Israel: Tel Aviv & Jerusalem
Posted on March 13, 2016
We were lucky enough to be hosted by a world-renowned Israeli painter and couchsurfer named Amir. We stayed in a sunroom behind his paint studio. Nick was absolutely terrified of Amir’s cat (probably some residual jumpiness from having his feet swatted at from Feras’s cat back in Philly), who would constantly follow and corner him. The windows of the sunroom were covered in these white stains, which we learned was bat spit. Apparently, the bats like to congregate outside his building, which was pretty nutty to be sleeping next to. It was such a treat to be surrounded by his incredible artwork. Amir was also an incredibly generous person. In addition to hosting us, he also gave us a nighttime bike tour of Tel Aviv (he may or may not be obsessed with bicycles, which is why he had a couple extra to loan us)! The city is kind of like a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly Jewish LA –Jesus’s California.
Public transport in Israel was surprisingly difficult to navigate overall. In theory, there is a reloadable card you can use to ease the costs of travel, but not only could we not find the place of issuance for the card for the life of us, it would barely have been worth it since we were not staying in the same area at any point during our visit. However, for others who are looking to use it during your visit, make sure to bring your passport as it waives the issuing fee. In any case, one way tickets are available for purchase at most bus stops by using the kiosks, where you can pay by cash or card. Sometimes the machine does not recognize coins, so you’ll see a well-worn spot next to the machine where people scrape their coins to give the edges some traction.
In the main bus terminal (which doubles as a shopping mall), you’ll see dozens of soldiers on their lunch breaks. Use caution when getting money from the ATM, as we had to deal with an unusually high minimum amount to withdraw.
There is direct transportation between major cities, though costs are somewhat higher than you might expect. The buses advertise internet onboard, but your milage may vary during parts of your trip where reception easily comes and goes.
In the short 3 days we spent in Israel, we saw an incredible amount. On the day of our arrival, Amir was unfortunately unable to let us in until the evening. This gave us just enough time to grab some dinner before heading to his apartment. We decided on a bar that had some exceptional ratings. Not only was it Super Bowl Sunday (not that the game would be on till waaay late at night), there was a local game that had people especially excited as well. There were many songs the entire bar joined in to sing, which gave such an incredible feeling of communality. Also there was a Hebrew cover of the Arthur theme song, so, I mean, pretty awesome overall.
We took a day trip to Jerusalem on the second day there and saw the sights. This included many holy places, as well as the marketplace, Western Wall, and the museum where the Dead Sea Scrolls are featured. There was a lot to see and do, though we primarily ventured only in the old city.
The next day, we were torn. Coming from Romania, we were not incredibly excited at spending even more time cooped up in a bus or train for hours on end, but we did definitely want to swim in the Dead Sea. At this point, I would like to remind everyone of how important communication is when traveling as a couple.
So, we had a decision to make. In the end, we decided that our excitement for new things outweighed our temporary lack of energy, and off to the Dead Sea we were. That morning, Nick had gotten some travel tips from Amir and before you knew it, we were on a bus, whizzing past the fields of palm trees on one side and desolate, dry mountainside on the other.
When we got off at the wrong stop, things got a little bit tricky. It was at this juncture when Nick told me about a multi-hour-long hike that he had planned for us and forgotten to tell me about. Not only was I wearing boots that are not at all suitable for hiking, we had packed no water and had all of our beach items with us – not exactly the kind of gear you want for such a venture. In his defense, there was a very pushy cabdriver giving us information we didn’t need or want and the beach was nowhere to be found. Overall, it was a pretty stressful situation, and Nick was doing everything he could to make the best of it. The cabby ended up taking us to a beach we couldn’t swim at for fear of dismemberment against the jagged rocks…when we decided to hop back on the bus to get off at a more tourist-friendly stop.
Well, we finally made it to a real beach, bought the mud that will supposedly cure you of all ailments, and were blinded by the intense sting of the saltwater. There were German tourists everywhere, but that’s not really a surprise as there are seriously just German tourists everywhere.
Departing from the Middle Eastern city of Tel Aviv was rushed, to put it lightly. You hear it everywhere to be at the airport at least an hour before your flight, sometimes two. But in Israel, it is consistently recommended that you arrive three hours prior. With our flight being at 6:30 AM, we were in for a very, very early day…
Aaaand we overslept.
Run and run as we might, we really believed that we were going to miss our flight. Even with not knowing where our airline check in was, or understanding how the security interview process worked, we made it by the skin of our teeth. We made it through security in a half hour. Thirty freaking minutes. Security was not incredibly happy with us…but we did it.