[This is Part 2 of my day trip to Bethlehem, in the West Bank. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can find it here.]
Finally we decided to cave to the taxi drivers who kept approaching us in Manger Square. “Where you go? Go see Banksy graffiti, see wall.” Sure, okay, we’ll go see the Banksy wall.
[This post got pretty long so I’m splitting it in two. Here’s Part 1. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.]
Sunday around noon I took the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Florentine was almost too nice of a hostel… I could easily have spent another week there sitting on my butt on their rooftop doing nothing. So it was time to get a move on.
Almost immediately, I ran into two Dutch girls I had met a week ago, Esmee and Nina. They easily talked me into going on an ill-fated adventure of trying to walk to the Mount of Olives to see the sunset. Suffice it to say, we never ended up making it and instead found ourselves wandering through an ancient cemetery after dark. But we wouldn’t let failure deter us! We made plans to get up early the next morning and go on a day trip to Bethlehem, our first taste of the West Bank.
I learned fairly early on that Israel is a pretty expensive country to travel in. Prices are definitely on par with the United States or Western Europe, and restaurants? We’re talking New York prices. Luckily all of the hotels and hostels I’ve stayed in so far have served some sort of breakfast (even if it’s just toast and hummus), and I’ve mostly been able to avoid expensive, sit-down meals. Here are some of the widely available street food options: Continue reading
I’ve been in Tel Aviv for a week already. I was considering moving on to Jerusalem today, but I’m concerned that there won’t be much to do once the sun goes down tonight for Shabbat, aside from areas like the Muslim Quarter. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, is a much more secular city and the options aren’t as limited, so I’ve decided to stay here until Sunday. Continue reading
One of the first things I noticed while wandering around Tel Aviv the past few days is the amazing street art everywhere. It seems like every time I round a corner, there’s some amazing mural or detailed wheat paste piece stuck up on a wall somewhere. Of course there’s lots of mediocre stuff too, but I love seeing all of the colors everywhere. Most of these photos were taken around the Florentine and Neve Tzedek neighborhoods, some just blocks from one another.
Apologies for the lack of updates. I’ve had barely any time to think, let alone write, during the jam-packed itinerary of the last 10 days. Taglit was a very mixed experience and I’ll be writing about it in detail as soon as I get a chance. For now, just a quick update to allay concerns: Continue reading
Although our itinerary said we would be spending three nights in Jerusalem, this turned out to not be the case. Instead we were in a vaguely sketchy, halfway under construction hotel in what seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, a town near the airport that is nearly a full hour from actual Jerusalem. Whatever, it wasn’t the first time the provided itinerary was misleading, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Continue reading
I knew before boarding the plane to Israel that I would probably have a difficult time with the Birthright itinerary and travel style, so I’m actually pretty surprised that it took until Day 4 for me to start getting annoyed.
We started off our day with a hike down Mount Arbel, still in the north of Israel. It was a beautiful view as we climbed down, and there were some very cool caves along the way along with a very impressive fortress built into the rock, but unfortunately we didn’t learn anything about them at all. It was around this time that I realized our tour guide might not be very good, and my opinion of him only went downhill from there. His whole schtick that had amused us for the first few days had worn off by then, and I felt like he wasn’t very knowledgable, or at least didn’t communicate clearly. When we were at the top of Mount Arbel waiting for some space to open up between us and the group in front of us (another constant problem with Birthright trips), he briefly told us that there were caves in the side of the mountain that people used to live in. But rather than tell us who these people were, when they lived there, or why (things I was quite interested to find out), instead he just shared some unrelated parable about a carob tree that I’m pretty sure I heard in Hebrew school when I was eight years old.
It was a rough hike down the mountain — yes, it was mostly downhill, but the path was quite steep with slippery, unsteady rocks in certain areas and the cliff edges were complete drops. It was absolutely beautiful, though. Unfortunately we were rushed along the whole time — to the point where half the time when I stopped to take pictures I was told to hurry up, I was falling behind the group (even though that wasn’t true because a good chunk of the group was there with me taking pictures!) We were told we should be constantly drinking water (which is obviously important in the full sun when climbing a mountain), but we only took one five minute break on the two or three hour hike. I found it exhausting and frustrating at times. What’s the point of a grueling hike in 95 degree heat if you can’t even enjoy the view for a moment?
Afterwards we had a quick ice cream at the stand by the bottom of the trail (quite a lucrative business concept they’ve got going on there) before bussing off to Haifa for about 5 minutes at the Baha’i Gardens. I wish I were kidding. It felt like a cursory visit, something we did just so they could say “See? We don’t only focus on Jewish holy sites!” but I feel like the hasty visit and extremely basic Baha’i 101 we got only emphasized it and made the site feel like a throwaway in our itinerary. I’d love to go back on my own and spend more time there, visiting the inner garden as well.
After that ridiculous charade of inclusivity, we boarded the bus once again and drove to a small park where we would finally meet the seven Israeli peers who would be joining us for the next five days of our trip. There was a weird song and dance about this too: when we showed up to the park the Israelis were all already there, but we were led straight past them. Our guide and trip leaders kept us separated for like 10 minutes (while they introduced themselves and talked to the Israelis, I guess), so it was super awkward when we all finally met. Somehow they were all tall and attractive and seemed older than us, even though most were younger (I guess it’s the military that does it). Then since it was Friday, we were only given about 20 minutes for a very late lunch before the shops all closed for Shabbat. More rushing around!
We spent more time in the north of Israel on our third day, starting off our morning in the city of Tzfat (also transliterated as “Tsvat” or “Safed”). It’s a very notable place for quite a few reasons: it’s the highest city in Israel, is one of the four holy cities in Israel (Jerusalem, Hebron, and the nearby Tiberias are the others), and it’s also the birthplace of Kabbalah. Continue reading
Terrible jetlag, worse than I expected for only a 7 hour time difference. After getting off the plane and hanging around the airport for several hours for ridiculous reasons, we boarded our tour bus for the next 10 days and headed north to Tiberias, which would serve as our home base for the first part of our trip. Despite being exhausted and going to bed before midnight (fairly early for me), I could only sleep for a couple hours.
After waking up at two or three in the morning, I tossed and turned for a while longer before giving up completely on sleep and going outside to watch my first Israeli sunrise from the porch of our hotel in Tiberias. Continue reading