When I say Israel, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Maybe war, Bible, Jerusalem? Golden beaches? Lots fo headlines from news? Sweet oranges? Jesus? Or something else?
For me it was so much more than all of the above, it was so wonderful and beautiful and old and so so complicated. Very small in size but huge in reality. I could write a book of all I experienced and if you’ll reach the end of this you’ll probably think “well that was like a book…” So sorry in advance since I’m terrible at putting things shortly 🙂 I just get very excited.
As I told in one of my previous posts, I went there mostly because of my friend, Sandra. She’s one of my best and oldest friends and also happens to be half Israeli and also speaks fluent hebrew. She’s born and raised in Finland but visited there many many times to see her family etc. So what started years ago as a joke like ”Oh I’m coming with you!” on some cold winter when she was leaving turned into reality when this spring I said that this time, I really am coming with you. And few things in this world make me happier than the fact that I did and most of all had the chance and it’s all thanks to her. It makes me feel incredibly privileged and humble that I am this lucky to know a girl like her and getting to experience all this through her. She also pre-read this post and added something so thanks to her for that ❤ I was there the entire time with her as my guide and also especially one of her many aunts was such a great guide for us and took us to all the best places. Never ever have I experienced that warm welcome and being treated like a family member with such love and care. So obviously I owe everything to Sandra and her family there and I’m grateful beyond words.
So, what did we do? We visited the north for a few days to see Sandra’s relatives and do all sort of exciting things like this gorgeous nature reserve called Banias Waterfalls in Golan Heights. Over 30 degrees celsius but somehow when you’re walking in a place like this it doesn’t really matter.
And also some kayaking happened! Some of Sandra’s relatives were kind enough to take us kayaking to the Jordan river. Okay, basically it was more like being in a little boat in a stream and with two paddles trying not to crash to the sides or get tangled to the plants. It felt like a moment from The Jungle Book or something.
We stayed very close to the Lebanon border and I think the border area is considered Palestine, and now you think ”OH it must be very dangerous” but actually it’s quite safe nowadays so the most dangerous thing we did was stealing a couple peaches from a peach field across the road.
I also got to spend my first ever Shabbat which if you don’t know is Judaism’s day of rest which normally means the family and relatives gathering together to eat (A LOT) and spend time together. Obviously they make the food themselves and it was so so so good and there was A LOT of it. It was such a nice evening, somehow very peaceful.
On our way back to Tel Aviv we visited Haifa’s Bahai Gardens which was an interesting experience, especially getting to know about the religion. I should probably mention here that I am very much an atheist but also very interested in religions. Or to be honest I hate labels so let’s just say that I believe in energy, vibes, feelings. But not in any higher power. I just think it’s important to mention something here as this trip made me think about religions a lot and in so many new ways and the whole country is so different depending on what you believe in or don’t believe in. The main idea in Baha’i faith, now I’m shamelessly quoting Wikipedia to say this simply, ”emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind- -” and “- – the unity of religion, that all major religions have the same spiritual source and come from the same God; and the unity of humanity, that all humans have been created equal, and the unity in diversity, that diversity of race and culture are seen as worthy of appreciation and acceptance.” They also see no difference between men and women which I see as a very crucial value. I think this faith stands out in a really respectable way and has some values that I personally find very important, like the unity; that people and world itself should have less boundaries since I think we all are really exactly the same no matter what we believe or don’t believe in.
Tel Aviv then. I loved it. It’s just the perfect combo, you know city + a beach, can’t fail. And beach is where we spent most of our time. And shopped of course because Israel just has got so beautiful and different clothes and the prices are soooo much lower than in Finland for example. I almost never shop in Finland, so whenever I go abroad I usually buy some pretty clothes 🙂
Also right next to Tel Aviv, or in fact they are more like combined as one, is Jaffa or Yafo if you like. It’s a really old harbor town with a lovely old town and bazars and market places. The old town had such nice sleepy feeling in it. The only thing to break the silence was a dog barking from a window and waves crashing just little outside the walls.
And then Jerusalem. I think you would get as many different experiences from there as how many people you’d ask. But it was so impressive for me as well and it had much more to it than just what I had expected and what people usually think about it. We visited the Wailing Wall of course and to give you a little background if you don’t know, it’s the holiest place for Jews since once this very big temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the wall was everything that was left. And it’s been named like that because very religious Jews have come there to grieve the temple’s destruction. And so it’s been used as a place where people come to pray and also write their hopes or griefs to little pieces of paper which they then stick into the holes in the wall. And as I said I believe in vibes and energy. So I don’t know if that’s the reason I found the place quite impressive. Or somehow wondrous. I think it’s because people there are feeling such strong emotions and somehow their grief and hoping and praying filled the air so in a way I think I could feel it. It wasn’t that full of people this time so it was pretty quiet, although you could here men singing their prayers on the other side of this man-made wall that divides women’s and men’s areas.
