My first time in Israel…
Day 1 – 26/12 – Tel Aviv
10.50 pm – Arrival at Ben Gurion
Milan is quite well connected with Tel Aviv. You can choose to travel with El Al, the national airline or opting for the low cost company that operated with direct and convenient flights (4 hours approximately). Easyjet flies every day except Tuesdays and Fridays, and Ryanair has 4 flights a week (apart from Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday). It is preferable to avoid the day of Shabbat, because it is the day of total rest for Jewish, so moving becomes more complicated and you will find much less connections to other cities.
The passage of immigration is an experience for itself! It can be annoying for many, sometimes complicated. There is no rule, it depends from person to person: it’s suggestive! I’ve heard stories of people who have been held more than half an hour, assaulted by absurd questions, and others instead, going through less rigid interrogations. As far as I’m concerned, it went pretty fast. They asked me where I came from, why I came here, if I knew people, if so what are their names, where I was staying and when I was going back to my country. They had a quick check to my passport stamps; just to find out which countries I am used to visit. Maybe have a quick look and check, which Muslim countries are on the Israeli blacklist; they could deny you the entry. On the other hand, Israel is not a state universally recognized, so they will not put a stamp on your passport, but just give you a paper visa without leaving any trace. Here you are, from now, welcome to Tel Aviv!
00.30 am- Beachfront Hostel & Mike’s Bar
Reaching the city is quick and easy. Taxis cost around € 30. But you can also easily move with the train and / or the various buses. I am the one who loves to travel comfortably and I like beautiful and chic places, but for this trip, I decided for the first time in my life, to meet other passionate travellers like me, and I therefore decided to try a hostel. So I can’t say that I’m an expert on the subject, but for my personal tastes, the Beachfront Hostel has given me great satisfactions. First of all for its location: It is located directly in front of the beach. It is also clean, the rooms are not crowded, bathroom and toilet are super clean and they have a rooftop bar with a romantic view on the seaside. It seems to be home, but with new roommate!
Despite the late hour, I couldn’t resist to the temptation of discovering the nightlife of my so desiderated city! I walked for few meters and I immediately felt attracted by a club where a live band was performed. I’ve met two American pilots in transit for the night in Tel Aviv, and I already thought that my trip would be special. The next day, I fond out by chance that I was in the local where took place a terrorist attack in 2003: Mike’s Bar. Talking about terrorism, I can assure you that Tel Aviv is one of the safer places in the planet! I never felt in danger and I moved carefree everywhere. At 03.30 am it is time for me to go to bed. Tomorrow will be a loooong day!
Day 2 – 27/12 – Tel Aviv
07.00 am – Beachfront Rooftop for breakfast
It is very difficult to describe with words the joy of being in front of the sea, eating two slices of bread with nutella in short & t-shirt the 27th of December, shaking off step by step the stress of a not easy 2017!
In three seconds I found new friends. Julia and Alina, two international girls like me and immediately we decided to discover together, the beach side of Tel Aviv, and we enjoyed it very much, spending the whole afternoon in a total relax mood!
11.00 am – My feet under the sand having my first Hummus. Yo!
Our first pit stop was dictated by our desire to taste the real Hummus. And I discover that lemon is not going in the hummus. This is a western invention/adaptation. Anyway, hummus has become the food drug of the holiday. You would eat it at all hours!
1.00 pm – Towards the Carmel Market
There are various cool areas in the city. I chose to be close to the Carmel Market, an Israeli version of the Parisian Marrais or the Londoner Portobello district, a kind of “hipster” area. It’s full of little boutiques, concept stores, restaurants, little bars, terraces in the narrow streets, even if sometimes you have the sensation to be in Kabul but with Manhattan prices, as my friend used to say! You’ll fall crazy in love with this city. For our lunch we follow the advices of locals and we went to Miznon. I ate the best kebab of my life. Talking about food, I don’t know where to start to recommend you, it’s really all good and tasty!
