Sukkot in Israel : A week long journey around the country.

I spent a few days of the Sukkot vacation in Tel Aviv. My program had sent out an email with all these activities in Israel during the vacation. Although the hot air balloon festival down south sounded amazing, I thought the activities in Tel Aviv were a little more cost efficient and doable. So last Wednesday I dragged my not so interested boyfriend to the port area of Tel Aviv. The port area in Tel Aviv is really cool, it’s sort of like a boardwalk that runs along the sea filled with restaurants, stores, and my favorite an indoor shuk. There was supposed to be a giant Sukkah right on the pier for the holiday, but I think we got there a little too early.  The sukkah was impressively constructed and quite large, but there weren’t any people or festivities going on inside just yet. Instead, Ran and I walked along the pier and ventured into the shuk. We bought the most amazing cheesy breadsticks and both crunched and melted in my mouth at the same time. Five minutes after leaving the shuk, we returned so I could purchase 6 more (buy 5 get one free!). Funny side note, later that night Aryan’s dog would sneakily eat all of my breadsticks while I was downstairs. Needless to say I was devastated but the dog is just too cute tot get mad at for too long.

The other activity I did in Tel Aviv during Sukkot was the T-market. It’s a pop up market where designers sell all kinds of jewelry, bags, and clothing. It lasts for three days and I think it usually comes during the Sukkot vacation. It was a mere 10 shekel entry fee for plenty of eye candy for a young shopaholic like myself. I was a little disappointed at how expensive everything was, but it was definitely fun to look at and pretend I could buy whatever I wanted. I saw one tank top that I was debating on buying, a long black one with shreds torn off on the bottom (very grunge chic, just my style). I asked the seller “kama ze” (which means how much) and he informed me it was 150 shekels. Even though it was super cute it did sort of resemble something I could make myself if I got a rat to nibble at the bottom of a shirt. So I left the T-market emptied handed. But I was still very happy because the four room showroom was the closest thing to an Urban Outfitters I’ve found in Israel thus far. And ask anyone whom I have spoken to recently and they’ll tell you I miss my Urban a lot.

Trip up North

The rest of my Sukkot break was spent traveling around Israel both with my program and with friends. Below is a day by day account of my week long trip.

 Day 1, Sunday October 12

Day one started very early with a 730am departure from Rishon. We stopped along the way to pick up the other fellows living in Petach Tikva. We were told to wear hiking clothes, pack a hat, and bring three liters of water with us on the bus as our trio was starting right away. No stop at the hostel first. The drive was in total about three hours giving me plenty of time to catch up on sleep after a grueling 630am wake up. We arrived in the north around 11am and immediately began our hike.

Our tour guide Ayal told us the hike would be a pleasant stroll. But when we happened upon a giant steep incline he smirked and remarked that he had “forgotten about this part”. The hike up the side of the mountain was short but very steep. I almost slipped and fell many times and I was extremely out of breath by the time we reached the top, but it was definitely worth it. Awaiting us after the grueling climb was a beautiful view of the valley and the city of Metula. We ate sandwiches on top of the mountain and took a fee pictures. My friend Diana and I have an extreme hatred of tomatoes. So we were in a little bit of a quandary as to what to do with the tomatoes on our pre made sandwiches. My roommate Iris graciously offered to take my slimy vegetables off my hands, and whole Diana was picking hers off, one happened to fall onto the ground. We spent the next 15 minutes fighting of a single bee, another hatred Diana and I have in common, as it tried as much as it could to get as close to the tomato and therefore where we sitting.

After we survived the bee attack we hiked down the mountain in the biggest raindrops you could ever see. These things were like splashes from a pool. Giant water pellets falling from the sky. It was more refreshing than a nuisance. I also had a chance to pee in the woods once we reached the bottom. We were told it would be a fairly long drive to our next stop. So a few boys and girls ventured off into abandoned parts of the path to do their business. I do no like going to the bathroom outdoors nor am I very good at it. But when you gotta go, you gotta go. I managed okay, but got a little freaked out when I turned to my side halfway through and saw piles of bones scattered throughout the patch of dirt where I was. I asked my tour guide about it later and he informed me that they were probably cow bones from one of the many farms in the area. Interesting.

Next we drove to a kibbutz right on the Israeli border with Lebanon. I forgot the name of the kibbutz, but it was on top of a mountain peak and literally had Syria to its right and Lebanon to its left. It was a fair distance away from Syria, but it was actually right to Lebanon. We were told that on the other side of the fence that we drove up next to was Lebanon. That kind of threw me off, but in a good way. It just seemed so surreal. My roommate and I even took a picture right next to the border, “touching Lebanon.”

At the kibbutz we spoke to a very interesting man named Arye. He used to live in America but made Aliyah when he was in his early 20s. He fought in three different wars in Israel, and certainly had a right wing mentality. I won’t get into the specific politics about what he said, but you definitely have to have a specific personality to be able to live right on the border with Lebanon. He was very opinionated and told some pretty cool stories. But it was interesting to here a different and radical opinion for once.