We also went to the room where Jesus is believed to have had his famous last supper. And there to be honest all I could feel after walking in the heat for too long was ”OH GOSH this floor is so nice and cold!!”
When the evening started to fall and it was a bit colder we went to walk on the wall that goes around the old city, or has gone all the way in the old days. We were the only ones and it was so pretty, the city starting to sparkle with its lights and streets. The steap steps felt exhausting after walking the whole day but it didn’t matter. Sandra and I were singing Viva la Vida and laughing how terrible we looked after sweating the whole day. The calls for prayer started to come from the minarets and I felt my mind was one place richer.
I’m sure you all know how Jerusalem is a holy place for many religions but visiting there you really understand it. The good and bad I mean. It’s half Palestine and half Israel but it doesn’t mean that it would be clear what is whose and all that. Arabs and Israelis have their different neighbourhoods and which ever way I pointed from the wall they could tell me which people lived there. And they have their different churches and holy places and even shops and I just find it somehow so incredibly sad. That there is something so huge that divides people and makes them fight over which belongs to whom and where some can go and where not. And in a way it’s hard to understand how something that one believes in has to make them fight over places and wanting people who believe otherwise away from those places. I cannot see the good or the meaning in justifying that with religion.
We also made a two day trip to Eilat which is probably the most touristy place in Israel, also because it’s considered one of the safest places. We had one reason to go there: the beaches and the water which is aaaamazingly clear. Okay and Sandra definitely wanted to see dolphins. There are lots of huge and expensive hotels but we stayed at one tiny but so cozy apartment from airbnb, if you haven’t used it do it the next time you travel, sorry I just have to advertise this a little. We have saved a ton of money with my family while traveling and got to stay in such nice places. Basically anyone can rent their homes or apartments that they own or in this case a part of their bigger house and I’ve always loved them because they just have a much nicer and cozy feeling in them rather than a normal plain hotel room. And the price range differs but most of the apartments are a looot cheaper than hotels so I definitely recommend it, we’ve had nothing but good experiences from there.
Anyway, back to Eilat. We pretty much accomplished our goal, we were on the beaches and swam. Also that’s more or less the only thing you can do since Eilat is basically at the end of the Negev desert, so the temperature could climb up to even over 40 degrees celsius. Everyone was like ”oh don’t go there, it’s too hot, you can only be in the shadow” but we said ” You know what, in Finland we spend usually the whole year in a f*****g shadow so this is just perfect for us” and we definitely didn’t complain, we agreed not to since we would instantly regret it in Finland. And it was hot, yeah, but it wasn’t something unbeareable, it was quite nice since you could go into the sea whenever you wanted and maaaaan did it feel good after all the heat. Water, drinkable or in the sea, became like a holy thing for me during the trip and I learnt to appreciate it in a whole new level. The feeling after being outside and then getting a litre of water and drinking almost all of it within a couple minutes became the most heavenly feeling. There was this almost holy silence when we walk in from outside and go straight to fridge and just drink. I’ll never look at a water bottle the same way I swear.
I don’t know if I’ve told this but I’ve always loved to dive. Since I was a little girl I’ve found it so extremely fascinating just to be underwater, how the silence is so sweet and different there and everything else is blocked away. Someday I want to try scuba diving but until now I’ve just stuck with snorkling and it’s so much fun. So we visited the Coral Beach Reserve and it was breathtakingly beautiful and the fish were so colourful and all different and they weren’t scared at all. I could almost touch them, in the final moment they swam away and looked at me suspiciosly. They just seemed so happy and free (yes, I can tell if a fish is happy, haha)
And then Dead Sea. Well that was something. The first amazing thing was the Negev desert in the middle of which it’s located.
It’s the lowest place on Earth, 420 meters below the sea level, in the middle of nowhere and full of so salty water that nothing lives there. The water being almost hot in some areas and the beach being orange like rust because of the minerals and salt, it was one of those experiences that are so odd that you can’t really compare them to anything. It would be false to describe it as swimming, because you can’t swim. You can float and try to move around with your hands but basically it’s just laying. It’s such a weird feeling, I just cannot describe it otherwise.
And there’s the famous mud, maybe you’ve heard of it. You can just grab it from the bottom and then rub it to your skin. It’s the world’s most famous natural beauty supply and it’s believed to have healing and good effects, and I really don’t question that since tons of minerals have squeezed and packed there to the bottom for hundreds of years. Most of the fun though is covering you (and your friend) with it and trying not to start a mud war. Made me feel like a little kid, just playing in the sand box with some nice wet mud.
And I want to tell about the food as well! Being vegetarian or vegan should be quite easy in Israel, I mean it’s full of fresh fruits and veggies and HUMMUS (!!!) Also Kosher can be very plant based or you can easily find good vegetarian dishes there. If you don’t know Kosher, it’s basically what Jews consider ”clean”, holy, food, the food that you are allowed to eat. Most people only know the rule that you can’t mix pork and dairy but there are so many other rules as well and I didn’t get to know almost any of them. I just happily ate what I was offered, mostly by Sandra’s wonderful and so kind relatives who make crazy good veggie couscous for example. And hummus, oh hummus. Maybe it tells something that I bought a kilo of it and brought it to Finland. You can find all different flavours from sundried tomato to lemon. I ate it without a doubt every day at least once and didn’t get bored. And the falafel as well is so great. The best you can find if you ask Israelis.
