For Fall and Spring Breaks I try to go somewhere out of the country and somewhere new (only two requirements). After doing some research I landed upon Israel.
All the photos can be found on Flickr and were taken on my HTC 10 and Nikon camera.
Sunday and Monday
I started my journey to Israel leaving from Indianapolis to New York (LGA) and then later that day from JFK to Moscow. From Moscow I would have a short (one hour-ish) layover and then off to Tel Aviv.
The airline for all these international flights was Aeroflot, the Russian national airline. The seats on Aeroflot were comfortable, the food was alright (I really had no clue what I was ordering or what was going on during the flight), however the layover in Moscow was insane. My boarding pass said one gate, online said another, and at the airport the big board said something else. I convinced an American to let me cut in front of him in the boarder control line (one agent for hundreds of people) and I ran across the airport to the gate the big board side. While running I saw the Russian national wrestling team (I was decked out in Team USA wrestling gear) but couldn’t stop since I didn’t have time. Turns out my boarding pass was the correct gate so I ran all the way across again and barely made the flight.
Going through the Israeli border control wasn’t too bad. Pretty standard questioning, wanted to see all my papers, and know what I was doing everyday. However while in line a man offered a free cell phone to use as long as I turned it back in. The phone has free unlimited data and calling however I was told I was going to be monitored (location) so they know where tourists go… No thank you Mossad.
I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel, which was across the street from the U.S. Embassy, which was why I booked it (easy to just say take me to the U.S Embassy). From there I explored around Tel Aviv.
After a good sleep, on Tuesday I went with a small tour group of four people into Jerusalem. The group was lead by a former police offer and he took us all throughout Jerusalem. I’m writing this post much later after the trip so I don’t remember exactly all the places we visited, just the Western Wall and Lion’s Gate, old Jerusalem, the Church of all Nations, and a spot were Jesus ascended into Heaven (apparently there are two spots in Israel that claim this), and the pools where Jesus give a man the ability to walk again.
Being in Jerusalem is very surreal, as you have so much Biblical history surrounding you and gives you a feeling no other city on the planet can give you. One day is not enough time to spend in Jerusalem (you can spend a whole week here).
Wednesday was probably the most intense part of the trip. The plan was to visit Petra in Jordan through a tour company. I flew from Israel to Eilat from Yafo Sde Dov airport, which is a extremely (lots of emphasis on that) airport. I arrived too early so I spent a good hour sitting at a metal security gate outside the airport. Security there is treated like when you enter the county even though its a domestic flight, so be prepared for a ton of questions and everything searched. The flight itself wasn’t bad however.
Upon arrival in Eilat there was no clear direction on what to do or where to go, however there was other people on the tour so we all stayed together until a man showed up saying the bus was on its way. After showing our papers we hopped on the coach bus and we were off to the border crossing. Crossing the border wasn’t difficult, just long.The tour company provides a men at both sides to handle the crossing, but on the Jordanian side the crossing was manned by only two guards (so I’m assuming that was the point of delay). Crossing is a surreal experience since you walk a good stretch of road from the Israeli side to the Jordanian side and are greeted by a giant sign with the Jordanian king on it.
After crossing into Jordan I boarded another bus which took us deep into the desert. We had one pit stop at a weird Elvis themed restaurant and then continued until we hit Petra. In Petra we disembarked the bus and continued with the guide, who talked and brought us to the treasury, which is what people typically think of Petra as. We were then given I believe a hour of free time until we had to be back at the bus.
The massive scale of the all the buildings in Petra was amazing and the journey through the valley to reach them. You can also take a ride on a donkey pulled wagon through the valley. The only downside is there are alot of children who beg for money.
On the way back the bus stopped at a small restaurant where we ate Jordanian food offered in buffet style. From there it was a drive back to the border, which was a mess needless to say. We were late getting to the border and were rushed through to catch the flight back to Tel Aviv. Getting through the border wasn’t hard, but at the airport myself and a Canadian man were taken out of line for additional questioning (essentially I was asked the same set of questions by three different people and had my book bag emptied and searched). On the good side they held the plane for me.
I woke up early at 3:30 AM to catch a ride with a tour group to Masada, the ancient fortress that overlooks the Dead Sea. This is something every person visiting Israel should do, as it has tons of history and the views are great.
You can either take a cable car to the top or hike it – I chose to hike it. At the top you have what remains of the fortress, so walls, rooms, and tiling. While I was there the Israeli military was doing a graduation for some of its members so that was pretty cool to see in person.
After Masada I continued with my tour group to the Dead Sea. The road there is littered with sinkholes, so its a pretty unique drive. We arrived at a Dead Sea swimming hole and went into the sea. You are placed on a 15 minute timer and taught how to properly get in the water (since you are so buoyant in the salt water you can drown if you enter the water incorrectly).
From the Dead Sea I had one more stop, the Ein Gedi. The Ein Gedi is a nature reserve nestled in a valley overlooking the Dead Sea. Of all the places I wished I could have spent more time at, the Ein Gedi was at the top of that list. It has multiple paths you can take, a little stream that cuts through it complete with a waterfall you can get in, and tons of hiking and nature to see.
Leaving Israel was much harder than getting in. Ben Gurion Airport is like a maze and is filled to the brim with travelers. There are over 14 luggage security (scanning) lines that apparently are coordinated with what country you are from. I found out the hard way if you are in the wrong line (I swear I was told to go in this particular line) that you get taken into a back room and your luggage searched through for bombs. I think I was asked the same set of questions at least by five different people throughout my journey to my gate, with one guy getting really frustrated with me not knowing the name of my tour guide in Jordan.
My flight left at 7:10AM with a two hour layover in Moscow, which has a Burger King that servers beer and chicken wings. I bought a Russian hat that I thought was $10 USD, unfortunately I miscalculated the math in my head and didn’t bring over the zero…
From Moscow I headed back to America by way of JFK, which had the rudest Border and Customs agent. I stayed the night in NYC and caught a flight the next morning on Delta to Indianapolis. I managed to convince the guy at security to let me bring olive oil with me on carry on (it was still in the duty free bag), so props to the security agent.
Israel is the right combination of beaches, history, and nature that you can never run out of things to see or do during a trip. Even with the hassles of security, Israel by far is a place to visit. I never once felt unsafe and English is one of the three languages used there (English, Hebrew, and Farsi) so getting around and talking is no issue at all.
Also pita bread pizza is good.