I am finally getting around to writing about our trip to Israel!
As you might expect, many Jews from around the world visit Israel. Many go as children or youth because there are programs like Birthright that facilitate this. I never took advantage of anything like this, nor was I in the least bit interested until a few years ago.
After my Bat Mitzvah at age 13, I threw in the towel on having anything much to do with Judaism. One reason was that I just wasn't religious or interested in being observant of traditions, but in hindsight it probably had more to do with being Jewish in a small, relatively homogeneous town. I was eager to rid myself of any traits that made me 'different'.
It was only a few years ago, after reading The Lemon Tree, that I realized how little I knew about Israel's history and I felt an interest and connection to it. Adam had been as a teen on the March of the Living, and wasn't eager to go back, but after I talked about my desire to visit for a long time, he offered to go with me. It was a belated 15th anniversary gift.
This trip was a huge leap out of my comfort zone as I hate flying and hadn't done such a long flight since I was 3-years-old. As I have said before, I am very happy to read about places around the world from the comfort of my home, rather than visit them in person. Especially if they are really, really far, dangerous, hot, and/or have huge, scary insects). Israel is definitely far...and potentially dangerous.
It took months of research for me to figure out what kind of trip we would do. Lots of people I know who have spent lots of time in Israel, told me its really easy to travel and explore there, and recommended renting a car or just devising our own itinerary. Um, wrong! I am very glad I did not listen to this! Maybe for someone already extremely familiar with the country, otherwise, I definitely recommend a tour!
I struggled to find an organized tour, however, that really appealed to me, so finally after a long chat with the Israel experts at Aufgang Travel, we booked a private, custom tour. Yep. Just me, Adam and our own tour guide. I specifically asked for a focus on culture and history. I was not particularly interested in seas or deserts. So sue me, but that's just not all that interesting to me. Water is water (even if the Dead Sea is somewhat unique) and sand is sand.
So our tour included the following:
- Old Jerusalem
- Hertzl Museum
- Israel Museum
- Yad Vashem (Holocaust museum)
- Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
- Mahane Yehuda Market
- Masada (but we never made it due to road there being flooded out)
I was very nervous about the flights even though my doctor gave me some Ativan to help me sleep. The flight there ended up being alright. Getting through security at Pearson Airport in Toronto was horrid though, as the wait and lines were very long. We flew with El Al airlines and they have their own, lengthy security check system. Of course, its good to feel secure when flying to Israel 😐😐
I did manage to sleep, but even with our upgraded (but not first class) seats, I found it ridiculously uncomfortable. Given how small a person I am, I can't imagine what it was like for anyone bigger.
We arrived in Tel Aviv, settled in to our hotel (The Dan Panorama), and went exploring. We found the wonderful Carmel Market nearby, and got dinner at an Aroma Cafe. Though we have them in Toronto, we never go, and it was nice at this point to find something familiar and with menus in English. We went back to our hotel and slept about 11 hours.
Our next day in Tel Aviv was free before our tour guide picked us up the next day. After sleeping in, we had an amazing breakfast at the hotel (they are known for their buffet breakfasts!), and then went for a run along the waterfront (our hotel was right on the Mediterranean Sea). After showering, we went exploring, and ended up at an upscale fashion mall. Though we didn't buy any clothes, we had lunch there and met some lovely locals who offered advice on sites to see.
We ended up wandering rather aimlessly, just getting a sense of the city, and then had an amazing dinner at a restaurant in Carmel Market.
Part 2 of my posts will describe the tour, and 3 I will devote the entire discussion to the FOOD.