And the fruits… Amen. Especially watermelons and mango. They are SO RIPE AND JUICY and heavenly! And sooo much cheaper than the ones in Finland, the prices were just crazyyy. Never have I ate that much watermelon in two weeks. And it’s also a good source of hydration since you have to drink ridicilous amounts of water if you want to keep going.
And then there was this luscious idea that I haven’t come across earlier which is like frozen yoghurt turned into ice cream, so it’s like yoghurt cream. Basically you can fill a cup with all frozen goodies like different berries and fruits, dates, figs, chocolate, biscuits. Then they take that and a cup of yoghurt which has been frozen and put it into a machine and make it into an ice cream. I don’t know if this was new to you but at least in Finland I haven’t seen these and it’s just such a perfect idea! It’s the best thing in the world I swear, okay after water, when you’re in 38 degrees heat and don’t really feel like eating (the heat did that, I didn’t want to eat during the hot day which was very disturbing, not a normal condition for me) but still you need to eat something.
Precious moments. Those are the best things I got. Sandra and I laying on her aunt’s trampoline at night and singing Fame, don’t know why, and trying to see some stars. Trying to straighten our apartment’s key which had apparently twisted from the heat with a little rock while giggling and also panicking if we’d get it fit again. We did, we are handy like that. Sandra’s cousin’s broad smile when I braid her hair like I braided Sandra’s. Walking in Tel Aviv’s harbour at night and trying to run from the waves that crash to the shore. Watching an old man dancing salsa next to a bunch of tanned girls and having the time of his life. Meeting a camel for the first time and how it almost looked like it was smiling. Meeting people that I think are so different than me but end up being so very similar. Seeing things that are hard to understand but I really try and maybe end up thinking differently than I did at first.
Most of all this I owe to Sandra. She’s the happiest, craziest and most genuine person you could ever meet. Lots of people were saying before we left that ”you know, even though you know your friends, traveling with them can bring out sides of them you didn’t know before” but I knew Sandra. I knew that you know what, everything’s going to go well because she knows me far too well and I know her. So that wasn’t the case with us. She’s the last person I would get fed up with, only consequence was me calling my sister Sandra for a week after we came back, haha. Maybe she’s the universe’s happy pill for me, otherwise I don’t know how I once got so lucky to meet her. I love her so much and thank you because all this wouldn’t have happened to me without her and now that feels like the scariest thing.
I hope the image that people often have of Israel wouldn’t be so black and white, so one sided. And this applies to so many other countries as well. Because if something astonished me was that I could never have believed that so many different things could be fit into a country that little. I was in the northernmost point in Metula and then in the southernmost in Eilat. There’s mountains and waterfalls and then suddenly huge cities and then little old villages and suddenly you are in a desert and then an hour and there’s a big turqoise sea in front of you. And it’d be eight hours since you left the mountains.
Many people see it as just the Holy Land but it’s so much more. Some also have prejudices based on the image they’ve got. Sandra has heard things like ”There is waging war in Israel, is it safe to travel there?” or concerning the people ”I’ve heard Israeli people can be arrogant and aggressive”. And that’s a terrible generalisation. So that’s why it feels so sad in a way that there’s a country that beautiful and diverse and what most people know about it is maybe headlines about conflicts and bombings and fights. Because it can be that but it’s also so much more and I wish the world could see even some of that.
The whole place has got this very special, somehow forever-like feeling in it. A lot of it comes from the historical significance of the whole place but I don’t think that’s all of it. Even though a lot of the cities are very new, built after World War II. But still, everything has been there for a long long time and I felt like the place somehow knew it and wanted to let people know. It felt that even though things around of it are changing and moving the spirit of it stays still. Do I sound crazy? It’s very hard to explain.
Someone asked me when I came back, what would I say to people about Israel? Based on my trip, how it was for me, I’d say go. Go without expectations or boundaries or worry. Go and see and try to understand its complicated, unique ways. And I promise you one thing; you’ll be a lot wiser.
P.S. Just a little disclaimer: As I previously said I don’t represent any religion and see them as equal. I’m also not on any side whatsoever in the whole Israel-Palestine conflict even though the trip definitely made me think and understand the situation so much better. And I find it very fascinating discussing these sorts of topics but I just didn’t want to ruin this post by talking about politics or taking any sides (that’s most of what people know about the country anyway) since I think you can find all that from news etc. So once again, I went there open minded and I’d recommend that for everyone since that’s the best way to see and experience I think. Just in case someone was wondering and since this is a touchy subject for so many.