3.00 pm – Carmel Market
A ride inside the Carmel Market is a must. You’ll find everything, especially extra large fruit and vegetables, and it’s there you’ll understand after half a day, that Tel Aviv (and Israel in general) is a sooo expensive country. I thought it was a little bit less expensive. Look, don’t try to, you will not find anything bellow 1 euro!
5.00 pm- Old Jaffa
On New Europe Tour, you can book free walking tours around the city, with a local guide. It is an interesting way to meet new people, enjoying an excursion with a local guide, and learn about the city without reading a thousand of touristic guides. It is obviously implied to leave a tip to the guide who offered you his knowledge and his time for an hour and a half. Jaffa (Yafo in Hebrew) is situated in the south of Tel Aviv. In the Middle Age, it was the main port of Palestine. Tel Aviv, built about 100 years ago is supposed to be the suburb of Jaffa actually, but it grew much faster and became a bit more cosmopolitan, while Yafo became the old town centre.
In Jaffa you will taste the best falafel, but you will also find the best of the indigenous creativity, through its yellow stone alleys full of contemporary art galleries, handcraft shops, and magical places where you can create your own perfume.
Little historical anecdote: Jaffa is the city of oranges. In 1800, the city had more than 800,000 trees and was supplying Europe. Then the Spanish bought the brand and it is therefore difficult to really control if there are really come from Jaffa. I can say that I drank my best orange juice of my life in Jerusalem, @Lina. The other anecdote regards the Greek mythology and one of its more fascinating feminine figures, Andromeda. According to the legend, Andromeda was chained to the cliffs beaten by the waves, desiderated and crying for its imminent death. She was saved by the hero Perseus, who just came after the decapitation of the Medusa, whose gaze transformed every human being into stone (that’s why the port of Jaffa is full with many rocks). He saved her from the sea monster that he killed with his sword. I love to see the settings of famous films or famous literature storytelling in the real life.
07.00 pm – Rotchild district
Just before going out to taste other local delicacies, we met Michael, an American Jewish in TLV, a lovely and friendly person, who offered us new keys to understand better Judaism and his community. My holiday has definitely taken a Jewish imprint, but it goes like this; to feel and understand this country you need two trips: one among the Palestinians and one among the Israelis.
We went to Rotchild, the coolest district of the city. All trendy bars and restaurants are located there. But you can also find cheap and cool places to eat on the go. At a certain point, my attention has been captured by a red and shiny neon light: a Sexy Shop. At the end, it is also a funny way to find out how people approach sex across the world. The place is too cute, and the owner, a Polish lady has recreated a home environment where you will find a cactus vibrator next to a porcelain tea time service, a dressed table ready for lunch with geisha balls, whips and sexy food, a double dildo under a vintage portrait of an Israeli couple from the beginning of the century. It was a nice discovery.
Day 3 – 28/12 Jerusalem
10.00 am – Bus to Jerusalem
Michael takes me to the other side of the city at the bus station, and I discover the middle-east side I wanted so much. And now, I can tell I’m even more in love with that country. You can reach Jerusalem with “normal” buses or with the sherut. The sherut are shared taxis, some minivans of 8 people and they usually do 3 kind of service: from city to city, within the same city (usually on the bus routes) and from the airport to Jerusalem or Haifa. You can also catch them raising your hand out of the usual bus stops, like New York style! They are cheap, safe, and very used by locals.
