Into the holy land.

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Middle East » Israel
January 18th 2008
Published: January 23rd 2008
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"Attention ladies and gentlemen! We regret to inform you that the pilot has been unable to make it in today and we cannot supply another so Im afraid this flight is now cancelled. Please go down collect your luggage and make your way to the Alitalia service desk to arrange another flight"
This is definitely not the way I wanted the day to start. My flight being cancelled is one thing but the problem is I had to connect in Milan to Tel Aviv so that wasn't going to happen I guess. I avoided waiting for my bags to be dragged off the plane and went straight down to organise other plans. It paid off as after I arrived and had my booking underway, a big group of other people showed up, huffing and puffing at the situation. They managed to get me on a direct BA flight to Tel Aviv which arrived around the same time so it worked out OK for me. I got a man to take me back to get my bags but had to go through security. Once I collected my stuff I was told I had to go to Terminal 4. Getting to Terminal 4 at Heathrow is kind of a pain with a heap of luggage especially when the flight is leaving soon. However I got there, checked in and had to go through security for the third time and caught my flight. I was thinking how funny it was that I was actually concerned flying Alitalia as it was going bankrupt and were looking for someone to buy them out. While waiting for my flight the news was on stating that over 50 000 people decided to call in sick on that 2nd of January. Our pilot was one of them I guess.

I arrived mid afternoon in Tel Aviv and caught the train straight up to Haifa. One reason on deciding to go to Israel was to visit a friend I met while living in Berlin. Michal lived in Haifa so it seemed the obvioius place to start my visit. However Michal had a few things planned so I decided to tag along which meant whizzing around the country. That's not hard since the whole place is about as big as El Salvador or Belize (about 1/3 the size of Tasmania).

So we made our way to Jerusalem where we were to have a surprise party for her twin sister who is leaving for Boston for 4 months study. The next day I had pretty much the whole day to look around Jerusalem which Ill talk about later while Michal and her sister did some stuff they had to do. Before making our way back up to Haifa, we went the short distance to Tel Aviv for dinner. Of course since it was Friday night, it was the beginning of Shabbat. Israel's week is based on the Jewish calender. The means that around sunset on Friday starts Shabbat (or the Sabbath) which is beginning of the day of rest. Everyone dresses in their Shabbat best and heads to the homes of family or friends for dinner. Typically it involves eating a lot of food and people are discouraged from talking about anything bad. I am welcomed into Michal's grandparents home where pretty much the whole family is around for dinner. There are a myriad of different dishes scattered about the table. After those were taken away, more dishes were brought out. All night, Michal's grandmother kept pushing food towards me saying "These are good, you should eat". I took the modest approach by eating but not going overboard. I was surprised how all her family spoke english. Even her grandmother could communicate a little and her grandfather saw striking up a conversation at every quiet moment.

English is quite widely spoken in Israel which is good for an english speaking traveller. Apart from a few civilities, Hebrew is no easy language to wrap your tongue around. However, I find Hebrew one of the most fascinating parts of the modern state of Israel. After the Jews were sent into the diaspora centuries ago, Hebrew as a everyday language was lost. They picked up the local language of whatever area they settled in. However Hebrew was preserved in holy texts and in synagogues world wide but it wasn't a practical way of communicating. In the 19th century, a man named Eliezer Ben Yehuda, a Lithuanian jew, returned to Palestine. Like most jews, he was introduced to Hebrew through a religious upbringing and when her returned to Palestine in 1881, he had the idea of making Hebrew a language that all jews could use in day to day communication. Although Hebrew was preserved in religious texts, Ben found it hard to describe modern things like a train or a light bulb. So he began to arduous task of updating the language for modern times, all the while spreading it to his collegues. His first born son was raised entirely through Hebrew and became the first all Hebrew speaking person in modern history. By the beginning of the 20th century, Hebrew was well of its way of becoming the main language language of Palestinian jews and today is one of two national languages of the state of Israel. Hebrew today is still not a comprehensive language and officially the Academy of the Hebrew language is charged with creating new words of which they have coined over 10 000. With the world becoming a more globalised place, some words relating to technology or computers have to be borrowed from other languages or simply made up.

After dinner we made our way back up to Haifa. Three of the countries largest cities visited in a day, the size of country makes it very convenient for travel.

