Last time we talked about Our arrival to Israel and the reasons why you should visit Israel too, especially in winter. During our first few days in Israel we went from Eilat to Ein Gedi, through Mitzpe Ramon. Now I would like to continue and finish the story. Today’s post will start at the very beginning of Day 4 – with a trek to experience the Sunrise at Masada, a famous ancient fortification.
- Day 1: Eilat + Red Canyon
- Day 2: Mitzpe Ramon crater + Camel Ranch
- Day 3: Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea
- Day 4: Masada + Jerusalem
- Day 5: Jerusalem
- Day 6: Jerusalem + Tel Aviv
- Day 7: Eilat
Sunrise at Masada
Sunrise at Masada is very strong experience for everyone. When you think, what all had to happen on that place. When you imagine the stories behind it. Masada is an ancient fortification located on top of a mountain accessible only by two paths (and a cable car nowadays). It is one of the symbols of Israel. Masada was under a heavy siege by Roman Empire for three years during the First Jewish-Roman war. During those three years Romans were unable to conquer the city or starve it to capitulation. So they were slowly building a ramp, upon which they would be able to reach the defense walls and exploit their sheer numbers to overcome the handful of defenders. They could not stop this process, only to slowly watch it. When the Roman’s victory was inevitable, those still alive Jews decided to commit a mass suicide, to not fall into Roman’s slavery. In modern history, Masada is the place, where soldiers are taking their vows. With a motto well-known “Masada shall not fall again”.
We climbed our path via Snake Path (from the East side). The opening hours are based on the actual sunrise. It opens 1 hour before the sunrise, simple enough. The climb takes between 40 to 60 minutes so you should have some time to find the perfect place for taking your photo. If you did not come with your private guide I strongly recommend purchasing the audio guide at the office in the fortress. It costs 20 NIS, so very affordable and I liked it:) Going for a sunrise at Masada is a must have for anyone, who likes sunrise on mountains. If you also like history then it’s a mandatory trip. Also it is only 15 minutes driving south of Ein Gedi, so if you spent the night there, it’s very good idea to also visit Masada.
Travelling from Masada/Ein Gedi to Jerusalem can be done through Palestine, which is actually very close. I am not completely sold on the idea of travelling through Palestine in a rented Israeli car, so we chose to go little bit longer road through Be’er Sheva. The scenery is a lot different now, as we are not in the desert anymore and we could finally see some greens too.
Arriving to Jerusalem was not so peaceful as the rest of the travelling in Israel. The traffic gets seriously more crowded some 30km before Jerusalem and gets even messier in the city. Even though we weren’t returning the car in the direct city center, but on the outskirts, I had some troubles getting the car there. It’s not horrible, just like driving in a big city where people often drive aggressively and if you are prepared for it, are patient and not in a rush, it’s doable, of course. Personally I didn’t enjoy it, but it didn’t matter anymore, we were in Jerusalem finally!
We had the best accommodation in Jerusalem we could imagine. A private apartment on the main street, directly in the Jewish quarter. I knew there will be a lot of new things but didn’t realize that until we got out of the car for the first time and found out, we are the only ones not wearing a traditional Jewish dress. 99% people around us were Orthodox men with long black coats, white shirts, black hats. It was nice to see the completely different culture immediately. In a moment of seconds, we travellers from Europe, were immediately the weirdos there. Our colored clothes had to be visible from far away, yet nobody seemed to care.
As soon as we settled down in the new apartment we departed to discover our nearest surroundings. Only two streets away from us there was a huuuge outdoor market. Even though it was middle of January, the market was full of people. No tourists, mostly locals. And us. People were selling all kinds of fruits, breads, spices … whatever you like. Not sure, if it works for every stand there, but it was possible to pay with credit card everywhere we needed. That brings me to a quite interesting thing, we didn’t need almost any cash. We did have some, but spent it mostly on tips or buying something small. Otherwise you could easily just wave with your card and it would be accepted.
When we are in any bigger city and have time for a tour, we like to go for a Free Walking Tour. Really, it’s free. It is a concept, when you meet up with the guide, usually at a main touristic place (Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem) at 11am – depends on locality, check the website. You walk with the guide and the group of random tourists, much alike you, for few hours and at the end you can pay whatever you think the tour was worth as a tip directly to the guide. If you liked the tour very much, you tip very much. If you didn’t like the tour … you can always leave early. The tours are in english. I experienced these tours in many European cities and I like it very much -> recommended.
