I’ve made it to Israel!! Well, actually I’ve already been here for five days, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to write. So this is my best attempt to sum up my first few days here in Israel.
My dad and I flew over last Friday afternoon. He got upgraded to first class because of his frequent flyer status, leaving me to be all alone in coach. Not that coach is terrible, but I wasn’t too keen on the idea of sitting all by myself for ten hours on a plane while my dad was luxuriating in first class. I had the opportunity to upgrade for a sort of reasonable fee. So, I splurged. I had never flown in first class before (except one time home from Florida when I was about 6, and I slept the whole time. So obviously that doesn’t count). I figured a 10 hour plane ride followed by 5 days of intense site seeing was the perfect reason to buy myself a little present. And let me tell you it was the best money I ever spent. Dinner was a five course meal consisting of warm nuts, salad, seared tuna, ravioli, and ICE CREAM SUNDAES. Did I mention the warm towel we got at the beginning of the meal to freshen up. And don’t even get me started on the seat. It went all the way flat. I was lying down on a bed in an airplane. Sort of in my own little compartment with working outlets to charge my electronics, a big TV, and the nicest airplane blanket I’d ever seen. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to fly coach again.
Because I was so excited to come, I barely slept on the plane, maybe 2 hours total. My dad didn’t sleep at all. So when we landed in Tel Aviv at 10am local time, we were running almost completely on adrenaline. We got our bags (even my oversized one), met my brother after baggage claim, picked up our rental car, and in 30 minutes we were checking into our hotel on Rothschild Street right in the center of Tel Aviv. After we relaxed for a little we had lunch in the area and then walked to the beach. My dad went into the sea with all of his clothes on while my brother and I watched in disbelief. Then it was back to the hotel for a little nap before dinner.
Day 2 in Tel Aviv was mostly a day of errands for me. I got my new sim card and a new Israeli number. We also had the best hummus at this place right down the street from where my brother used to live. I think when I was on birthright my brother and I went there almost every day. After lunch we went to this pier area near the beach where they have this indoor market with restaurants and little shops. I had been there before with Ben, and last time I was here the place was packed. This time there were barely anyone walking along the beach. Most places have been empty so far, either because of the situation here, the weather, or if people are on vacation, but it’s kind of nice that no where is too crowded. After the beach, Ben and my dad went to Jaffa. I was too hot and too exhausted to go so I stayed and rested in the hotel and hung out with a friend in Tel Aviv. Let me tell you about the weather here. Hot is an understatement. I don’t think I’ve taken this many showers over the course of 5 days before in my life. All I want to do is take a shower, better yet a really cold shower, after walking around outside. Anyway, once Ben and my dad got back from Jaffa we went to dinner at this old railroad station in Tel Aviv. It’s converted into this new area with cool stores and fun restaurants.
We left pretty early in the morning to drive to Jerusalem. We stopped at a famous Shakshuka place in Jaffa for breakfast called Dr. Shaksushka. It was really yummy and I highly recommend it. I slept the whole drive to Jerusalem sleeping, because I was still pretty jet lagged and not sleeping too well at night. After we parked in the weirdest parking garage ever and checked into our hotel, we walked over to the Old City. We strolled around the little market areas and then saw the Western Wall. We pretty much walked throughout the entire city. There were two places I was not allowed to go into because I was wearing shorts, one was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the other was King David’s Tomb. So I spent most of that time sitting outside waiting for my dad and Ben after being rejected by security guards. I’m not sure if any of you have ever been to the Old City but the stones on the ground are really slippery. Ben took us to the roof of a building so we could get an awesome view of the Dome of the Rock and when I was walking down on an incline I totally slipped and skinned my knee. There were other people there and it’s sufficient to say I was thoroughly embarrassed. So definitely wear sneakers not flimsy flip flops when walking around the Old City. For dinner we ate at a local Algerian restaurant suggested by the concierge at the hotel. It was good, but a lot of the food was really spicy and too hot for me to handle. Then we went back to the hotel and went to bed early (or tried to, I was still jet lagged and didn’t fall asleep until 1am) since we had to be up at 4 in the morning.
