Israel! The Holy Land Crusade….
Well, I was bored in the UK, and Shir had wetted my appetite for a trip to the Holy Land, so on 28th March I flew from Manchester airport to Tel Aviv!
After getting the 3rd degree from the immigration police, I was met in the airport by Shir and Eli (her partner) a quick ride into Tel Aviv proper in Eli’s works Hilux (its the same the whole world over!) and we arrived at their apartment in Givatayim.
For the first 4 days I spent my time wandering the streets of Tel Aviv and nearby Jaffa, chillin and checking the coffee shops. Of course there was also time for Falafel, Shawarma, Lafa, Shabish, Schnitzel, beer and playing pool
Tel Aviv is a typical Mediterranean city with plenty of high rise and a bit of history – and great beaches. Jaffa is the city joining it which has much more history in the buildings and coastline. It also has a great flea market – the way flea markets SHOULD be!
The only issue is the cost of everything! ….very expensive for food and drink (including coffee)
On the Shabbat before I left TA, we had Jachnoon (jachnun?) rolled bread with green and red chilli dip and brown eggs (eggs, still in the shell cooked for a loooong time, till they go brown inside) VERY nice! (so good I had them again on 2 more Shabbats)
then I rented a car from Hagar …was supposed to be a little Getz, but it wasn’t ready …so they asked me if I wanted a Lancer instead! …errrrrr…. difficult one, that
Off I went: I went East past the top of Jerusalem and then down the side of the Dead Sea, stopping at Qumran to see a little of the caves (theres not much to see there, truth be known) then down to En Gedi, where I slept in a sleeping bag at the beach. A good nights sleep ended at 6:30 when I jumped out of ‘bed’ and into the dead sea ..how odd! ..you float so high, its really difficult to swim or even move properly! …and dont go in if you have any cuts…or BLISTERS! …they HURT!
Once dried, I was of in the car heading South ….stopping at Massada -the ancient temple and fort where you can see the Roman seige machine (camps and an enormous ramp up against the side of the ‘mountain’) I climbed the mountain (OK, I walked up) and was completely knackered by the time I got to the top. But it was worth it – fabulous place with history oozing at you.
I got the cable car back down again, when I was finished
to finish the day I headed further south to Neve Zohar, where I arranged a room for the night.
Next day and up early again, heading north this time past the sea to Jericho. Jericho is Arab controlled and feels very different to the places Ive seen tat are Israeli controlled: its very run down and doesnt have a good fell to it at all. I stopped at Hishams palace. A nice place but again very obviously in need of money – there was pottery literally underfoot as I walked around. Some lovely parts though with the circular stone window and the Tree of Life mosaic floor.
On leaving Jericho, I drove straight into Jerusalem and miraculously (as I didnt have a map) drove right up to the old city at Jaffa Gate and got parked there! …I must only have been about 400m from the Citadel hostel I was booked into, and only 100m from the pedestrianised area!
The hostel is build in almost a cave like fashion, with little nooks and crannys -I was supposed to be staying on the roof, but it was raining so I had to make do with a dorm bed.
The old city of Jerusalem is incredible: very narrow streets filled with street sellers selling ..well, anything! And of course fast food outlets and coffee shops. But of course what I’d really come to see was the history and religion…I got that in spades when I happened upon the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the church built on the site where Jesus was crucified and buried. Without any qetion this is the most atmospheric place Ive ever been to. I stood for ages inside wandering around and just trying to take in the fact that this was the most holy place in the Christian Religion.
Afterthat walking around is a whirlwind of history and religion: the Western Wall (foundation of the mount or even the actual Solomons temple) the most holy place for the Jewish religion and of course the Dome of the Mount and the mosque which are 3rd most holy place in the Moslem religion! For me, all that AND the fact that these were te walls that 1000 years ago our armies came to ‘protect’ in the Crusades was VERY ……I dunno …….humbling, I guess.
After 4 days in Jerusalem I had eaten and spent my fill, seen all the sights and spent a long time in and in the courtyard of the CothS. It was time to leave and head North.
