Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

February 9th 2014katie

Jerusalem

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.

Jerusalem

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.

Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem

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.

Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem

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.

Jerusalem

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.

Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem

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.

Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem
Jerusalem

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.

Judean desert
Judean desert
Judean desert

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.

Dead sea
Dead sea
Dead sea

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.

Dead sea
Dead sea
Dead sea

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.

P2040421
P2040423
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Tel Aviv

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…

Comments (9)

  • Maggie

    February 9th 2014 at 5:50 pm

    Lovely pictures, I’d love to go to Jerusalem and Israel one day. It seems like a good combination of sight seeing, foodie experiences and a holiday in one.

  • lovethosecupcakes

    February 9th 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Love those pictures. I spent a few weeks in Israel many years ago and, yes, Masada is well worth visiting. (You might enjoy Alice Hoffman’s novel The Dovekeepers if you haven’t already read it.)

  • Jade

    February 10th 2014 at 7:16 am

    Gorgeous photos, Katie.

    I have always wanted to visit Israel, as a history buff but it seems like the beautiful architecture is another draw!

  • Rhianne

    February 10th 2014 at 9:25 am

    WOW, it looks amazing, I’m particularly taken with the colours.

    The dead sea has always been on my bucket list, the floating fascinates me :)

  • Flora

    February 10th 2014 at 9:57 am

    Wow, stunning photos, and you created a wonderful sense of place with your descriptions too. Sounds like a fascinating trip.

  • Sean

    February 10th 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Wow, great photos. It’s interesting to see these old buildings and whatnot. I think the religious aspect would have been lost on me as well, considering when you mention the church where Jesus is buried, I thought he was thrown in a cave and had it sealed, not buried, I guess they would know more than me, I’d hope.

  • Amy

    February 23rd 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed these posts and photos, thanks for sharing! I don’t know if it’s having a Jewish side of the family or something else, but I’ve been wanting to visit Israel for ages (more so since my cousin moved out last year, starting in Tel Aviv – though I still hadn’t realised quite how ‘modern’ it was); this might be the push I needed to look into it more seriously!

  • domestikate

    March 2nd 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Wow this looks and sounds like an amazing experience – especially the Dead Sea! Really beautiful photos.

  • Tel Aviv Day 3 & 4 | What Katie Does

    May 6th 2015 at 6:08 pm

    […] got back into Tel Aviv in time for dinner, and hungry after a long day exploring Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, so after a quick hotel pit stop we wandered back out again. We found Cafe 48 not far away. As as […]

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