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An Israel Bucket List According to Me

Exactly one week from today, I will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, headed to to the airport in Newark, New Jersey where my Daddy will be waiting to take me home to Delaware. (I wrote this on Friday night, but published Saturday morning.

Holy cow.

Yes, it has been 15 weeks since I arrived in the Holy Land, and now I’m down to the home stretch of papers and finals (well, two papers and one final, but still) and everyone’s favorites, goodbyes and packing. This weekend is going to be spent in good ol’ Haifa, with a nice group dinner tonight after a final trip to the shuk (market) today. It’s my last Shabbat in Israel and it feels like yesterday I was saying it was the first. But for my second-to-last blog post, I thought I’d give you all my “Top 10 Must-Do while in Israel” list, based exclusively on my opinion and the places I visited. It’s completely biased, but I hope you like it anyway and if you ever plan a trip here, make an effort to see a couple of the things on this list. Here they are (in no particular order).

1. JerusalemThere really isn’t anything like it in the world. Holy to three major world religions and centuries and centuries of history, you just can’t experience anything like anywhere else in the world. See the Western Wall and put your hopes and dreams and prayers on a paper and stick it in a crack with a million others like it. Wander the Old City and buy something from one of the gazillions of shops. Eat falafel on a rooftop, visit a museum (or a dozen) and make sure one of them is Yad Vashem. But above all in Jerusalem, just be there, in the moment, and feel the history all around you.

2. Tel Aviv And then there’s Tel Aviv. It’s a whole other animal compared to Jerusalem. Tel Aviv feels young and fresh where Jerusalem is learned and wise. Jerusalem is where you think about the past and Tel Aviv is where the only thing you think about is right now. Eat at the great restaurants, get a drink at the great bars, sun on the great beaches and enjoy.
3. Small city- When you’re done with the big cities, head to small one. We’ve visited a few here that I think are just adorable. They’re calm and quaint and have a tremendous amount of heart and character. Just spend a morning or an afternoon seeing what there is to see, because you never know what you may find.
4. West Bank This is a complicated place and I think it’s extremely important to get a well-rounded perspective. So go to the West Bank and meet the people and see the other side. It may seem intimidating, but once you’re there, it’s totally not, so go, go, go. You won’t regret it.
5. Tsefat This is a whole other ball game of religious identity in Israel and it was awesome. When you’re there, you can literally feel the faith radiating out of the walls and the hearts of the people. There’s color and art and history and religion and just about anything else from that sort of world you can imagine.
6. Dead Sea Weirdest feeling ever. You have to go in. You just have to. You’ll feel like a cork bobbing up and down and you’ll laugh and paddle around and maybe get covered with mud and take silly pictures and then you will always be able to say you swam in the Dead Sea.
7. Masada Is hauling your butt out of bed at 3:45 in the morning difficult? Yes. Is climbing over 5o stories worth of roughly-cut stone stairs one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life? Heck, yes. But is making it to the top of an ancient city and watching the sun rise over the mountains of Jordan totally worth it? A million times yes. So climb climb climb, don’t stop for nothing, and you’ll have a morning you’ll never forget.
8. Major holiday- I had my fair share of them here, from Purim to Passover and many more, but no matter what, try and experience one, whether it is Jewish or Israeli or a cultural hyrbid (Purim). It’s just really fun watching a good portion of the country celebrate.
9. Hike in the South Rough-cut red desert rocks and loose sand with scraggly brush sticking everywhere and wind cutting across the barren landscape? Yes please. Hike in southern Israel and you’ll really understand the whole “Wow it must have stunk to wander in the desert for 40 years” concept. But it’s a very interesting place to be and to see, especially if you’re from the eastern United States and it literally feels like Mars.
10. Hike in the North A whole other animal. Those eastern Americans I mentioned will probably feel more at home in this landscape, which is just beautiful. There are giant trees and flowing creeks and snow-capped mountains on the horizon and it’s a really really pleasant way to spend a few days.

So if you’re coming to Israel, take a gander at your itinerary and check if you’re stopping at these spots. If you’re not, think about it. This is such a diverse place and you should really try and experience every different square inch of it. Thanks for reading!

