Posts Tagged With: Masada

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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Categories: Israeli life, Photos, Travels | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

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