A Travellerspoint blog

Israel

Goodbye Israel

sunny 19 °C

Our last day together was spent in Tel Aviv. We couldn't check in to our hotel early, so we found a place for lunch (TONS of vegan options here, it's so hard to choose!) and then we walked to the market to pick up a couple of last souvenirs before we leave. Then we were able to check in, change and hit the beach! I got in two hours of 30 degree sun to work on the tan while Josh worked on his second book of the trip. I dipped a couple of times in the Mediterranean and then we headed back to the hotel to reorganize.

Later on we had drinks by the sea, watched the sunset and we reminisced about our trip. We talked about how it feels like ages since we'd been in Kenya; we've done so much since then! Overall our trip went incredibly well - Egypt was a little rocky, but we still got to do most of the things we wanted there including seeing the pyramids up close. Israel had the most amazing food, but was by far the most expensive. We both agreed our highlight was river rafting the Nile and getting to know all of the Ugandan guys on board. But we both miss Kenya so much. I really could live there!

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We're up bright and early for our travel days, Josh to Victoria and me to New York. We were both stopped and put through extra screening in the airport, something I've read is quite common for Israel. We were separated to check in on different floors, but we met right back up at the additional screening! Perfect timing.

I got coffee and we sat together for a few minutes, now currently Josh is taking off and I'm waiting at my gate. I'm so sad to be parting ways but I'm excited for all New York has to offer! My partner in crime for the week is already there and having a blast.

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It was hard to choose only 9 selfies, but here's a little recap of our trip in photos :)

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Posted by kmcveggie 18:41 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea

sunny 29 °C

We decided to rent a car to visit the Dead Sea instead of joining an organized tour, partly because the cost of the tour was really high and didn't include some entrance fees, and partly because we couldn't find one running on the day we wanted to go. Plus the roads and highways here are all marked with English (alongside Hebrew and Arabic) and they're nicer and more well maintained than ours at home! We went to book with the company and it would have cost us $65 a day, but online through Expedia it was only $11! It worked out really well and before we knew it we had the car and were on the road.

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We drove out of Jerusalem and into the West Bank. Every government site says to avoid the West Bank at all costs and here we were driving through! Side note - every place we have been has a travel advisory, and a few of the places have the extra advisory saying to avoid all unnecessary travel. We have never once felt scared! And we feel right at home in Israel. Anyways, just had to put that out there.

Our first stop was a landmark showing you were standing at sea level. Photo op! Lots of rolling desert hills and a few tents set up for people who I assume live there? Not sure.

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We then drove along the Dead Sea for about an hour and got some awesome views of the coastline alone the way!

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We pulled in to the national reserve park of Ein Gedi. This was a part of the tour so I figured we could do it too! We entered the park after paying our fee and we walked up nice and easy to a couple of waterfalls, dipping into the shallow pools along the way to cool off from the 30+ degree weather. It was awesome! We continued to walk and found the bigger waterfall, David's Waterfall, where you couldn't swim, but we admired and carried on.

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We wanted just a short hike and were about to leave when on the map it showed you could find this Odems Cave really close by! We saw the sign and thought we would make the most of our entrance price and hike to the cave. Before we knew it were ascending Israel's version of the grouse grind in over 30 degree weather. I told Josh I was quitting a couple of times, but he didn't let me! Not working out for a whole month has clearly had an impact!

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We were treated to our first sign of water at the remains of an aqueduct. Then 10 minutes later we were treated to this fantastic pool! We got right in and chatted with a it from a Portugal who was hanging out. While Josh was in the pool his sandal got caught on the bottom and broke the toe piece! So from here on out Josh is hiking with one good shoe, one broken shoe. It slowed us down but he was such a trooper I felt so bad he had to deal with this broken shoe!

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After the pool we had more stairs and eventually a little rock climb to get down into the cave. It was really nice! We got right in again to enjoy the water.

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Our trek back was slow but much easier for me than the climb. It was harder for Josh since he had to keep that shoe on the whole time! If it were me I would have been complaining the whole time, no doubt.

