Category: Israel

Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

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.

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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…

Tel Aviv Day 1 & 2

Tel Aviv

Shalom! For my birthday present from Josh this year we decided to get a bit of winter sun and headed to Tel Aviv, Israel, for a long weekend. It’s right in between a short- and long-haul flight length from the UK at about five hours, and appealed to us as a beachside city with great food, interesting culture and warmer temperatures than home. We stayed in the south-centre of Tel Aviv and also did a daytrip to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, which I’ll split into another post. Here’s what we got up to on the first evening and day.

Tel Aviv

Arriving in town early evening and in need of dinner, we set out to explore as soon as we’d dropped off our bags. We stumbled across a cute looking place in a backstreet and pleasingly they had an English menu – doubly pleasingly, it was all vegetarian! I have no idea what the name is in English, but in Hebrew it’s זכאים- בוטיק טבעוני אורגינל which Google Translate tells me means ‘Payables – Original Vegan Boutique’, hmm.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv does this kind of cosy, rough elegant interior thing pretty well. Mismatched chairs, limewashed walls and raw ceilings are the norm in a lot of bars and cafes.

Tel Aviv

Another cute thing is the way that restaurants proudly display their fresh produce and make it into a decorative feature. With such beautiful vegetables why wouldn’t you? I seriously considered how to smuggle home several kilos of the amazing tomatoes and aubergines.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

The food was a superb introduction to the Israeli cuisine, which usually tends to feature those burstingly fresh vegetables smoked or burnt to intensify the flavour, always served with lots of bread and a swirl of tahini. I think this was my favourite meal of the trip, in fact.

Tel Aviv

The next day was Saturday, the Shabbat, which we kind of didn’t realise means that everything in this Jewish city is closed all day: the shops, public transport, most museums — thankfully nearly all bars and restaurants are open though. As was the beach, and it was a beautiful day so, along with what seemed to be half of the city’s locals, we headed down there.

Tel Aviv

There’s a strip of beaches along the west side of the city, again an easy walk from our central location. We started at Gordon Beach, got ice cream and watched the locals playing beach volleyball and matkot (rather brutal looking beach tennis), then took a wander southwards down to Charles Clore garden.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

There’s lots of interesting Bauhaus architecture along the way.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

We cut back into town via a cute area called Sharazi with lots of cafes and artsy shops, cat-spotting along the way. There’s a large stray/semi-feral cat community in Tel Aviv, and much like the rest of the city’s inhabitants they seem pretty laid-back and happy to get on with their business without disturbing you.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

We got lunch at Port Said, a cute indoor-outdoor cafe behind the Great Synagogue, where we’d had a drink the night before. The food was similar to the first night: a meltingly soft aubergine ‘sashimi’ doused in proper olive oil, a punchy bread salad with those fresh tomatoes, and creamy butterbean mash, washed down with fresh lemonade.

Jaffa
Jaffa
Jaffa

After lunch we caught a cab south of the city to Yafo (Jaffa). Tel Aviv grew from the ancient town of Yafo in the early 20th century and is now the bigger city, but they make up a joint metropolitan area. It’s got a nice lived-in vibe with lots of bars and cafes, and a flea market every day except Saturday (don’t worry, we came back for it).

Jaffa
Jaffa
Jaffa

We climbed around the Zodiac alleys – restored ancient walkways that wind up from the harbour….

Jaffa
Jaffa

…then popped into the food market at the port for a beer.

Jaffa
Jaffa
Jaffa

The view back to Tel Aviv from Jaffa Hill.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

For dinner we went to Mezcal, a Mexican place in the Florentin area in our way back to the hotel. It was pretty impressive and tasty, and cocktails were at happy hour prices. We headed back for an early night, ready for an early start for our Jerusalem trip in the morning.

More soon! You can see all the places I visited on my Foursquare list.