Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Roadtrip in Israel

For our remaining days in Israel, we decided to drive around and explore the country. Driving out of Jerusalem was a lot easier than driving in Jordan as most people actually stay within the lines and respect the road rules. We drove toward Tel-Aviv, and went north to reach Akko. Akko has a old fortified city and a citadel. We wanted to visit the citadel, but unfortunately, because of a theater festival, the citadel was not available for regular tourists. We walked for a few minutes in the old city, and in the market but we didn't feel like being stuck in people so we decided to get out of the old city and have a look at the Mediterranean Sea from the Israeli side.We enjoyed the view and the wind before getting back into our rental Smart and driving East.

Because we were early, we went to the viewpoints mentioned in the Lonely Planet. We drove along the Syrian border to Majdal Shams, but couldn't see the viewpoint. The views were pretty good anyway and we got up to Mt. Hermon, were the road was blocked by a gate so we stopped and took a few pictures. The Golan Heights region is scenic with nice valleys and some orchards and wineries. During our stay in Katzrin, we stayed at Golan Garden, a brand-new hostel run by really friendly owners Milou and Alon.

On our second day discovering Israel, we went for a hike in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve. We followed the upper Zavitan trail from the hostel to the waterfalls. It was a good three-our walk. We saw some natural pools and a nice waterfall. After our morning walk, we came back to the hostel to shower and relax, before getting back in the car to have a look at Mt Bental lookout (an Israeli bunker turned tourist attraction) We tried to go in the bunker, but it was too dark to be able to see where we were going. 

On our last day of discovery, we drove toward the Dead Sea. On our way we stopped to a nice viewpoint over the Sea of Galilee. Alon from the hostel had mentioned another nice viewpoint where we could see three countries; Israel, Jordan and Syria. We had GPS coordinates so we though this was going to be easy to find. It was not.

We followed the small road,which looked like a farmer's private road all the way to a United Nation building. We turned around and kept going on the road, thinking we were going to see the viewpoint. As soon as we started going downhill, we were driving along the Syria, Jordan borders... lined with very tall barbed-wire fences. We kept driving, but soon there was a closed gate. So we turned around. On the other side of the electrified barbed-wire fence, the view seemed really amazing, over the mountains of Jordan and Syria, but we didn't feel it was the kind of place to stop and snap pictures. We were just worried somebody was going to stop us and ask us what the hell we were doing on the border line, in a rented Smart...

We kept driving to the Dead Sea, entered Palestine, no question asked, and followed the groups of slow driving tourists. The Dead Sea is nice on the Israeli side as well, the turquoise water and the Jordanian mountain makeup for a good scenery. But again there are some barbed-wire fences so no great photo opportunities while driving. 

We arrived in Masada early in the afternoon. Masada was a fortress, a palace and a rebel stronghold perched atop a mountain. It has a pretty surprising history giving that it is not easily reachable and located in less than human friendly setting. After spending a about an hour at the top, exploring the ruins, and enjoying the view of the Dead Sea and sand dunes, we came back down the 700 steps and drove some more. We stayed in Arad for the night and the next morning we brought the car back to Jerusalem.

The next day was already time to leave Israel and go back to Jordan in order to catch our fight. We left the hostel at 7:30, walked to the bus station and arrived just in time as the minibus was almost ready to leave. We passed a few checkpoints on the way to Allenby bridge. When we arrived to the passport control, we put our bags on a trolley and walked in the building. The way out of Israel was a lot faster and easier than coming in. They looked at our passports and our visa cards and sent us to the next counter. After getting our exit stamps and paying the exit fees, we walked out and waited for the tourist bus to arrive and take us to the other side. The Jordanian side was as hectic as coming in. The officer gathered everybody's passport, and went out of the bus. The guy selling tickets for the bus than got on and collected money. As soon as we paid, we were allowed outside and went to wait in front of the three officers for them to call out our names and give us our passports back. We walked outside and were assaulted by taxi drivers, and finally made our way back to Amman where we spent the remaining of the day doing what we loved most in Jordan: eating, walking around, and trying to find something to spent our last  dinars on.

Mediterranean Sea from Akko, Israel 
Soldier crossing the street
Welcome to Golan Heights
Small town in northern Israel
Go in peace
Viewpoint of the Syrian - Israeli border
Border fence
Mt. Bental bunker viewpoint
Mt Bental lookout
Direction sign at Mt. Bental
Inside the bunker 
One of the pools in Yehudiya Nature Reserve
Zavitan Waterfall
Sea of Galilee
Carved stone head
Dead Sea from the Israeli side
Masada ruins
View from Masada
Masada, Israel

Monday, 30 September 2013

Jerusalem, Israel

While we were in Jordan, we decided a visit to the neighboring country, Israel, was a must. Jerusalem is really old and rich in history. Because of Sukkot, a Jewish holiday, we had to book everything in advance as most places were full. We never heard of Sukkot before but we lived it for a few days. It is probably celebrated everywhere in the world where there are Jews but Jerusalem was obviously the best place to be to feel the emotional charge in the air as thousand of people were gathered to pray. This historic city is considered one of the holiest city in the world by three of the most popular religions; Islam, Judaism and Christianity. It is quite amazing to see how all of these coexist within the same walls. The old city actually has 4 quarters; Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian.

We highly recommend the free walking tour offered every day as our guide was extremely knowledgeable. We joined our group close to Jaffa gate at 9:30 AM. It was a two-hour walking tour of the different quarters of the Old City. He made us go through 4000 years of history in that short period of time, this was a lot of very interesting information. In addition to a walk through the four quarters, we saw some roman ruins of what was the main road and market place. We saw the Western Wall. and we walked by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified and buried. Actually, the whole tour was slightly different because we were not allowed to go to all the sites thanks to military road blocks related to the holiday. After our tour, we explored outside the walls for a few hours. We walked to the Mount of Olive, where we saw the "Grotta", the place where Jesus was betrayed, and also the tomb of Marie right next to it.

Walking through all the small pedestrian cobblestone streets of the old city was a delight with all the different smells and atmosphere of the four quarters. We enjoyed Jerusalem very much and we think it is a must. The city outside of the walls also have a lot to offer from restaurants to shopping as ethnic and cultural variety makes it a place for everybody to enjoy and find what they are looking for.

The wall outside Jaffa Gate
Damascus Gate
Friendly military cadet
Military road block
Western Wall
Rooftop view of the old city
Roman ruins of the old market street

Spice market
Inside the Church of All Nations
Dome of the Rock
Western Wall
One of the largest Jewish cemetery in the world
Outside the wall
Olive trees of Gethsemane
Tomb of the Virgin Mary