Why did we have to wake up at 4am? Well we were driving to Masada to hike up the mountain before the sun rose and it would become 110 degrees out. We left the hotel at 430am, made the 1.5 hour drive, and arrived at Masada just as the sun began to rise. We drove through the West Bank, but I was sleeping the whole time. The hike up was hard, even though it was pretty cool out when we started. When I hiked up Masada on birthright we walked up the Roman trail which is on the other side of the mountain and pretty much a straight, but steep climb up. Well this time we did the Snake Trail, which is a seemingly endless trail of thousands of steps and rocky paths that wind back and forth. After plenty of water breaks we reached the top. Masada is really cool, and the history behind it is even better. I’m not going to write a history report right now but I definitely suggest googling it and reading about it. After looking at the ancient ruins, touching rocks that are thousands and thousands of years old and screaming obscenities into a look out point to listen to the echo, we gave ourselves a break and took the tram down to the bottom. It was about 9am when we got down, and then I made a new best friend. We decided to eat breakfast at this little cafe in the welcome center, and when we got to the door there were two ibex waiting at the entrance. These animals look like mountain goats except with giant horns and they are kind of like the pigeons of New York, congregating around the entrance and waiting for food. The owner told me they were really friendly, so I grabbed a big piece of pita and fed it to one of them. After taking plenty of selfies with my buddies (one pictured below) we left and drove to the Dead Sea. I personally think the Dead Sea is a little overrated. Yes it is cool to float there, but after the excitement dies down you realize that every part of your body is burning. Remember how I said I feel in Jerusalem on the slippery stones? Well the Dead Sea did not heal that but rather burned it badly. There were other parts of my body that did not agree with the salt water, but I won’t get into any details. My brother and I also covered ourselves in mud, pretty much just for the photo opportunity, and then immediately washed it all off. Then we headed back to Jerusalem, napped for about three hours, and went to dinner. We went to this part of Jerusalem called Emek Refaim, a small residential area with a lot of cool restaurants. I needed to have something other than hummus and pita bread (mush as we have been calling it) so we ate at this yummy italian style restaurant. Then we walked along an old railroad track thats been converted to pedestrian walkways. Since we woke up at 4am it was an early night.
That’s today! We woke up at about 830am and had a quick breakfast at the hotel. Then we walked to the Old City and went to The Temple Mount. The visiting times are restricted so we had to get there early enough to have time to walk around. I brought a shawl with me to wrap around my legs so I didn’t get kicked out of anywhere like on the first day in Jerusalem. Well, that wasn’t enough even though I was wearing a t-shirt that covered my shoulders. My brother and dad also were told to cover up their legs because they were wearing shorts. We each had to buy these overpriced shawls to walk around. My dad and Ben looked completely ridiculous with these pink and purple shawls around their legs. And I was burning up with a black scarf around my waist and another one draped over my shoulders. Seeing The Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock up close was really awesome though. After we left, we went to the Western Wall. Ben and my Dad ventured over to the men’s section while I stayed by myself in the women’s. We wrote the notes and stuck them in the wall and then went to the market area so my dad could buy some souvenirs for everyone back home. After haggling with the same guy for about 30 minutes my dad walked away with a lot of great stuff at a reasonable price. And I bought those cool comfortable harem style pants with elephants on them! Unlike my dad, I have the worst poker face and do not haggle very well. I’ll pretty much pay anything. But I did get the price dropped from 160 shekels to 100. He kept asking me for more coins but I literally had none, so I offered him a quarter, which he strangely accepted and then I walked away. Then we had a light lunch in this well known hummus place in the market area, grabbed an iced aroma, and are back at the hotel now resting for dinner. Tonight we are going to Machneyuda Restaurant. It’s a famous restaurant here that literally everyone recommended to us. It’s in the shuk in Jerusalem so we are going to leave a little early and walk around there before we eat.
And tomorrow is the big day. My dad and Ben are going to drop me off at orientation for my program in the afternoon and then they head back to America! Wish me luck!!