Written by Whirlwind on 28 Sep, 2000
Having left the Syrian border shortly after breakfast, our mini-bus was heading down along the eastern shore of the Sea of Gallilee on territory once part and parcel of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Wild flowers sprinkled color sparingly across craggy hillsides. Thinly…Read More
Having left the Syrian border shortly after breakfast, our mini-bus was heading down along the eastern shore of the Sea of Gallilee on territory once part and parcel of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Wild flowers sprinkled color sparingly across craggy hillsides. Thinly distributed strands of tall, brown grass, without even a smattering of green underneath, hinted of autumn and little recent rain.
With the Sea to our north, the bus angled west before finally pulling up along the vivid greens of a freshly trimmed palm orchard. The place was Yardenit, a traditional baptismal site for Christians in the Holy Land. The occasion was a ten minute rest stop.
The twelve other passengers unloaded and quickly fled to the nearest oasis of
refreshment --an outside café--for eventual immersal in caffeine. I hesitated, and then walked instead into the orchard. Occasional clumps of green grass took hold at varying intervals beneath meticulous rows of vigorous palms. The latter, with their four foot trunks and widely spread domes of foliage, took on an overall look of roundness, despite the sharp, angular shapes of their individual fronds.
Walking back towards the bus, I was approached by a woman I had never seen
before. Her short stature and dark complexion suggested that she was an Israeli.
'Are you Mr. Gust?' she said.
How did she know who I was? I fumbled for my passport and other contents of
my wallet with the notion that she was about to return something I may have dropped unnoticed, but everything seemed to be in place.
'Yes,' I said.
'I’m from Guatemala.'
'Guatemala!!?' I couldn’t help raising my voice. I hadn’t been in Guatemala since the early June coup of El Presidente Jorge Serrano. I glanced down at my money belt. Sure, it was stitched together in traditional Mayan Cakchiquel patterns, but who in Israel would know this? And there was something so familiar about the woman’s accent--the way she stressed her syllables. She certainly was from Guatemala.
'I’m from Guatemala,' she said, 'and you were my daughter’s teacher at the
American School the year before last.'
She led me back to the café where I was reunited with my former student. Her brother took a photo of me with his mom and sister on either side with the Jordan River as a backdrop. I would send a copy of that picture down for the
family to have.
A bit more than a year later, I would return to Guatemala to teach again at the American School and one day while there I chanced upon the boy who had snapped the photo.
'Hello Senior,' he said. 'You remember me--we met in Israel.'
'Ah yes--you’re the one who snapped the picture of me and your sister,' I
'She still has your photo,' he said.
So did I.
Written by daisy on 06 Jun, 2000
Since we stayed with friends in Jerusalem, we didn't really get to see what the hotels are like there. Our friends did point out, however, that the Hilton is the best hotel in the city. We got a real taste of what it's like…Read More
Since we stayed with friends in Jerusalem, we didn't really get to see what the hotels are like there. Our friends did point out, however, that the Hilton is the best hotel in the city. We got a real taste of what it's like to actually live in Jersusalem by staying with our friends, a Rabbi-to-be and his wife, though. We had to learn which sponge was for meat and which was for dairy when we offered to do the dishes. We also had to remember to leave the bathroom light on all Friday evening. It really felt like we were being taken into the culture, and that was great. Israel would have seemed much more like just another country we were visiting if we didn't stay with our friends. They really taught us about the customs of religious Israeli Jews.
There seems to be plenty of good, reasonably priced restuarants in Jerusalem. We mainly wandered around near the downtown mall area, and near Herzog Street, where our friends live. Falafels may be emblematic of Israel, but it's really the fresh juice stands that pop up in my mind when I think back. You can get any combination of about 20 different juices you want, and you can have the juice poured into a bottle instead of a cup, so you can take it with you. We wouldn't have had a single bad meal our whole trip if we hadn't popped into KFC on a whim for dinner. The lines were long, the service slow and the chicken, greasy and soggy. Other than that, we ate at a kebab place downtown our first night in Jerusalem, then we had two homecooked meals with our friends. Our night in Eilat, we ate at the hotel. And on our last night in Jerusalem, we went to an Italian restaurant. Folks who are not used to seeing food out in the open may be taken aback by the way food is usually handled (no plastic gloves) and displayed (on trays, uncovered). You'll get used to it. We never got sick. Not even from stuff we ate from dives serving falafels and such.