Finally we reached the bottom and were happy to see a cool water fill up station, which was super refreshing as my water was "room temp" at that point, or 30 degrees. It was hot!

We drove down to a public beach which turned out to be closed, so we made our way back up to the northern part of the Dead Sea where they have another beach. You had to pay to enter, which was ok since we'd saved so much by renting the car. We walked down the beach being super careful not to touch the sand as it was the hottest sand I'd ever felt and you couldn't go barefoot. There was a sign saying the temp - 45 degrees! And we felt it.

Getting into the sea is really tricky because of the mud. We couldn't wear sandals since they stuck right in, so my worst nightmare came true and we went barefoot in the mud! Nasty. I kept justifying it to myself since there are no creatures in the Dead Sea I wouldn't be stepping on anything I didn't want to, even though the mud and rocks were already a lot to handle. We quickly figured out if we got in and floated on our backs even in just a foot of water it was easier to get out - so we did, and it was such a weird feeling! Floating without trying. Once out in the deeper water we could even sit up! It was bizarre. It felt like you were on a very stable pool noodle, but you weren't! It was a really cool feeling.

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We took turns getting muddy and taking the appropriate pics, then we got out to shower off. While inside the sea you feel silky smooth, but as soon as you get outside your skin dries kind of hard and is full of salt.

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After washing and changing we had a beer at the lowest bar in the world. Photo ops again :)

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And then we headed back to Jerusalem from there. We contemplated keeping the rental car overnight since it would have saved us some money to get to Tel Aviv, but finding parking was really tough and when we finally did find parking, I noticed we had an almost flat tire. It wasn't completely flat, but it was getting close! We decided to avoid the headache, fill up the tank, fill up the tire and return the car. We did so with no trouble and then walked back to our place.

I didn't want to miss seeing the big market here so we headed out on foot for the 15 minute walk. I'm glad we went as it's a lot different than the market in Tel Aviv. We tried some halva and I couldn't resist buying some, it was so delicious. I got the scotch flavour and I plan on enjoying it for breakfast tomorrow!

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We had a beer and people watched inside the market, then found a really good falafel place for dinner on our way home. Josh wanted desert, so we stopped again at the vegetarian cafe and he got cheesecake. Stuffed, we went back to our place where I couldn't help but fall asleep on the couch while I was blogging. We had a full day of adventure and I'm glad we saw everything we wanted to in Jerusalem!

I write this on the bus to Tel Aviv where we'll spend our last day. I'm counting down the hours we have left together before we take our separate planes tomorrow, and they are very few. I don't want it to end! Josh can't wait to get home to Max and his nice big house, but I'm not quite there yet. Of course I miss my boy more than anything, but I'm not ready to get back to reality. NYC is waiting for me! And I plan on having a great few days before I have to go back to the real world.

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Posted by kmcveggie 07:45 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

The Holy City

sunny 30 °C

Yesterday we ventured out to a cafe and treated ourselves to a massive breakfast. I mean massive! This was their "vegan breakfast", full of different condiments and side dishes, toast, potatoes, and coffee. I was stuffed after but it was all so, so tasty! Josh has been trying food he would never eat at home and he had an egg dish that he really liked and wants to learn to make now so he can have it at home. Breakfast wins.

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Next we slowly made our way down to the entrance to the old city where our tour was meeting. Our guide was Yoni, from Israel, who knew so much about each different religion and the importance of all the sites we saw. He made sure he was giving us the facts and the traditions and telling us which parts are proven to be true and which parts are so deeply traditional, even without proof, that they are essentially known to be true. I really liked how he positioned everything.

We started off at King David's Tomb, where people were waiting in a small line to see his tomb and stop to pray. We also saw the inside of the Dormition Abbey, which was a church, then the Muslims took it over so it was a mosque, then the crusaders took it back so it was a church again. This was the theme of the day! I'm no history buff but this happened, like, a lot back then. This is also the site which once held the room of the Last Supper. It's not the original building, but it's the same site, so it's now known as the room of the Last Supper.

