Hummus is way better in Israel: Exploring Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea
I didn’t know what to expect. Israel is far away and dangerous…These were my thoughts sitting in a heavily secured terminal in Philadelphia waiting to board a plane to Israel. I wasn’t going by choice, this was not a planned vacation, but there I was nonetheless, listening to broken English safety instructions on the plane. Like most Americans I had many pre-conceived notions about what lies half-way across the world. Two months later I would return to American soil a changed person, whose expectations had been shattered. The only thing I was right about was that it’s a long flight.
By and large, Israel is a beautiful place. A good portion of it is covered with lush greenery, rolling hills, streams and of course the pristine shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Even the desert areas have a certain mystique about them, so much so that you can feel the thousands of years of history baked into the ground.
My first stop and home base was in Tel Aviv, which is very European feeling and is about as progressive as it gets in the region. The people were friendly and very social. There is a good nightlife scene and some fantastic restaurants to enjoy. The locals were very excited to share with me their favorite spot for late night Bourekas, and their favorite spots for fresh hummus and stone fired pita which I could not get enough of. Most of the city is accessible by bicycle which can be rented hourly from pretty much any street corner and returned to the depot nearest your destination. I spent a good amount of time riding through the parks across town to enjoy the serenity of the beach (many times completely alone and I never once felt unsafe). The people are active, love life and do not live their lives in fear. Something I definitely didn’t expect.
I was lucky enough to meet some people who took me on a day trip to Jerusalem one Saturday. I must say there is a stark contrast between life in Tel Aviv and life in Jerusalem. As one might suspect, Jerusalem seems to be much more serious of a place than the fun-loving town of Tel Aviv and for good reason. I find it hard to describe the feeling, but there is a spiritual energy that is present inside the walls of the old city. The Ramparts Walk is something everyone should do, and most organized tours skip this part. You pay a few shekels and can walk atop of the retaining walls of old Jerusalem. From on top you can see your surroundings for miles. This is where the guards were posted thousands of years ago to protect the city. Walking through the Jewish and the Christian quarters was a pretty surreal experience as well. The places I was walking were written about in the Bible, I definitely will not be referred to as the most religious guy in the room but it was quite an experience. Unfortunately, the Muslim side was off limits since it was a Saturday, so I missed out on visiting Temple Rock, but this was still easily the most interesting day trip I had ever taken.
The last stop was the The Dead Sea, and yes the rumors are true: you float like a boat in the salty, oily water. Here is the lowest recorded land elevation on earth (1,401 feet below sea level to be exact), where Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and the Palestinian territory meet. It is amusing to watch people covering themselves in the mineral-rich mud and then basking in the sun until dry and then floating around to rinse off. After having a laugh, you have to try it out, it works wonders on your skin!
During my time in Israel I met some great people and had some amazing experiences, much more than I ever imagined was possible. The language barrier was barely an issue and I can honestly say that all of my expectations were shattered by the time it was all over. If for no other reason, go for the hummus…seriously, you’ll never eat the American stuff again.