Israel – Travel Truths

Some unfortunate travel honesty here. You can’t experience everything or everywhere at the level you’d hope. Israel, and specifically Jerusalem, is often described as a pulsing current of electricity lighting the past, present, and future of so many people. It’s something you “feel” more than do. But, what happens when you grab the wire and, to you, the current is dead?

It’s embarrassing really. You hear time and again the stories of people, atheists even, who visit the Wailing Wall or walk the Via Dolorosa and are emotionally overcome by the spirituality of the place.

For us, it just didn’t happen that way. Several days after leaving the country, we hadn’t really spoken about our time, even in our usual morning cup of coffee, “what was your favorite part?” conversations. When it finally came up, we admitted to each other being, basically, disappointed in ourselves for not having “got it.” But, that’s travel…and life. Some places are going to open your eyes and your imagination. Some places, you’re merely going to cruise through, see the sights, and move on.

All of this of course has nothing to do with enjoying ourselves. Once we moved on from not having “felt” Israel, we agreed we’d had a very enjoyable time. The historical sights really are world class, the food…I mean, com’on, HUMMUS!, and the country is beautiful. So, while we won’t have any insights into interesting human topics here, we’ll still happily tell you about a pleasant stop along our journey, Israel. And that journey starts in one of the oldest cities of record in the world…Tel Aviv’s Jaffa neighborhood.

Well…okay, to be fair, it doesn’t really start in Jaffa, it starts with trying to GET to Jaffa. After arriving at Ben Gurion Airport we made for the train that was to take us to our AirBnB. We met a couple of Danes and proceeded to chat with them for the first 40-minutes of our train ride. Trouble is, our train ride was only supposed to be 15-minutes. We missed our stop.

Thanks to an understanding conductor we got headed back in the right direction, with a free sightseeing tour of Northern Israel, none the worse for wear.

Three hours overdue, we arrived in Jaffa. Which is, as it turns out, Holy Moses pretty! (get it, haha?)

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We worked up an appetite drooling over the views so we finally made our way to what would be one of our favorite meals of the trip. We’d both had hummus on the brain for months. After a few bland impersonators elsewhere in the world, we knew we’d finally arrived in its spiritual home. We found a place that looked suitably local and delicious and strolled in to friendly smiles…and everything written in Hebrew. This was going to be challenging. Except not, they were keenly familiar with the expression of “what the hell does that say” on our faces. Five minutes later we were brought the biggest smorgasbord of delicious eats anyone could ask for. Two huge bowls of hummus, fries, veggies, pita, sauces, etc… and a waitress that knew to ask, chicken? Sure, why not. To quote Kate, “I can’t stop shoveling food in my face.” The kebabs were great, the hummus perfect, on and on… We ate at all the popular places recommended around the web for top notch hummus and none were half as good as that first meal.

Our remaining 36 hours in Jaffa and Tel Aviv were spent between the Israeli Museum in Tel Aviv, a lively night at the “Flea Market” (which is really just an excuse the locals use to eat, drink, listen to music, and carouse late into the night), and explore Old Jaffa. This was all great…so great we kind of forgot to take pictures… Sorry.

We’ll leave you with this, a perfect Jaffa sunset.

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On our third day in the country we headed back into Tel Aviv with the intention of getting a bus to Jerusalem straight away. That plan gave way to tracking down a bank that would work with our ATM card, the second best hummus stop of our trip, and some shopping for Kate (and bag babysitting for Grant).

Again, our delay was our benefit as we arrived in Jerusalem just as most folks were out doing their evening shopping. The Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem was, far and away, the most pleasant surprise of our trip. It was also our first stop in the city. The market almost overwhelms the senses; the colors, personalities, smells…it’s all intoxicating. We just sat at a restaurant, had a drink, and watched it all happen. Then of course, scooped up some treats for the week.

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We hit the tourist circuit hard the following day. We started early with a free city walking tour to get our bearings and then walked the 14 Stations of the Cross (the Via Dolorosa). We finished the day with a visit to the Tower of David museum. Fair to say, we were worn out by day’s end!