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Next we walked through Zion Gate where we could see remnants of the last explosion where the gate was conquered, like 1000 years ago. We also saw the old walls (4000 years old) and the new walls (1000 years old). Yoni says in Israel new means 1000 years old or less!

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Being a Monday there were a TON of bar mitzvahs going on! We probably saw about 5. Lots of 13 year olds turning into men on Mondays apparently!

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Next we saw the Western wall. We saw two parts, one that doesn't segregate men and women, it was much much more quiet than the segregated part. The segregated part is the one in all the photos you see, but the first part we went is just as significant and it's where parts of Jesus's story take place, near where the currency exchange was. We got to touch the very old wall and Josh left a note, which is very common for people to do. We were literally walking in the same places that Jesus once walked.

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Next we stood in line to get in to the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock. As non-Muslims we can only enter for one hour during the day, on certain days, and if that. Sometimes the police will just close the gates! So in order to get past the security checks we got there an hour early, and while waiting we took turns entering the more popular part of the western wall as it's right next to it. As I entered and went to the right side for women only, there were tons of ladies up on a step looking over at the bar mitzvahs happening on the men's side. There were holy books all over and lots of women trying to get their spot on the wall to pray and leave a note.

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As we waited outside for the doors to open our guide Yoni talked about the history of the Temple Mount. It is the holiest place in the world for Jews; it's where they believe the world was created from, and God gathered the dust to make Adam, the worlds first humans. But many Jews don't even attempt to visit since their Rabbi may not agree with it. You have to be purified of all of your sins in order to be in the holiest place in the world, and many think they cannot do that in this life.

The Temple Mount was taken over by Muslims in 638 CE and until present day the hold the site. So you cannot go inside the buildings unless you are Muslim, and if they suspect you aren't they will test you before entering! It is the third holiest place in the world for Muslims - it's where Muhammad came and ascended into Heaven. Because the Muslims have taken it over, and because it is such a controversial place between Muslims and Jews, the Israeli government is always here to police the area. You are not allowed to pray if you are not Muslim, couples are not allowed to touch each other at all, no handholding, no nothing. If you do any of the forbidden acts you will be promptly kicked out, and our guide says he sees it happen regularly!

Inside it was really quiet and there weren't a lot of people, we saw the grounds and the main two religious buildings, the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It's a bit sad that the Jewish community can't visit inside the Dome where they believe the world was created. But if you even read through the Wikipedia page on this area you can see there's been a ton of battles and terrorism surrounding this site. I'm glad we got to see it!

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Next we left and wandered the streets of the old town while the group ate lunch. Josh and I were still stuffed from breakfast, so I just got some dried fruit to munch on. After lunch we started to walk the stations of the cross called the Via Dolorosa. It is the road that Jesus walked with the cross from the time of his arrest to his crucifixion and resurrection. We walked through the stations eventually leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest place in the world for Christianity. We walked in and saw the stone where they laid Jesus to remove him from the cross. It is said to be the same stone! Lots of people were rubbing things on it to receive the holiness, some people just touched it and prayed.

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Next we went to the different rooms of the church. The church was built long after Jesus died, but in the same place that the events happened. All over the church we saw crosses etched in the stone from when the crusaders took it over in the 11th century.

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We went to a room that had a burial site from 2000 years ago. It was the burial site of Joseph of Arimathea the guy who gave Jesus the linens he needed in order to have his traditional Jewish burial. There were no tourists in there! There were people waiting in lines everywhere, but yet most people don't know that this is an actual 2000 year old burial site within the church that you can climb into!

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Around the corner from that we saw the tomb of Jesus. Lots of people were waiting in line to go in and have their moment. Apparently it had just finished being renovated in March, so we have very good timing!

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Next we went up the stairs to the spot where Jesus was crucified. Again, people were waiting in line to touch the stone where it was performed.

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And with that we finished off our holy tour! It was all so interesting, Josh and I totally felt it was worth the cost for the almost 5 hour tour covering all of the main holy sites and pointing out things we never, ever would have known. With that we walked along the old roads back outside the holy city and back to our Air BNB to get off of our feet for a bit! We had a relaxing evening with dinner and drinks and then headed to bed.