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That time I went to the West Bank

You went where???? Yes, yes, I left “regular” Israel for the week and crossed over into the West Bank…and I had a great time. So let’s take it day by day, shall we?

Friday: Haifa to Jerusalem to Ramallah

From the university, eleven of us headed south to Jerusalem, where we walked to Damscus gate and caught a bus to the city of Ramallah. In Ramallah, we had some great shwarma and wandered the city, seeing what there was to see, which included a Bedouin shop/museum. In this shop, the people proceeded to dress us up in traditional Bedouin garb and let us take pictures inside the tent they’d set up in one of the rooms. This first one is me…

This next one is me, too, with my friend Valerie, but it’s a little hard to tell who I am…

This next one is all the girls in our group in front of the main square of Ramallah. We were a pretty fun group:)

After Bedouin dress-up, wandering Ramallah, one cafe visit, a power nap, an incredible dinner at a Palestinian-Italian fusion restaurant and an hour at another cafe, we crashed for the evening.

Saturday: Ramallah to Nablus

We were supposed to go to a museum at Birzeit University but it didn’t open until 12. Instead, the university sent a representative out who took us on a tour of the campus! This was just one of an extraordinary amount of hospitality we saw over the course of our trip. It was a really neat campus, and I’m very glad we got to go.

Post-tour, we caught a bus from Ramallah to the city of Nablus, further north. Once there, we met with leaders of this organization that provides services to youth and kids in the community. Two of them then proceeded to give up their entire afternoons and mornings to show us all around the Old City of Nablus, including two candy factories, a bakery and a visit into the home of one of our tour guide’s aunts who made us all coffee! We also encountered lots of sites where there was damage or had been deaths during different phases of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We also encountered these little boys. They kept saying “Hello! What’s your name! Take our picture!” I think those are the only English phrases they actually knew. I was only to happy to oblige and snap this one of them. They insisted on looking at the picture to make sure they looked good before giving me a thumbs up and running off to play soccer again. They were, in a word, precious.

Our tour of Nablus also included an old, but newly renovated, mosque, and for the first time in the Middle East, I had to cover up my head to go in somewhere. Here’s me and Valerie again, outside the mosque.

We had dinner with our guides overlooking the city of Nablus, then went back to our hostel, which was very nice, for a very nice night’s rest.

Sidebar: Art in the West Bank

Street art has become a huge part of life in the West Bank. There is graffiti and drawings and murals everywhere, and a lot of it is very cool. The walls of the walkway leading from the street to our hostel in Nablus were no different. This one was my favorite.

Sunday: Nablus to Bethlehem to Jerusalem to Haifa

On Sunday morning, we met up with our guides from the day before again, and they took us to a soap factory, the church of Jacob’s Well and one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank, where thousands of people live in one square kilometer of space, with almost no privacy and a virtually non-existent economy. It was incredibly eye-opening, and made me so thankful for the life I have here in Israel and back in the States.

After that, our group split. One went to visit family friends in Ramallah, a few headed back to the university to complete homework (yes, we do have that here), and the other six of us headed to Bethlehem. It was another instance of getting to do something I didn’t think I would, so I was pretty pleased. Bethlehem is much much more tourist-y than the other places we’d been in the West Bank. Here is a picture of the outside of the Church of the Nativity.

It was essentially built around the cave (stable) where Jesus is said to have been born. It is one of the oldest continually-operating churches in the world. Of course, we went to see the spot where it is said he lay, and here’s me standing in front of the arc-type thing that surrounds it.

Christians making a pilgrimage to the site kneel down behind me there and touch the spot, where there’s a star on the floor, or rub things on it, like handkerchiefs. I really won’t ever forget visiting this place that’s so important to so many people in my life and around the world.

After a few hours in Bethlehem, we headed back to Jerusalem (with a stop at a checkpoint at the dividing wall, where a soldier from the IDF had to check our passports), and spent a while waiting for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot  to end so we could get on a bus back to Haifa. The good part of that is that I got to spend a little more time in the Old City, taking in the bustle, got to visit the Wall one more time and got to say goodbye to Jerusalem. I’ll come back someday, I’m sure of it, but it’s Shalom for now.

