Posts Tagged With: travel

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.

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