Archiv der Kategorie: Israel

Israel & Palestine – Summary & Pictures

People: Other travellers were a colourful mix of deeply religious people, volunteers, students and other backpackers (not as many as expected). I did not always meet cool people to hang out with, so spent a lot of time by myself in Israel (which I’m totally fine with nowadays – my company is awesome! Lol). The locals I met every day in Israel were rather distant. Polite, but not openly welcoming, and often a bit impatient. The constant presence of security personnel is a bit unnerving if you’re not used to it too. In Palestine, people were sooo happy to see me, a tourist, visiting their cities. I heard „welcome to Palestine“ everywhere, was offered dates and bread to taste and people wanted me to take pictures of them. That being said, I do have some good friends in Israel, who were hosting me just as openly. Maybe it takes some more time for people from Israel to open up, but once you’re their friend, they will be very warm and helpful…? At least that would be my experience.

Food: I did not eat out a lot during my 2,5 weeks in Israel and Palestine due to high prices. I did have lots of hummus and falafel though, and not to forget the delicious knafeh in Nablus! Also, when I did eat out, it was usually very good quality and very nice (worth the price). There are international restaurants in all bigger cities, so I ended up having really nice Thai food in Haifa for example. As in Israeli cuisine, I enjoyed shakshuka a lot, had the best hummus of my life in Akko, the best falafel of my life in Haifa and the very damn best knafeh in Nablus (someone take me back pleaaase!).

Weather: I was very lucky with the weather. While it can usually still be a bit rainy in March, I only had 2 cooler, grey-ish days with still much better weather than snowy Europe at the same time. Mostly it was sunny and often hot, hot, hot! Wonder how it is in July…

Costs: I went to Israel on a mission to prove everyone wrong – that it is possible to travel Israel on a budget. And it is! At 41€/day I managed to stay well below my 60€/day target. This was mostly done through Couchsurfing for 7 days, staying in the cheapest available dorms on the other days, and cooking a lot for myself instead of eating out. I did not save on sightseeing and the like!

Accommodation: On average, dorm beds would cost around 20€/night with the exception of much-recommended Hebron Youth Hostel in Jerusalem. They were usually very nice, often included breakfast, but still… that much money for a dorm!?

Infrastructure: I used busses most of the time, the tram within Jerusalem and the train between Akko and Haifa. Often there was free WIFI which was nice, and generally the busses were comparable to busses at home (Austria). There are frequent delays though, especially in the North of Israel (Galilee area, Nazareth, Haifa), busses always took longer than expected, even when there were no significant traffic jams. Odd.

Illnesses: No cold for once! Happy days.

Safety: The old towns of Jerusalem and Nazareth can get a bit spooky after sunset, but I never felt unsafe. I did feel annoyed with all the security everywhere though at one point. Every day, I had to show my passport at least once, and the constant bag checks at every bus/train station, shopping center, major tourist site etc. were exhausting. I call Israel a military high-security state. I would not enjoy living like this.

Itinerary: I followed a bit of an odd-shaped circular route, seeing most major sights along the way. I felt quite rushed at times though and really had to push to manage and see everything that I wanted to see in my 2,5 weeks. Therefore, I would not recommend my itinerary to anyone with the same amount of time. Plan 3 weeks and you will enjoy it more. I would have especially liked some more time in Palestine, Golan Heights, Nazareth and Safed. I don’t have any travel regrets this time. I saw everything that was on „my list“ 🙂 Luckily, hence no reason to ever come back.

Highlight: Tricky, but I will go with Jerusalem although I did high-five myself when making it to Hexagon Pools!

Lowlight: My interrogation when leaving the country. As in places: Tiberias.

Click here to see all my pictures of Israel:

IMG_3810 (Kopie)

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Interrogation at Tel Aviv airport

I thought a long time about whether I wanted to write this post or not. But it IS part of my travels to Israel and does play a big role in how I view the country now in hindsight. I do not intend to scare off travellers who want to visit Israel – no. It is the most interesting country I have ever visited and I am still very glad I did, so please do go. I just want to describe what happened to me when I was on my way to leave Israel for Jordan, at Ben Gurion airport, as neutrally as possible.

I arrived at Ben Gurion airport about 4 h before my flight departure, however was only let through to the check-in counters 3 h before. In front of the actual check-in counters, there were little counters set up, with security personnel asking to see passports. I did not think this was the point at which I was going to be asked additional questions, since I was expecting this to happen later, at the actual immigration counters. Also, I did not expect it to take that long, since the line in front of me was moving rather quickly and everyone just seemed to be getting 3-4 questions whilst showing the passport. Guess I was wrong.

When it was my turn, I was informed that I would be interviewed by two women at the same time, the main one being in training and her supervisor jumping in frequently, discussing things with her in Hebrew in between and pushing her to go harder on me, to keep asking questions. At least that’s what it seemed like.

