Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Holy Land

When I found out that my really good friend Jesse was going to be studying abroad for four months in Tel Aviv, Israel, I immediately started looking for flights. Israel wasn't necessarily super high on my list of places to travel (but it was most definitely on the list), but I'm the kind of traveler who often selects destination based on convenience and price. Therefore, most of my travels over the last few years were destinations where friends of mine were living short-term or long-term. 

I didn't know much about Israel, except what I had heard on the news concerning the ongoing conflict between Israel and its neighboring states. You can imagine then my family's response when I told them I was planning a trip to Israel. Nevertheless, I was BLOWN AWAY by the smorgasbord country. Its beauty, charm, history, culture, friendly and open people, and above all, the normalcy of life there. 

After leaving a frigid Vienna, the first thing I wanted to do was naturally go to the beach. SUNSHINE AND WAVES in December. YES.

We strolled along the beach until we reached Jaffa, the old port of Tel Aviv that is about 4,000 years old. 

Perched on a hill, Jaffa had some amazing views of the Mediterranean. 

And wonderfully winding alleys 

No trip to Israel would be complete without a visit to Jerusalem and the old city. It baffles me that three major world religions call Jerusalem their holiest of holy places. They live together side by side, practicing their very different traditions and cultures.  Pictured above is the Wailing Wall, which is the holiest of places for the Jewish faith.

It was easy to get lost in the old city. We probably left and re-entered the four quarters several times without evening know it. Here we stumbled upon the entrance to the Jewish quarter.

We were lucky enough to experience Jerusalem during Hanukkah. Here some members of the Israeli Defense Forces got together to eat donuts and sing songs in the city center. 

Donuts were everywhere. People seemed to be buying them by the box. 

We also spotted plenty of menorahs in front of peoples homes. Some where basic, others were elaborate. 

Up here I got the best view of Jerusalem. Behind me is the Wailing Wall, and above it the Dome of the Rock, the third most holy site for the Islam faith. 

There were markets everywhere in Jerusalem-- and hard to avoid. 

I decided to walk the Via Dolorosa for myself, as well as in honor of my family members who are Catholic and can't make the journey themselves to Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa shows the sights of Jesus's last moments before he was crucified. 

And after a lot of sightseeing and experiencing many different things, I had to treat myself to a giant bowl of humus. Alright, if I'm honest I treated myself to humus and falafel every day. 

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