|Friday 10/24 Brian and I woke up early enough to beat the arrival of breakfast on the balcony terrace at the Antique Hostel in Istanbul. After checking email and eating breakfast we set off for a quick tour of the Blue Mosque before embarking to the airport for Tel Aviv.
We arrived 1.5 hrs before the flight and were the last to check in, which they kindly pointed out several times before asking the intentions of our trip to Israel and giving us our boarding passes.
Our flight left at 12:05 pm and somehow we gained an hour during the 2 hr flight (which I would later find out that Israel had already observed day light savings time). We were questioned again while deboarding the plane and then made a quick pass through the passport check. After grabbing our packs we took a Metro ride one stop from Ben Gurion Airport and then boarded the #16 bus within a block of Hayarkon 48 Hostel (1 block off the beach).
Brian and I were mesmerized at the beauty of the Israeli people as we strolled along the beach. There was a ton of activity on the beach: kite surfers, wind surfers, volleyball, smashball, etc.
Hunger started to consume so we agreed to eat at the first restaurant we came to , which happened to be a great Chinese restaurant and grocery. Upon returning we hung out with two recent Dartmouth grads, Nova and Dana. Tonight we were supposed to meet up with a couple couchsufers that could not host us and possible go to a Desert Party (which ended up not happening). We did go to the Chaser Bar in the Florentine area around 11 to meet up with Yoni (csurfer host), a young film producer. We caught a cab and picked up a few Hebrew words and sayings from the driver on the 10 minute ride.
Upon arriving we met Yoni's friends Noem and Roy, who play in a band (The Club), and Yael, also a musician. We had a vodka shot (a chaser) then a change of venue. The next bar was very cool with a name I can't pronounce but had a beautiful clientele. Here I got to hear some of Roy and Noem band's music, which was quite good. They have a show the day we leave Tel Aviv, so we may be missing that unfortunately.
Three bars later a buzz was starting to set in before we made it to a dance club and skipped the line on the way in. Apparently Roy is a bit of a celebrity in Tel Aviv. Another vodka shot and beer before making our way to yet another bar which would prove to be my last.
The next afternoon I was lead back to the hostel to find a note from Brian that he hadnt slept much at the hostel and was on the beach. I was in desperate need of a shower and was pleasantly surprised at the water pressure in shower #3. I felt like a circus animal being sprayed down by a pressure washer...possibly the only time I have ever thought that the water pressure was too strong in a shower, but it felt good after quite an eventful evening.
Brian and I caught up on the remainders of our nights', then laid in recovery mode on the beach for a couple of hours before mustering enough energy to throw the frisbee around. This is when two Israeli girls, Rachael and Tadia, approached us. We taught them to throw and then got a drink on the beach to watch the sunset over the Mediterranean. They invited us to a party at the harbor that night and we exchanged numbers.
Brian and I wondered down Rothchild that night and into a great burger joint called Moses. After the huge burger, fries and onion rings the last nights acitivities caught up with us and went to bed almost immediately after dinner.
After showering Sunday morning in stall #3 I went downstairs to find a small village from Congo was checking into the hostel. I then lined up a hostel in Jeruslaem (the Citadel) and we caught a bus to the central station. Then we hit security. The guy inspecting bags asked what was in my bad. I explained it was only clothes. Only clothes? he asked as he inspected my tightly packed bag. I assured him it was only clothes and his response was, 'Well I cant see shit. If you have a bomb in there, go upstairs to my boss' office and tell him I sent you.'
We paid our 18.50 shickels for the 1 hr ride to Jerusalem and boarded. We dropped our bags at the Citadel, inside the walls of the Old City, and walked through the market to bus 21 that would take us to Bethlehem, 10 km south of Jerusalem.
We wondered a bit before find the The Church of the Nativity, the spot where Jesus was believed to be born. By this time it was getting late to be in a Palestinian occupied territory, so we hailed an Arab cab to border control. Security here was quite tight: lots of high walls, barbed wire, and security checks.
Monday we had a great guided tour of the 4 quarters of Old Jerusalem (jewish, arab, christian, and armenian). During the tour we saw David's Tower, the Western Wall (wailing wall), the Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, the Mount of Olives, and walked along Via Dolorosa and visited the 14 different points along Jesus' walk carrying the cross before ultimately being crucified and buried at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. What an amazing tour that I could write pages about!
