Five reasons to visit Israel
Your mother will get the creeps, your friends will ask you to reconsider making this trip, but for us there is no doubt: Israel is one of the most exciting destinations that exist. This narrow strip of land on the eastern margin of the Mediterranean has an incredible diversity of landscapes, fascinating cities dotted with ancient places, magnificent beaches to relax and a vibrant and almost eternal night for the most demanding night owls.
More than two thousand years had to wait for the Jews to have their own territory, recognition that came on November 29, 1947 when the then 56 countries representing the United Nations voted in favor of the creation of a Jewish state. Six months later, the first howitzers fell on the rooftops of the city of Jerusalem initiating a never-resolved conflict between Arabs and Israelis. This tragic birth has undoubtedly marked the psyche of a complex country and proud of its culture It offers the traveler an incredible variety of options for their delight. And among all of them, here are our five favorites:
1. Feel the weight of history and religion in Jerusalem.
Just pronouncing his name already produces chills. Few cities in the world harbor a spiritual heritage as rich and intense as that of Jerusalem. Not in vain here are the most sacred places of the three main monotheistic religions:
For the Jews, it is the Western Wall, vestige of the ancient Temple of Solomon, where for more than two thousand years the Jews prostrate themselves to mourn for their dispersion. In the same way that the minarets of the mosques are directed towards Mecca, the noble facade of the synagogues of the whole world looks in the direction of Jerusalem.
For Christians, it is the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, at the end of the Via Dolorosa, crossed by Jesus on the way to Calvary.
For Muslims the Dome of the Rock, the most recognizable symbol of Jerusalem, which houses the stone from which Muhammad began his ascent to heaven on the back of his white mare. Jerusalem is together with Mecca and Medina one of the three holy cities of Islam.
The Mount of Olives, the Hall of the Last Supper or the tomb of the Virgin Mary are other sacred enclaves that make Jerusalem an almost magical city. Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the trip will take place here.
Sabbath at the Western Wall © Corbis
2. Float in the Dead Sea just before visiting the fascinating fortress of Herod (Masada).
It's a classic, we admit it, but you won't know how much fun it is until you experience it yourself. Fun and also healthy, because the Dead Sea contains 20 times more bromine, 15 times more magnesium and 10 times more iodine than normal seawater. Bromine helps relax the nerves, magnesium is good for skin allergies and iodine has a beneficial effect on certain glandular functions. To get the full "treatment", you can buy a bag of mud at the entrance to one of the beaches and get smeared until you're unrecognizable. Proven results: I had never had so soft skin in my life (when did bottled water from the Dead Sea?).
Attention, although the Dead Sea is full of macro hotel-spas, they are very expensive and the maintenance of the facilities leaves much to be desired, so it is better to spend the night elsewhere or even make an excursion from Tel Aviv taking advantage of the relatively short distances.
Once exfoliated and hydrated do not miss the opportunity to approach the impressive strength of Masada built between 103 and 76 BC, but whose development and splendor occurred under the reign of Herod, who built a luxurious winter palace and a new tank system. For the Israelis this is their particular "Petra." And it is spectacular.
Masada: Israeli Petra © Corbis
3. Visit the center of Jewish mysticism (Safed).
They say that Madonna visits this idyllic mountain town in northern Israel at least once every five years. Like her, other Hollywood celebrities have made the Kabbalistic tradition fashionable (seekers of Jewish mystical truth) Safed being his most important center of study. In this small town most of its inhabitants dress according to Jewish tradition: they, with a skirt under the knees and with a handkerchief hiding their hair if they are married; them, with the Kipá (ritual cap that partially covers the head) and wearing a beard and the two braids on both sides of the head.
Safed, as you might have guessed, It is the ideal place to take an accelerated lesson of Judaism. Of course, we do not miss the opportunity. We hired the magnificent guide Adam Bodenstein (if you want to contact him, leave us a comment), a Hasidic Jew of American origin, who one day decided to settle in Israel to become an expert of the cabal. Adam tells us the origin of Safed that, together with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias is one of the four holy cities of Judaism and speaks to us with fascination of the symbols of religion that, according to us twelve, changed his life, responding patiently to our run over questions: "Why do you wear braids? What is the role of women in Judaism? How do you celebrate the shabbat? With him we walk the charming cobbled center, the neighborhood of artists, where it is possible to find all possible manifestations of the art of cabal and the synagogues of the city. Result: we are leaving more than prepared to continue our journey through Israel.
Safed: Hebrew mysticism © Corbis
4. Stick a banquet or ... several.
Restaurants open at any time of the day, markets full of fresh and delicious products ... for Israelis, food is a symbol of tradition and family reunion but, above all, a source of national pride. Let yourself be guided by the locals to try some of the most reputable specialties, here are some:
- Shakshouka, the Israelis' favorite breakfast: a tomato fry (but what a tomato!), onion and pepper on which star eggs are simmered. Simple but delicious.
- Boreka, a puff pastry stuffed with varied ingredients such as cheese, mushrooms, olives ... we tried it at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem and we still have not been able to forget it.
- And of course the hummus, mandatory food at any meal worth its salt along with the "pita" (attention, if you do not want to go through "guiri" do not eat the hummus with the fork but with the bread).
For the most demanding palates we recommend a visit to what is considered the gastronomic center of Israel, Nazareth, city where Jesus spent his childhood and in which little or nothing remains of the idyllic environment that we could imagine. However, in regards to restaurants, Nazareth has some of the most exquisite tables in the country such as El-Reda located in a beautiful Ottoman house. Impeccable service and even better food (lOrange salad and nuts, and the hearts of artichokes stuffed with lamb and pine nuts, fantastic).
5. Tour the Jaffa market on a Saturday morning to cool off later in one of the bustling beaches of the hedonic Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv, the main city of Israel and its economic capital, is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city but generally uninteresting architecture, with the exception of the old port of Jaffa. In this city (now part of Tel Aviv) you will find a charming old town composed of a swarm of alleyways in the purest Arab style where every weekend an interesting market is held in which antiques, second-hand clothes or Dead Sea products are sold.
And, after shopping, nothing better than taking a dip in one of the bustling beaches of the city. Our recommendation? Drummers Beach, with a bohemian and alternative atmosphere where every Friday afternoon the sounds of the drums resonate until late at night. And do not miss a good cocktail (or two) in the hands.
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The Jaffa Market © Corbis