Wandering through Israel

I wrote this post while waiting for a delayed flight in the Tel Aviv airport on December 19th, so it’s slightly outdated.

Inside the old city walls of Jerusalem
Inside the old city walls of Jerusalem – it’s pomegranate season, a.k.a. heaven.

It’s always hard to break out of a bubble. Last week, as I packed my bags for a work trip to Israel, I had to tear myself away from home – from my little kids, the familiarity of my daily routine, the pre-Christmas coziness. But, as always happens, the moment I was away, it felt like the most normal, wonderful thing in the world. Once again, I was out in the world, exploring and learning, navigating strange places and languages, trying exotic foods – pretty much my idea of heaven.

I came to Israel as the guest of an organization called Vibe Israel, a non-profit group that designs tours for ‘digital influencers’ like myself. The tours are tailored to whatever the writers’ interests are, and the idea is that we’ll go back to our home countries to write and provide a fresh perspective on Israel.

Tel Aviv is ultra-modern and sophisticated. There are swanky bars and restaurants on every street, filled with trendy-looking young people drinking and smoking. The city parties all night long, every night of the week. The restaurants are amazing; my group was wined and dined like royalty for days, and the food was sumptuous.

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Tel Aviv’s waterfront

Jerusalem, on the other hand, is a bit calmer, but steeped in ancient history like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s my new favourite place, with similarities to Europe, but an atmosphere that feels more like Arabian Nights (my favourite childhood book). The bazaars are filled with glittering silver and gold statues, menorahs, and lamps. Pyramids of spices scent the alleyways. Loud music blasts and echoes off the flagstones roads and walls of the old city. There are so many awnings overhead that you can’t even see the sky. It’s like being transported back thousands of years.

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Entering the Jaffa Gate in the old city

With the Vibe Israel group, I traveled to the south of Israel, through the Negev desert to the Arava desert, close to the Red Sea, where Israel meets Jordan and Egypt. It was my first desert experience, and the scenery surpassed my expectations. It was stark, rugged, dry, and breathtakingly beautiful. I’ll never forget the Pillars of Solomon, apparently named by Lonely Planet as one of the 50 most beautiful places on Earth. I can see why.

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I couldn’t get enough of this beautiful desert!
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My awesomely fun travel buddies, in front of the Pillars of Solomon at Timna Park

Another memorable experience – there were so many! – was scaling Masada mountain in the dark. It was a mad scramble up slippery stone steps and loose rocks, to King Herod’s ancient fortress on top of a plateau. There, overlooking the Judean desert and the Dead Sea, I watched the sun rise over the mountains of Jordan in the distance.

Overlooking the Dead Sea and the Moabite Mountains of Jordan in the distance
Overlooking the Dead Sea and the Moabite Mountains of Jordan in the distance
King Herod's fortress is still remarkably intact.
King Herod’s fortress is still remarkably intact.

After the tour ended, I was alone for several days in Jerusalem. I’m not used to being alone anymore. With three little munchkins who generate endless noise and demands all day long, I’ve lost the skill of being alone with my thoughts. It took some practice and time to adjust to the silence, but then it became golden.

I wandered the streets of old Jerusalem (by that, I mean the walled city), with no agenda or time restraints whatsoever. I took alleyways that appealed to me. I explored cute stairwells and tiny doors. I sat and stared at the Damascus Gate (a place that never fails to make me want to cry because it’s so, so utterly beautiful) and the Wailing Wall. It would have been perfect, if not for the annoyingly aggressive males who were magnetically drawn to the fact that I was a woman alone. Aside from the “big banana” comments, it was mostly polite; but I really wish men would realize that it does nothing to make them attractive when they act like this. Seriously.

I had to enter the Damascus Gate to get to my humble little hostel. It gave me shivers every time, so steeped in history and utterly magnificent.
I had to enter the Damascus Gate to get to my humble little hostel. It gave me shivers every time, so steeped in history and utterly magnificent.
Manger Square in Bethlehem, complete with Starbucks and a giant Santa's Village tent.
Manger Square in Bethlehem, complete with Starbucks and a giant Santa’s Village tent.
The famous Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem
The famous golden-domed Al-Aqsa mosque in the background & the Wailing Wall, holy for Jews, in the foreground in Jerusalem

Now I’m ready to go home. My wonderful husband (“a lucky man,” I’ve been told countless times by random dudes trying to sell me stuff in stores – they clearly don’t realize I’ve heard it multiple times that day) has been holding down the fort at home, and I can’t wait to see them all.

Towers of baklava: I will miss these food markets though, which are feasts for the belly, eyes, and soul....
Towers of baklava: I will miss these food markets though, which are feasts for the belly, eyes, and soul….

Surprisingly, though, I didn’t miss the kids. I thought it would be heartbreaking to be away from my littlest one, but I’ve barely thought about it. Perhaps knowing the kids are well taken care of is the reason why, but also because I needed this trip. To be alone has been glorious, rejuvenating. I feel like I’ve connected with a deep part of my being that craves travel and the challenge of navigating foreign lands more than anything in the world.

Now, back to reality…. and Christmas! But first, a car that is completely buried under snow in a Toronto airport parking lot. Ugh.

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3 thoughts on “Wandering through Israel

  1. Too bad the Gov’t of Israel will not find a peace plan, that includes a treaty for Palestinian people to have a state. Will not support Israel or travel there until then.

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