Sunday was really a day of diversity: In an Arab-dominated population, I visited one of the main sites of Christianity and then watched tons of Orthodox Jews head to the Wall to thank G-d for the Torah. Talk about multi-cultural. Elon University would be proud.

Was it a long weekend? Absolutely. Hot? Tiring? Sure, but it was a great experience and real exposure to Arab culture, something I haven’t really gotten much of until this point. It was one more thing I needed to really round out my experience. It’s a good thing I did it, too, because I only have one weekend left! I go home in 11 days, so it’s the final stretch. I’ll post a few more times, summing up my experience, so if you have any requests for content, let me know, because this adventure is coming to a close.

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Up to the Golan one more time

On Sunday, after our whirlwind Dead Sea/Masada/Ein Gedi tour, we had a day trip through the International School and the Contemporary Israel course. It was a day of outdoor lectures in the slightly chilly spring wind, looking at the borders with Lebanon and Syria and the locations of major battles in the last 60-odd years. The brown hill is Lebanon just beyond this Israeli town.

Then there’s Syria….

All those buildings there in the distance are the UN compound directly on the border between Syria and Israel.

After looking at all these battlesites and whatnot, we headed to the Golan Heights Winery. The climate conditions in northern Israel are actually ideal for growing all sorts of grapes, so vineyards all over the north send their grapes to this winery. The bottles are sold all over the world. We had a tour of the facility, then a tasting, and I got a few bottles for some lucky people back in the States.

It was a trip full of bus naps but I really appreciated getting to see northern Israel (my favorite part) one more time.

Check back next week for a report on my trip to the West Bank this weekend! Thanks for reading.

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The Dead Sea, Masada and Ein Gedi

There are certain things a person has to see when they come to Israel (check back in a few weeks for my version of an Israeli bucket list). Two of those things include the Dead Sea and Masada, and through some magical planning and twists of fate, 13 friends and I were able to cross those things off our list, along with Ein Gedi, a desert oasis. So here’s the breakdown of our amazing trip:

Friday

Four friends and I piled into a rental car and headed down from Haifa, around the West Bank, through Jerusalem and out into the desert. And like any good Israeli roadtrip, there had to be a stop at a roadside falafel stand where there happened to be a man selling camel rides (or just momentary sits, in my case) to gullible tourists like myself.

When we arrived at the Dead Sea and the beach where we’d also be camping, we went floating! You can’t really call it swimming because the salt content is so high, you can barely hold yourself under. It is the oddest feeling, like being totally weightless. This is me bobbing around with my friends Emily and Ariel.

Then we found mud! The Dead Sea’s mud is famous for its cleansing properties, but you usually have to pay an arm and a leg to get some, unless you happen to find it yourself, which we did! You cover yourself up with the nearly-black goo and take goofy pictures while it dries in the hot desert sun. Then you climb back into the water and let the salty water wash it away and it leaves your skin really soft. That’s me in the center, with just my face and feet visible between James and Ariel. The boys were all about covering their faces, but we girls were less keen on sticking our faces in the salty water. Every orifice on your body burns like crazy if you get any water in it, so you have to be very careful. Safe to say, I could not stop laughing as long as we were covered in the stuff.

So after a day of driving, camel-sitting, floating, mudding and sweating our butts off in the 90+ degree heat in the desert until nearly 9 p.m., we hunkered down on the beach campground area to catch a few hours of sleep. So yes, yet again I slept outside, although this time was much harder than the first because we had 30+ mph desert winds blowing on us all night long. But it didn’t really matter since we awoke at 3:45 am to begin our next adventure.

Saturday

So in the dessert, a mile or so from the shore of the Dead Sea, on top of a little mountain is Masada. On top of the mountain (at the max, 1,300 feet high), is an ancient fortress. Legend has it that several thousand years ago, the Roman army wanted to capture the fortress of Masada where a group of about 960 Jews lived in really fancy digs. The Jews hunkered down and tried to wait out the Romans, while the Romans tried to get to the top by building a ramp to take their army up. When they finally got to the top, they found the Jews had burned their storerooms of food and all committed suicide. So how do people like me commemorate such an occasion? They get up really freaking early in the morning and climb up Masada to watch the sun rise over the desert mountains of Jordan on the other side of the Dead Sea.