Unfortunately I had decided to take the Road 60 north – thru the West Bank (arab controlled) this went well, until I reached one of the many checkpoints in Israel – the soldier suggested I couldnt go thru and must head to Tel Aviv! ….I turned around and ten headed back on a little side road, effectively bypassing the checkpoint. However when I got to a town, no-one seemed to know where Road 60 was! I took a road that seemed right and headed on. Before long I wasnt really sure where Iwas and no-one else seemd to know either ! ..bizarre! ..eventually an old fella told me I wa son the road to Afula – which was fine …..and could he have alift….so I gave him the lift ad he immediately started asking for money for his 7 children…..he didnt get any I dropped him off at his destination and carried on thru arab villages until I got to a MAJOR checkpoint. They seemed bewildered that I had got there and proceeded to turn my bags inside out and give my car a full checkout too …all with Uzzis and M16′s pointed in my general direction! Nice!
Despite the fact I had 3 torches which they weren’t happy with, they eventually let me thru and I instantly saw a roadsign showing I HAD been on Road 60 all the time!
Before long I arrived at Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee…..but as its very touristy, I carried on to a place called Magdal (home of Mary MAGDALene?) where I had the most enormous lunch which just kept on coming! …I only managed to eat about half of it before giving up! Then I headed around the sea/lake passing the mount of Beatitudes, until I found a disused camp site on the shore side. I sat for a while taking it all in, and then had a little swim before settling down for the night …on a concrete picnic table …and a good nights sleep it was too!
I left early in the morning and headed further around the lake passing Ein Gev and back to Tiberius again, where I breakfasted on coffee and croissants. Although the lake/sea is a nice place, its very green and I much prefer desert environments nowadays, so I headed off to Akko/Acre on the shore of the Med.
Again a fantastic place with so much history (it was the Crusader capital in the 12 century) and still has a remarkably well kept Crusader hall (which I managed to get in to for free ) there are fab sea wall defences and the ruins of the Crusader fort too. I had to stay in a nice hotel here which was a bit expensive, but I’d slept rough for a while so I figured I deserved it.
Back in the car again and South on the Coast road to Caesarea: An ancient city designed and built by Herod to find favour with Emperor Caesar (hence the name, tha knows) there are still remnants of the original port, the Hippodrome, theatre and palace. The archaeology is amazing – pertickly for me seeing a section thru the ground absolutely filled with pottery showing the styles thru the ages (Roman, Christian, Muslim and Crusader). Everywhere you walk, you’re treading on pottery sherds. Just outside the port city, I met an Israeli guy (Elad) who was starting the Israeli trail (a walk which covers the length of the country) we sat on the beach at one end of the roman aquaduct and sewer system. He made a coffee for us and we shared an apple ‘tart’ thingee. Then Elad continued on his way, whilst I built a small wall of roman blocks and various pottery pieces, laid my sleeping bag behind it and after watching eh sun sink, I fell asleep on the roman beach.
Next day I walked along a length of the full height aquaduct which stretches along the beach – but didnt get any photos as my camera failed on me!
Back on the road and heading slightly north to an ancient harbour – according to the map. There wasnt much to see (very little archaeology digging done so far) and there’s nowhere to stay as the builders and decorators seem to be patching all the lodges, hotels and campsites. I passed a turtle carcass on teh beach and then headed south and back into Tel Aviv, for a surprise visit with Shir.
After a chat and coffee (as usual) I headed south into the Negev.
I stopped at a small lake nr the town of Yeruham for the afternoon. Feasted on dry crackers and apples – with a bit of hummus too. then walked around the area to see what it offered: some rolling rocky ridges, gave way to a dammed lake. I walked off track and found a porcupine den in a shallow cave, which was nice. back to the car and after taking a few photos inbetween the masses of plastic bottles, plates, bags and other trash, I snuggled up in the car to sleep -not a great sleep either as I was obviously close to an air force base judging by the low level planes and helicopters buzzing around all night.
Early start, before the sun rose and I reached the rim of the Large crater – not actually a meteorite crater, but the result of a form of erosion. This is actually the mid sized crater of 3 in this area of the Negev desert. I got some nice sunrise photos and saw my first wild camel walking along the side of the road here.