2.00 pm – Hostel Hebron
After an hour of road, sitting next to a very young girl, dressed in camouflage and with the Kalashnikov erected between us, I finally touched the holy ground. I am immediately pervaded by an aura, a kind of feeling between the mystic and the spiritual. The feeling is beautiful. Despite the political tension of the week before, caused by the arrogance of the president of the United States in declaring Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, I have never felt in danger. Of course, it is a highly militarized country (men does 3 years of OBLIGATORY military service, and women 2), there are small groups of armed soldiers everywhere, they also check the trash with dogs to see if there are traces of explosives, in any case they are used to live in this perennial “paranoid” state of mind, but I have seen them quite calm, and I have perceived a “harmonious” cohabitation. Let’s not forget that it is a country in conflict, if you wait for peace to visit it, you probably will never visit it, but this tension is also its charm. I’m trying to penetrate the delicate question to minimize our western prejudices, and the more I learn about them, the more I want to reach the heart of the question. But this is not a political blog! I just wanted to underline the fact that this inter cultural / religious / racial cohabitation totally attracted and get me: you can breath it at every street corner.
According to my will to stay in the heart of the city, the Old city, I chose the Hebron Hostel, nearby the Muslim district. A very nice and very welcoming Palestinian family holds it, but the place is very untidy. Let’s say that the cleaning standards in general do not exactly correspond to ours. But anyway, it was a strong experience however, in the heart of the city, welcomed by generous and jovial people, so if you put aside your wish of a comfortable and cosy place, you can do it! Regarding myself, I resisted one night, only! Ahahahahha
2.30 pm – The Jewish District
Old Jerusalem is that part of the city surrounded by the walls. There are 9 doors and 4 neighbourhoods (Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Armenian). My excitement was at its best and I couldn’t resist running for the neighbourhood that attracted me the most: the Jewish one. I literally lose myself in the maze of the souks, but following the flow of the Orthodox Jews I was led to the heart of their religion, to The Western Wall, where I experienced the strongest and the most mystical experience of my life. No, I didn’t convert myself onto a religious faith, but I lived, I shared a moment of intense pantheism, my feet stuck on the ground, rooted in this wall where Jews cried out all their tears (true tears) for two thousand years, plugging rolled up papers with their prayers in the little holes all over the wall, asking to God the return of all the exiled Jews in the land of Israel. I can tell you I stayed there almost two hours, which of twenty minutes in universal communion, stuck to the wall, sharing the prayers and the hopes of the whole humanity. Really, you will feel a concentrate of universal love, magic and mysticism.
Stop by the Australian Hospice. Few people know about it, but from there you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city on the roof prospective. It is very suggestive. Do it by day and by night: it seems to live in two different cities.
Day 4 – 29/12 – Jerusalem
09.00 am – Towards the Mount of Olives
After yesterday’s afternoon dedicated to Judaism, I wanted to consecrate my second and last day in Jerusalem, between Islam and Christianity. Unfortunately, Friday is the day of Islamic prayer, and so all the Muslims go to the mosque for public prayers, so the access to the Mosque and the Dome of the rock are allowed only to Muslims. What a pity! Means I will have to come back to finish my Jerusalem tour!!! It was incredible to see a flood of Muslims going through the souk streets to reach the mosque. I lead to the Lion’s gate that brings me out of the city rampart, toward the Mount of Olives, which offers a panoramic view of the whole city, the Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalena, the Jewish cemetery, Gethsemane (a small olive where according to the Vangelis, Jesus Christ retired after the Last Supper before being betrayed by Judas and then arrested). From there you can also see Bethlehem in the distance, which is only 7 kilometres away (and you can easily take a taxi that will bring you there). From that point, you have it first spiritually, and then owe it physically. It’s from now part of you and you’re part of Her; <3
12.00 am – Return to the Old City – Church of the Holy Sepulchre
According to the Christian tradition, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also called the Church of the Resurrection or Church of the Anastasis by Orthodox Christians) is the tomb where the mortal remains of Jesus Christ were deposited after the crucifixion. It is the final place of the Via Crucis. There is a small line to enter the kiosk and touch the tomb of Jesus, of course, but it is quite flowing and it worth it.
01,00 pm – Via Dolorosa and the prison of Christ
Via Dolorosa is precisely the Via Crucis, with its 14 stations from the condemnation of Jesus to his death, passing from his crucifixion. Usually, on Friday at 15.00, they retrace the Via Dolorosa and in 40 minutes you can “live” the last moments of Christ. The bad luck is that they do not do this procession either the week before or the one after Christmas. So I couldn’t take part of this privilege. It is clearly a God signal that wants to communicate me “you have to come back my dear”!!! You better bet that I will…
3.00 pm – The miracle!
