Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jaffa, and Tel Aviv life

So I know that I'm way over due for a post, so I'm gonna first recap my past 3 weeks and then make a separate post about my epic weekend.

First of all, I really really like Israel.  It's a pretty cool place and I feel way more comfortable here than ever imagined.  Tel Aviv is an awesome big city, not religious at all.  Everyone is young and it's super vibrant.  Even on weekdays all restaurants are open til at least midnight and bars are always packed.  It seems like people don't work at all.  Work days here are more like 10-8 than 8-6, no one in my office arrives before 9am.  Sometimes people come in closer to 11 or noon.  Definitely my kinda style.  Weather is nice. The city is right on the beach and the food is great as well. All in all I am enjoying myself a lot here and could definitely live here permanently.  Though I've realized through my travels and moves that I can be happy anywhere and deal with any kinda weather, I mean I did live in Ithaca for 4 years and loved it.

So recap of my travels thus far....

So my first weekend here I went to Jaffa on Friday, ate falafel accompanies with 20 salads at an arab restaurant, walked around Old Jaffa and the port, then walked back to my hotel along the beach promenade and just chilled out on the beach.  All in all a relaxing day.  Jaffa is pretty cool and looks so different than Tel Aviv though basically connected (the city is actually called Tel Aviv-Yafo afterall).
Old Jaffa
Tel Aviv Skyline as seen from Old Jaffa

Then Saturday I took a tour through my hotel to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  That was my number one goal in Israel, to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem so decided to check it off first..... just in case.  We went Mt. to Scopus and drove by the Mount of Olives and the giant cemetery  and then in 3/4 quarters.  Tours apparently aren't allowed through the Armenian quarter.  We saw some of the stations of Jesus adn went inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, went to the Western Wall of course and I stuck a note in the wall! Saw all the sites basically.  Then had a nice falafel lunch in the Old City. 

Me atop Mt. Scopus, overlooking Jerusalem

Wailing/Western Wall

Dome of the Rock & The Wailing Wall on Shabbat
Then our group broke up and a few of us drove to Bethlehem.  We had to get out at the border and switch vans since the Israeli driver is not allowed into the Palestinian Authority.  Of course we waited at a gift shop, though it was kinda funny that they only sold Christian memorbilia.  I guess that makes sense cause it's Bethlehem but it's just a bit ironic.  They were super hospitable at the Palestinian shop.  Then we crossed the border, which involved next to no hassle.  No passport check unlike expected.  We just saw the church and main square, which was a bit disappointing cause I would have liked to see more and it was just loaded with tourists.  I don't have too many photos of Bethlehem cause I find it pretty disrespectful to take lots of pictures inside a church or any holy place like that. Anyways... Bethlehem really looked the same as Jerusalem with the limestone, just more run down and not much commerce and it really did not feel dangerous at all.  Pretty normal actually and the locals all looked secular and wearing casual clothing- jeans t-shirts, the occasional hijab.  The only big difference is you see no Hebre, signs are in just Arabic and English unlike in Israel where they are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Would love to go back not in a group. 

That's kinda how I feel about Jerusalem in general, it was good to do the tour and get the history and my orientation straight and be shown what's what but I wouldn't do a tour again. Next time I'd go myself and just explore now that I have a sense of the city.  Jerusalem is obviously a must in Israel but was overwhelmed with tourists that the mystique of the city was lost.  Another reason to go back, but not on a weekend (meaning Fri or Sat) and not in a group.

In Line at the Palestinian Border


View of Bethlehem

At the Border Back into Israel

Ok so for my second weekend I was planning on doing Dead Sea/ Massada and maybe Be'er Sheva to skydive but the weather was absolutely awful in the whole country that I cancelled any plans to travel.  It was super stormy and there were flash flood warnings at the Dead Sea. (It's the lowest point on earth, surrounded by mountains and there's no sewage system, so flash floods occur a lot when it rains).  So not dealing with that and it was snowy/rainy up north. The Ba'hai Gardens in Haifa and Akko were closed due to rain and good thing I didn't travel south to Be'er Sheva cause there were some small missiles down there and near Ashkelon shot from Gaza since it was stormy.  So I stayed in Tel Aviv, slept in, relaxed.  I went to the movies at the Cinematheque Tel Aviv one night and saw Melancolia.  I like going to the movies in foreign countries and def a good activity to do alone. Gets me out in the city , but not awkward being alone.  It's a pretty cool, modern theatre as well.  Went out to some bars myself one night.  A little awk yes, but way better than sitting alone in my hotel room and it's easy to meet people once out. Then went to Tel Aviv Port aka "The Namal

...So that's my first 2 weekends in a nut shell.  Work is going well, I really like the office here in Rehovot, Israel. Everyone is young, so friendly, and very energetic as well as knowledgeable. I'm definitely learning so much that I couldn't have learned back in California and it's good to meet the people I communicate with virtually- put a face to a name.  Life is going well.  The food is great, hotel is awesome- feels like home since it's apartment like.  And I started exploring a lot more on my own.  Took me about a week or so to feel more comfortable and explore more outside of the area surrounding my hotel.  Tel Aviv is a super safe city and everything is walkable even if people tell you it's too far, it's not, everything is walkable.  And in general getting the courage to do more stuff alone like going out more to restaurants and bars, different neighborhoods, more everyday stuff and also meeting more people by virtue of getting out more.  Things have picked up a lot and it's gonna be a great last week!  Gonna make sure it's memorable.


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