Monday, April 16, 2012

Don't Ask Don't Tel-Aviv *and other Israel adventures*

5 days *especially during the week of Passover and Easter* is truly not enough to experience Israel. My recent trip to the country was mostly unplanned, except for the fact that I had emailed a few Couchsurfers only days before leaving Cairo. It was probably for this reason that so many unexpected, insane, and unimaginable things happened on this adventure! I wouldn't have had it any other way. 

My friend, Darren, flew from Poland to meet me and my other friend, Angela, in Jerusalem. From then on we were able to witness and experience so many things I never imagined I would be able to see. Going to Israel during this time proved to be interesting. During the first nights of Passover the streets were quiet, as I has expected, and the city of Jerusalem was almost like a ghost town. When we returned from a crazy day and a half in Tel Aviv, we found the streets were filled with a jovial and peaceful ambiance--a nice change. 

I'll try to blog again later in the week about a specific frustrating experience, that goes along with the video I have posted at the bottom, regarding a recent interaction that Darren and I had at the Mosque in the Cairo Citadel. I'm still trying to piece together this puzzle and will need a few days before gathering my thoughts completely. Until then, here are some images as well as my garbled collection of happenings in Israel.  

After the most miserable bus ride from Cairo *our bus didn't have a bathroom and no one told the only foreigners on the bus* we finally found ourselves gallantly crossing the border--from Taba to Eilat. There were such beautiful things waiting for us on the other side!

Our first "sweet" experience in Israel. I loved the Hebrew writing! 

The first evening in Jerusalem. The wailing wall at sunset was more empty than I had seen in other photos,  however the women still had less space than men! 

My prayer that I wrote. Technically we weren't supposed to put notes and prayers into the wall on this day since it was Passover, but I couldn't help myself! 

The Dome of the Rock overlooking the Western Wall. The rays of sun reflecting on the dome were just beautiful.  I really wish that I could have gone inside! 

Meandering through the streets of Jerusalem in the scorching heat! I got to wear a tank dress on this day, but had to cover up every other moment with Angela's scarf! At this point we were making our way to the cemeteries and to take a look at Temple Mount.  

The Absalom Pillar, accompanied by rows and rows of graves. They are all separated of course--Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. This bit has always fascinated me and it was so interesting to see in person!

In the garden where Jesus prayed. These olive trees are thousands of years old!  I didn't see any olives hiding in the branches...

I wish I knew how old these tombstones were! There's such history and controversy behind this site.

You can't deny that this is quite the view! After literally marching up the side of a mountain we found ourselves staring down over Jerusalem and the gorgeous Israeli countryside. Make sure to take a peep at the Old City gate which has been blocked off! 

On the Ramparts Walk: I love when you see unexpected colors in unexpected places. These red poppies were a cheerful blessing during the hottest part of the day! 

Venturing over the Muslim Quarter. I found it a bit ironic and more so exhausting that there was such a gorgeous view of the Dome of the Rock, but debris and carelessness laid directly underneath it. 

The first evening in Tel Aviv *this is after we were dropped off in the "City Center" where we found ourselves surrounded by brothels, prostitutes, and drug shops. Darren also had quite the bathroom experience where he was offered money for, well...something.* The city was such great fun and a nice break from all of the intense sightseeing! I, of course, found myself at home right in the middle of the sea. 

We like to call this: The night of "Mike & Ikes." I'm not sure the name of this bar and am not sure what time we left. I am however sure that it was indeed a great and hilarious night, where we will not be forgotten any time soon! 
My favorite lunch in Israel! This Denis fish was delicious and so were the 20 other side dishes that were served with it! A perfect departure gift from Tel Aviv. 

I couldn't believe that I was at THE Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter. However, it was an almost disheartening experience since the church closed extremely early! Darren and I didn't even make it to see the tomb! The behavior of the guards and some of the priests shocked and unnerved me. The church itself was beautiful and so were the majority of the people visiting it. My heart was ripped apart to see people outside crying because they had made the pilgrimage all the way to the church and couldn't even get inside of the doors! At this point we wondered what that night was like in Italy at the Vatican...

Apparently the notes on the floor are prayers for luck. This small window is an exhibit for where the blood of Jesus Christ came trickling out of the mountain. 

Inside of the church right before it closed. There was such an eerie silence here and the smell of incense was nicely overwhelming. 

There were crosses deeply carved all along the walls in a few parts of the church. Again, I'm not sure how old they were or who did it...

Photo courtesy of Darren. :)
This is before I lit a candle and said my Easter prayer. 

One of the most frustrating and maddening things I have ever witnessed. Darren and I waited inside of the Church of the Nativity for two hours, and a bit more, before we made it to see the sacred cave where tradition states that Jesus was born.  At this point we are still waiting to get into the alter area before we move down into the cave. We find ourselves surrounded by a group of 50+ Egyptians that end up causing quite the scene. People begin to actually leave the line because thy are so uncomfortable with the situation *meaning the loud yells of Arabic, rude behavior, and completely unnecessary pushy behavior.*

It's almost sickeningly humorous, this man looks like he is about to be sacrificed or crucified. We are being pushed, shoved, and prodded from every corner while we are trying to walk down the steps--inch by inch--to the holy cave. 

It is said that this is the very spot where Jesus of Nazareth was born.

One of our last days in Israel, Darren and I finally made it to see the West Bank and the infamous 8 meter high wall. It was strange for me that no one could really talk about the situation or give us directions on how to get to the bus station for a bus to Eilat, although I can understand why! It was considered very illegal to do so by the Palestinian control. I really wanted to talk to locals about the controversial issue but clearly that was not an option. It was very touching to see all of the artwork on the wall. Here are some of my favorites. *Jayanni Webster, this one reminds me of you.*

The graffiti continued for as far as we could see. We didn't want to bring attention to ourselves since there didn't seem to be any other tourists by the area that day. I especially liked this commentary though.

Finally--we made it to the Dead Sea! We waited for the bus, which never really came so we had to hitch hike to the sea!  Darren and I actually thought we were hitchiking but then the driver informed us that we owed him money because he was a "private taxi driver and chauffeur". I ended up getting into a massive argument which involved me asking for the names of his six supposed children and him cursing our presence, along with the police! We hilariously found ourselves dragging Darren's suitcase down to the bottom of Ein Gedi where we were able to dip into the sea for 30 minutes before flying back to the bus stop! It was worth every single moment. :)

Dear Darren and I exfoliating in the Dead Sea! It was such a carefree feeling to just float along in the water. After this we made it back to Eilat for the night and stayed with this fantastic couchsurfing host where there was a delicious dinner and comfy bed waiting for us after such a long journey. I must say that even through the wild moments, Israel stole a little bit of my heart. 

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