I decide to go for a walk on the ramparts of the city. I read that it is a path that leads you to discover Jerusalem at the height of its roofs, and it is recommended to go there before sunset to enjoy it at its best. I arrived at Jaffa’s Gate at 3.00 pm, but I forgot it was Friday, the pre Shabbat day so, the last access is at 14.00! I was so disappointed. I sat on a bench (important detail for further), looked sadly at my maps and tried to figure out what I could do. I opted for some comfort shopping at the souk. I stopped by 4 different places. Around 4.30 pm, I saw a flood of Orthodox Jews walking hurriedly all in the same direction. Sure to join a meeting that would make me discover another exclusive experience from the inside, I followed them. At one point I realised that I’ve lost my cell phone: PANIC! I took a deep breath and tried to find my way back to the mazes of the old city, retracing my last hour, almost convinced that I would never find it again. Useless to explain to you the sense of desperation you can reach when you loose “your life” abroad, with all its practical consequences! I started to pray God, thinking that if miracles exist, this is the only place on earth where that they could/should/must happen. I stopped in the first store where I’ve been before and ask the guy if he founded a cell phone: nothing. In the second: nothing. In the third: nothing. I began to think of the worst and the last three days of hell I would have been faced off. Fourth and last shop: nothing. Not even the owner’s who was smockin’ hot was making effect! I was broken inside! Seeing me so desperate, the cute guy tried to reason me and make me focus on where I could have been lost it. Without conviction, I return to the info point where I had gone two hours before for the promenade. And you know what, it was there that my cell phone had been found: I forgot it outside on the bench as I looked at the map; someone found it and brought it to the police. Unbelievable! Suddenly my life starts to shine again, I returned to the hot guy shop to thank him, and realised finally how beautiful he was ahahahaha! We started to talk about life, karma and lucky stars, and then at a certain point, he asked me if I like motorbikes and if I would accept to go for a ride by night!! The day that seemed to be the worst of my life becomes the luckiest one! Nice to meet you George!
8.00 pm – Jerusalem by night
George took me around the city in Harley Davidson and made me discover Jerusalem by night. He is Christian Aramaic, and offered me a new point of view on all my questions, and all my political and religious concerns. We talked a lot about the conflict, cultural peculiarities and differences.
Day 5 – 30/1 – Masada – Ein Gedi – Dead Sea – Tel Aviv
3.30 am – Masada
My tour de force started at 3.30 am. I met my friends Julia and Michael again who arrived in the same bus from Tel Aviv for the same tour we had booked together the day before (Masada Sunset Trip). We arrived at Masada around 4:45. Masada is an ancient fortress located on the top of a desert mountain, 400 m above sea level, in the south-east of Judea, about 100 km south-east of Jerusalem. The fortress became known for being encircled by the Roman army during the First Jewish War and for its tragic conclusion (the collective suicide of the Sicarii). To access it and enjoy the dawn show rising from the Dead Sea, just follow the serpent path, a crazy twisted and super steep path, because you must deserve it! It takes a lot of breath and almost an hour to get to the top. But then, the show is unspeakable. You can then visit the vestiges of this incredible mini city.
8.30 am – Ein – Gedi
We arrive at Ein Gedi, an oasis on the east side of the Dead Sea, full of caves and waterfalls. A heavenly nature reserve, where it should be nice to cool off during the hot summer. There, you have to “suffer” a bit climbing to the top to enjoy the endless view.