After our talk on the Lebanon border we went back down the mountain and had a Masters Chef competition for dinner. Basically our two cities were competing against each other, too cook dinner for the staff given certain ingredients. We had pasta, ground meet, tomato sauce, vegetables, and weirdly enough hot dogs. I am definitely not a master chef, so I was mostly in charge of cutting vegetables. I think I cut 2 peppers. My group made pasta with one meat sauce and another vegetarian tomato sauce, curry ground beef lettuce wraps, and various salads. In the end the competition was a tie, not too shocking. After dinner we checked into our hostel, had a quick evening activity, and then went to bed preparing for the early day ahead of us.

Day 2, Monday October 13

Day 2 started even early than the first day, with a 6am wake up, breakfast at 7am, and then checking out of the hostel at 8am. We hiked up Mount Meron, about a three or four hour hike. The hike wasn’t too strenuous and the views at the end were definitely worth it. Plus, since we were up north we didn’t have to hike in such grueling heat.

After the hike, we headed to the town of Tzfat for lunch. I really do love Tzfat. It’s a small town with great jewelry. It’s also known for Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism that Madonna famously practiced. It’s also a fairly religious town and everyone brought long pants to put on in case we went anywhere that required such clothing. We got an hour for lunch and shopping in Tzfat and then we visited a really cool old synagogue. I do wish we had more time in Tzfat just to walk around.

After Tzfat is was time for everyone to go home, but not for me. After 15 minutes on the bus, it pulled over and dropped Diana, Rachel, and I off on the side of the road at a bus stop that would take us to Haifa. But literally this bus stop was on the side of a highway, one of those bus stops that looks like no one every actually comes to. A bus we could take came about 15 minutes later. After about a 45 minutes bus ride we caught a train that took us right to Haifa. We checked into the hostel and got acclimated in our room. One of the girls sharing the room with us was actually another Teaching Fellow from another city. I believe it was Rehovot. We walked to the German Colony for dinner, and then walked to the bottom of the Baha’i Gardens. After we went to get some ice cream for the walk back to the hotel, where I was told over and over again by another customer that I couldn’t possible be an English teacher as I look like I am 14 years old. Never gets old.

Day 3, Tuesday October 14

We treated ourselves and slept a little later on Day 3, until about 9am. After we got up, we quickly got dressed and then made our way back to the train station to catch a train to Akko. Akko is a really old city, on one of the northern most parts of the Haifa Bay. It dates back all the way to Crusader times. Although in English we pronounce it Akko, it was spelled Acre on all the signs, making things a little confusing when talking to locals.

When we got to Akko we immediately tried to find food as it was 11am and we hadn’t eaten anything yet. My brother had recommended a famous hummus place in the bazaar area of the city. Rachel had a useful guide book with her that also suggested the same restaurant. But, just simply plugging Hummus Sayid into Google Maps was not that effective. Although we successfully found the Bazaar area, the map had us going in circles and down winding roads trying to find it. After asking about five different locals “Eifo Hummus Sayid” (where is Hummus Sayid), one vendor just literally left his stand and walked us directly to the famous restaurant. We were only about a block away at that point. Since there were three of us our waiter recommended we try three different types of hummus, we agreed. But, our eyes were definitely bigger than our stomachs and we only finished maybe about half of all the food we had. But it was definitely an amazing meal, and when we left there was a line out the door of people waiting to get in. Thanks for the recommendation Ben!

We then walked towards the water and took some great pictures with Haifa in the background on the other side of the Bay. And we also walked around the Shuk/Bazaar area. But at this point it was about 1pm and the place was so packed it was hard to walk. We tried to go to the older part of the city, with remnants from the Crusader era (I think?). But just our luck that part of the city was closed off. We couldn’t understand why, but some guy standing at the entrance made it clear that we could not come in. I was a little bummed because Rachel, who had been there before, told Diana and I that there was a really cool old prison in there and a really pretty mosque. Oh well, I guess its a reason to go back some day! After we left Akko we went back to the hostel and relaxed at the Hostel for a few hours, tired from all the walking coupled with leftover exhaustion from the 4 hour hike the day before.

Then came one of the best parts of the whole trip. There was a week long international film festival in Haifa overlapping with our time there. We looked online at the website, watching previews of the movies being shown and figuring out if anything interested us. There was actually one movie, showing at 7pm that night that looked really good. It was an American film called Men, Women, and Children, which revolved round the rise of social media and the prevalence of technology in our lives. Basically, the main purpose of the movie was to get us to question how well we actually know those in our lives when they could have a totally different life via use of the internet. The film festival was on top of the mountain in Haifa, near where the top of the Baha’i Gardens is. So we took the subway to the Carmel Center (the top of the mountain). The subway is more like an elevator that travels up, inside of Mount Carmel. It was kind of like the start of a scary roller coaster because it is a subway that goes up and down not just straight. We went to the box office bought our tickets in advance and ate a quick dinner. There was also a little market that opened right outside of the theater with cool clothes, pretty jewelry, and yummy food. We walked around there as we had some time to kill before the movie started. I had never been to a film festival so I was really excited to get the opportunity to go. And the movie was so good.