My friends and I were up and at Masada, planning on climbing up the Roman ramp, a climb, but not unfathomable. To our surprise, we discovered we’d had some miscommunication and were on the wrong side for the ramp so we had to do the (insert ominous music here) Snake Path.

The Snake Path is comprised of 700 crudely cut steps over 2km long to take you up. To put that in perspective, it’s about the equivalent of climbing around 54 stories of a standard US building. The catch? You have to make it up by sunrise or all your hard work will have been wasted! And I have a confession: I almost gave up. My dear asthmatic lungs couldn’t take another step, but I had three friends who stuck with me and were struggling too and we coached each other all the way up. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the strength they gave me that early morning. But make it up we did, before the sun rose over the mountains or over the clouds above them. It was kind of awesome.

Here are three of the other girls from the group and I basking in the glow of the early morning light. It was around 6 a.m. when this was taken.

Once on top of Masada, we wandered around for an hour or so, taking in all of the ruins and sights up there and the view of the red rocky desert around us, with the salt flats and the Dead Sea to the east. Once it was 8 a.m., 11 of the 13 started the descent back down the Snake Path, but I and my new partner in knee-injury world, Aaron, opted to pay to take the cable car down.

To recap, it is about 8:15 a.m. and we college kids have already been awake for four and a half hours after sleeping outside on rocks for a few hours. We drove to the nearest town to eat breakfast and recover, then made our way to Ein Gedi, a desert oasis and nature reserve where several things happened….

  1. I swam under waterfalls for the first time in my life.
  1. We washed the salt and sand of the last two days off of our bodies and rejoiced in cool waters since the temperature was at least 90 degrees again. This is Megan, Julia, Me, Ariel and Steph.
  1. My friend Benny tried to feed a hyrax sunflower seeds and it bit him. Hard. Note to everyone in the world ever outdoors: never feed the animals. He’s fine, for the record, nothing a visit to a clinic and a shot or two couldn’t fix.

Once Benny was bandaged and we’d had our fill of sun and salt and desert, we headed back up to Haifa, completely exhausted. But here’s the thing, like nearly every other second of this entire experience, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything different. And I think that’s the best thing a person can say about any sort of adventure.

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Student Day, Rosh Ha Nikra, a Prom and Zikhron Ya’akov

What do these four phrases have in common? They all occurred during the past week of this crazy journey we call study abroad. It’s a lot, so I’ll keep it brief. As always, check Facebook for more photos!

Thursday,  May 10: The University of Haifa hosts their annual “Student Day,” a giant free outdoor concert with some of Israel’s most popular artists.

It was a lot of fun, a little crazy, and after about two hours of some Hebrew hits, I was really happy to have spent a night with friends having a good time.

Sunday, May 13: Two friends and I went to Rosh HaNikra, a rock formation on the furthest point north on the coast, right by the Lebanon border.

There are beautiful white cliffs and grottos that are partially underwater that look more pristine than the most perfect swimming pool on the planet. There’s the steepest cable car in the world to get down there and the remnants of railway tunnels that were bombed by the Israelis during the War of Independence to stop supplies from reaching the enemy.  It was beautiful and a really interesting place of history and natural beauty.

Tuesday, May 15: The International School hosted a prom for us! It was absolutely hilarious and so much fun.

There was a DJ and lights and cheesy photos and corsages and a king and queen and everything. There was also a giant slideshow of  cheesy “romantic” pictures interspersed with pictures of ourselves at our high school proms. It was the best International School activity (not trip) all semester.

Wednesday, May 16: Our little trio went to Zikhron Ya’akov for the afternoon.

It’s the town that was originally one of the first agricultural settlements established in the late 1800’s and now it’s an adorable area with a great view, filled with tree-lined boulevards with boutiques and restaurants and was yet again, a great way to spend a day exploring a new area.