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Posted by kmcveggie 07:12 Archived in Israel Comments (1)

Carmel Market

sunny 29 °C

Yesterday morning I woke up and did something I haven't done while on this trip - ventured out alone! I really wanted to wake up, get a coffee, and wander around, so I did. It sound silly now, but we weren't in areas where the pros would have outweighed the risks of doing that, for the most part. Let me also say I've felt COMPLETELY safe this whole trip! (Minus the camel experience) but Tel Aviv feels like Vancouver and we are definitely out of a third world now.

I found a cute little place with vegan muffins so I sat in the sun to enjoy my coffee. Then I decided to walk around the neighbourhood a bit, enjoying the weather and the scenery.

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Back at home we packed up and then headed out to the market, which is a stones throw from our Air BNB, we could not be in a better location. We wandered through the fruit, candy, falafel stands, clothes and jewelry. It was so much fun! It was a little crowded but I live for markets and this was a great one.

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We bought a few souvenirs for ourselves, including some chocolate tahini spread, and we came across the Beer Bazaar so we sat down. I ordered their house IPA and instead of bar nuts we were served lemony olives. Israel is made for me!!

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Next we went to find an ATM and also to eat at a falafel place on the street I'd seen on my walk in the morning. We ordered, and they have all these sides you can stock up on to go with your falafel. Hands down the best falafel I've ever eaten. I wish I could open one in victoria as this kind of shop would do so well there!

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Next we wandered back through the market to our place but decided we should get some of the life changing gelato again. We were STUFFED by the end of our morning! We ventured out to get a cab to then take us to the bus station.

The bus we got on was nothing like in Africa - it was cool, clean, the driver was friendly.. we were so happy since we felt a little traumatized from before! Less than an hour later we were in Jerusalem! Found our Air BNB no problem, dropped our stuff and then hit the road to see what we could find. Did a bit of window shopping and found some more craft beer (shocker) and just had a relaxing, wandering afternoon!

We had a late dinner, then walked to a place with vegan deserts which did not disappoint. Overall we had a pretty lazy day of wandering, eating and drinking! But I loved it. Today we have a big walking tour to do, and I'm excited to learn about the history of this holy city!

Posted by kmcveggie 07:38 Archived in Israel Comments (1)

Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa

sunny 28 °C

Getting off the quick plane from Athens to Tel Aviv we grabbed a cab to head to our Air BNB. It was my first time using the service so I wasn't sure what to expect. The internet was right and a metered cab was much cheaper than the fixed price ones would have been! We were dropped off in a quiet street and left to find the place.

Our Air BNB was cute! We got a large room, the biggest we've had so far, and we share the bathroom and kitchen with the host, kind of like their roommate for 2 nights. They had left us a key so we didn't meet them until later, but they're both super sweet, fun people! I'll be leaving them a great review :)

It was only 6pm and we wanted to head straight to bed! We were exhausted, but we really didn't want to be all messed up time wise for the next day so we headed out to find dinner. The city was quiet as their Shabbat was just starting, the religious weekend where most things close. So we found an open restaurant around the corner and sat down. It turns out it was an all vegetarian pub! Score :) Israel was looking up already! The only problem was things were a little pricey, I would say just a hair higher than regular Canadian prices, which we are used to things being a bit lower since we're eating out at least 2 meals a day. I ordered the tehina and bread and was not disappointed, it was delicious.

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We then walked to a grocery store to get some drinks to enjoy at our place, and walked back. The city was quiet but we felt so safe and right at home; we were definitely back to a first world country! Back at our new home we went up to enjoy the rooftop patio and unfortunately it's under construction! We still saw the view but then enjoyed our drinks from our room. We did enjoy some of the crazy graffiti here - it is EVERYWHERE. I think you'd have a hard time finding an open wall! Some of it is really cool.