The next day I decided to take in some of Haifa. Shabbat wasn't to end until around sunset that night so getting around was a nightmare. Michal had to work all day so after having breakfast at her work, I waited around over an hour for the bus to take me to the centre of town. After finally arriving, I was greeted by the sight of Haifa's most famous attraction, The Bahá'í Gardens. These impeccably kept gardens spill down the hill and create a magnificent backdrop to the very interesting German Colony. A Colony it may be called but it's really just a street, however it's very pleasant to wander and take in the beautiful stone buildings. The Gardens have to be booked to be able to visit, so I was only allowed in the first part which was nice enough. I started to walk around the area but even though it's the country's third largest city, being Shabbat it was like a ghost town yet I did stumble on an Arab Market. Since Shabbat is a jewish holiday, the Arabs don't celebrate it which means this short dirty street full of fruit stalls and yelling vendors was in full swing.

There was little to see on that day so I thought it best to make my way back up to Michal's area as she was to finnish work soon. Shabbat was just finnishing but the public transport was still lacking but I did manage to get on my bus.
"Hey where you going??" The disgruntled bus driver yells to me.
I showed him the bit of paper Michal wrote for me.
"No that's the other way" So I got on the wrong bus but there was no bus 37 going back the other way so I assumed this was the only one. He dropped me off at a bus station a ways out of town and told me of two busses that weren't running for another 2 hours. Patience not being one of my virtues, I jumped a cab.

A short distance from Haifa is an ancient city called Akko that traces its history back 5000 years. Train was the most convenient way to get there so to the train station I went. After already spending a few days in country, I was already used to the incredibly tight security all over the place. Train stations, bus stations, shopping centres, cafe's and numerous other buildings all have guards out front ready to check your bag, pat you down and run a metal detector over

Souk in Akko
you before entering. Some places even have a metal detector you have to walk through and machine to scan your bags. It's just like going through airport security. Some of the guards will have a gun slung over their shoulders in case some little old lady starts giving them lip. While waiting on the platform, all I see is a sea of IDF soldiers waiting for their train. Automatic weapons are a common sight in Israel and you get used to it pretty quickly. The Israel Defence Force is mandatory for all citizens of Israel except for a few religious groups. At the ripe old age of 18 they are automatically conscripted, females must serve for 2 years and males for 3. That being the case, not seeing a member of the IDF walking around town while in the country is pretty much impossible. Since they get free public transport, you are most likely to see them at train and bus stations around the country heading to/from home for the weekend and other activites.

Akko is quite amazing. Although its "5000 years old", the current walled city visible today dates back just over 200 years. There are plenty of things to keep the visitor busy for a day with citadels, ancient baths, underground tunnels, impressive walls and a pleasant marina. There are also great views back across the harbour to Haifa. The old walled town is home to mostly arabs as opposed to the modern jewish city of Akko so the souks are busy and emit smells of all sorts of weird things. It's a great to spend a day but the thing I loved about Akko over most other ancient walled cities I've been to is that its not set up for tourism. You are more likely to see local kids playing football or the elderly shuffling to the souk to buy their food supplys than an endless stream of tourists buying touristy crap and eating in over priced restaurants. That gave it a real authentic flare.

I left Michal to her day to day life in Haifa and headed north to Nazareth. Ahh Nazareth, the tiny little bucolic village of Jesus' home. Well ok it may've been back 2000 years ago but today its a melange of honking horns, traffic jams, unnavigable streets and roudy stall vendors. It's a predominately arab city so Hebrew is replaced

by Arabic as the common language. I arrived late at night and had to work my way through the winding streets to find my hostel. After asking several people, I found it. Looking back it was actually one of the highlights of Nazareth. A very old stone building with its large arches made it a rather nice place to bunk down for a couple of nights. I woke the next day ready to take in all the sites of Nazareth. However, what I found is that it is a little short on them. Unless you're REALLY into churches, Nazareth is a bit of a bore. I did check out Nazareth's biggest sight, the Basilica of the Annunciation. It's the largest church in the Middle East and one of the Christian world's holy shrines. Built on the location of Mary's home where Angel Gabriel appeared and announced she was pregnant with the Son of God. It was consecrated in 1969 and is the fifth church to stand on the spot. It has a modern feeling and it's quite a sight. Unlike most churches that are set out like crucifix, this one is centred around a 5th century Byzantine church which is also built of the site of Mary's home.

