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Israel: Beautiful and Historic

Written by Julie vonFoerster (Classic Travel Intern, Fall 2014).

When looking into taking a trip overseas, the first place that comes to mind might be Paris, London, or Barcelona. However great these popular cities may be, sometimes it might be nice to try something new. And that something new could be a trip to Israel. You have probably heard of Israel in the news, especially lately, regarding regional tensions and disputes. However, that is not the only thing Israel should be known for. It is a beautiful country, filled with rich history and people with outstanding national and religious pride. I can honestly say it is one of my favorite countries that I have visited.

I first visited Israel in summer of 2012 and went back for the second time during Christmas time in 2013. Both visits gave me a unique insight into the country and allowed me to determine my favorite things about Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My family and I rented an apartment in Tel Aviv and headed on day trips to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea. Tel Aviv itself is a great place to explore, especially downtown in Old Jaffa. Walking through Jaffa is like strolling through history, with fruit vendors and flea markets located all around. Major markets to visit are the Nahalat Binyamin Market and the Shuk Ha’Carmel Market. You can also visit the old Tel Aviv port, which is great place to visit for an exciting atmosphere and tons of restaurants along the water.

We also headed to the Bauhaus Center, where 4,000 or so Bauhaus buildings collectively called White City are recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Since the city is located on the Mediterranean seashore, walking on the beach was something my family and I did every evening. There are eight major beaches in town, each with its own crowd and character. There are hundreds of restaurants that looked amazing but of course we didn’t have time for all of them. The authentic Mediterranean cuisine was my favorite, especially the hummus. You can go anywhere in Tel Aviv and find this type of food.

However much I loved Tel Aviv, my favorite place to visit in Israel is definitely Jerusalem. I was disappointed that we did not get to spend more time there since it is such a beautiful place. My family and I hired a personal tour guide who drove us to and from Jerusalem. He was extremely knowledgeable and taught us about the intricate history of Israel. Learning about this topic allowed me to appreciate the city even more and understand the importance of each place we visited.

It’s a whole different world within in the Old City, filled with history. The Old City is home to many of Jerusalem’s most sought-after attractions, including the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Temple Mount. The walled Old City comprises four distinct areas: the Jewish Quarter (or the Cardo), the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. Each quarter exudes its own unique atmosphere, with religious sites, shops, and food offerings reflecting its respective heritage.

However, what I enjoyed most was the Western Wall. It is the most significant site for the Jewish faith. Millions of pilgrims make their way here to pray and leave their wishes on small pieces of paper that they place within the wall. You can see thousands of different people’s prayers pouring out of the wall. Although I’m not of the Jewish faith, I still thought it was a beautiful place to experience. Another 80 feet of the wall can be seen in an archeological exposition just south of the main section, while another 1,050 feet extend deep below the city’s surface. You can see this underground section by taking a guided tour of the Western Wall Tunnels, which lasts about an hour. My family and I took this tour and really enjoyed getting a history lesson about the wall itself. However, if you plan on visiting the wall, make sure to dress modestly with your shoulders and knees covered.

Another place to head to is the Dome of the Rock, a golden-topped structure, located on Temple Mount. Temple Mount’s visiting hours vary, and you must obtain permission from the guards to enter the area. You will not be granted access if your legs and shoulders aren’t covered.

Another amazing place to head to in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is believed to stand directly above Jesus Christ’s tomb and you can even go in and see the tomb and get a tour of Jesus Christ’s journey.

The most powerful place I visited during both of my visits was the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. It is located right outside Jerusalem and it my top recommendation for anyone visiting Israel. As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations. It was a very emotional experience but very important for everyone to visit.

There are so many places to visit in Jerusalem that it can be overwhelming. However, just walking around the city and exploring the markets allows to understand the city and experience it. My family and I also took day trips to Bethlehem and The Dead Sea. Bethlehem was interesting and definitely taught me a lot about the Christian faith. The Dead Sea was an amazing experience. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on the surface of the earth and it is so salty that no living organism can survive in it. The salt causes you to automatically float on the surface and the mud covers your whole body. It was a unique experience to say the least but my family and I loved every minute of it.

When I visited, and especially today, there was immense amounts of security throughout the country due to regional tensions occurring. Although it may not be as safe to visit Israel currently, hopefully someday in the future conditions will improve. I would never hesitate to go back to Israel someday, as there are so many different things to experience. I hope everyone has the chance to explore this beautiful country and learn about the complicated and rich history.