Floating Away

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THE thing to do in Cappadocia is a hot air balloon ride. Floating effortlessly over the bizarre landscape at dawn, taking in breathtaking scenery of fairy chimneys and pigeon caves… it sounds pretty awesome, right? But still, I wasn’t sure I was going to do it. It’s quite expensive, even as far as tourist excursions go, and I just wasn’t sure it would be worth it.

However, everyone I met in Göreme had done it and raved about the experience. Absolutely no one regretted spending the money on the trip, so I figured that said something, especially since backpackers are a notoriously tight-fisted bunch. So I decided to stop grumbling and just cough up the money. And guess what? It was totally worth it. Continue reading

Phalluses and Fairy Chimneys: Cappadocia in a Nutshell

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I’ve been here in beautiful Göreme, Cappadocia for the past few days and while high season means the area is completely overrun with tourists, it’s still even more gorgeous than I had previously imagined. The unique landscape was formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago, and while everyone calls the resulting conical peaks “fairy chimneys”… let’s face it guys, we all know what they look like. I guess “massive stone penises” would just be too crude to appeal to the Turkish Tourism Board.

But why would fairies need such large chimneys, anyway? Continue reading

Pamukkale, The Cotton Castle

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After two nights in Selçuk, I took the three-hour bus ride to the small village of Pamukkale. It was even smaller than I expected, truly a one-horse town that seems to be entirely sustained by the tourism industry. Accommodation options there were rather limited: the hostel I booked had pretty good ratings but was actually kind of weird, and the bathroom door in our dorm didn’t actually close. But honestly, it’s not like anyone is really going to spend more than a night there. Continue reading

A Night Under the Stars in Wadi Rum

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My new French friends and I hopped in a taxi at the Jordanian border and set off on our 45-minute drive to Wadi Rum. While Etienne sat up front and chatted with our driver, I spent most of the time looking out the window at the vast, unchanging desert landscape. Though Israel has miles of uninhabited desert as well, this seemed different somehow. We saw almost nothing: lots of sand and rocks with one main road running in between, a single railroad track (that I later learned doesn’t carry passengers and is mostly for show), and power lines. An amazing abundance of power lines, though I couldn’t tell you where they led to or from. Continue reading

Road Trip to the Weirdest Hostel in the World

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After bumming around Jerusalem for a few days, I ran into two people I had met back in Tel Aviv, Jon and Jahan. Jon was on a mission to get down to Eilat for some diving in the Red Sea, and Jahan was looking for an adventure to fill her last few days before she flew back home. It was pretty easy for them to convince me to come along. (Actually they snuck into my dorm room one morning, stared at me until I woke up, and basically said “Are you in or what?”) Road Trip! Continue reading

Birthright Day 4: Mt. Arbel and the Baha’i Gardens

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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Birthright Days 1 & 2: Golan Heights

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