Apart from that and a quick look through the far from bustling souk, Nazareth didn't do much for me so I planned my next move to the Sea of Galilee. Tiberias, the largest town on the sea is not as bad as some people would have you believe. The problem is it doesn't really know where its going. It has sacred holy sites but is trying to become a sea-side resort. It's too much like a small town to become a resort but to much like a resort to be a small town. Yet, it has some nice places to wander and is well connected to the rest of the country and for that reason its the Sea's main hub. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee (which is less a sea and really just a big lake) some of the most important stories in Christianity took place. I didn't want to stay in town looking at the sea from the comforts of a man made promenade, I wanted to hike in mountains that surround them so I tried to catch a bus to northen shores, apparently some of the nicest areas around the sea. I waited at the bus stop for over an hour but none of the busses headed that way arrived. I asked around official looking people as well as locals and all I got were shrugs. One guy even said "M'eh, they get here when they get here". I thought that was strange since all other busses I had caught in the country were quite punctual. So I thought "Well stuff it, I'll walk". The problem is, it's a long way to the northern shore from Tiberias by foot and I'm no Alexandre Poussin. After making it about 6km's up the road I had a look around and headed back. The other problem was that the day I was there, it was very foggy so hard to see the view properly. Always the way. The next day, which was nice and clear, I jumped a bus back to the capital, Jerusalem.

Most of my time in Jerusalem was spent in the Old City. It's definitley a feast for the sences. There are an incalculable amount of cafes, shops, stalls, souks and sights. Divided into four quarters each with its own flavour, the Old City is a fascinating mix of cultures, religions, peoples and architecture. Since it has been invaded and controlled by pretty much every empire of the last 3000 years, there are many different types of people, cultures and architecture represented here. As with Akko, although it has its tourist drawcards, the Old City is predominately a place of work and a home for many residents. "Hallo, yes, yella yella, move please" Is something you'll hear over and over again as people shift stock for their shops arond the thin streets on old woodern carts. The buzz of the place during the day is electric especially in the Muslim Quater where I stayed. However, above all, the Old City is a holy place. It has sites sacred to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

One of the first things I saw was the Western Wall, sometimes know as the Wailing Wall. Built 2000 years ago and only as a retaining wall to the Temple Mount on which the Second Temple sat. After the Jews returned from exile, the Second Temple had been blown up and the exact location lost. They purposely avoided it afraid they might step on the holy site with the ancient holy inner sanctum only accessible to high priests. So they began praying to the Western Wall and now it is the holiest sites in Judaism. I entered the area, going through the usual airport like security measures and gazed at the sight. Compared to the rest of the city, it isn't so impressive but what is impressive is the seemingly endless stream of Jews flooding towards the wall for prayer. I entered the site putting on my mandatory Kippa (the little jewish hat) and watched as hundereds of Jews bowed insessively at the wall. They kissed it, touched it and put tiny bits of paper in the small cracks between the stones. Their prayers written on them, they believe their prayers have a better chance to be answered.

The Temple Mount itself is quite impressive. Atop the Mount sits the world famous Dome of the Rock. With its shimmering gold dome, it can be seen across much of the city. I hiked up to the Temple Mount one day to see it and even though I wasn't let in, it was still an impressive sight. Although it is a mosque with access restricted to Muslims, it sits on a slab
"You're pregnant with the son of God. No pressure""You're pregnant with the son of God. No pressure""You're pregnant with the son of God. No pressure"

Basilica of the Annunciation. Nazareth
of stone holy to both Muslims and Jews. This once again reiterates the city's importance to so many.

Jews and Muslims have sacred sites here as do Christians. One such site, or trail as it is, is where Jesus walked his final steps, carrying the cross on his shoulder, up to the hill to be crucified. Every Friday this walk is retraced by the faithful (and a few odd tourists) from the Chapel of Flagellation (where he was condemned to crucifiction) to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where he was crucified). In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sits the Edicule which is the tomb of Jesus.

Other interesting things I saw was the grave of Oskar Schindler who is buried just outside the Old City walls. I also climbed up the Mount of Olives which has stunning views back across the city. According to the book of Zechariah, this is the place where God will start to redeem the dead upon the return of the Messiah at the End of Days. It all sounds very biblical but as a result, many Jews preferred to be buried here to get a good place in line. This is the oldest continuously used cemetery in the world and to date there are some 150 000 people buried on these slopes. So it's not just the view of the city that is a breathtaking sight.