From here I drove to Mitzpe Ramon, which is the town overlooking the largest crater. Theres a viewpoint here called Camel viewpoint with amazing views over the crater from a point on the very edge. I also got to see various Air Force fighters buzzing thru and around.I continued down into the crater and across the other side, before stopping to walk to a geological point of interest…..which I never found! ..I walked for 2 hours and decided that I should turn back before the sun got too high and I dehydrated (I hadn’t taken any water with me, thinking it was just a short walk!) As my camera still wasnt playing (it was locking the memory cards) I drove all the way down to Eilat to find a camera shop.
Eilat was terrible! …an Israel Blackpool basically with masses of people around. The first camera shop I tried had very surly staff, who were pertickly unhelpful, so I left and popped into an ‘electronics’ shop, where I found the owner was a glaswegian!!! …really nice guy and his chum, who sorted my cards out on their laptop. They also gave me some pointers on where to stay in Eilat – but really, I’d seen enough…even the beaches are in an industrial area with cranes and dockyards etc. I stopped at a small beach almost on the Jordainian border, where I sat for a while, had a swim in the Red sea, then jumped back in the car and headed north, up to the Timna park.
The nice lady at the gate told me I could stay overnight in a large shared tent in the visitors area. So I headed in, walked around the Spiral rock and across to the egyptian carvings and rock paintings before taking more photos at Solomons Pillars. I managed to get basically a full tent to myself that night to which was a bonus! Next morning and I went ofr a long walk thru the rocks and valleys in the park, before heading out and north again to Mitzpe Ramon. Passing a gazillion MkIV Merkava tanks ‘playing war games’ in the sand at the side of the road. In Mitzpe Ramon, I stopped at a coffee shop where the fella gave me some pointers on where to stay. I picked the Ramon hotel and got a lush room with brekkie etc. …it was quite expensive but again I’d slept semi-rough for a couple of nights so thought I’d treat myself.
the rest of the day was pretty chilled: Dropped my laundry off at an industrial unit – no reflection on the state of my laundry! – then just walking along the edge of the Great Crater and watching IDF F16′s flying thru. The evening was spent at a local bar/restaurant drinking beer and eating most – but not all- of a huge plate of chips.
Lovely brekkie the next morning (at the second attempt: it didnt open till 8 and I got there at 7!) and then I drove North to the Avdat city ruins: this place was a major trading place eons ago and consists of cave dwellings, temple, palace and roman fortifications. very interesting, though again, this place was being ‘repaired’ so as it seems with lots of Israel, its not as original as you might expect.As I walked around, F16′s flew over and a number of Apache AH64 choppers flew across. I left in the car following 3 IDF Hummers (theres a whole lot of military stuff going on in this area!)
Next stop was a little further north at the En Avdat waterfall and ‘canyon’. Lots of Ibex around…and lots of children again too (must be school holidays or summat) Its only a short walk from teh carpark to the waterfall, but very scenic. I met an Israeli fella and his missus …and chatted about dog food, politics and life in general under the searing midday sun.
Back to Mitzpe and pay 35NIS for my laundry (which was done really nicely, thanks ladies) I had a bit of a nap, and then drove down into the Crater, left the car and walked into the landscape. I walked to a little basalt tower on a small mound. parked my butt and sat there for a couple of hours, watching the desert…..well….not do a lot really! As the sun sank, I returned to the car, and drove to the ‘sculpture park’ to take some photos.
I checked out of the hotel the next day and rove north again to Yeruham to get a WIFI signal and check my emails. The continued on thru the Large crater to the Small crater. I walked to the edge of this and sat for a while, then ran down to a prominent formation of rocks and took some more photos and built a little cairn. Very hot today, so I returned to the car as the time hit midday. I drove down the Scorpion Descent to leave the area: a great road used during the Israeli Anglo war (troubles?)
Next I stopped, parked up and walked a few k’s to the Zin water holes …..was a canny walk thru wadi’s and into tall grass and reed ‘oasis’ areas …but there were gazillions of mozzies, so after a brief rest, I got out of there chop chop! I decided to head back to Ein Gedi on the Dead sea, so drove East to the Tamar ruins, where I had a 5 minute stopover for a snack, then drove past Mount Sodom and continued into Ein Zohar, where I tried to get lodging for the night – but failed -despite the help of a lovely old woman who sat me down in her house while she rang everyone she knew who had tourist accommodation ..they were all full though, so after a drink of water, I continued up to Ein Gedi, bought a mud coffee at the ‘stand’ and then bivvied down on the edge of the sea again.