10.00 am – Dead Sea
You must experience the Dead Sea! Yam HaMelah, literally “salt sea” is located in the deepest depression of the Earth, about 415 m below sea level. In a century the level has dropped by as much as 27 meters!! Being the lowest point on earth, the oxygen rate is very high and you can feel it: you breathe so well. The water in December is a bit chilly, but you can have a bath easily however. As soon as you enter this highly saline solution, you float and the feeling is very strange, almost comical. The most beautiful thing I remember of this experience is that when you look at the horizon, you can’t distinguish the line that separates the sky from the sea that melt in one. You find yourself in a two-dimensional landscape, and you can’t help on trying to touch this wall!
2.00 pm – Tel Aviv
Let’s go back to Tel Aviv where I met Christian, my colleague who has reached me for the last 2 days. We went right away to our apartment booked on airbnb. We took it in Carmel Market district, which reminded us a lot of our beloved Milan and its Isola neighbourhood. Very radical chic! We loved the neighbourhood, the apartment much less. You have to be aware that if you want a nice apartment, unless you have good tips don’t go below 100/150 €. As I mentioned before, the standards are very low. An Israeli told us that hi people do not have a sense of belonging to the house. In fact, in a country “in war” you do not invest in the house that could be destroyed with a rocket missile at any time. For them, therefore, the house is not the protective nest in which you invest to make it more beautiful and welcoming. No, for them it is a temporary and transitional place, which may have to leave at any time. These cultural gems drive me crazy, it’s what I like and looking for, trying to immerge myself the most I can in the every day life of them to discover their rue life and habits and embrace 100% their reality.
10 pm – Clubbing
Finally, the meeting. After 5 days of running to and from each other, I met my Israeli known 8 years earlier in New York (what you have to know before I go to Israel). The circle is about to close itself and the moment of truth is getting closer. He sent me a taxi that brought me to Kanta where he was waiting for me. My first reaction was a blaze of joy that I had expressed in a very strong hug. I was really happy to see him. Then we went to Jasper Johns Bar, a gastro club full of music, full of beautiful people, full of beautiful vibes. The nightlife of Tel Aviv is truly remarkable. You cannot not love it, you cannot not have fun. Of course, I was certainly dazzled by the joy of having seen him again, but it was a wonderful evening.
Day 6 – 31/12 – Tel Aviv – Last day
08.00 am – Seafront promenade
The last day and I already was feeling bad. I do not want to leave. I have Israel under my skin, I am still here and I already miss it. I’ve seen a thousand things but I know I have a thousand more to see. Israel makes you hungry, you are hungry to travel it, to know it, to possess it, and you want to feed yourself with it, its energy, its sun, its sea, and its warmth. Really, it was one of my best trips ever, and I’m already planning my return. Today is New Year’s Eve. There is a big sun. We decide with my colleague to go for a running session along the beach. Pretty cool. Do it! Ah, I was about to forget: if you want a suggestive view of the city, get on the Carlton Hotel’s rooftop and watch!
01.30 pm – Lunch with my Israeli
As in New York, the next day while we see each other out of the sunlight, we feel a bit strangers, a bit clumsy and shy solving in formality. It makes me smile and I think that Israeli men are really strange! 😉 He took me for lunch to Eatmeat, a very good kebab place. We were sitting outside, kissed by the sun. A breeze lifted my hair and I was listening to him in admiration, talking about the conflict (again!), asking him what was his position about, how is consider the Palestinians, if the war will ever end. Most of the Israelis, even if they do not say it, think that we western people are pro Palestinians, so they are not very confortable to talk about the conflict, for fear of being criticized or judged. He thinks that if the Palestinians lay down their arms, the Jews would agree to make peace. In the opposite case, he is convinced that the Palestinians would invade them. After all, there is no truth, there will never be a winner or a loser, there are no good guys or bad guys and you can’t really take a clear position, because even them they can’t explain objectively the situation because the were born there, in that reality. I think I’ll come back to Italy with the same doubts as before!