Jerusalem is one of the countries biggest hubs behind Tel Aviv so I took advantage of that to make a few day trips out into the country side. The West Bank is a world away from reasonably well organised Israel. There is a whole host of problems facing this region and most of the news you hear about Israel is relating to Palestine. Crossing the checkpoint is an eye opener as well. None of the national busses go into Palestine so you really have to organise your own ride there. I solicited a taxi to take me to the check point as he was not able to cross it. I was dumped off at the foot of this enormous ugly grey concrete wall fringed by barbed wire, guard towers and a few machine guns pointing my direction.
"You walk up there and get your passport out" the taxi driver tells me. I followed the ramp as it led me to a little booth much like an international border crossing. I was held up for about minutes as the person infront of me was having an obviously frustrating argument with the soldier in the booth. He was waving his documents and passport around getting quite agitated. I'm assuming he was told to step aside to let me through. I presented my Australian passport to the soldier and she just waved me in without even looking at it. The situation gave me a weird satisfaction that my little blue book wielded power over the barbed wire and guns. I walked across "no mans land" along the length of the wall. I saw a funny sight that I desperately wanted to take a photo of but obviously couldn't. A massive white sign saying something like "Peace for all!" signed by the Israeli Misitry of Tourism which was strategically hung on the big grey wall with the barbed wire and machine gun towers.

I passed through the wall and walked down the other side reading all the politically charged graffiti on the wall. A man approached me and said "I am the driver".
I wondered how he was claiming himself at "the driver" when there were a
"Go in peace""Go in peace""Go in peace"

That's what we need in Oz. Sea of Galilee
whole host of taxi drivers waiting. In any case he seemed just as good as the others so I asked how much to the centre of the town I came to see, Bethlehem.
"I work for the government and I take you on a fine trip to see all the sights". He whipped out a glossy brouchure full of pictures of the local sights.
"The price is 30 shekel for 2 hours and 8 shekel for every hour after that".
I did some quick counculations and thought "Wow, thats a good price, things are much cheaper in Palestine"
"Sure, lets go" I said. We hopped in the worn out old taxi and away we went. I, as I always do, clarified the price once again before we continued any further. "So 30 shekels for 2 hours yes?".
He leaned in as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "30 shekels for 2 hours are you crazy? No 80 shekels per hour".
A big frustrated grin hit my face.. "Ah there it is. So it begins" I thought.
"No I don't want to pay that much" I claimed
"But you agreed" He fired back.
"I heard you say 30 shekels
The CardoThe CardoThe Cardo

for two hours"
"No thats not the price"
"Fine, well how much into the town centre one way?"
I didn't get an answer, he just shrugged his shoulders as he kept driving. I knew if he kept driving, he would put me in a position of having to pay so I probed further to get an answer.
"So how much"... nothing "Hello are you ignoring me?"
"I don't understand you. Why do you want to go to Bethlehem?"
"It doesn't matter why, just how much?" etc.. etc.. So the conversation went on which turned into quite an ugly argument. After a while he got that upset he just turned cab around and said "I don't want your cusom any more Ill just take you back". I could see the centre of town so I told him just to drop me and I'll walk.
"No, you get another cab, I am not to be bothered by you anymore"
He refused to let me out so he took me all the way back to the wall where he started yelling amongst all the other drivers. I had no idea what was going on.
"Can anyone take me to the town centre, one
Jewish quaterJewish quaterJewish quater

way or are you all going to take me on a trip???" No one answered. "Fine I'll walk". Someone finally pipes up "No you can't walk, you must take taxi"
"Fuck you I'll walk since you pricks aren't going to act like normal taxis". I'd kinda had enough by that stage so I left them to aruge amongst themselves while I started to walk. One little man who had kept quiet the whole time finally opened his mouth.
"I can take you into town, one way". Finally. So a small fee got me to the centre of town, done, simple, no fuss. He even stopped for a minute to show me the views over the valley, across to the jewish settlements and over the wall which snakes its way around the place.

After the ordeal I was finally in Bethlehem. The fact that it was Palestine was evident very quickly as there were kids begging for money and people staring at me, something you don't see so often in Israel. I walked up the steps and into the appropriately named Manger Square. The only real thing to see in Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity. Commissioned in 326
In prayerIn prayerIn prayer

Western Wall. Jerusalem
AD by Constantine, it is the oldest continuously operated church in the world. More over it is the birth place of Jesus. Apart from the church itself its main attraction is walking under the church to Jesus' birth spot and his Manger. I was in there with a big group of spanish people who couldn't help but sing silent night. After the church I wandered around town. It's quite quaint but there isn't much else to see. I made my way back to Jerusalem.