In the course of the next 1,5 hours, I was subject to interrogation and treatment like a criminal. I guess in Israel it must be the other way around – guilty until proven otherwise. First, they wanted to see all my next flight bookings until I would be back in Amsterdam – so there was no way to hide from them that I was going to Jordan and one of their biggest enemies, Lebanon. I guess this is why they decided to give me a particularly hard time. Sorry ladies, I’m just a backpacker trying to see it all – not my problem that Lebanon does not recognize the country of Israel! (I did not say that of course.) I was also asked to explain my 2,5 week itinerary through Israel and Palestine in each and every little detail. Where did I stay, how did I get to the hostel, what did I do in the city, what are the names of the touristic sights I went to, how did I travel onward, where is the bus station located, do I know anyone in this and that city, am I still in touch with anyone, did I receive any presents etc. They wanted to know the full names of my Couchsurfing hosts, who they lived with, which languages they spoke. Also they asked me about my living situation in the Netherlands, the full name of my boyfriend, my boyfriends father and where their family name originates from (WTF do I know!?). Then they went through my passport and asked me questions about each and every Muslim country I had ever been to. Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia. They were particularly unhappy about my visits to Turkey and Indonesia for some reason. Same questions – do I know anyone there, am I still in touch with someone, how long did I stay, with who did I go, who did I meet, what did I do every day etc. etc. It was crazy. Luckily I have a good memory when it comes to my travels, but it was a bit tricky remembering the exact year when I visited each country, I must say.

They kept asking repetitive questions, trying to „trick“ me into giving wrong answers in case I was lying. They insulted me when I did not remember the names of the places I wanted to visit in Lebanon. They told me they were worried I was either carrying a bomb on me or trying to hijack a plane. WTF. They flat out told me that. And then after 1,5 h of interrogation which I would consider mental abuse and some of the rudest behaviour I have ever experienced, they still gave me the 2nd highest security rating (number starting with 6).

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I was escorted to the check-in counter, where the security lady exchanged some words in Hebrew with the airline staff. Only when boarding I found out they asked them to change my front row aisle seat to the last row, middle seat! Guess that would have made it harder for me to hijack the plane if that had been my plan. Lol. I was then further escorted to a separate hand luggage check where another equally charming lady spent a further 1 h taking apart my small backpack and inspecting every little piece of paper in detail. I was commanded around, told where to sit, when to take off my shoes, when to put them on again etc. Then I was finally left to puzzle back together my backpack and waved through. Luckily I had been so early at the airport, so I walked to my gate just on time for boarding. Phheeww! Shaken from the experience, I then learned it was not over when discovering my seat had been changed. Who knows, maybe that Japanese tourist next to me was just a really good cover-up for an Israeli security personnel.

Alright, byeee Israel, that was it I guess! Until that day, I would have said I liked Israel and I would consider coming back. Now not so much. There are many, many countries in this world who are happy to see tourists, countries like Jordan or Lebanon where you will be greeted with a warm „welcome to Jordan/Lebanon“ wherever you go. This is where you will find me 🙂

Last stop: Mitzpe Ramon

After challening my brain to understand the Hebron situation, I felt like it was time to challenge my body again! Trekking time. I took a bus from Jerusalem to Beer Sheva and then onwards to Mitzpe Ramon where I stayed at Green Backpackers, a cozy hostel located directly at the crater rim, at the start of many trekking routes. Also, staff is very helpful and provides you with maps and explanations for all kind of treks in the area.

I spent 2 days trekking in the area: On the first day, I took a bus to the ruins of Avdat from where I started a 6h trek, ending at Midreshet Ben Gurion – at the grave of Ben Gurion. In the course of the 6h, I passed through various stunning desert landscapes: Deep canyons, oddly carved rocks and a little oasis with a waterfall. Also, the ruins in Avdat were cool to see and offered a nice view over the area. I was hiking by myself and really enjoyed the peace and quiet. I only met about 5 other people during the whole time. Some might claim that’s a bit unsafe to go that far just by myself – but the trails were not too difficult and mostly easy to spot so I didn’t feel worried. Sometimes it’s also good to take a break from it all and just enjoy by yourself! Especially after some intense travelling days…

On the second day, I again set out by myself – this time mainly because people in my hostel seemed lazy and were only going to start trekking at around 9 or 10am which I consider too late in the desert. The best light for photos is in the morning (and evening), and also it gets soaring hot during the day! This time, I started right behind the hostel, walking down into the Makhtesh Ramon crater, traversing it, climbing the mountain Ramon’s Tooth (amazing 360 degree views!!), and hitchhiking back into town with a Dutch couple. The trek took about 5h this time and was beautiful once again. I did prefer my first day and consider the Avdat-Ein Avdat-Midreshet Ben Gurion trek one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done!

I always had this idea of going to Mitzpe Ramon when I initially thought about visiting Israel years ago. I’m glad it worked out and did not disappoint! A good way to finish my time in Israel, or so I thought… cause what awaited be at Tel Aviv airport on my day of departure, I never would have guessed (tbc)!