An early morning cappuccino and then a walk into the Ein Gedi oasis itself. got a nice shot of an Ibex on a rock and then some dassies, before walking to the David Waterfall, which was very nice. Then up to the source of the oasis spring, which was a great walk with fabulous views of the oasis and the dead sea. I returned to the visitor centre and ate a Magnum (mmmmmm Magnum) before returning to the sea and chilling for a while. Then a walk along the sea edge to find the ‘hot tubs’ that a few people told me about. I thought Id found them – but they were only smelly hot tubs full of sulfurous water….got some nice photos and was gonna bivvie here until 2 local Rangers passed by (cute chicks actually!) and advised tha bivvying was illegal there. So I upped sticks and walked with them back to the hostel as the sun set. I walked back to my little spot at the side of the Dead sea and slept soundly…again.
After an early morning cappuccino, I drove to Wadi Keld and after turning down a ride on a donkey (do I look like Jesus) and borrowing a pair of over-trousers to cover my shorts, I entered the Greek monastery built into the hillside. Very atmospheric place, so I hung around for a while, just chillin, before getting back to the car and driving into Jerusalem again…bit unnerving on the way into the city as it was the Sabbath and also Passover, so there were absolutely NO cars on the roads! ..very odd feeling! I drove intot he centre, and parked up on a street, before walking quite a way to reach the Israel Museum …I approached it from the back and almost turned around thinking it would be closed as there were no signs of life around, however as I passed near the front a couple of coaches headed into it …so I did too! …fortunately I just followed the peeps getting off the bus and walked with them in to the ‘free’ museum – only realising as I left the museum that I walked thru the ‘prepaid’ tour entrance and bypassed paying the entrance fee!! YIPPEE!!
The museum was incredible. First thing I saw was a scale model of Jerusalem from biblical days, which was very interesting. Then I went into the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit – which I’d wanted to see for a long time. Shame was most of the scrolls on display are copies still, great to se so much history there. The rest of the museum is organised into large halls of artifacts – from EVERY possible religion and civilisation stage. Excellent musem, well worth a visit! I grabbed a cappuccino outside then headed back to the car and searching for a cheap hotel …CHEAP hotel …..like maybe the YMCA, you might think? ..well, the Jerusalem ’3 Arches’ YMCA is a fabulous building on King Davids Road ..but it costs £98 per night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! so I didnt stay there.
Instead I found a little hotel called “A little house in Rechavia” which was a bit cheaper and was a nice enough room. I had a long walk around the area that evening – trying to find somewhere to eat, but again, it was the Sabbath, so nothing was open …until eventually I found a Macdonalds (no way!) and then a little mini market across the road, where I bought crisps, apples and crispbread.
At breakfast next morning I met an american family that were touring around a little – they were from New Jersey and very nice too (Jackie (the mum) had a great ‘New York’ accent)
I left Jerusalem and headed West reaching Modine, where I chilled by walking around the olive groves for a few hours…taking a few pics and checking out the local flora. By the end of the walk I felt quite knackered …not sure why but not a lot of energy today. I continued on driving to the Ben Guiron airport just outside Tel Aviv where I bought some pistachios and milk, then sat on a nice green area to gorge on them…very pleasant!
Then it was back to Eli and Shir’s apartment. After dropping my gear off, I walked to the mall, drank cappuccino and bought some beers. Headed back toe the apartment and watched tv, ate a Sabikh (pitta with eggplant, veg, mayo and humus) before dozing off.
Next morning I had to get the car washed (queued for almost 2 hours!!!) and then said goodbye to my Lancer. When I paid the bill, I got the car even cheaper! ….costing the equivalent of £19.70 per day!! LUSH! I then walked to the Elite Tower (highest in Israel) and had cappuccino and chocolate croissants. Then I had a long walk thru the Yarkon Park, which is a really nice, large park in central(ish)) tel Aviv.