The next day I ventured into the West Bank once again to visit Jericho. In similar vein to the rest of the region, Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world dating back a staggering 11 000 years to about 9000 BC. It is also the lowest city in the world at 260m below sea level. Being Shabbat, I was forced to rely on the Arab busses which seem to cross into West Bank at certain points. Even though its only about 40km up the road, it took me about two hours to get there, with hold ups like busses, taxi drivers, donkeys and checkpoints all taking their toll. I finally arrived at
In prayer 2In prayer 2In prayer 2

Western Wall. Jerusalem
the oasis town of Jericho. Just north of the Dead Sea, Jericho has great views over the palms through the Dead Sea valley. The main thing I wanted to see in Jericho was Tel es-Sultan, the world's oldest civilisation. The ruins here, are so old that they are mostly just mounds of dirt and stone, date back around 7000 years. While not exactly an awe inspiring sight like the pyramids (which dates back a comparatively unimpressive 4500 years) Tel es-Sultan is impressive for its age. The other startling thing is the set up stairs that are still visible. Back in the day when planting crops and keeping live stock were cutting edge technologies, the citizens of Jericho were actually building stairs. They are, unsurprisingly, the oldest set of stairs in the world.

The day after I left my Jerusalem base and headed back towards Jericho but this time to the Dead Sea. I alighted at tiny settlement called Ein Gedi. There was really just a few buildings, one of which was my hostel. However this seclusion had its advantages. It was in one of the most stunning locations. At the foot of huge desert mountians, the hostel looks across
Western WallWestern WallWestern Wall

the road to the Dead Sea with Jordan on the other side. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at around 420m below sea level, so its no ordinary desert climate. There is 10% more oxygen than at sea level and the high atmospherical pressure filters the sun's rays making it harder (but not impossible) to get sunburnt. My room wasn't going to be ready for a couple of hours so I went for a walk around the area. The first thing I noticed was the smell not dissimilar to egg. The Dead Sea has been called the largest natural spa in the world and apparently the large haze that hangs over the dead sea is meant to aid in calming you. The area immediately around the water is strange with build up of salt deposits and weird surface areas.

Once my room was ready I checked in my stuff and headed to the "beach" for a float in the Dead Sea. First of all I use the word beach loosely as it was really more of a small rocky area on the water. Second I say float because you don't swim in the Dead Sea. You

Western Wall. Jerusalem
can't be a sea at the lowest point on earth and not have some extraordinary qualities. The Dead Sea contains 20 times as much Bromine, 15 times as much Magnesium and 10 times as much Iodine as regular sea water. In essence it's basically 33% solid substance which gives it an amazing buoyancy. Which is why when you enter the water you don't float in the water, you float ON it. It's an experience that can't be duplicated anywhere else on earth. I saw a few people tentatively wading in the water. The thing is, you don't want to get any of this water in your eyes as it will temporarily blind you. With all this is mind I couldn't wait to rip off my clothes and "dive in" (once again, you don't dive) I slowly walk over the salt encrusted rocks and gently fell back into the water. It was truely a weird experience. As opposed to ordinary water where you would sink and have to dog paddle to keep your head above water, here I just bobbed up like a cork. It was almost as if someone was underneath me holding me up. I couldn't help but laugh
The Edicule (The Tomb of Christ) The Edicule (The Tomb of Christ) The Edicule (The Tomb of Christ)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jerusalem
to myself in amazement as I layed back, put my feet up like I was on a lounge and felt like I could've been reading a newspaper (as the cliché would dictate). I then "sat up" and was floating like I was sitting in a chair. I never sank below my chest. I looked down at my feet and saw how the clear the water was. After the float, I rushed up to the near-by showers where you have to wash yourself off to avoid crusting up with salt. However with all these worries, it is believed to be actually good for your health with several diseases believed to benefit from the experience.

That night I had a few people in my room, one guy from France and two guys from Israel. The Israelis came down to the Dead Sea for the night and brought a whole heap of food with them for dinner. They invited us to sit and eat with them. We started out with the usual travelling questions about what we were doing and where were we travelling etc.. When speaking to locals, usually there are two topics which you just avoid all together, religion and politics. However, Israel is pretty much the exception to the rule and when speak to locals, it's almost impossible to avoid talking about religion and politics. Israelis are also avid news watchers. They will almost drop everything when the news is on the TV or radio and watch or listen. It's like they hope something has changed in the last hour since the last news report.