4.00 pm – Jaffa
I came out of this appointment emotionally shaken. I reached out the seaside and walked through Jaffa, because I needed to see it again but in the daylight. The sun was already falling. Everything was beautiful, everything was too beautiful, and all the good moments of this holiday have returned suddenly to the surface: too much stuff, too many emotions to contain, and I exploded in tears. I got lost in the alleys of Old Jaffa, among all the galleries and small boutiques. If you want to buy beautiful and refined memories, so this is the right place: jewels of colourful stones, drawings, paintings, ethnic objects, and refined souvenirs. Stop by Zielinski & Rozen, to bring home personalized essences and perfumes.
8.00 pm – New Year’s Day at Racha
I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve. It sounds to me that we all are obliged to have fun, and that evening especially, I wanted more to cry more than to have fun. But at the end, I accepted the invitation of friends from Milan, we met by chance, and we ended up in a Georgian restaurant (Racha), and guess what: I had so much fun!
At the end, we did it: we met again with my Israeli. It was a fugacious moment in which we burned this residual of desire without going to the end. After all, getting over the initial disappointment of this fast burning fire of passion that I have to admit, I had fed by myself, I can only think that it is not that it was not an irrepressible attraction between us, I certainly did not invent it, but in this virtual correspondence lasted 8 years, each of us has invested its own expectations. When we saw each other again, we were happy, impatient, curious, but then it is clear that when you are dealing with people like us, complicated and very articulate, it is a clash between two titans. And none of us wanted to be hurt. I was pretending him to treat me with the same enthusiasm that I had perceived in his messages, what he wanted instead I don’t know, but he certainly was waiting for something else too. Those big expectations doesn’t have been full field on both sides and that fact disturbed me for a week, in which I looked for answers to my questions, explanations to the inexplicable, meaning to nonsense. I’ve heard the most various interpretations telling about this adventure to my friends, but none of them was having the answer. The answer arrived to me by a dear friend: the truth is there in the middle, lost in this silence that will last forever.
I want to keep this image of me crying alone as an idiot in front of the sea in Tel Aviv, with all my dreams and the love I have inside, feeling sometimes to be the best chick around and the hour after a total mess of girl. There are those very intense moments in which you feel that the world is slipping away from under your feet, that this immense life that you share with billions of other human beings escapes you totally. But this is in those special moments where I find myself totally naked with my fragilities trying to face every doubt and every fear of mine that I transform into strength, that strength I feed my dreams and passions, every year with same magical enthusiasm, along with those special people who walk beside me. At the sunset of this 2017, I wipe my last warm tear and I wish an amazing 2018 to all those who love me, esteem me and even those who do not. HAPPY NEW YEAR ALL. And as my dear aunt said, “you are a wonderful woman and all these sufferings one day will make sense … you will understand it later”. I know that my path is difficult, first of all of all those unconventional choices of mine I have made all these years, and I still do, but I start to understand the meaning of these choices lately, especially while I am travelling, inside and outside of me, watching the world and its people. So, I’m already looking for my next destination … stay tuned!
Plus: Tel Aviv is the capital of Wi-Fi. You can find easily a free network on the street and all bars, coffees and restaurants have access to Wi-Fi. If you need to connect to the map, stopping at a bar they will for sure kindly offer you a free access without problems. The weather is wonderful. 20 degrees on average, with peaks of 25 on December! There is the best humus in the world.
Less: The accommodations are not the best and if you want something decent, you will have to pay a lot of money. Pay attention to the Shabbat because it is a very important day for Jewish, where working is not allowed. Airport security checks are challenging; it’s better to arrive at least 3 hours before your flight.
Hottiemeter: The girls are cute but not very feminine (should depends of their military and severe education), not particularly refined in their way of dressing (heels??), to be clear, if you are used to pay attention to how you dressed up with the minimum of girlies habits (hair, makeup and nails) and if you are a minimum distinguished, you will not disfigure. Instead, men are ALL cool, hot, that is almost embarrassing. They all pay attention to themselves, caring about their body (they all run on the beach ;)!) and really beautiful to see and to look at. It is for sure a gay friendly city.