Day 4, Wednesday October 15

Day 4 was sort of a travel day. In the morning we woke up pretty early as someone in our room kept snoozing their alarm, so every 15 minutes we got to hear the pleasant charm of an alarm clock until eventually we just gave up and started getting ready. We got dressed and walked to a nearby bakery, grabbed some burekas for breakfast, and took the subway back to the top of the mountain. We had planned on going on a tour of the Baha’i Gardens. It’s a free tour that happens once a day, and gives you the chance to actually go into the gardens for an hour. However, we found out that there were no tours that day because of the holiday. Just our luck after the Old City in Akko being closed as well. But we still got to go down the first three terraces of the Gardens, which are absolutely beautiful. It is one of the holiest places for the Baha’i Religion, the other one being directly across the Bay in Akko.

After we took many pictures in the Gardens we walked down the mountain, a grueling 30 minutes that literally destroyed by calf muscles. We had lunch at a hummus place someone at the hostel recommended and then went back to the train station to catch a train to Modiin, a suburb of Jerusalem. Diana has family there and we were going to spend the night at his house. The train ride was nice and I got some work done for my graduate school application. Diana’s cousin picked us up at the station and drove us to his house. It was nice to actually be back in a house after living in hostels for the past few days. Simchat Torah started that day at sundown, so there was a nice, big family meal at his house that night. Everyone was very welcoming and nice. We went to bed pretty early, our bellies the fullest they’d been in a few days.

Day 5, Thursday October 16

The last full day of our trip was spent going on a tour of Jerusalem. Shy, Diana’s cousin whose name I didn’t mention before, is a tour guide so he offered to take us on a free tour throughout the city. I was really excited because he told us he was going to show us some places that most people (Israelis included) don’t even know existed. He knew that we had all done the birthright style tour of the Old City in Jerusalem, so he wanted to show us something different. So, before we even made it into the Old City I got to see a bunch of places I never knew about, such as a Holocaust Memorial, a 9/11 memorial, and a John F. Kennedy memorial all located in the hills of Jerusalem. It was especially cool as an American seeing the two memorials that directly related to American culture located in such a beautiful place in a different country. My favorite was the JFK memorial just because of the symbols behind the design. As we approached it Shy informed us that it was designed to look like a tree trunk, a tree that was cut down before it had a chance to grow. I could definitely see the symbolism there.

After these memorials we went into the Old City. It was 2pm at this point and Rachel, Diana, and I were literally starving. Shy took us to this cool restaurant that just pretty much gave us a bunch of different salads, pita, and hummus. We then walked around the city, seeing the Western Wall from a cool lookout point, getting a full tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which I couldn’t do with my dad and brother because I was wearing shorts that time), and driving to the top of the Mount of Olives. After about 6 hours of touring Shy dropped us at our hostel. We thanked him over and over again for the tour and then checked into our hostel. We were surprised to see that our roommates at this hostel were 5 other people all about 60 years old. It was a strange but laughable situation. We went to the First Station for dinner, a converted railroad station that’s now a really cool outdoor mall area with a nice path to walk parallel to the old railroad line. After dinner we walked around and then took the bus back to the hostel. We walked along Ben Yehuda Street. And then the most exciting part of the trip happened. I bought myself a pair of Blundstone boots. Everyone wears these shoes in Israel and I have been wanting a pair of these shoes since birthright. There are so cool, but also very expensive. But it was the last night of my vacation and I figured I’d buy myself a present. I haven’t taken them off since.

Day 6, Friday October 17

We woke up pretty early the last morning of our trip thanks to our roommates who started  to get ready at 6am. So we joined in, got up and had a free breakfast at the hotel. We then took a cab to the central bus station and parted ways. Diana and Rachel caught a bus to Petach Tikva, whereas I was going to Tel Aviv for one night to visit the boyfriend.

Overall it was an amazing trip during which I got to revisit some of my favorite places in Israel but also saw things I had never seen before.

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Touching the Lebanon Border!

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View from Top of Mount Meron

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We made it to the top!

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Akko Port

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Hummus Sayid

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View from the Baha’i Gardens

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The “elevator” subway in Haifa.

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Baha’i Gardens

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Holocaust Memorial, Jerusalem.

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9/11 Memorial, Jerusalem.

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JFK Memorial, Jerusalem.

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Woo, the NJ state seal at the JFK Memorial!

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Western Wall Panorama

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