So a full week. This weekend includes a trip to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi, so stay tuned!

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Hiking in the North AKA My Absolute Favorite Weekend in Israel

The title says it all. Last weekend (May 4/5), the program took about 30 of us on a tour over two days in the North.

On Friday morning, we went to the city of Safed (or Zafed or Tzfat, depending on who you ask). Safed is often referred to as the home of Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah. Yes, like Madonna, but not, because this is a real way of life and approaching Judaism, not just a red string around a wrist. We went to a lookout point and talked about the history of the area in relation to Zionism, then headed to the gallery of a Kabbalist artist and then to several beautiful synagogues.

I absolutely loved Safed. The whole city has this incredible inner peace and just this constant energy of total faith. It is historic and beautiful and a very admirable way of life.

After Safed, we headed for a hike a short ways away, along a creek. It was a foliage-oriented hike, as oppose to the desert hike, which was all rocks. We saw fig, walnut, pomegranate and loquat trees as well as a variety of plants, including mustard, which I did actually chew on. Here’s us crossing the creek on a little wooden bridge.

After that, we headed to a campground where we set up what can only be referred to as a hobo camp. No tents, just 30 college students plus 2 tour guides, three program leaders, 1 paramedic and 1 guard all spread out with sleeping bags and random backpacks. But this was where I had the absolute most fun. First, we played touch football with 12 or so of us and then we played a girls-only game of soccer (stupid knee be darned).

It was just a group of girls yelling and being totally supportive of each other and just completely having fun. It has been a really really long time since I’ve just played. And it was awesome. Then there was a Shabbat ritual, then dinner, then putzing around while two of our leaders played guitar and then sleeping completely under the stars for the first time in my life. When we woke up in the morning, it looked like this:

See? Hobo camp. Funnily enough, Stephanie, that girl in the red on the left had taken a photo just a moment before…

That’s me on the right, digging in my bag to pull out my camera to take my own version of this picture. I found it a very amusing coincidence.
So then we headed to the next part of our hike, with the bus taking us out of the upper Galilee and into the Golan. We were right next to the Lebanon border and did a rather treacherous hike along a creek made from snowmelt from Mt. Hebron, the only place in Israel that actually gets snow. When I say treacherous, I mean it was lots of climbing and it was super super super fun. Here’s my group on part of it (it took about three hours):
Unfortunately, one girl in our group did slip and actually broke her ankle! She is so brave though and handling it like a champ. I admire her so much. Some of the guys in our group, including our 50+ year old guide Yisrael sprang into chivalry mode and took turns carrying her out of the creekbed (at least a 30 degree angle hill) on their backs. Also admirable.
After our injured comrade was safely on her way to the hospital, we “conquered” Nimrod’s Fortress, a Moslem castle built in the early 1200’s. From here, we saw all sorts of fun architectural features and had a great view of the Golan and Lebanon (the border was sometimes less than a mile away).
After that, it was back on the bus for a short ride over to the Banyas (or Banias), which was originally “Panyas” because they are actually Green and Roman ruins of temples of the god, Pan. There are also a series of small waterfalls, gentle creeks, rapids and then a large waterfall.
So why was this my favorite trip in Israel? Because it was a perfect balance of ha chaverim shelee, ha eretz veh ha historia Israelite. That’s the terrible transliteration of “my friends, the land and Israeli history.” I loved being with great people in a beautiful setting learning about interesting people and places. It was the perfect thing to get me revved up and excited for the last month and reminded me how grateful I should be to be having this fantastic and incredibly unique study abroad experience.
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Tel Aviv!!!!

It is impossible to say the name of the city “Tel Aviv” without adding exclamation points to it. My friend and roommate Emily says her dad says, “Tel Aviv? That’s the closest city to Israel!” And it’s true. It’s another world there, a little bit. There are restaurants and bars and cafes everywhere, and people in short shorts and bikini tops headed to the beach and lots of nightlife. It’s a fun fun place to be and it’s where I met up with my friends after I got off the plane from Switzerland for four days and five nights of sun and exploring.

