An Unexpected Break in Israel

Trip Start Feb 28, 2009
Trip End Mar 31, 2009

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Yet to see the Dead Sea, and with a few extra days to fill before having to return to Egypt, I decided to go to Tel Aviv. The prospect of seeing another country was too much to resist, and considering how close I actually was, it wasn't going to be a huge diversion.

My first experience of Isreal had come a couple of days earlier when I had travelled up from Egypt. Walking towards Eilat, I had decided to take a picture of Aqaba across the red sea. It was a rubbish picture but just after I took it, a security car comes speeding up to me with the man inside is yelling at me to stop. Once he got out of the car he used his limited English to demand to see the photo I had just taken, suspecting I had been taking surveilance photos of this car warehouse that he worked for. It all ended without any major trouble, but for me it really hit home that this wasn't Kansas.

From Wadi Musa, I caught the early morning bus down to Aqaba and hopped back over the border into Eilat. I booked the five hour bus to Tel Aviv and had about an hour to fill before it left. As I had rushed through Eilat without seeing anything on the way to Jordan, I decided to spend some time walking around the waterfront. One of the most distinctive things about Eilat is the amount of huge high-rise hotels on the waterfront that seem to dwarf the rest of the town. The extra amount of security is also noticeable. You need to pass through metal detectors just to enter shopping centres.

On the bus next to Tel Aviv I sat next to a young soldier who offered for me to share the movie he was watching. In my time in Israel I would talk to quite a few people, most of them younger than me, who were serving their mandatory time in the military. They were all so friendly and welcoming, with a good grasp of English and no animosity whatsoever towards having to serve in the army for two years (three for males). I hit Tel Aviv at the end of the day and watched the sun set over the Mediterranean with surfers carving it up in the foreground. After close to a month in Egypt and then Jordan, I was happy to be in Tel Aviv

The next day I headed out to do some sightseeing, taking in Old Jaffa, St Peter's Church, Neve Tzedek, Rothschild Boulevard and Sheinkin Street in the morning, and heading to Tel Aviv Port in the early afternoon. Later, I walked a stupidly long way to Tel Aviv University to see the Beth Hatefutsoth Diaspora Museum which chronicled the history of the Jewish people from ancient to modern times.

Tel Aviv is brilliant, but after spending the day walking around seeing all the tourist sites, I had concluded that sightseeing was not what Tel Aviv was about.  For me, what I liked about Tel Aviv was the culture and lifestyle, and not to mention the food. I ate this amazing Sabich in a little takeaway place just off King George Street. It was honestly one of the best things I've eaten, and the strongest argument yet to turn vegetarian.

Next up I had wanted to go to Jerusalem, but it was Thursday and all public transport wouldn't be running from Friday evening to Saturday evening and I needed to be back in Cairo to catch my flight in a couple of days. It was a hard decision, but ultimately, I had no choice but to skip Jerusalem on the basis that I would not have had enough time to do it properly, and that seeing Tel Aviv in itself was a bonus. I was however not going to miss visiting the Dead Sea.

The bus to the Dead Sea (Ein Bokek) passed through Jerusalem, Ein Gedi and Massada so I got a small taste of these places out of the window. By this point, I had already made the decision to come back to Israel one day and see it properly so I wasn't too disappointed. Ein Bokek was a bit of a spa town, with big hotels and people walking around in white bath robes. Despite this, the Dead Sea was an amazing experience.

It's a strange feeling floating around in the salty salty water. I was worried that the cuts on my feet were going to give me grief in the water but it was actually the friction rash from walking so much the day before that really stung. Tolerable, but you certainly notice it. Its also cool to think that this is the lowest land point in the world.

After this brief visit, I boarded another bus South down to Eilat and caught a taxi to the border (I wasn't game enough to walk that stretch again).

Israel was really different from Egypt and Jordan so I found that it was a great break. In some ways it was much more like home for me, apart from the military presence in some areas. So after promising to come back, I headed back into Egypt and the last leg of my trip.
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