you will be wheezing and struggling during the ascent. I completed the walk in 36 minutes, but it can take longer than an hour, or less than what I completed it given your fitness level.
We started climbing at 4:45 am with the intention of catching the sunrise. Unfortunately, for us it was a cloudy and we couldn’t see the sunrise. Nonetheless, it was still a memorable experience.
I hope you enjoyed this list! Let me know what your thoughts are.