There are places we travel to and once we've left , we say "this is mine" . The type of vacation that didn't just offer great food , or fun in the sun. It's the destination that has your name written in the clouds and engraved in the ground. The location where even if you never returned , a piece of your heart will be left there while simultaneously carried in your spirit daily. This place , changes you, revives you and awakens a part within yourself that may have been dormant or perhaps never even existed. Is it possible , though, to have this connection with somewhere you have not stepped a foot in? That question marked in my mind as I planned my trip to Israel.
If I had a dollar for every time my decision was questioned , my bank account would overflow. I often answered , why not ? The more detailed answer was because of her. My Tati Laura was my favorite aunt whose untimely death I discussed in my Tomorrow's Rainbow post and the sole reason Israel needed to be experienced. Not too long before her death she embarked on a mission trip with her church to Israel. I was 10 years old at the time and I vividly remember her returning with a certain aura that was so hard to describe yet impossible not to see. A devout Catholic , she beamed about every detail of the trip and how she felt transformed and excited to return some day. She fell in love with Israel and as she shared her memories with me , I became just as enamored. Locking away what I imagined it would be like in the back of my mind, my 30th birthday became an ideal time to make my dreams real.
I will start with a recommendation to stay in this lovely country for about 4-5 days for the exposure of the different cities as well as allowing the options to travel to the surrounding countries , if interested. As a flight attendant , I pride myself in only needing minimum amount of time to explore but some places require and are worth time to luxuriate in. Israel embodies a cultural overload which causes you to yearn for more so do not deprive yourself if its not needed. My boyfriend and I decided on 3 days/ 2 nights so as you could imagine , our daily itinerary was lengthy in order to allow as much as we could.
Here's what you should know :
1. A valid passport is required for entry and make sure you verify the date of expiration. If it is within 2 months ( sometimes 3 ) , you run the risk of not being able to go!
2. A visa isn't required ( for US citizens) to enter Israel but if you plan on visiting the bordering countries , it is important to research their rules and regulations so you won't be disappointed.
3. I can't believe I'm writing this tip because it always seemed to be an exaggeration in my eyes BUT allow at least 3 hours prior to departure for security purposes. I'm not talking body scans or patting your weave down for explosives . Depending on the airline , some require a pre screening process upon check in. Although I travel often and been to a few international destinations , I've never experienced such a lengthy process . Give yourself time and perhaps a few meditating breaths.
Nine blissful hours of travel time from New York will have you landed in Tel Aviv Ben Guiron Airport. My excitement could barely be contained as we deplaned. Whenever I arrive somewhere new , I almost have to pinch myself just to verify the reality of the moment. Am I really here ? I am , not only that , I have arrived!
Israel is pretty easy to get around in. There are buses , trains and taxis which run regularly to aid your journey. Leaving the airport we took a taxi into Tel Aviv which was priced at about 105 Shekel which is equivalent to $30 . Not a bad price but when you learn that the train could have taken you in half the time and half the price on your last day like we did ; you might feel some type of way. The train runs a minimum every 15- 30 minutes depending on the station and if you download the MoveIt app , it will provide a guide of the stations and times.So do your research and figure out which form of transportation will work best for what you want to do and where you are trying to go.
Of course amongst an array of hotels, there is the option to book your stay in an Airbnb like we did. We stayed in a quaint one bedroom apartment . Located in Tel Aviv, our place was only ten minutes away from the beach ( walking ) and approximately 15- 20 minutes from downtown , also a stroll away. There were ample restaurants and bars nearby with several bus stops scattered relatively close to each other. If walking is not your style , the taxis are readily available at your disposal. It is important to find a location which provides access to all your necessities and the amenities that appeal to you while traveling.
Visiting Israel for such a short amount of time meant we couldn't leave our primary tourist attractions to chance so we booked guided tours through Viator in order to experience as much as we could.
Day one was an 8 hour day tour to Nazareth , Tiberias , the Jordan River and the Sea Of Galilee. The tour was booked with ease while the company contacted us seamlessly via email to confirm our pick up/drop off location ( at or nearest to where you're staying). This day was as anticipated. Growing up a good catholic girl lol , I studied the stories of the bible and to actually view where Jesus was baptized by John or stand of the shores where Jesus ministries occurred was indescribable.
Day Two consisted of about 10 hours of our day exploring Jerusalem, the Western Wall and floating into the Dead Sea. Our guide Yoav Malachi, was a charismatic man who doubled as our driver as well. He managed to tag our group with individual nicknames based on where we were from and it provided an open to plenty of conversations and excitement to begin the day. More than just knowledgeable of the mystical locations , Yoav allowed us to savor the ambiance that is the Holy Land.Jerusalem is more than just a religious melting pot. It calls you by your first name and whispers in your ear the secrets of the past and the prayers for the future. The Western (Wailing) Wall is a landmark significant to Jewish ,Muslim and Christian people for different reasons yet prayer seemed to be the connection that transcended any specific religion. The Dead Sea's name does not disappoint. The amount of salinity in the body of water doesn't allow not even an ounce of any plant or animal to survive and even more remarkable is the ability that everyone has to float . Non swimmers like me unite ! You will be able to flex your Olympic moves and perform the back stroke you've always dreamed. Word to the wise though , be cautious of touching your eyes after dipping in because the amount of salt will be unbearable. The mud on the bottom of the deepest hypersaline lake can catch you off guard as you walk in but just walk slowly into the water and be sure to rub a little on yourself for the mud bath of your dreams.
It may seem cliché but Israel was more than " just a trip" and to be completely transparent , no amount of words placed strategically together could depict a place that is etched in your heart solely from your dreams. My aunt placed this idea on my mind yet nothing could prepare me for an experience that not only brought me closer to her , nourished my relationship to the most high , while connecting to myself. Israel isn't a war zone , a place solely of routine , ceremony or rules. It is a land which raises awareness of yourself as you are in constant search for the link between others. It is a nation lead by its heart and cultivated by its passion.
You have my heart Israel . Paint my name in your skies , allow my footprints to remain . I will walk this path again , allowing you to lead the way.