My next stop was just down the road to Mesada. Dating back around 2000 years, Mesada is a remarkable fortress sitting atop an isolated rock plateau looking across the Dead Sea to Jordan. It is of such importance to Israelis that every school child visits it as a part of their curriculum. I stayed at the guest house at the bottom of the mountain and apart from the tourist complex building there is literally absolutely nothing else around. This type of isolation even today, is one of the things that makes it so amazing. Even back in the day, the people in the fortress were able to sustain themselves for years with water, food and weapons without even coming down.

My alarm went off at 4:30am and I managed to actually drag myself reluctantly out of bed. It's not enough that I wanted to see the ruins, but I wanted to see them at sunrise which I was told one of the must do things in Israel. The "snake path" that zig-zags its way up the mountain was only open at 5:30am so away I went in the pitch black. I was thinking how treacherous this could be as it would be a long fall further up. However the sunlight was just starting to creep over the Jordanian mountians so I could see better and better the further up I went. I huffed and puffed my way up the very steep dirt track, stopping a few times to catch my breath only to have it taken away again by the view. After 40 minutes of slogging, I finally reached the top. The whole way up, I was the only person on the track and I was getting excited at the idea of having the whole site to myself. However, what I hadn't counted on was the dozens of bus loads of other groups that had come up from the other side. It was a big site so we all spread out. I picked out a good location to get some great shots with the early morning light as the sun started to appear over the mountians. The mountain range behind Mesada was slowly lit up by the sun changing from a range of differnt colours. The ruins of Mesada also had some great effects on them, I didn't know where to point the camera next. The ruins themselves are pretty amazing. Spread about the plateau with large underground areas where supplys were kept. Even though it was an exhausting hike, it was well worth it.

The next plan for me was to head further south into the Negev Desert but because the rude security guard had told me that the cable car came down at exactly 8am, which it didn't, I missed my bus. I wanted to make sure of it so I asked him very clearly when it came down but he just waved his hand at me and said "Yes yes 8am" The next bus wouldn't be for a few hours and it would be getting too late to be worth while so I didn't bother. I jumped the next bus back to Jerusalem then onto my final destination,
Oskar Schindler's graveOskar Schindler's graveOskar Schindler's grave

The German inscription reads something like: "The unforgettable life saver of 1200 pursecuted Jews" The 1200 is covered over with stones. Stones are placed on jewish graves as a sign of respect. Stones last longer than flowers. Jerusalem
Tel Aviv.

The holy, historic city of Jerusalem is just 80km up the road from Tel Aviv but it might as well be on the other side of the planet. Tel Aviv is a world apart from its Capital counterpart. When everyone in Jerusalem are putting on their Shabbat best and heading to friend's or family's houses for dinner, Tel Avivans are putting on their clubbing best and hitting the discos. Tel Aviv sits right on the Mediterranean so its city limits are right on beautiful golden sandy beaches. All the gay Isrealis seem to flock here for its liberal cosmopolitan lifestyle free from the prejudices they may face in other parts of the country. Its a city on the rise with even Donald Trump announcing the construction of a new 70 storey building. With industry and business moving in, Tel Aviv was recently called one of the world's top ten Tech cities. Jerusalem may be the capital but many countires choose to have their embassys in Tel Aviv. It is even a strong candidate global city. But more over, Tel Aviv isn't a fast paced overcrowded mecca of business types and bureaucrats. It has a quiet unassuming heart. This is evident as right in the centre of the city sits the Yemenite Quater. A quiet area of small pedestrian-only streets with old Bauhaus style architecture and quaint little cafés.

Just a few kilometers south of the centre lays Jaffa. This tiny historic town that has been around for thousands of years is where the original residents of Tel Aviv came from. Providing stunning views back up the coast towards Tel Aviv, Jaffa is a great little getaway for Tel Avivans and tourists alike. Although there isn't much to see or do, its a very pleasant place to wander for an hour or two. The harbour of Jaffa, like most other things in the country, is the oldest known harbour in the world. Even with all its history and great views, many still come to Jaffa for the unimpressive flea market which has a whole host of antique and contemporary crap that you don't need. I just can't see getting that life sized statue of a cow wearing make up and sun glasses in my back pack.