Wednesday and Thursday were Memorial Day and Independence Day so on Wednesday night, we picnicked in the famous Rabin Square and watched a huge performance and fireworks show. It was packed and although we couldn’t fully understand what was going on in the show, we liked watching all the young people performing.

On Thursday, we wandered and wandered and wandered some more, eating a nice lunch at a cafe and spending some time lying on the rocks on the shore by a park where families were barbecuing and flying kites and the like, just like Fourth of July in the States. We stopped for a moment outside Independence Hall to take pictures.

On Friday, we went to an art festival near the shuk in Tel Aviv after breakfast right next to it at another cafe. Then that night, we rang in Shabbat with a picnic on the beach to watch the sun set over the Mediterranean.

Saturday was a delightful Shabbat. We kept asking ourselves, “Wait, we are in Israel, right?” because almost everything was open! We walked way up to the northern tip of the city where there is a huge park and a marina-type area. I took a nap under a big shady tree and then we found another art festival! Another night out to eat completed the day…here’s me in the park.

So the themes of the weekend were good food, good friends and lots of sunshine and walking. It wasn’t a go crazy weekend in Tel Aviv. We didn’t stay up all night, we didn’t drink ourselves into a stupor, we didn’t see a million art galleries or museums. We just wandered, enjoying the energy and life of the city, which really is unique. And it was totally great.

On Sunday, it was back to Haifa for the first time in 9 days for me and a general “gearing up” for the last month of the program. As you can see, I’m about two weeks behind on blogging, but hopefully this week I’ll get all caught up. As always, thanks for reading!

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A Brief Sojurn to Switzerland

Way back in January, before I even left the States for Israel, sitting at my desk at 60 Minutes, I got an offer I simply couldn’t turn down: travel to Geneva, Switzerland for five days in April to be a part of a team from the Imagining the Internet organization at Elon, with three faculty members and several of my peers. Our task? To document the 20th anniversary conference of the Internet Society known as Global INET.

So went I did, from the top of Mt. Carmel (armed with a prescription of amoxicillin to battle the strep I’d just been diagnosed with), down to the train station at the beach, on the train to the airport in Tel Aviv, then through a lengthy security procedure, aboard a very pleasant flight to Zurich, then a quick “puddle jumper” flight to Geneva. It was not the most pleasant experience, but I blame that entirely on the bacteria eating up the back of my throat and the fever (sorry, fellow travelers, I was definitely still contagious!) I stayed the night in a hotel by the airport and met up with the Elon team the next morning. This was our beautiful hotel:

Pause here for me to mention that this was my first time a. Traveling by myself in foreign countries for more than a bus ride and b. On a flight for more than 40 minutes by myself. I also had no cell phone and no idea how international travel or public transportation in Switzerland works so all in all, I was very proud of myself.

Geneva and Switzerland in general, are beautiful. It was green and classy and so clean! It rained pretty much the entire time we were there, but since I live in the desert, I didn’t mind one bit. It was also my first time in continental Europe and boy, did I get bit by the travel bug. It really made me think how my experience abroad would have been different if I hadn’t selected a program in oh, you know, the Middle East. It was also a nice mini-dose of the re-acclimation  culture shock I have to look forward to in June.

The conference itself was extremely interesting. If you’ve got some time to kill, you can see all my team did here. This was the group I was with:

I was so happy to get a taste of Elon, particularly because the homesick bug had really bit me in the butt the days right before. These are people who know my whole world at Elon, and they were kind enough to fill me in on every piece of news and gossip they could recall.

Also, this cheeseburger lover got to escape Kosherland for a bit and eat sandwiches with meat and cheese, including a classic McDonalds McDouble. Add that to the Magnum Blizzard (get on that, America), and I was a happy camper. The strep throat cleared up, I got to talk to good friends from home, the conference was interesting and I felt so productive and accomplished and I got to go to a new and awesome place. AKA, it rocked and was absolutely an experience I will never ever forget.

I flew back to Tel Aviv via Zurich early on a Wednesday morning, and met up with friends at a hostel where we spent the next few days. But more on that in a later post. Tonight, when I’m procrastinating from doing homework, I’ll do a mini-post about homesickness abroad and how I would recommend handling it. But for now, au revoir (as they say in Switzerland, unless of course they’re speaking German or Italian).

