My mother took the time to write yet another amazing blog entry. Onward!
When I finished Part I of my observations, I mentioned how spending time in Jerusalem was an emotional and holy few days and we were looking forward to moving on to the more fun part of the tour. So, without further ado, days four and five!
Day 4 – Masada/Dead Sea
After three days in Jerusalem, we checked out of the David Citadel Hotel en route to a day of fun and adventure. It is a long ride from Jerusalem to Masada so our tour guide, Hileek, gave us his perception as an Israeli citizen regarding the Middle East peace process, his explanation of the Israeli government, and other interesting information. I do not want to get into the specifics of his perceptions since it is just that – his perceptions – and others may or may not agree with his views. Nonetheless, I found his discussion extremely valuable and felt fortunate that we had a tour guide that was so willing to share his views.
On the way, we drove through the Judean Desert. We stopped for a short period at Qumran to visit the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. If you recall, in Jerusalem we went to a museum that housed the Dead Sea Scrolls. Continuing on our drive, we saw tents on the side of the road where people live. Hileek told us the people that live there are Bedouins who are Arab citizens living in Israel. It was a strange sight seeing how these people live but I suppose to them it is normal.
Continuing on our journey, we stopped at the Ahava Factory Store. Ahava is a company that produces skin products from the Dead Sea. The products should make you feel like you just came out of the Dead Sea – which is that your skin should feel soft, clean, and exfoliated. They explained to us that we would not really understand the feeling until we experienced the Dead Sea for ourselves, however, they said if you want to recreate the feeling the best way to do that is to buy their products. Needless to say, we all made purchases!
Soon we reached Masada – which is the site of ancient palaces, buildings, roman baths, a synagogue, and sites that are too amazing to describe. When Lauren went on Birthright, she was fortunate enough to be able to climb the descent up to Masada. Unfortunately, when you are on a tour with a time limit you are required to reach the top quicker, so we took a tram.
Still, it was worth it once we saw the views from the top of Masada – just amazing, breathtaking, and almost spiritual.
One of the views from Masada is to observe the Dead Sea below – and that was our next stop. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, almost 1300 feet below sea level. Once we arrived there, we changed into our bathing suits and walked to the foot of the Dead Sea. Hileek told us if we walked slowly into the Dead Sea our feet would be fine – but he was wrong! The rocks were painful – so I put on my sandals which I think are permanently ruined but it was better than the pain in my feet. Anyway, Mark was the first to take the plunge – followed by Lauren. It was amazing watching them fall backward and just pop right back up. In fact, for everyone that was taking the plunge you heard a lot of laughter! Soon, Rich and I followed and we were all just floating as if we were on a float – such a strange but enjoyable experience.
Another thing Hileek told us was to try the mud bath. You put mud on your body then go back into the Dead Sea and once the mud is rinsed off your skin feels as soft as a baby. Mark, Lauren and Rich all went into the mud bath – which is very thick and difficult to maneuver – so I just cheated and took the excess mud off them to put on me. Still, it was another fun experience as seen in this picture!
After we rinsed off the mud, we went into the “hot” pool to relax before we were to change and get back on the bus. The “hot” pool is like a hot tub but it has water from the Dead Sea so you can float in the pool. It was truly relaxing and a great way to end this part of our tour.
When we arrived on our tour bus the first day, Hileek announced that we and another family were joining the tour that day – which meant most of the people on the bus had started the tour the week before. Today was the last day for those individuals. We dropped them off in Jerusalem – everyone said their goodbyes – and then we were on our way to Tel Aviv where we arrived around 6:30 pm.
Day 4 – Evening in Tel Aviv
Our hotel in Tel Aviv was the Carlton. The hotel overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and is on the far end of the boardwalk near the pier. We had a balcony in our bedroom and took in the nighttime view then made our way out to dinner. Shabbat had begun since it was Friday night and we were unsure how many restaurants would be open. While all the shops were closed, there were a number of restaurants to choose from and we selected Café Nimrod. What a perfect place to eat. It was relaxing, the food was excellent, and it was fun to observe everyone around us. I remember that my appetizer was cauliflower soup – it was delicious – and it was served hot. There is nothing worse than having lukewarm soup but I have to say every meal I had in Israel was the right temperature.
On our way back to the hotel after dinner, we noticed what looked like a bar on the beach. I noticed Mark was eyeing it and I said should we go in? We all said – sure, why not? What a great decision! It was so relaxing to sit in the bar, talk more about our day, and relax before we headed back for the evening. Lauren ordered an apple martini – and it had real apples in the drink – and I ordered a mint tea – with real mint leaves in the drink. I have to say I was impressed with the presentation – and the drinks were great!
We headed back to the hotel after our great day and looked forward to what day five would bring.
Day 5 – Tel Aviv
Today was a free day since it was Shabbat. It is interesting being in a place where much of the country shuts down to celebrate the Sabbath. In some ways it is refreshing as it forces you to slow down and relax, unlike in the U. S. where many businesses are open seven days a week. The first thing we noticed when we woke up was the view from our rooms during the day – wow – to overlook the Mediterranean Sea was a spectacular site.
Next, we headed down to breakfast. We noticed that one of the elevators was a “Shabbat elevator.” This means you cannot push the buttons on the elevator – since that would be considered work – so the elevator is preprogrammed as to the floors where it will stop. It was an interesting observation. After breakfast we checked out the workout room and sauna and then went out for a walk. Boy did we walk!!! First Lauren brought us through the main streets of Tel Aviv to show us places where she has shopped, eaten, gotten coffee or chai teas, etc. All the stores were shut down but many of the cafes were open so, of course, I had to get a chai tea! After walking through town, we next walked on the boardwalk to the other end from where we had eaten dinner the night before. This would allow us to get to Jaffa which is an ancient port city and considered to be one of the oldest in the world. It is actually known as Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. Hileek had suggested if we had time, to go there. We didn’t realize how far of a walk it was so we stopped along the way just to take in the beautiful view of the Mediterranean.
We eventually arrived in Jaffa to find a type of flea market, old buildings, creative structures, and a festive atmosphere.
Rich was even able to lift this sculpture – NOT – but check out the girl behind him trying to push it!
On the way back to our hotel we walked along the beach and it was so great to put our feet in the water and just observe the beachside. We stopped for some gelato then went back into the hotel to relax for awhile. Mark decided to go use the sauna while Rich, Lauren and I sat in the lobby and had tea.
While we were sitting there, the sun started to go down and we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets ever. I have to say, there had been many experiences on this trip where I would observe things that were almost breath taking which gave me a very spiritual feeling. After tea, Rich and I went to the sauna while Lauren worked out – she was so excited to have a gym available to her!
Later on we had dinner on the boardwalk at Café London. While there, we observed a multi-generational family eating dinner next to us. The oldest of the group looked to be a man in his 90s. In looking at him, and the family, you wondered what is the story behind his life and this family and how did they end up in Israel? In fact, many of the people that immigrate to Israel have a story – that is one of the beauties of the country – and one of the things that makes it such a fascinating place to visit.
On our leisurely walk back to our hotel, we observed a wall that had some very unique drawings and could really see how artistic of a country Israel is.
We talked about how much we had enjoyed the past few days, and were looking forward to heading to Northern Israel the next day – to Haifa and Tzfat!