Israel was great and as I looked out of the window on the way to the airport, I thought about
Me in JerusalemMe in JerusalemMe in Jerusalem

The only photo of me in Israel so enjoy it lol
the things I didn't get a chance to see. Who knows, I might come back one day.

Israel has airport-like security just to go into shopping centres and bus stations so flying out of Israel was an eye opener. I entered the airport and was directed to the area I needed to go. I arrived at a set of isles, a woman checked my passport and flight ticket then directed me down an isle. Once I was nearing the end, two women checked my passport and flight ticket then proceeding in asking me questions for a solid five minutes.
"Where are you flying to? What did you do here in Israel? Who do you know here? How long were you here? I see you have been to the UAE, what were you doing there? Who do you know there? Why did you go in and out of the UAE so many times? Oman, Egypt? Did you meet anyone there? Your parents? What are there names? Do they know anyone in those places?" etc.. etc.. etc..
These were just some of the questions I was asked. After a while of hard questioning, even I almost started doubting my answers. "Geez, maybe I WAS up to no good in Oman??".
After that I was sent to a huge bag scanning machine, my carry on and check in stuff was seperated by tags. My laptop was taken out of its bag and put into a special scanning bag. I picked them up from the other side and had to take all my stuff to a desk. A woman then got me to open my check in bag and she rubbed a wand that detects bomb making material not only all over the bag but all through my bag. In my clothes, in all the pockets of the bag, all over my shaver and toiletries bag. While I was standing there I heard the person next to me was instructed to go with security for a body search. After she was satisfied with the results, I was then sent to the check in desk. I checked in after all my details were checked and entered into the computer and I was drilled again with more questions which took forever. After a quick coffee I then had to go through security! I lined up while the excruciatingly slow personal security measures were carried out. Time was ticking away and they had only checked 2 people. I told one of the security staff that my flight was boarding very soon so she sent me to the head of the line. I, of course, had to put all my stuff through another scanner, my laptop out again, all electrical wires into a seperate tray, my belt, jacket and shoes all had to come off. One of them took my passport and dissapeared with it. I went through the metal detector and although there was no beep I was searched with a metal detector wand and patted down. A lady was running another bomb making detector wand over my jacket, shoes and belt before I was allowed to put them on. I told her that my flight started boarding 5 minutes ago. "Yes don't worry" was all I got. She pulled opened my carry on bag and pulled out my camera bag then pulled out my camera and ran the wand over it and through the bag. Then that wand was run over every inch of the bag, pockets and everything. She pulled out a little bag I keep with all my chargers and other electrical stuff and ran the wand over literally every wire in the bag. The wand was then run all over my computer and in the computer bag, then my personal document folder then she even wanded my passport. "OK thank you thats all". "Thats all???" I was thinking as I had to start to pack every single thing she unpacked back into my bag. I ran off as my plane was leaving in 10 minutes but I still had to go through customs. She checked my passport, ran it through a computer and started asking me more questions. I respectfully told her that I was about to miss my plane but she fired back with a "You will be let go when I'm satisfied". I finally was through all security measures and only just caught my plane. If there is ever a terrorist that gets a bomb onto a plane leaving from Israel then there is no hope for humanity. My passport was checked 13 times, 8 tags and stickers were put on my bags and the total time it took me to get through all the security measures was nearing 2 hours. The least enjoyable time of the trip.

So this is it. I have been living in Europe for the better part of two years and it's finally over as I am now back in Australia. My journey to Europe started and ended in the Middle East but living in Europe really has been a blast and the best times of my life. I had a list of 5 places I really wanted to see before I went home but only made 2 of them. Things like living in Germany not earning money, going to Brazil and going home last year and early this year was the main reasons for that but it's OK, I guess that means I will have to come back to see the rest at some point. Europe is truely an amazing place with sights, culture and places that continue to amaze even Europeans. Although, with things like globalisation and the EU, things like culture and language are slowly fading so I guess it's only a matter of time before there is nothing really foreign about Europe. However it is what it is now and it's been great. I've had various people ask me about things to see and do on their 3 week European
Mount of Olives 2Mount of Olives 2Mount of Olives 2

Just some of the 150 000 people buried here. Jerusalem
trip and they are almost impossible questions to answer. How can you cram thousands of years of history and a million sights into only a few weeks. As I said before, 2 years turned out to be nowhere near enough but I guess that's one great thing about Europe, it's a place that can lure you back time and time again and you'll always be surprised.

