After an incredibly early start to catch the plane to Tel Aviv, Israel, on arrival we were rightfully exhausted. Due to our room not yet being ready we decided to browse the Carmel market in Old Jaffa which was just a short walk away from our hostel (Overstay). In these markets you are greeted by different smells of spices, falafel and second-hand bits and bobs. We found this market to be like many we had visited in Morocco in the sense that they fail to put the prices on many items’, so you struggle to work out if you’re getting a good deal or not. (While also attempting to understand the currency) We decided that, after being up for so long already, to grab some food and then head back to the hostel. We had asked the owner of our hostel for a good place to eat in the old city and we ended up in Dr. Shakshuka. The food here was amazing. I ordered a falafel plate portion – this came with all the different types of salad on offer as well as pitta bread and hummus. The woman working here was also lovely and seemed truly pleased to have us eating there as she kept attempting to bring over more and more food. For my meal and drink and Alex’s meal and drink It came to 120 Nils which is around £26, so we decided that this would be our mark when It came to eating dinner as it would hopefully mean we didn’t go too far over our budget.
The rest of this day was spent sleeping as we would start our 4 day trip the following day.
Waking up again bright and early we headed to Abraham hostels within Tel Aviv to catch our shuttle bus to Nazareth which would be our home for the next 3 nights as we would venture out on trips from the Abraham hostel there. On this shuttle we met more the people we would be sharing this tour with, so we got an opportunity to talk on the 3-hour bus ride. The rest of the day, once we had arrived, was free for us so once again our minds turned to food and what we could have for a cheap price around here. We decided on a fast food kebab type food called *** which was really tasty and very cheap as well. Once our savoury stomachs were full we headed down to a sweet shop to try ***. This sweet treat consists of cheese topped with honey and pistachio bits. Me and Alex shared one of these and liked to but only to a certain extent … I wouldn’t be ordering it again I didn’t think. However, many people in our group really liked it so I think it is probably a required taste. But we decided to stick to the Baklava instead.
With our belly’s full we went on to visit the sights (mostly churches) around, such as the domed Basilica of the Annunciation St Joseph's church.
After this we decided to head up to see a panoramic view of Nazareth. This walk consisted of 300 steps, a lot of sweat and continual annoyance and laughter at the view that was actually at the top. After we had passed the many cats (pointed out by Alex) and the chickens in the trees we finally reached the top and to our disappointment we were met with the view of one very tall house in front of us. However, we would not be defeated!! We walked further along until we reached an opening that provided a better view, but I still struggle to believe that it was ‘the’ view. The way down obviously went a lot quicker than the way up and we were soon back at the hostel door. A couple of us decided to continue down to see the Christmas tree and lights. We reached the tree that was yet to be turned on, so we waited in a nearby café with a mulled wine. (can’t really get anymore Christmassy than that)
That evening we decided on joining in with the “power half hour” where beers were only 5 Nils which is equivalent to around £1.50. So of course, we had to buy 6 each and soon enough we were all fairly tipsy and decided we needed a night time snack. We ordered the pizza from the hostel however, this turned up with parts of it still cold, so we walked to find something else. The other guys ended up with another kebab- but I decided to just stick to the water and head to bed. This journey turned out to not be pointless either as Alex found his new favourite vegetable – spicy, pickled cauliflower pieces. (but I can’t say that I am a fan)
Day Three: The actual first full day on the tour:
Another early morning came around today – with us having to be out of the hostel by 7am. The morning proved to be incredibly foggy, with the fog providing a heavy layer over all the landscape we passed.
But this didn’t stop our full day excursion to the sea of Galilee, Golan heights and a winery.
Our first stop was at the sea of Galilee which we were actually told is in fact a lake. The place where we looked upon the sea of Galilee was a place called the town of Jesus, Capharnaum. This had parts of houses and monuments uncovered from the dirt to show the outline of the town. Also being host to a place to pray, here as a diamond like church stood in between the ruins and the sea.
Following on from this we were transported to the Golan heights (Gallo hill). This looked out over Syria and showed exactly how close it actually is to Israel, only 65km away. The hill to which we stood on was still considered a part of Syria to many and is only really recognised as Israel by the Americans. On our walk up and down this hill we saw over many fields to which one had a army tank planted in it, pointing in the direction of Syria. We all found this pretty shocking as I personally had never seen a working tank close up before. Also home to the Israeli bunker, however, like most old bunkers and underground tunnels … it smelt like urine and sounded more exciting than it was.
This was followed by a trip to see some springs and waterfalls. This place was called Banias Falls and is set between Banias nature reserve in the Golan, with it showcasing the biggest waterfall in Israel. This was truly beautiful with the sounds of the crashing water against the rocks below drowning out any other outside noise.
After all this sight-seeing we were definitely in need of refreshments and what better way to be refreshed than wine. The winery was called ‘Bahat Winery’ and during this tasting we were given a tour of the small but efficient production line. We tried 3 different wines and 3 different liquors. The wines were red, brown and blue labelled and the liquors were lemon, cherry and chocolate.
Our next stop was to where Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the multitude, feeding 4000 people. This is said to have taken place in Tabgha where there is a lovely court yard which actually caught our attention meaning we didn’t enter the church. This is also mostly because Alex found a kitten and refused to put it down until we were forced to leave by the timed schedule of the tour.
That evening we experienced a traditional cooking workshop held in out hostel in Nazareth. Together we cooked an Israeli household meal, this basically considered of a rice substitute and chicken with an onion and parsley salad. Although quite basic it was pretty good as it contained many different spices and seasonings.
