My good friend Charlotte (Charly) came to visit last week. It was her first time in Israel but it was only for 9 days, so we had a lot of things to see and not a lot of time to do it. We traveled from all the way up in the Golan Heights, to all the way down to Makhtesh Ramon, and everywhere in between. But first, we started in Tel Aviv.
Charly arrived at 5am (Thanks, i didn’t need my sleep anyway!) and we figured our best plan was to stay up all day and crash that night to get her immediately onto Israeli time. With that in mind, our first stop was a bike ride down to Yaffo / Jaffa.
We wandered the city and Charly had her first taste of a hummus restaurant. It was crowded so we had to sit on a wall across the street – but they gave us our plates of hummus and a plastic bag of pita and an entire onion cut into quarters.
Charly and I met at the rock climbing gym in Boston, so of course I had to take her to Performance Rock while she was here. She agreed that the ratings were much harder. (Now I don’t feel like I suck as bad.) We also visited the shuk on Friday so she could see the madness that it becomes before Shabbat and got some really good eggrolls, and on Saturday we took a free architecture and history tour of downtown Tel Aviv.
After two days in Tel Aviv, we drove up north. We stopped at Har Meron along the way, but it was windy and rainy so none of my photos turned out. As we drove toward the winery, though, the weather cleared a bit.
We took a tour of the Golan Heights Winery, which I had been to with Birthright. Eagle-eyed readers may recognize this man – he is the exact same tour guide I had three years ago on my very first full day in Israel.
After the winery we drove to Safed/Zefat/Tsfat/Zfat/Safad/Safes/Safet/Tzfatt/צְפַת, or however you spell it. Clearly no one can agree. Regardless, it’s the center of Kabbalah, and a very unique old city with narrow streets and gorgeous alleyways and a vibrant mystical art scene. We got there right at sunset, but it started to rain as we ate dinner in the town center. We wandered through the streets a bit, and then began the long drive back to Tel Aviv.
The next morning, we headed south with Noa. Our plan was to visit Makhtesh Ramon, but Noa suggested we could drop her off at her grandparent’s artichoke farm (paternal grandparents; maternal grandparents are the ones on the kibbutz) and get a tour while we were there. I love artichokes and Charly had never had one, so of course we said yes.
Noa’s grandfather toured us around his fields in a cart on the back of his tractor. He doesn’t speak English, so Noa translated for us.
In addition to artichokes, they grow grapes and olives, though neither were in season while we were there. They are reasonably close to the Gaza border, but apparently have never had any significant scares due to rockets. I say significant because he played it down. It was clear that a few rockets have landed in nearby fields over the years, but he made it out to be no big deal.
They were gracious enough to treat us to brunch as well, with a great spread of dishes, including whole artichokes so Charly could try her first one.
After saying goodbye to Noa, we continued our drive down south to the crater.
From the crater, we drove east to the shores of the dead sea, and further south to Neot Hakikar. The town sits some 200 meters from the border with Jordan, and is where our accommodations were for the night. Sunset on the mountains across the sea was gorgeous.
Shkedi’s Camplodge is a really great place out in the desert with all sorts of fire pits, open air communal areas, and cabin style housing. It was pretty empty and very cold when we were there, but would be a great place to visit during the summer
One of the traditional Israeli tourist activities is watching sunrise from atop Masada. Also a trip I had done on Birthright (and even before that, when my family visited in 1999), Masada is a very unique place that I was eager to visit again. So we got up at 4:45am and made the 45 minute drive North.
From Masada, it was on to the Ein Bokek, a town on the shores of the Dead Sea that exists solely for Dead Sea tourism. Fortunately, we found a beautiful public beach to visit. The water was super cold so I decided no to go in, but Charly braved it.
That evening we made the 2.5hr drive back to Tel Aviv, accidentally missing a turn and spending much of the drive traveling through the West Bank and then Jerusalem.
We spent New Years in Tel Aviv, and while we went out with my friends, we were back and asleep by 12:45am. Growing old is lame.
On the 1st, we took a bus from TLV to Jerusalem. That story to come in the next blog post!