A trip eternally postponed. I recall my father repeatedly expressing his desire to go on a trip to Israel to visit his aunt since I was a small kid. And I confess, for some years, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to visit a country that appears on the press as being almost constantly on war. Also, being a teenager, you don’t listen much to your parents or you just want to do the opposite of what they tell you.
Anyway, long story short, after many years of indecision we finally packed our bags and left for 9-day trip to Israel last August, a month before my father’s aunt turned 100 years old.
For some reason I knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary trip, but I didn’t expect I would feel the connection I felt. It’s called the Holy Land for some reason, there is a special energy at the place.
A few weeks before the trip, I tried to gather as much information as possible about where to go, what to do, what to eat, how to get dressed. Looking back I think I was trying to make up for all these years and not willing to miss a thing. In the end we designed the following route.
Barcelona – Tel Aviv – Cesarea – Haifa – Akko – Ein Hashofet – Nazareth – Dead Sea – Jerusalem – Bethlehem (Palestine) – Tel Aviv – Barcelona.
Note to self: Next time try to do less in more time.
If you’re looking for touristic information, there are millions of blog posts out there and a few good book guides. I’m only going to mention the highlights of my trip, or at least what touched me the most, in chronological order.
One of the most stunning views from the trip were the incredibly well maintained Bahai Gardens in Haifa. Little had I heard about this city and nothing from the Bahai community before I landed in Israel. If you ask me, a must stop, but maybe not in middle August as the heat is almost unbearable and you must dress accordingly.
I can imagine the signs stating: Do not climb the wall, do not jump on the water. And, here are some Arab teens enjoying the views and waters of the city, ignoring those precautions. Akko (Acre) is one of the Palestinian territories annexed by Israel in 1948. Therefore, still has a large Arab population. Walking around the old town it’s easy to forget you are in Israel, surrounded by mosques and Arab families. That’s probably one of the things I most enjoyed about the trip, the mix of cultures. A shaken but not stirred mix maybe, as every community remains united and does not usually intertwine with one another.
Ein Hashofet – Life in a Kibbutz
Ein Hashofet is one of the few left Kibbutz that still work partially as socialist communities. Members can either work in one of the industries from the Kibbutz or work outside the community and bring an external income. The kibbutz provides education to children and young adults as well as a clinic and an elderly home. It seemed like a good place to raise children and relax after retirement, but I don’t think I’m cut to live in such a small community at the moment. Anyway the main point of the visit was to meet our relatives whom I hadn’t seen in many years or not met at all. I was most of all deeply moved by the positiveness and strength of my father’s aunt. A 99 year old woman who escaped Holocaust by moving to Israel (at the moment still Palestine) in the 1930s and who had managed to live all these years with a smile on her face. One of these encounters that make you examine your limiting beliefs and whining tendencies.
Nazareth – The gentle views
We didn’t have much time, but since we were really close we decided to pay a visit to Nazareth, another territory annexed to Israel in the 1948 war which holds an important Arab community. Two things stroke me the most about the city. On one hand the kindness of the merchants in the souk. Not only were they not trying to sell me everything, one of them was kind enough to offer us some maps of the old town without even being asked for directions. A kindness that stands in contrast with some of Israeli rude manners.
On the other hand, the incredible views of the city from Mount Precipice, are really worth a stop. Next time I go to Israel, I would like to spend a night in Nazareth and then explore the Galilee area.
Sunrise in Dead Sea
Perks of going to the Dead Sea in the middle of August: you can enjoy a captivating sunrise with no one on the beach. The downside: you may become soup stock after 8 am. I have never imagined the water would be almost boiling. A curious experience for sure.
Jerusalem- The magic light
Jerusalem definitely deserves a separate chapter. The only thing I can say is that, whatever your religious or political beliefs might be, at some point in your life you should visit Jerusalem. There’s a special energy that emanates from the city which can’t be described with words and that no religious fights can defeat. The views from the Mount of Olives are completely breathtaking, in the old town, every turn of the path hides some historical jewel. In Jerusalem we experienced again the Palestinian kindness when our guide offered us some strong Turkish coffee at her tiny apartment in the christian quarter. Make sure you pay a visit to the American Colony Hotel, a charming venue with a pleasant terrace that serves as a neutral oasis for people from different backgrounds and religions to enjoy a meal next to each other.
In the same way as Tel Aviv was something of a disappointment, Jaffa (its oldest part) emerged as an unexpected surprise. The old part of the city is the home of several art galleries, and provides with really nice views of the metropolis.
Ran Morin’s Suspended Orange Tree, a permanent sculpture in Jaffa, deals with the concept of being rootless. Although alive, its fruits are not edible. If you don’t know your roots, you will never grow healthy.
You can see more pictures of my trip to Israel here. Have you visited the country? What were your favorite experiences?