We’re not usually the package-tour types on holiday, but with such a short stay we decided that doing an organised group daytrip to see Jerusalem and the Dead Sea would be the only way to fit them in. We booked with Viator because they pick up and drop off from your hotel in Tel Aviv and let you see both sites in a 10-hour round trip. It was an early start – 7.15 pick-up – so we just had time to scarf down a quick hotel breakfast beforehand. It was a bit of faff before we actually got going: we were transferred from our pickup bus to a small car to another car park, then finally onto the actual minibus with our tour guide, Moshe, and a small group of just 5 other travellers.
First stop was on the hillside as we approached Jerusalem, to get a panoramic view of the city and see some of the places we’d be visiting later in the day. It was at this point I realised I’d made a big mistake in dressing for the warm Tel Aviv weather: Jerusalem is considerable cooler and the whole group was shivering in the misty morning. It didn’t really improve all day until we got to the Dead Sea, oops. Anyway, Moshe pointed out the Mormon University, the Mount of Olives, the Dome of the Rock (the gold dome) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We then drove down into the Mount of Olives and got a closer look at some of the sites we’d seen from far away.
We entered the Jewish quarter of the Old Town at Jaffa Gate. A lot of the area has been destroyed and rebuilt, but there are some fascinating excavated archaeological remains to see.
From there we entered the Western (Wailing) Wall plaza and saw the wall. To be honest I felt a bit uncomfortable there as a tourist when people were praying, so I didn’t go very close or take photos. Have a cat photo instead.
After the wall we crossed into the Muslim quarter and made our way through winding stone alleys lined with little food, clothing and souvenir shops. It felt quite geared towards tourists, though there were locals going about their business too.
The Christian quarter begins at the Via Dolorosa, the road that Jesus supposedly took when he carried the cross on his back to his crucifixion. This winding path leads to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, an interesting church because it houses several different sects of Christianity, who each hold it important because it was apparently built on the spot where Jesus was buried.
This was our last stop, so back on the road we headed east out of Jerusalem into the Judean desert towards the Dead Sea. I’ve never really seen desert terrain before so it was quite fascinating, the dusty sand only broken up by the odd palm tree field, Bedouin farmer settlement, and camel.
The drive to the Dead Sea is very short, under half an hour to the beach we went to on the north-western coast. It was still grey and misty when we arrived but noticeably warmer and more humid – but perhaps because of the weather, the resort was practically empty of other visitors. It was a nice enough little resort, with a cafeteria, shower facilities and a bar and gift shop containing Dead Sea products.
I wasted no time in wading into the water. It was surprisingly warm, and the sky cleared up quite a bit once we were in. The bottom of the sea is caked in the famous mud so you can slather up on the way. And it’s true, once you wade out to hip-height you simply lean back and float, thanks to the high salt content. An absolutely bizarre and fantastic experience, especially on such an eerily quiet day where it felt as if we had the entire sea to ourselves.
We tore ourselves away after an hour or so of floating, and got back in the bus for the sleepy trip back to the bright lights of Tel Aviv, via little mountaintop towns and the rather sobering sight of the imposing West Bank wall. Overall I was happy with the day tour we did. Our guide Moshe was a very nice guy, knowledgeable and passionate about the things he told us. In retrospect I might have chosen to go to Masada instead of Jerusalem as I felt the religious aspect was a bit wasted on me, and I think the ancient palace remains in the desert would have been more interesting. It’s also a shame we didn’t see much of the real city of Jerusalem so I don’t feel like I know what it’s really like. Nonetheless with only a day I’m glad we could see both Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, and it’s a good reason to come back again some day.
Day 3 and 4 in Tel Aviv coming up next…