Chris and I were able to meet in Israel for a week over the Christmas holidays. I arrived in Tel Aviv on Christmas Eve night, and was exhausted from almost 20 hours of flights.
The next day was Christmas Day, but being Israel, everything was still open. I walked all around Tel Aviv and down to Jaffa, exploring the Carmel Market, the beaches, and Old City Jaffa along the way. Great temperatures in the 70’s and lots of sights to see. Late that night Chris showed up, and the next morning I took him to visit all the sights I had seen the day before. Then we got on a bus for Jerusalem.
After finding our hotel in Jerusalem, and having a great late lunch at a Georgian restaurant, we tackled the Old City. We had two maps but as soon as we got in the Old City, we were totally lost. So we decided to just wander around. We happened upon the Via Dolarosa (stations of the cross and internet stand), I bought a souvenir for a friend, lots of churches, mosques, and synagogues. At last we stumbled into a plaza and realized we were at the Western (Wailing) Wall. The sun had set and the moon was coming up and it was quite a picture. Luckily we were able to get two last spots in a tour of the tunnels beneath the western wall, where we learned a lot about the history of the second temple, built by crazy Herod the Great, of which now you can see only one wall of the former embankment walls.
The next morning we returned to the Old City to see the rest of the sights- the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, David’s City, The Temple Mount- we were not allowed to go inside the Temple Mount to see Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock- (don’t even get me started on sites that exclude due to sex, race, or religion)- but we climbed to the top of the Austrian Guest House and could see Jerusalem from above. Later that day we took a bus to Bethlehem, where a friendly taxi driver showed us the Fields of the Shepherds, the Church of the Nativity, and lots of Palestinian street art on the wall that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank.
On Friday we took an organized day trip to see Masada and the Dead Sea. Along the way we saw the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We took an aerial car to the top of Masada and learned about the siege by the Romans in 73 AD, which ended in the suicide of the Jews on the mountain. We went to the Dead Sea, covered our arms and legs with mud from the banks, and floated in the salty water. When we returned to Jerusalem, Sabbat had begun, so no trams, buses, and few restaurants open. We walked down to the Old City and found an Armenian place open and it was great.
On Saturday we paired up with two other people and rented a taxi to Haifa, north on the coast. What a beautiful city, or at least the part we explored! It was a bit rainy and we were pretty exhausted from our continuing jet lag and all our walking around, so we had a late lunch, walked around a bit, and went to bed.
The next day, Sunday, we went to see the Museum of Clandestine Immigration and learned about all the sneaky ways the Jews got people into Israel before the British left in 1947. They had artifacts and photos and even some of the ships they used. Very interesting, especially if you’ve read Leon Uris’s Exodus. Across the street was Elijah’s cave, a sacred site to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and open to all. Then we took a tram to the top of the Baha’i Gardens and took a tour down through the amazingly maintained green space. It was really lovely.
All too soon it was time to take a train down to Tel Aviv, where we got a hotel right on the train tracks near the airport. Chris left late that night, and I flew home the next morning. At least I got a layover in Istanbul- mmmm, Turkish delight!!