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Waking up yesterday morning we had a quick breakfast and set out to walk to the old town of Jaffa where we planned to attend the free walking tour. I attended these tours by the same company all over Europe and I was excited to do something that would properly introduce us to the city. The tour was fantastic - we learned all about Old Jaffa, going back to the start, about 500 BCE. I was surprised to learn that most of the town is only about 200 years old, all the buildings look like their 1000 years old! But Israel has been conquered and torn down, destroyed and rebuilt so many times that everything is relatively new. They used sandstone in the latest build about 200 years ago, and that's why it looks so old.

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We learned about this building called the home of Simon the Tanner where St. Peter was staying and sat on the rooftop and had his vision where god told him not to make unclean what he had made clean, and St Peter became the first pope who converted people to Christianity and separated from Judaism.

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We also saw this art piece where a tree was unrooted and hung and suspended in air and it is still continuing to grow. It's symbolic of the Jewish people and how they can still flourish no matter where they have been forced to move in the past.

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We also saw this church that has a piece of rock on the top where the cross sits that comes from a holy site called Banias, where Jesus told Peter he was the rock from which the church was built.

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After the tour ended we walked back towards new Tel Aviv and decided to have lunch at a really popular all vegan spot, one at the top of my list and also one that our host recommended, called Zakaim. It was fantastic - Josh had potato wedges with homemade mayo, we shared the bread and dips that included pesto and a vegan cream cheese, plus some spicy ones, and I had a Greek salad with homemade feta cheese. It was so, so good! I was stuffed. That kind of place made me want to open my own in Victoria!

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Next we went "home" to change, grab some drinks and head to the beach. You can drink in public here, we found out on the tour, so we took full advantage! We had wine and beer on the beach and we tanned and dipped in the Mediterranean. The people watching was great, everyone plays this game on the beach with paddles and a hard ball, hitting it back and forth, and it seems like there would be a lot of bystander injuries since the beach is crazy crowded! Everyone brings their dog to the beach! There are no rules here. Beers, BBQ's, and tons of dogs running around but everyone is happy! You could never do that stuff in Canada, so many rules!

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There's also a few outdoor gyms near the beach along the seawall - this place is so active and it is definitely in to be in shape!

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After an afternoon of sun soaking we headed back to our place to change again and then went out to dinner. We found the cutest little spot that had lots of seafood, I wasn't that hungry since I went all out at lunch, but I ordered some veggie side plates that were to die for. Everyone knows what vegan is and every place has vegan stuff! My side plates were roasted cauliflower with garlic and tahini, and a roasted eggplant with spicy tomato sauce. They came with bread and I was stuffed again by the end. Josh ordered a roasted red pepper side plate and a crab dish. He got crab all right!

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He wasn't impressed he had to break it all open himself haha, and it took some time but I sipped my wine and enjoyed the al fresco dining and couldn't have been happier. We're not in Egypt anymore! ;)

After dinner, even though we were stuffed, we went to a gelato place right beside the entrance to our apartment. I was shocked at the vegan selection! Not just fruit sorbet but actual vegan gelato. They make it all in house, and they use hardly any white sugar in some of them. The lady was having me taste everything vegan and it was PHENOMENAL. By far the most amazing thing I've eaten all trip. I chose the 70% dark chocolate gelato and the hazelnut gelato, on a vegan cone, and I was actually in heaven. Josh too - the non vegan flavours were even more daring, and we will be back today for another round for sure!

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Sitting enjoying our gelato and our host pulls up in his car, saying, "haaay!" Like he's known us forever. Josh had his back to the car and was thinking, who the hell knows us and is talking to my wife right now? Haha. We chatted with him and also with a couple who had their dog with them and they told us how liberal Tel Aviv is with dogs. They are allowed EVERYWHERE - the malls, inside all the restaurants, it's amazing. I let their dog have a lick of my cone! She was so sweet and really wanted some, I could just tell.

Full of gelato we came up to the apartment to relax and head to bed. I'm about to wander out for coffee while Josh still sleeps, a luxury we haven't had all trip (going out without each other). Today the Shabbat is over so the town will be open! We'll wander the huge market here, get some more gelato, and then head to Jerusalem in the afternoon.

Posted by kmcveggie 22:22 Archived in Israel Comments (3)

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