Be prepared to do a lot of walking in Jerusalem. You could take a bus, but we discovered that things aren't really that far away from each other. Perhaps it was just that our friends' place was centrally located, but we ended up walking to the Old City two times, and walking to the Israel Museum. We even walked to the Sukot market, though we did take a bus back to Herzog Street because of the grocery bags we were returning home with. Reading up on the history of the Old City before you actually go helps you contextualize the history and significance of Israel's sights a lot. Once there, check on when the Dome of the Rock opens that day. It opens only for a short period of time everyday, so you should check first to be sure you don't miss it. From the Old City, facing the Wailing Wall, you'll see a hill with lots of white slabs on it. Those are tombstones and the hill is the Mount of Olives. Besides the Old City, you should go to the Israel Museum to see the Deas Sea Scrolls. And whatever you do, don't leave without a visit to Masada and the Dead Sea. Tel Aviv is only an hour away, but we didn't have the time to go there. It is, we're told, basically a modern city. Cesaria is another town we didn't go to but would have liked to see. It is apparently an old Roman city, with a lot of ruins and ancient architecture.
Just remember that everything shuts down from Friday night to Saturday at sundown. It’s best to schedule your trip to the Israel Museum for Saturday; the museum is open, but
None of the cafes are. Also, you can go to the Old City then, but you’ll have to take a cab since no buses run. One thing we didn’t get to do was go to the Galilee, which is suppose to
Be lush and beautiful—put it on your list if you have the time. Oh, and try to ignore the staring and the cell phones. Close
Written by dangaroo on 08 Jan, 2009
Jerusalem is a super religious city and the most important to Christians & Jews and also important to Arabs. It's a hilly place that is usually a bit chillier than the coastal destinations, in fact it rained quite a lot when I was there and…Read More
Jerusalem is a super religious city and the most important to Christians & Jews and also important to Arabs. It's a hilly place that is usually a bit chillier than the coastal destinations, in fact it rained quite a lot when I was there and they do occasionally have snow. Arriving at the bus station from Tel Aviv we arrived at the bottom of the bus station and had to go through baggage checks and screening as there was a shopping mall there. I've heard from other foreigners that it's not necessary to go through these but it certainly seemed so in Jerusalem and I couldn't spot an alternative route.Apart from the huge queues near the bus station. I was quite surprised how quiet Jerusalem was, I expected it to be as hectic as big neighbour Cairo. With a small population of 1 milion, it's not too surprising although there was a noticeable military presence everywhere and a lot of tourists - in particular Russian, American and Polish. This may have cooled off now since the recent outbreak of war in Gaza.I'm not religious in any way as you may have guessed by the abundance of metal reviews, so I was mainly there out of curiosity. As one of the oldest cities in the world and with so much history it was defintiely worth visiting. I only spent a day there which contradicted the rest of my itinerary as I had much longer stays in other places except Haifa. I did however get a good 7 hours march around the city, getting lost along the cobbled alleyways and only stopping to try various nuts and some baklava at a market and later some felafels from a cheap snack place near Damascus Gate. There was a huge queue inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre supposedly the place of Jesus' crucifixtion and cave burial. I had a quick nosy and it was quite packed, I'm not a fan of churches and this was no different. What I did find amusing and in some ways sad were the tourists squabbling over their position in the queue - heathens!When it comes to buying felafels - it is normally 3 to 5 shekels just to sit down so if you are on a tight budget make sure you take it away. The one near Damascus Gate is by no means the best but it's definitely passable and for 6 shekels, you can't really turn your nose up.The old centre of Jerusalem is quite picturesque albeit tourist laden, there's a great deal of souvenir shops that will do anything to make a buck, it's one place where you can witness t-shirts with Free Palestine on one side of teh shop and "America Don't Worry, Israeli is Behind You" written on the ones opposite.Budget accomodation isn't too dear, there are some cheap Arab ran hostels near Damascus Gate which I've heard are a little grubby but passable for 40-50 shekels a night. I stayed with a German guy from Couchsurfing.com and the community in the city is quite active, so that may be worth checking out.My favourite part of my visit to Jerusalem was the exoticness of visting a completely ultra-orthodox area of which I don't know the name and can't seem to work it out from looking at maps! The streets are clean and look a bit old-fashioned, a large family starts after 13 children, the majority (didn't get to meet all of them lol) were Hasidic Jews from Belarus, Ukraine and Poland and apparently haven't changed a great deal or at all in recent centuries and thus remain the real deal. Wearing silk like robes and furry hats (Shtreimel), their plats swinging - they looked quite the sight. There were large signs at the entrance to the neighbourhood saying that they despised tour groups, so I