After three years of living with Israelis in Australia, it was time for me to visit the Holy Land myself. Israel would not necessarily have been on my bucket list without my previous experience with Israelis – and I would have missed out on a lot! Five hours from Berlin to Tel Aviv and right after landing the was the first surprise. The Ben Gurion Airport is impressive and one of the most beautiful I have seen so far. Getting picked up in the huge entrance hall is already an experience by itself. But first, you have to get through strict security control. With a serious look on their face, officials ask a lot of questions and you get the feeling that you seem generally suspicious to them right from the start. In a country with so many enemies, that must be part of everyday life. I had two months’ time in Israel – and so I wanted to travel all of it to get the whole picture of the country.
Jerusalem – all religions united on a holy wall
My first stop: Meeting my friends from Australia in the area around Netanya, Ra´anana and Herzliya. High-tech start-ups are lined up in rows surrounded by dusty streets and beaches. A whole new world. On a Friday evening, when the holy Shabat starts, I went to Jerusalem for the first time. Jerusalem has a special vibe that you can´t deny – it feels like you´ve traveled in time. I started the day with a visit to the Ben Yehuda Market, which is always full and loud. A colorful cityscape of ultra-orthodox Jews and tourists and in between spices, hummus and other typical delicacies.
Before I drove into the old city of Jerusalem, I passed the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from which you have an incredible view over the city. The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four parts – the Jewish, the Christian, the Muslim and the Armenian District. Each district´s path lead directly to the holy Western Wall. Here, all religions pray together. Men with a kippa on their head, wearing a robe called Tallit and prayer straps, the tefillin, wrapped around their wrists. Women in floor-length skirts. Women in burka and nuns. All gather here to say their prayers and to put their wishes, written down on small notes, into the Western Wall. You never turn your face away from the Western Wall and so you move backward. A unique picture. On my way back, I make a stop at the Muslim District to buy some souvenirs.
Tel Aviv – vibrant, modern, vivid
On the next day, Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean Sea was on the agenda – a modern city which meant stepping into a new world. I enjoyed the delicious food at the Sarona Market, shopped at Azerli Center or Dizengoff and Shenkin Street, walked along Rothschild Boulevard and relaxed at Hilton or Gordon Beach with the sound of the “national ball game Matkot” in the background. Tel Aviv is anything but quiet – it’s noisy, it’s hectic and it’s trendy. “Achi” (brother), “Kapara” (sweety) or “Chaim sheli” (my life) are things you can hear everywhere you go – showing that the Israelis live and love with everything they have . In the evening, I walked along the promenade towards Jaffa, the old part of Tel Aviv. I stopped at my favorite restaurant “The old man and the Sea”.
Through the Negev Desert to Elat
After a few days, I made my way through the impressive Negev desert to get to Elat, . In Mitzpe Ramon, I stopped and enjoyed the view over the desert. After arriving at the Red Sea, the real holiday feeling was on – just clear water, corals and hot weather but not humid. One hotel after another and offers for tourists en masse, like diving with dolphins at the Dolphin Reef. The Dolphins aren’t locked up here, they come voluntarily. The waves even made me a little seasick when I was underwater. Massages, markets, live music – Elat is worth a visit.
Lowest Place on Earth – the Dead Sea
Back in Tel Aviv, I set off for the Dead Sea. I had sold products from the Dead Sea for three years – so it was time to make the experience myself. I went through a stone desert to the “Lowest Place on Earth” and saw camels on the way, which I mistook for a Fata Morgana at first. I arrived at the Dead Sea and saw people floating on the water with a book in their hands. Others are completely rubbed in black mud. Because of the high salt content in the water, it’s impossible to sink. Of course, I shaved before and so I had little fun with the salt. However, I enjoyed the best massage I’ve ever had at the Ein Gedi Spa. The Dead Sea is a wonder of the world and a trucly special place.
The Green North of Israel – Bahai Gardens, Haifa and Lake Galilee
After I had seen the beautiful south of Israel, it was time for the green north. In Haifa, I visited the Bahai Gardens, where you get an unbelievably beautiful view over the gardens and the beach. I continued my way to Lake Galilee, the fresh water spring of Israel. Here, I checked in to a so called Zimmer. In the north, many residents rent out a part of their apartment as a holiday home – a whirlpool next to the bed is standard equipment. Other than that, I was persuaed to do a wild water rafting tour.
Israeli humor a lá Shahar Hason and Yohay Sponder
Besides all the beautiful nature, I especially appreciate the delicious food – hummus, the best that can be made from chickpeas, shakshuka and fish. The incredibly nice people and the special traditions. Holy Shabat Dinners on Fridays and all the jewish holidays, that are celebrated. Before my first stay in the Holy Land came to an end, there was a special highlight. The Funny Monday – Israeli stand-up comedy in English with Shahar Hason and Yohay Sponder at Chelsea Hotel, near Sarona Market. Such a fun night!
Israel is an amazing place on this earth – wrongly titled with negative headlines. See you soon Israel – it wasn’t the last time!