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A Week at the Beach aka Spring Break Part 2

I have been remiss! It is already May 6. The month of April was a complete whirlwind. When last I blogged, I had just completed the first part of Spring Break. Since then, we’ve had Spring Break Part 2, a bout of strep throat, a trip to Switzerland, a very long weekend in Tel Aviv and a fantastic two-day trip to northern Israel for hiking and sight-seeing. For now, though, let’s pic up where I left off, heading to Petach Tikvah for Seder.

My friend Eva and I spent two nights with some of David’s extended family for a wonderful Seder. It was Eva’s first ever, and my first not with a hundred or more people. And it was delightful. What was really the most wonderful was being around a family full of warmth and tradition, with little kids to entertain with silly songs and an actual home, instead of a dorm room, hotel or hostel.

Post-Seder, we headed to Eilat (where we were that one night after the desert hike) where Eva and I met up with four more friends for a week in a “family room” at a hostel and lazy days of laying on the beach, sitting in coffee shops and wandering the boardwalk.

It was such a relaxing few days. The weather was hot and beautiful and it was a classic spring break experience (minus excessive amounts of any sort of beverage because we are on a budget). My favorite day was when we went snorkeling at a coral reserve. It was my first time snorkeling and it was awesome, but not so easy at first. Telling yourself that it’s OK to breathe under water and that you won’t choke takes some time. But as soon as you can relax and enjoy just how amazing it is, it is super. We saw the entire cast of “Finding Nemo” and many other types of coral and fish, including these really creepy but cool bright purple jellyfish. This is a picture of the beach where the snorkeling happened.

In Eilat, the group I was with also decided to get matching friendship bracelets as a cheap but memorable souvenir of the time in Eilat and in Israel in general.

So what is the message of the spring break of eternal relaxation and wandering? I love vacations as much as the next person, but I also really enjoy my productive time! But holy moly, there’s nothing quite as comfortable and napping in the sand.

Let’s let this post sit for a few hours, and we’ll pick up on the next big adventure.

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Cruise to Greece and Cyprus aka Spring Break Part 1

One week into our excessively long spring break and I’ve already had quite the adventure. Six friends and I boarded the Golden Iris, a smaller-sized cruise ship that leaves from right here in Haifa on Sunday afternoon and set sail across the Mediterranean. The most amusing part of the first day on the water? The lifeboat drill where we had to prove we knew how to put on our life vests. Now, water safety is very important and I don’t mean to be insensitive, but we four girls simply could not stop laughing while wearing these things….

On Monday, we went to Larnaca, Cyprus, a holiday town that mainly caters to foreigners. We had a great time wandering the palm tree promenade, chatting with locals and exploring a few of the sights. Most importantly, it was warm and sunny and just beautiful.

Tuesday brought us to Rhodes, Greece, just across the water from Turkey. The few hours I got to spend overlooking this beautiful city and island made me want to come back to the Greek Isles for many days at some point in my life. Just. Plain. Gorgeous. We climbed on ruins and took goofy pictures as college kids are apt to do.

We also stopped in a cafe/bar where I got some tremendous news about a summer internship. So, yes, it was a good good day. I also got to have a parrot on my shoulder. Random? Yes. But very cool.

On Wednesday, we cruised all day and this morning, we ended up back here in Haifa. On the boat, there was good food and good friends and some rather amusing entertainment (“budget” is a great way to describe the cruise) and overall, we had a wonderful wonderful time. It was my first cruise, and now I’d love to do more. There was something actually peaceful about being all alone out there, even if it did scare me just a little. I liked being rocked to sleep and I loved that I felt like I could go just about anywhere in the world at any time, simply because of the vastness of the ocean.

Rounds 2 of break begins tomorrow with a trip to Petach Tikvah, a town outside Tel Aviv, where some of David’s extended family has been so kind as to offer my friend Eva and I a place to go for Seder. So Chag Semeach (Happy Holiday) and check out Facebook for more cruising photos.

Categories: Friends, Photos, Travels | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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