Panoramic view of Jerusalem. Including: Wailing Wall, Dome of the Rock, Mount of Olives and so very much more.

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Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, & Wailing Wall.

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Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher atop the mountain where Christ was purportedly crucified. This shire sets on the site said to have held the cross itself.

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Your humble travelers at the Tower of David.

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As we travel, museums are usually a big portion of our itinerary. Besides Grant just being a tad bit obsessed with them, they offer the quickest way to absorb the history, culture, and all of the things the make a country what it is. Through all of the museums we’ve been to, Jerusalem’s Israel Museum ranks among the best. To even begin to explain in detail the depth and breadth of the collection here would be futile.

The museum came into being to house one of the world’s great archaeological treasures, The Dead Sea Scrolls. It has morphed into something like the Israeli version of three or four separate Smithsonians rolled into one. There are collections on archaeological finds across all of Israel, one large traveling exhibit (currently on how humans got from Day Zero to today), a Jewish art museum, a classic art section, a Modern Art section, and a global civilizations section. It took us 7 hours at a fairly fast pace (a/k/a Grant only got to read every other plaque…) to see the collection and we’re still fairly certain we missed a fair amount.

The Dead Sea Scroll describing the laws of the civilization responsible for the scrolls.

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The Nano Bible. The entire Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) etched into a microchip about the size of a gnat.

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They’ve looked into the crystal ball and seen our future family in the “Humans” exhibit!

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Grant finally found something he could appreciate in the Modern Art section, lunch!

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Day three brought a more somber, but equally relevant collection to see. Yad Veshem (roughly, A Place to Remember) serves as an enduring memorial to all of Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust. It does this both through memorial spaces, a (for lack of a better word) museum that tells the story of the holocaust from a uniquely Jewish point of view, and also serves as the center for research and preservation of related material. Combined with Dachau’s global view (see Germany) we’ve gotten quite the education.

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Last but not least, we spent day four exploring “underground” Jerusalem. We toured the tunnels, quarries, and old gateways to The Temple Mount, visited the City of David archaeological park, and splashed through Hezikiah’s tunnel. We also made a little time for quiet time at the Western Wall and attempted to visit The Temple Mount, but some, let’s say less than friendly guards, atop the mount thwarted our efforts there. Sorry you don’t get a picture of the beautiful Dome of the Rock mosque up close, maybe you’ll have better luck when you visit.

Kate, shoes tied around her neck, traversing Hezikiah’s Tunnel. The tunnel delivered water to the City of David.

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The old protected cistern area at the outflow of the tunnel.

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Maybe the best encounter of our whole visit was the rolling Bar Mitzvah that paraded by us in Old Town. We scored candy, they had a rockin’ band, and the young man looked thoroughly embarrassed to be fawned over by all the Birth Right girls who had joined in the fun!

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We ended the night with more hummus and a long walk around lively Jerusalem. The next morning was a 6:30 bus trip to the Jordan River Crossing at Sheikh Hussein Bridge, 2 hours north through “Occupied Territories” at Bet She’an. The only thing we saw occupying those territories were some goats, a few hippies at the Kibbutz, and no fewer than 78 camels. A short cab ride and a few visa stamps (including one more than we wanted….) and thus ended our visit to Israel.

In hindsight we failed to make the personal connections in Israel that can drive a trip. That’s the most honest critique available. Not for lack of trying, but that natural encounter just never happened and as such, we were left wanting a little more from our time. But, as Kate is currently obsessed with saying, “You can’t have cozy without the cold.” You can’t have mind blowing travel experiences if you connect with every place.

We may have entered Jordan with a people-to-people deficit. But we were getting ready to meet what felt like the entire population of one little town in Jordan…who were all just happy to see “oh my God, it’s a tourist!” But that’s for next time.

Here’s a parting thought we found very relevant to this space in Yad Veshem. There’s still time for you, get out there and see that world.

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Travel on.

G&K

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