The Free Walking Tour took us through the main sightseeings in the Old City of Jerusalem. It’s something special in that place. I can’t describe it how I felt being there. You can visit Jerusalem like any other city on the planet and simply look for the profound touristic places and take pictures of them, but when you are in Jerusalem, most of the magic happens inside your head. When I imagined how much history is in every corner, every street of that city. It was almost overhelming. Of course, sometimes it feels like a complete ordinary city, but sometimes … There are many great places to visit, but I think if you want to know more about them, it will be better for you to google them separately and you will find better sources of history than I could offer you. Sorry, I don’t have a qualification in history of Jerusalem or even Israel.
The Old City is divided into four districts – Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish Quarters. It’s a complete labyrinth of narrow streets, filled with locals trying to sell you any kinds of religious items (of which religion depends on the district of course), fresh fruits and other souvenirs. However, you can also find there a vacuum cleaner shop. And a surprisingly high number of barbers. You have to take care of your sideburns in Jerusalem.
Security in Jerusalem
The security in Jerusalem Old City is very fragile ecosystem. I believe that a whole army is living inside those walls, ready to act immediately to any kinds of threat or violence in the streets. There are security cameras on every corner. They are not hidden by any kind of means. The opposite is true, they want you to see, they see everything. This is the only way how to keep the city in one place, constant surveillance. And it works. Of course I felt little bit under stress at first, but I started to admire those people after while. Their profession is really a lot of different then our policemen in Europe.
The last place we visited in Israel was Tel Aviv. We went there on friday afternoon. Time when Sabbath starts. On friday sunset the whole Israel starts to have their rest. That means public transportation isn’t working, you can’t rent/return a car, shops are closed. All of this is very strict in Jerusalem. In much bigger scale than we treat Sunday in Europe. Really pay attention to this little bit as we were quite surprised. However it greatly depends if you are directly in Jerusalem, where it’s very strict, or if you are in Tel Aviv, where it felt like there is nothing special going on and bars/restaurants/shops were open and people were having fun.
We found accommodation only the previous day and were lucky again. Small cozy apartment below roof. As most of you know I am pretty tall. This was probably the first time when it wasn’t completely beneficial for me. The ceiling was too low for me and the only place I could stand straight was directly in the middle of the room. If we were to stay there longer then 1 night I would be probably in troubles but for our short stop in Tel Aviv, it was more than enough. The great thing about that apartment was that it was very close to the center of Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel Aviv.
So we just locked our stuff inside and went for a walk to the beach. It was just about sunset time and the Mediterranean Sea was very rough those days and some waves ended on the pathway too, soaking few people completely. It looked magnificent. The angry sea, not the wet people. In just few days we saw sunrise at Masada and sunset in Tel Aviv. The sunrise at Masada was over a Dead Sea while sunset in Tel Aviv was over Mediterranean Sea. Nice:)
Tel Aviv as a city was quite a disappointed to me. We went for the Free walking tour again, the same company as we took in Jerusalem. The guide was terrible. I know I should be nice to people, but she was really miserable. That hippie type with opinion on EVERYTHING. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have your own opinion. But please, if you have your opinion, it doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone. Nobody cares sometimes. She was the one with opinion, I was the one who didn’t care. After a while we ran out of her tour. However then we were scared that we would meet the group and the guide randomly in some street and would feel ashamed. So we took a new, unfamiliar, 2x longer way through ugly streets on our way back… You know, to explore new places.
Tel Aviv bus station and way back to Eilat
We took a night bus line from Tel Aviv to Eilat. It departure Tel Aviv directly on saturday-sunday midnight from the main bus station. The main bus station has horrible Google reviews. Fortunately they didn’t come completely true. Well some parts yes, it is ugly, with lots of drug addicts, homeless, weird people but once you get in (there is a metal detector and a guard at the entrance), it felt like any other bus station. Except that Wikipedia tells that it is the biggest bus station in the world. Not sure about it, on the other hand, it’s quite big.
We arrived to Eilat early in the morning (4am), while still a lot hours till the sunshine were in front of us. Even though temperatures during day are nice, nights were much colder. We tried to sleep another few hours on the beach next to the ocean, which was great. And then we saw yet another sunrise. Both this one and sunrise at Masada were great.
From Eilat we took the same shuttle company to get us to the airport and started another waiting on the airport. Luckily enough there is a lot of security checks you have to go through so your time goes fast in there;) I am very grateful for this journey as I learned again something new, about Israel, Jews, travelling and also relationships:) One fun fact for the very end. Israel is the most Eastern place on Earth I have ever been to.
What to eat in Israel
If you were wondering what were we eating the whole time than here is a paragraph for you. Israel is an expensive country, however there are some meals that you can eat almost all day long and which will not hurt your wallet dramatically. Yes, it’s hummus. If you want to stay in Israel for any amount of time, get used to it’s specific taste.
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