Israel & West Bank
Visiting Israel was never really an ambition of mine and I never really realised how important the country and its history really is. However after spending a week there, I came to realise how amazing and relevant the whole area actually is.
Day 1 was spent in Tel Aviv and Jaffa port, before we drove up north to Mount Carmel. Tel Aviv is a busy city that can feel quite European at times. It has large beaches, a few borderline skyscrapers and some great places for coffee and drinks.
We spent the first morning wondering around the streets of Tel Aviv, the most modern city in Israel. Coffee shops were straight of Shoreditch and there was a thriving business district where many startups and tech companies were based. Not exactly the Assassins Creed look and feel I was expecting, but pretty cool none the less.
In the afternoon we walked along the costs to Jaffa/Joppa, which is the old part of the city and therefore a lot more inline what I expected see in Israel. The main thing there is the port, which is not only where Jonah sailed from (no whales were sighted sadly), but also where Jaffa oranges were shipped to the UK. Hence why Jaffa Cakes are called Jaffa Cakes.
Later in the day we drove out of the city and up to Mount Carmel where we saw some incredible views over the more rural parts of the country.
The second day was spent right the the NE tip of Israel near to the border of Syria and in the wine country area called the Golan Heights
Walking through the Benias Nature Reserve meant we got to see some amazing waterfalls and old mills, not to mention the ruins of Caesarea Philippi which date back to 20BC.
View over Syria
From the woods we then drove to the edges of Israel, past the 1949 Armistice Line, into the DMZ and finally right up to the 1974 ceasfire lines between Israel and Syria. The above photo looks over Syria through barbed wire and the village you can see in the distance is run by a group of militants closely related to Al-qaeda. This was an incredibly moving moment, mainly due to all the conflict currently happening in Syria, but also tis being where the 6 day war happened only 40 years ago.
We also had the opportunity to chat to some of the UN servicemen working near Merom Golan and heard a few stories about their time operating in the area.
Golan Heights Winery
We ended the day at the winery for some wine tasting and nibbles. The wine here was absolutely fantastic, with everything being grown and processed all within a few miles of the winery itself.
Galilee & the Dead Sea
On day 3/4 we drove down to Lake Galilee & then the Dead Sea to experience some of the incredible beauty the area has to offer, but also to visit some amazing historical places that are mentioned throughout the Bible
Sea of Galilee
There are lots of little towns and fishing villages dotted around Galilee with many offering incredible insights into history. We visited Capernaum (where Jesus lived), Magdala (ancient ruins of a town) and Tiberia (the most modern town in the area).
Between Galilee and the Dead Sea runs the river Jordan. What once was a huge river is now considerably smaller, but is still the main border to the Jordan. This spot is also supposedly where Jesus was baptised.
Ein Gedi Reserve
Driving down from Galilee, we stopped off for a hike at the Ein Gedi Reserve, right next to the Dead Sea.
This was our first proper experience of the deserts in Israel and the West Bank, and my first time ever being in a valley like this. It was incredibly hot, with nothing living except for along the river that ran through the valley.
Swimming in the Dead Sea is completely surreal. The salt levels are so high, the water almost feels oily and you really, really need to make sure you don't have any cuts! Of course you can also float in it and read a newspaper if you must.
On day 5 we travelled south near to the start of the Negev Desert where we woke up in a Beduin tent to a completely contrasting environment to the lush woods to the north of the country
This was easily one of the highlights of the trip, due to 360 views of the desert with the Dead Sea in the distance. Waking up early to experience the sunrise is an absolute must.
Whilst in the desert we spend the night in some beduin tents at Kfar Hanokdim. If you can stay there, do it, because coming back for breakfast after the sunrise at Masada and eating with views like this is incredible.
Day 6/7 was spent in potentially one of the most important cities in the world. Its history, architecture and religious tension make it one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to.
Garden of Gethsemane
In what is a rather noisy city, there are some amazing places for peaceful reflection and mediation. We only spent 30 minutes here early in the morning, but the dark and sombre environment was a very spiritual way to start the day.
Dome of the Rock
No matter your religious beliefs this building, located on the top of Temple Mount, is absolutely stunning to look at and walk around.
The ancient skyline
If you can try, as we did, to have lunches and drinks at places with fantastic views over a cityscape that hasn't change for 100's if not 1000's of years.
This is one of the many absolutely stunning interiors of churches, mosques, temples and synagogue's dotted around the city. We spend a fair amount of time admiring their interiors and taking a break for the hustle and bustle of the main streets.
Night time markets
At night the markets and food areas really come alive, and walking through these areas is such a unique experience.
One of the main attractions of Israel as a whole is the religious significance of the whole place. As a Christian myself, it was absolutely inspiring to visit sites that were similar to, if not the very place, where Jesus was buried and resurrected. However, even if you don't believe in anything, the historical significance cannot be matched by any other city in the world.