wouldn't recommend taking out your camera as tempting as it is. Also make sure you are dressed correctly as an Israeli friend of mine (a girl) was close to this area with a top that showed a small amount of shoulder and she was stoned by local women etc.The craziest part of my visit to this neighbourhood was that it was Friday and I arrived there just as Shabat was beginning, so a huge siren went off in the neighbourhood followed by people hurrying around (later I discovered to the synagogue or home).. I had no idea what was going on and thought a war was starting! The siren was followed up by traditional Jewish music and loud vocals.. surely a rabbi or something but it sounded like a recording to me. Wandering around at that time, as interesting as it was didn't seem all together safe and I got a lot of vicious stares which didn't make me feel altogether comfortable.. cars passing through this area during shabat are likely to be stoned. Interesting area, pretty hardcore area with not a secular Jew in sight.Jerusalem is pretty unique, apart from the tourist filled centre where people jump off by the bus load, the city seems to have quite a tense feeling and there's not many places like it, with an exciting mixture of friction and history. I wouldn't like to live there though, seemed more of a place to visit than a place to have fun and I imagine the night life is comparable to chewing on a wet sock. Close
Written by saberzaitoun on 13 Mar, 2006
My first shock upon crossing the border into Palestine is the brand new concrete bridge under which actually flowed not a drop of water. In my childhood, we crossed many times over a tattered old wooden bridge, which was actually built over a deep, gushing…Read More
My first shock upon crossing the border into Palestine is the brand new concrete bridge under which actually flowed not a drop of water. In my childhood, we crossed many times over a tattered old wooden bridge, which was actually built over a deep, gushing river.Now the river is sucked dry by Israel’s extensive industrialization and unnatural population growth, such as their recent import of "one million Russians" in the 1990s to put pressure on Palestinians. The Jordan valley and eastern West Bank slopes, needless to say, were as barren as ever. True, I am visiting in September before the first rain of the season, but never before in my life have I seen that area in such a dehydrated state. The water table must be depleted beyond recognition, as the hundreds of West Bank colonies compete with other Israelis in sucking the water dry from the West Bank aquifers. Somehow this parched scene reminded me of this full-page advertisement I once saw in 1988 in the Jerusalem Post, signed by Israel’s Water Ministry, to the effect that Israel must not withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, not because of security reasons, but because the "Territories" have the biggest water resources available. As proof of Israel’s dire need for water, its government proceeded throughout the 1990s to import those aforementioned one million Russians to a land with a total population of less than eight million. I do not think I quite yet grasp Israeli logic!Another area of Israeli logic that baffles me is their concept of "security". For years I have heard and read of former Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s hackneyed arguments for why should Israel keep the West Bank. Very simply, according to Mr. Yahoo, the West Bank has a longer border with Israel than with Jordan. By keeping it, Israel would have a shorter border to defend and therefore would be more secure. So far so good (notwithstanding his total ignorance for the basic human rights of 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation). Fast-forward to 2005. The next thing that catches my eye as I get closer to Ramallah is the miles, and miles, and miles of Wall. As the mushrooming Israeli colonies grab more Palestinian land, miles of Walls are imposed to separate the Palestinians owners from their own land. Very often the wall is built right at the edge of the last house in a Palestinian town or village, snaking all or almost all the way around it, leaving little or no connection to the next village.... Much more and lots of photos on http://www.triptopalestine.com/ Close
Talking about the wall, I was at first excited when I heard in the USA that the Israeli High Court issued a decision to halt construction. "At least there’s some justice" I naively thought. Upon seeing things with my own eyes, however, I learned the…Read More
Talking about the wall, I was at first excited when I heard in the USA that the Israeli High Court issued a decision to halt construction. "At least there’s some justice" I naively thought. Upon seeing things with my own eyes, however, I learned the fine print. First the Israeli High Court ordered a halt of "construction", but not a halt of "preparations"—a seemingly benign term that in the Israeli lexicon included such things as expropriating land from villages, demolishing Palestinian homes standing in the way of the wall, digging ditches and minefields, and bringing concrete blocks and laying them in place but on their side. The second fine print is that such and such an order is issued regarding the wall in such and such a village, Abu Dis for instance. So while "construction" halts in Abu Dis, it continues full speed ahead everywhere else. Hundreds of miles of wall are planned for the West Bank, and Israel’s "High" Court battles them inch by inch. (High on what, I wonder?) This system of "justice" seems to me more like a way to extort enormous amounts of money in court fees from all the poor villagers whose land was taken, a sly way of making the victims finance their oppressors.Once the wall is completed, it will be an even more absurd situation. People in the Palestinian prison-enclaves will be left to rot without a visible culprit on the scene, while Israelis go about their daily business unconcerned and can "forget" about the Palestinian nuisances in their backyards. Thus the occupied becomes invisible to the occupier, the occupier invisible to the occupied!For more, see http://www.triptopalestine.com/