Another early start this morning but rising a little later than the previous day as we had to be on the coach by 7:45. Our first stop was to a panoramic look out over Nazareth, however, we are still looking for a good one as they all seem to have some sort of obstruction in the way. But many of the views we saw later on within the day made up for this. Today we would visit Haifa, Acre and Rosh Hanikra.
Haifa considered of a large temple called the Bahai temple which was surrounded by the Bahia gardens which were all perfectly aligned giving a very symmetrical outlook as you drove up towards it. Once inside the gardens it offered the same perfectly constructed outlook and inside the temple was also beautifully laid out.
We continued on to an olive press which was run by a family who made bottles of olive oil, some infused with different flavours, and shipped them to shops and restaurants that, they said, looked for value. We were showed how the olive oil is made and even given some samples with a bit of bread. (In our opinion this was better than the wine tasting and I would highly recommend this activity)
Our next stop would be Acre which we would spend the majority part of our day looking around the town and markets as well as having a much-needed lunch. This city is a port city and offers preserved city walls as well as tunnels leading under the town. There was a lot to see here such as a knight’s quarters and the markets selling everything from toy cats to Turkish delight. However, with only a couple hours we had to be quick with what we wanted to see and where we wanted to go while also having lunch there, I would really recommend spending a day and night here to truly embrace what the city has to offer.
When moving on all too quickly we headed to Rosh Hanikra, this was a largely anticipated visit as we had heard about it within the group and couldn’t wait to view it for ourselves. This consisted of Grottoes, with the sea meeting the cliff side and flowing in and out of the grottoes to which you can walk around admiring the cave outlines and eroded sides. After watching a light and sound show within one of the caves we rode the cable car back up and noticed the boarded gates to Syria. Although a very quiet and probably rarely used boarder it was interesting to see the boarder that the day before we had still been a few km away from.
That evening we all had an early night as the previous days and nights had taken its effect and we would be travelling back to Tel Aviv tomorrow.
We weren’t due to travel back to Tel Aviv till around 2pm so we decided to have a little bit of a lie in and then head out for a crepe at a nearby café. We also picked up a few gifts to take home with us and then headed back to the hostel to collect our bags and board the coach. The coach took around 3 hours, so the rest of this day was pretty much written off, we decided to walk to our new hostel and then grab some dinner.
The hostel that we moved into was called ‘Rogers house’, here we were given a two-person caravan to sleep in for the next 2/3 nights. This was a really cool idea to begin with, however, we soon realised getting in and out of the bed would be a struggle as it was lifted off the ground and barley had any space between the roof and the mattress. Still, we made it work.
We had organised with one of the people we met on the tour a trip to Jerusalem for this day which meant another early start. Today was a Friday however, and this marks the start of the Shabbat which means that the Jewish quarters, markets and parts of town would start closing around 3/4, this also included the public transport shutting down early. However, we decided it would be better to go today rather that Saturday as mostly everything would be closed on Saturday.
We caught the bus from a bus station in Tel Aviv all the way, without stops, to Jerusalem. This wasn’t too expensive and proved the best way to travel there. Once we arrived we took the around 20 min walk to the old city. We did stop on the way at ‘Ben Sira’ for the best hummus we had ever had. (portion sizes were decently sized as well, making it all worth the money) When we arrived at the old town, we must have looked a bit lost, as a tour guide approached us telling us about the city and enquiring if we wanted to hire his services. After a little discussion we decided we would hire him as we knew little of the knowledge needed to make this trip worthwhile and this would help aid our trip. We paid for an hour and a half tour – as this was the cheapest option. This included two out of the four quarters, the Jewish and the Armenian quarter, ending at the western wall better known as the wailing wall. The tour was informative, and we were able to see a lot of the aspects we probably would have missed.
At the end of the tour we were left at the wailing wall to continue as we pleased. The women and the men are separated at the wall so I went in alone.
As you walk up to the wall with chairs in rows facing it, with people praying and others just watching it is very emotional. You can feel the energy from all the people who have put their hopes and wishes within the cracks of this wall and I felt honoured to be able to stand there. This is by far one of the most important monuments that every one should visit if given the chance.
For the last couple of hours we went into some cave like tunnels that were hidden away, however, they offered a different look at Jerusalem away from the tourist’s eye. We also continued on to the Christian and Muslim quarters, however, our trip was cut short by the need to get back to Tel Aviv.
We ended up having to pay a higher fee of 35 Nils for a shuttle bus as the regular buses were no longer ongoing due to the hours of the Shabbat.
Once back we attended a Shabbat meal at Abraham hostel, this was a really informative experience as they proceeded with the prayer and the blessing of the bread and the wine. It also gave us a chance to eat with a lot of different people we would have otherwise not have spoken to. If you get the chance while in Israel to experience one of these days the western wall does a free Shabbat meal every Friday.
Today was our final full day and we spent it admiring Tel Aviv and the Jaffa port/ town. The old town’s little streets are historical and beautiful to wind your way through as well as there being a port with a market and restaurants, so you can enjoy the view of the sea next to the skyline of the rest of Tel Aviv.
That evening we watched the sunset and had a pretty relaxing evening ready to set off early back to Athens the next day.
Written and edited by Elly Babe (@elly_babexxx)
We are three Brighton University students who have been given the opportunity to study at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. This blog will be our way of sharing our experiences of living and studying in Greece, plus will include tips and advice for those also looking to study abroad or even just visit Athens.
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