Israel – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

Israel – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea

Israel is a country that divides opinion due to the on-going conflict with Palestine. It has a high risk of danger, including terrorist and rocket attacks. But in today’s world there are lots of risky places.

The main reasons why I went:

Firstly, Tel Aviv is a buzzing new young city. It has nightlife, beaches, museums and Bauhaus architecture.

Secondly, it is a country full of history. Jerusalem is a place of worship for Jews, Christians and Muslims since biblical times and I wanted to go there and see for myself.

Lastly, you can visit the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. If you want to float on the Dead Sea and feel the weightless sensation, then you need to hurry up as the Dead Sea is reducing rapidly.

Tel Aviv

I stayed in Dizengoff Street. It was a great location near the bars and restaurants and within walking distance to the beach. Some things you’ll notice in Tel Aviv:

  •  It’s a really expensive city!
  • The main language is Hebrew (and Arabic) but everyone seemed to speak English.
  • A metered taxi from the airport to downtown is expensive. Around 150 Israeli shekels. I suggest using public transport if possible.
  • Lot of young people live in Tel Aviv, often emigrating from other countries or introduced via Birthright (see below). Then when they get older and have families, they move out to the suburbs. This is noticeable by how young the people in central Tel Aviv are – nearly all under 30.
  • There are cats everywhere roaming the streets.
Dizengoff tel aviv fountain
Dizengoff fountain

Bars

I visited the cocktail bars around Dizengoff. At night the city comes alive and the warm weather made drinking outside easy.

Cocktails on Dizengoff Street
Cocktails on Dizengoff Street

I noticed there was a large gay scene in Tel Aviv. The pride flag was displayed in lots of bars.

Beach

Tel Aviv borders the Mediterranean Sea and has sandy beaches. In May the weather was nice enough to sunbathe but the water was still a little cold to swim in. There were lots of people doing water sports, especially wind surfing.

Watch out where you sit on the beach as the sound of Matkot, a very popular game in Israel similar to beach tennis, might drive you crazy.

Tel Aviv Beach
Tel Aviv Beach
Tel Aviv Beach
Windsurfers
Kites on the beach in Tel Aviv
Kites on the beach

Architecture

Tel Aviv is sometimes referred to as the white city due to all the buildings, over 4,000, that were built in the Bauhaus Style in the 1930s, when German Jewish architects fled from Nazi Germany. The Cinema Hotel and Hechal Yehuda Synagogue (seashell synagogue) were examples I saw.

Cinema Hotel – formerly a movie theatre built in the 1930s
Cinema Hotel – formerly a movie theatre built in the 1930s
Hechal Yehuda Synagogue Tel Aviv
Hechal Yehuda Synagogue

Jaffa Old City

This is a charming part of the city full of little shops and places to eat. While there isn’t much more to do than that, it’s still worth a quick look.

Old Jaffa Port Tel Aviv Israel
Old Jaffa Port

On the last day I was there in May the temperature reached 28°C, it was a little unpleasant. July is the hottest month where the temperature can hover around 30°C. It might not be a good idea to spend too much time walking around the city in the summer months.

History

Keen to learn more about the country I visited Independence Hall Museum. This is located in the first house built in Tel Aviv. Entrance includes viewing a film about the build-up to the declaration of Israel’s statehood in 1948 by David Ben-Gurion.

I was joined by a large group of teenagers from all over the world on their Birthright trip. Birthright is a 10-day trip to Israel for young Jewish adults to learn more about Jewish history and culture. In the summer there are many young people on their Birthright trip which adds to the youth and buzz of the city.

I went into the room where the actual declaration was signed and listen to a guide speak about the beginning of Israel. While this is just a room with chairs, the guides and videos bring it to life.

independence Hall Museum Tel Aviv
Independence Hall Museum

I also went to Rabin Square – a large concrete square used for political rallies and protests. It was named after president Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated there in 1995.

