It’s been quite a while, because I was struggling with the topic of this blog. It’s hard to describe Israel without mentioning the ongoing conflict, yet at the same time I still have the feeling I don’t know enough to express an opinion. I’ll just describe Israel experienced as a backpacker, yet there’s obviously much more behind it.
When going to Israel, don’t expect real challenges when it comes to backpacking. Israel is a western country with a good public transportation network, which makes it convenient to move around (and public transport is relatively cheap!) Though maybe this was a bit disappointing me. I like challenges and in Israel, everything went too smooth. I know, this is complaining about nothing ;).
For me, Israel became the country where couchsurfing was taken to a whole new level (couchsurfing is a community where people that have a spare couch offer it to travellers). It happened quite a few times that I got a text: ‘the key is under the rock next to the door, have fun!’ How amazing is that?!
Highlight for me was Jerusalem with it’s impressive Temple Mount (did you know that there’s a ‘Jerusalem-syndrome’? Google it!).
Another place that I really liked was Masada, the palace of King Herod. It’s in the middle of the desert, overlooking the Dead Sea, and on top of a mountain. Such an idyllic place, that clever guy (though he never lived here, spoilt).
Nazareth is also a great place, though I loved it because of the people I met, the town isn’t spectacular. And lastly, Bethlehem, which has 2 sides. On the one hand it’s a cute little town that attracts many tourists for the place where Jesus is believed to be born. Yet on the other hand, Bethlehem is in the Westbank, and a place where clashes quite often happen. So check the security situation before you go. The day after I went there, there were pretty intense clashes, so check the news and check with yourself if you want to take this risk. I strongly recommend doing a tour to the refugee camps, because this will show a whole different side of the story than what you generally hear (if you have a couchsurf account, look for events in Bethlehem and you’ll find an awesome free tour. You even get a rubber bullit as souvenir. Quite bizar and can’t recommend taking it through security at the airport. Also, the guide recommended deleting all your pics and sensitive material. I can confirm that the security at the airport is intense, though I could rely on my blonde hair and obvious tourist-look).
In terms of people, Israel is like other western countries. People are to themselves, though if you ask them for help, they’re super friendly. However, I just came from Arab countries and kind of missed the screaming down the street to you, the spontaneity, and the hospitality (no hospitality teas at every street corner here). It happened quite often to me that people became angry at me because I was taking up too much space in crowded buses with my backpack. And if the bus turns out to leak as a basket, you need to have someone to be grumpy at. In this case it was me, which resulted in a miserable welcome to Jerusalem (easily made up for by my couchsurf host though). Someone later explained to me that people are stressed in buses, because this is where most attacks take place. I have no idea if this is the explanation, but be prepared to get grumpy or arrogant reactions.
I have to admit that my visit wasn’t at the most ideal time. There’s been quiet a lot of unrest lately. Last week, I arrived at the Damascusgate half an hour after an attack had taken place. Eventually I decided to move to safer places, just because the vibe was not comfortable anymore (Jerusalem and the Westbank are often places for attacks, Gaza wasn’t even an option to go to). Jerusalem already had increased the security, but after these attacks it became insane (instead of 2 soldiers every 10 meter, it became 15 every 10 meter. I sometimes had to zigzag through groups of soldiers. For someone who’d never seen a real gun before, their massive guns made me slightly uncomfortable).
Sometimes you love a country (in my case almost always) and sometimes it’s just not it. For me, Israel was just not it. Nevertheless, all in all, I’ve had a really good time and met amazing people. It’s definitely an interesting country and I hope if you ever go there, you take the effort to hear both sides of the story and try to get a deeper understanding of the difficulties.
Ps, about the pants falling apart. I’d taken extremely old clothes on my trip. But just a week before I went back home, the fabric of my pants had become so thin that it fell apart.
The problem was that it was at the beginning of Sabbath, meaning that all shops were closed (and not just shops, the entire country shuts down during the sabbath; no public transport, shops, restaurants, and even ATMs are out of order!) So plan your trip well and hope your pants make it through the next 48 hours. I just kept wearing them and prayed it wouldn’t get worse, though it wasn’t very comfortable, knowing there’s a massive tear on your bum!
And now…? Home! Travelling is exhausting, so I’ll just sleep in my own old bed for a while. For a while…