Slideshow has 1000s of photos! Close
Written by Whirlwind on 05 Oct, 2000
One thing about the Jerusalem of the Apostles' time--it's 60 feet or more under what's there now. With looming Crusaders' cathedrals marking such holy sites as those of Jesus Crucifixion and the stations-of-the-cross, one finds the stone ruins of the original Apostles' era only…Read More
One thing about the Jerusalem of the Apostles' time--it's 60 feet or more under what's there now. With looming Crusaders' cathedrals marking such holy sites as those of Jesus Crucifixion and the stations-of-the-cross, one finds the stone ruins of the original Apostles' era only through the glimpses of the pits of archaeological digs or narrow, deep deep shafts with padlocked grates set under sanctuaries for pilgrims to view the far below actual remains of the first century Wall of Jerusalem and its adjoining adjacent streets. The traditional site of Jesus birth for example is two flights of stairs underneath a towering cathedral circa the time of the Holy Crusades.
But there are other holy sites in Israel outside of Jerusalem to consider. Here are two...
Nazareth is the site of the Annunciation with a modern post-World War II temple built over it. Inside one finds traces of Byzantine mosaic and even what is considered to be the original residence of Mary. Most impressive is a large, open temple area dominated by thirty foot murals of Mary enveloping the main sanctuary, donated by a dozen or more countries.
On a tall hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee an important city to the Jewish religion, Sefat, is found. Here over the centuries, prominent theological thought was echoed by devout theologians about the coming of the Messiah.
Written by SamanthaS on 10 Jan, 2007
Since I have been here several times before, I have basically hit all of the very touristy places such as, the Old City in Jerusalem, Eilat, Tel-Aviv, the Dead Sea, Masada, Haifa, and many, many other tourist destinations. In this trip I hope to visit…Read More
Since I have been here several times before, I have basically hit all of the very touristy places such as, the Old City in Jerusalem, Eilat, Tel-Aviv, the Dead Sea, Masada, Haifa, and many, many other tourist destinations. In this trip I hope to visit many un-touristy places, I want to see things that are "off the beaten track" I also want to visit other countries bordering Israel! I am going to try and write about my favorite places in Israel for people to visit! I think that if you are thinking about going to Israel just go! Don't read too much into what you hear from the news here. My first trip to Israel was in February of 2000 when Israel was pulling back from the Lebanon border and then I continued to travel there during the second intifada. I never felt in harms way. I actually felt much more secure than when I walk around Chicago at night. Be aware that no matter where you go, a museum, club, restaurant, any public place, your belongings will be checked and might go through a metal detector. On my last couple of trips to Israel, I traveled alone by train and taxi from one city to another and I never felt insecure or vulnerable because I was a woman traveling alone or even because I was using public transportation. It might be shocking at first to see soldiers walking around everywhere with guns attached to them, but you get used to it. It's something that they have to do, when a soldier is active the gun that is issued to them has to be with them even when they are not on base. Women have to serve about 2 years and men about 3 years in the army right after high school. So don't be surprised when you see young men and women carrying guns. Close
Written by goodwillambassador on 28 Dec, 2006
January in Israel is very quiet. When I went to the Old City of Jerusalem on a Monday morning, I was greeted by at least five anxious tour guides. I had already decided what I wanted to see and did not want a guide, but…Read More
January in Israel is very quiet. When I went to the Old City of Jerusalem on a Monday morning, I was greeted by at least five anxious tour guides. I had already decided what I wanted to see and did not want a guide, but I am an easy touch for a legitimate request. My tour guide was a man in his mid-40's who explained that tourism was down 80% since the Infitada began, and he was willing to give me a tour for whatever price I thought was fair. I ended up spending 3 hours with him and paid the equivalent of $40 - which I thought was fair, and for which he was very pleased. He did an excellent job of giving the perspective of an Arab man living in Jerusalem his whole life. With him as my guide, I was able to see the Muslim Quarter - which I would not have done on my own. This is contrasted with another guide I trusted later in the day. He was in his late 20's and was hanging around the Christian Quarter. He had a poor tale to tell - his baby was sick with cancer and he needed to give tours to make enough money to pay for the child's medicine. Whatever - I took the bait.