Rabin Square Tel Aviv Israel
Rabin Square

Jerusalem

To visit Jerusalem I decided to book a tour group to the Old City of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Tours are extremely popular in Israel as there are so many historical sites to visit. I booked a tour the night before through my hotel.

It is possible to visit Jerusalem on your own; it’s 1 hour by bus from Tel Aviv.

View of Jerusalem from the observation point on the Mount of Olives
View of Jerusalem from the observation point on the Mount of Olives

The Old City of Jerusalem is separated into 4 quarters:

  • Christian Quarter
  • Jewish Quarter
  • Muslim Quarter
  • Armenian Quarter

Each quarter is noticeably different and they are not all the same size. The Muslim Quarter is the liveliest and the Christian Quarter has the most souvenir shops.

Things to remember:

  • Cover up your shoulders and knees.
  • If you go on Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday evening) you can’t take photos of the western wall as no sparks are allowed.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Also known as the Church of the Resurrection, this is located in the Christian Quarter in Old Jerusalem. This is said to be the holiest Christian site in the world, where Jesus was crucified and the tomb he was buried in lies.

Christian quarter
Christian Quarter
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Jesus' Tomb in Jerusalem
Jesus’ Tomb

Inside it felt a little commercial and was busy with tour groups.

I walked along part of Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus walked to his crucifixion. This is me at the Hand Print of Jesus, one of the nine stations on this route.

Jesus' hand print
Jesus’ hand print

While these are extremely holy sites, be prepared for a lot of people trying to sell you stuff. Nearly every other building is a souvenir shop.

The Western Wall

Often referred to as the Wailing Wall, this wall lies in front of the Temple Mount and is the holiest site where Jewish people can pray. Temple Mount lies in the Muslim Quarter and isn’t assessable to Jewish people. In Judaism, Temple Mount is considered the place where God’s divine presence is manifested stronger than anywhere else.

In the Jewish Quarter there is a huge solid gold menorah worth millions of pounds, displayed in a transparent case, located on top of the stairs to Western Wall.

Golden menorah in the Jewish quarter
Golden menorah
Western Wall
Western Wall

Men and woman pray and touch the wall at different sections. After touching the wall you have to back away from it and not turn around, as you would be turning your back on god.

Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is found between Jordan and Israel. It is the lowest elevation of land in the world. Its shores are at 423 metres (1,388 ft) below sea level. While it’s called the Dead Sea it’s actually a hypersaline lake – a piece of water with an extremely high concentration of salt. The Dead Sea is over 8 times saltier than the ocean and it’s because of this that you easily float on top of it.

The Dead Sea has various health benefits, which everyone wanted to sell me. You can buy Dead Sea salt products everywhere and also products made from the mud that surrounds the sea, as this is packed with healthy minerals.

You can visit the Dead Sea from either Israel or Jordan. The Israelis are trying to protect the Dead Sea as it’s rapidly drying up. I have friends that visited the Dead Sea from the Jordan side and they found it easier to access and there was less emphasis on buying products.

Reaching the Dead Sea

When we drove down to the Dead Sea I felt my ears pop. It’s a wonderful sight with the sea glistering in the sun.

Approaching the Dead Sea
Approaching the Dead Sea
Dead Sea
Dead Sea

The Dead Sea was nice and warm. I gave floating a go and instantly I was swept off my feet and felt the buoyancy. It was impossible to flip over onto my front and it took a lot of effort to return back to standing.

Me floating on the Dead Sea
Me floating on the Dead Sea

We couldn’t help ourselves and we stopped at the lowest bar in the world for a beer.

Lowest Bar in the World
Lowest Bar in the World

Whatever you do, don’t rub your eyes with salt water on your hands!

I tried the mud but it wasn’t what I expected. It was very rough with large rocks/grains in. I think perhaps this is more of a tourist thing than a health thing.

After I’d tired myself out with all that floating, we headed back to Tel Aviv.

Overall, I recommend the Dead Sea to anyone. Laying back and floating is a great feeling. Jerusalem has so much history and religion crammed into one place, so if you have an interest in either, it’s worth visiting, even if it is dangerous and touristy.

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