After the 3.5 hr tour we called Naomi and Shahar our couchsurfing hosts for the next two nights. We got caught up with them over dinner and discussed an itinerary for Tuesday.
Tuesday we took a bus down to Musada National Park in the Judean Desert and went on a great 3 km hike on the Snake Trail that overlooked the Dead Sea. The plateau at the top was the site of the last bastion of Jewish Freedom Fighters against the Romans. Its' fall signaled the end of the kingdom of Judea, but the story is amazing. During the impending defeat the last 60 fighters shut off the gates from the Romans and had a mass suicide which they (and soon the Romans) felt would be much more honorable that be captured by the Romans. After hiking back down we caught a bus to Ein Gedi, which is a sea side town on the Dead Sea.
It was an unbelievable experience floating in the Dead Sea. I for one have never been able to float, so it was crazy laying back, bobbing up and down just trying to submerge your shoulders...then completed the experience by rubbing some local mud all over my body (somewhat of an exfoliating ritual at the Dead Sea).
We then were able to hitch a ride back to Jerusalem with a couple of guys from Tel Aviv. On the ride back there was a double rainbow. This with the backdrop of the Moab Mountains in Jordan just across the Dead Sea were quite amazing.
After a much needed shower to wash the salt off, we went with our host to a climbing wall club that he is a part of. We climbed for 2 hours and were sufficiently worn out from a long day.
Wednesday Brian and I slept in with Nika (their dog) before heading on to Nazareth. In Nazareth we checked out the Basilica of the Annunciation where Mary was informed by the angel Gabriel of her impending birth of Jesus. That night we hung out at the Fazia Azar hostel, an old mansion in the old city of Naz.
Thursday Brian and I got going early and rented a car to drive around the Sea of Galilee. Highlights were the seaside towns of Tiberius, Tabgha (where Jesus blessed 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread to feed 5000), Capernaum (where Jesus took up his home and ministry), and then to some great lookout spots on the southern end of the Golan Heights. That night we tried to line up plans for the weekend in Tel Aviv. Yoni, our csurfing friend, was hosting some Germans so we tried Roy. Roy's place couldnt accomodate both of us, but he did come through on his promise to take us out to his parents house for their family meal of the week. We were then able to check couchsurfing and line up to stay with Ariel, a new host.
Friday we caught the bus from Nazareth and met up with Ariel. That night Roy came and picked us up. The more I get to know him the more I like him. He has been in several bands, a couple that have toured the US extensively. It was only a 10 minute drive to his parents nice place in the suburbs of Tel Aviv.
His parents, two sisters, and grandparents welcomed us in as family. The meal was unbelivably good and the food seemed to never stop coming. We had great conversation throughout the meal and after. Roy's grandfather was a prisoner in Auchuwitz for 3 years and had some very interesting stories that he freely shared with us.
After dessert and coffee we went back to Roy's place for a drink before rounding up the crew to go out. We met Yoni, Noem and Yoni's two German couchsurfers (funny that a Jewish Israeli was hosting Germans after just hearing stories from a concentration camp) at The Chaser. We had a couple of beers there and I picked up a stack of flyers for Noem and Roys gig they have on Sunday. That would be my conversation starter piece for the rest of the night since I had been pinned their promotional man for the evening. Their 'celebrity' status took us through cover charges and lines to several bars before calling it a night at 4.
I love Tel Aviv! I have had the most fun here and we have met some great people. It is the type of city I could definitely live: metropolitan but with a small city feel. Tel Aviv is very much like a US city. The fact that everyone speaks English and seem to love Americans is icing on the cake. As I was explaining to a girl last night I actually feel guilty about being nervous about traveling to Israel. I really thought it would be a bit sketchy traveling here, but I couldnt have felt more safe. Although Brian did get robbed by a 12 year old Arab kid while we were in Jerusalem...funny story.
Today is Saturday November 1st and I just got back from a great afternoon on the beach. As the sun began its' descent over the Mediterranean I decided to get caught up on my journal. I am currently being entertained by the two most impressive guys I have ever seen throw a frisbee and a guy practicing some form of martial arts while the sound of smashball paddles can be heard just above my iPod.
We potentially have just one more night in Israel. Our flight is scheduled to leave for Cairo at 7:30 Sunday night.
I know this post was long but could have been much longer. Israel has been amazing and I know I will make it back at some point in my life. I have added some photos, but like everywhere else I have a bunch more to share.
Peace out from the Holy Land.