When he couldn't tell me what kind of cancer the child had - and he had to think about whether it was his daughter or his son - I knew he was not to be trusted. I made sure we agreed on a price before he began what ended up being a 45 minute tour. We agreed to the equivalent of $10. At the end of the waste of time, he claimed we had agreed to $100! At this point we were outside of the city walls, near the Mount of Olives, and it was nearly dark. I told him he was wrong - and there was no way anyone would have agreed to that price - and proceeded to the Gate where some Israeli soldiers were standing watch. He was immediately uncomfortable with that situation and relented. All of which is to say, beware here as much as you would any other city in the world. It is important to know that, due to the political climate, the Muslims would not allow non-Muslims to visit the Temple Mount. The police were friendly enough - they just had their rules.
It was a strange experience to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with NO ONE else around. From the travel shows on television, I expected at least someone else to be visiting but I entered alone. After five minutes, other people trickled in but it was still quite strange. The Old City was fascinating yet somewhat depressing. The merchants were quite persistent in their "marketing". Most were fine if you turned them down, but there were a few who were really annoying. There was one shop keeper in particular - he sold wooden carvings in a tiny store 30 yards from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He was very kind and went out of his way to make sure we found our way to our next stop. The rest of the country was equally interesting. The cities I highlighted above are also worth the drive - you can easily do all of your traveling with Tel Aviv as a home base and returning there in the evening. My experience with the people of the country was informative. The Jewish Israelis were generally very, very reserved. I attribute this to the history of violence in their country. The Arab Israelis were generally very friendly despite what appeared to be the weariness that comes from living in eternal limbo.
Written by dontmess26 on 15 Jul, 2006
My uncle took me to this factory where they made sweets, like cookies, but they were the best I have ever had! I am not really sure how to explain it, but all of them had different nuts inside. Basically cookies with nuts inside them!…Read More
My uncle took me to this factory where they made sweets, like cookies, but they were the best I have ever had! I am not really sure how to explain it, but all of them had different nuts inside. Basically cookies with nuts inside them! Look at the pictures and you will know what I am talking about. Close
Written by lavictoria on 03 Jan, 2005
As my spouse and I walked around Jerusalem, he stared in disbelief at the name of the hotels and other sites: The King David Hotel and King Solomon Hotel are just two of the many historic names that you will see. He told…Read More
As my spouse and I walked around Jerusalem, he stared in disbelief at the name of the hotels and other sites: The King David Hotel and King Solomon Hotel are just two of the many historic names that you will see. He told me he felt like he was in some sort of Disney World, but for folks from the U.S., it's the same as saying, "I stayed at the George Washington Inn."
Being in Jerusalem feels really different—old, I guess. This is a city on a hill, and no matter where you are coming from in Israel, you say, "I'm going 'up' to Jerusalem today." You never say 'down'. After dark in Jerusalem, the temperature drops rapidly, so remember to bring a jacket or fleece, especially from November to February.
Jerusalem is also an unbelievably mixed city. Since it is an extremely holy place (you may say there have been some arguments over it...), it is filled with not only Jews, but Muslims, Christians, Baha'i, Druze, and more.
Architecturally, the place is stunning. Although the Wailing Wall is not pretty to look at (it was an interior wall in the temple, and interior walls are not for show), it is amazing how well it's held up after several thousand years. Joan Rivers, on the other hand, cannot say that.
The Dome on the Rock is also lovely. Its gold cupola, highly visible next to the Wailing Wall, is such a wonderful part of the skyline, and very close by is the cavernous Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A very old and orthodox-feeling Catholic church, its inside is filled with Latin chanting and unbelievable murals and artwork.
Make sure to see some gardens while you're there. Israel has stunning flowers with colours that are dizzying in their intensity. There is almost too much to do. Give yourself 2 weeks or more, if possible, to see the whole country. Spend at least 4 days in Jerusalem.