What for me now then, well, who knows. Once I sort my life out then who knows what will happen but rest assured, you'll hear about the great adventures here on travelblog. Thanks for everyone's support over the last two years and even before that. I love reading your messages and comments. So until next time, next trip somewhere in this big world of ours...

Additional photos below
Photos: 56, Displayed: 50




23rd January 2008

Wow, great reporting and photos. Thanks a load.
26th February 2008

back home?
Just read your parents title. You are back in Oz? How long for? You've travelling again soon? Email me mate and fill me in!
16th November 2009

Palestinian Taxis
Hi, First of all, brilliant blog! It's great to finally read one that is well written, informed, balanced, and lined with historical notes as well as incidental travel details. I discovered yours whilst reminiscing about my own European/Middle East adventure (April - June 2008). Yours is an incredibly enjoyable read. Reading your encounter with the Palestinian taxi drivers brought a smile to my face. I too decided to venture into the Palestinian territory alone, and was confronted with the massive bank of taxis you mention. I initially had the 'owner' of a raft of them negotiate the price with me (in much the same way you mention - seems the haggling needs to involve a brochure and then some kind of heated argument), before he shipped me off to 'his cousin'. This cousin then brought out the brochure again and tried to get more money. I told him I'd give him extra regardless - I knew his boss/cousin would get most of his fare anyway, so long as he just took me where I wanted to go and was nice, he'd get his money. Suddenly his whole attitude changed, he was deeply grateful, and then offered to take me home for lunch to meet his wife. I politely declined, but then we got talking about the troubles he and his family face living in Palestine (particularly in regards to their treatment by the Israeli government). He asked me my opinion of the issue - I told him I can't pretend to know the full story, although I know that what the Western media tells me is less than the whole truth. He smiles, and then tells me about 'what they do' to the Palestinians. After taking me to the Church of the Nativity (and waiting for an hour and a half), he then offers to take me to a UN refugee camp just outside Bethlehem. I ended up having lunch with a Professor of International Conflict, the head of the Refugee Camp (a student who studied in the US but returned home to help his people)and a member of the UN. They confirmed for me the sanctions and terrible conditions imposed upon the Palestinians - again, things you never hear about. What they told me about the children is something that still makes me shudder. It was an incredible day. As I tried to return to the Israeli side, I was held up at the border crossing due to a 'malfunction' on the Israeli side. It seems there are many malfunctions, leading to many delays in allowing Palestinians trying to conduct cross-border business (and the unlucky stray tourist) from getting through. In 40 degree heat, in a small little cage for 22 hours, I came to understand the frustration many of them feel every day. I understand completely what you mean about the rudeness of the taxi drivers - the boss/cousin was a downright bastard, and if I hadn't offered more money (which made my journey inordinately expensive) my only experience would be a resoundingly negative one. But many of these people have no other means of income other than tourism (whilst every Israeli told me not to go to Palestine as it is 'full of terrorists')... and the economic sanctions (including drip-feeding the people water, so they are unable to grow crops) are slowly suffocating them. I guess I was able to understand why the taxi drivers have come to be so demanding in financial terms - when your family are at risk, you will try anything. Sadly, their heavy-handedness only makes the tourists more inclined to stick with the Israeli tourist buses: a catch 22 indeed. I don't mean to impugn your already-balanced and accurate depictions of Palestinian travel; what you write is completely true of my own experiences also! I am still neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israel - I can definitely still see both sides of this sad coin. But hopefully the above might add another small layer to the tapestry of your tale. What is happening there is incredibly sad, no matter which side of the fence you sit. Hopefully, in a land soaked an a bloody history, a little forgetfulness and peace might somehow find a way. Sorry for the long, rambling post - but congratulations again on a wonderful blog. It's a pleasure to read, and I'm looking forward to reading more. Thanks! Cheers, Notleonardo.
5th March 2010

Hi Notleonardo
Thanks for the message. It was great to hear it wasnt just me who had problems with the taxis there. I guess since you payed them you got a great experience but unfortunately I have little patience for people trying to rip me off so I just went it alone and perhaps didn't have as fulfilling experience as I could have. Although the taxi driver I did end up was nice and seemed keen to show me everything. Glad you enjoyed my blog. Sorry no more planned anytime soon.

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