Israel and the Golan Heights

IsraelPosted by Malin Wed, August 21, 2013 23:46:40
Arriving in Jerusalem on a Thursday, the hostel we had planned to stay in was fully booked. As we were sitting in the parking lot behind the hostel, the parking lot owner offered to help us searching the internet on his cell phone for another place to stay. While looking for other options two men in a Toyota Land Cruiser parked and asked us if we were looking for a place to stay. It turned out they were the owners of the hostel we wanted to stay in. When they heard they were fully booked that night, one of the men said that his family was out of town for the weekend, and if we wanted to, we could stay in his house. But we had to decide quickly because they were going to a beer festival in a few minutes. If we wanted to stay with him we had to join them first to the beer festival and then go to his place around 9 o’clock in the evening. This was a really good and hospital offer to two strangers, and we were really tempted to say yes. But we had had a long day; waking up early by the Dead Sea, we had been out sightseeing at Masada in 40+ degrees Celsius half of the day, and then done other stops on our way to Jerusalem. The thought of a shower, clean clothes, and laying on a bed for an hour or two before dinner was more tempting than going straight to a beer festival. As we declined the offer of beer festival and homestay, the owner of the hostel called another hostel for us and reserved their last double room. This new hostel was within walking distance, and we left the Patrol parked where it was. Next morning when we were back to get a few more things out of the car, another man commented on our Patrol as he was into 4x4 himself. He asked us about our route through Israel. We pulled out a map, and he recommended us a few places in northern Israel.

During our stay in Israel we meet a lot of friendly and helpful people, just like these people we meet in the parking lot in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a nice city to spend some days in. We spent three nights in a hostel in the city center so that we could walk around and enjoy the city.

On Friday we walked through the Mahane Yeruda Market. It must have been the busiest market I have ever been to, and it seemed like the whole of Jerusalem was there shopping before the Sabbath started. The fresh produce, cheese, bread, spices, tea, and whatever you can imagine on a marked was there, and it looked really good. In between all the stalls were small cafes and restaurants. Too busy for a relaxing meal, we continued our walk through town.

Old Jerusalem is a really fascinating area to walk through. There old city is divided into an Armenian, a Jewish, a Muslim, and a Christian Quarter. Each area has a different feel to it, and if you forget about the tourist people dress differently too.

Because of the long history and years of building and altering old buildings you can find streets and markets on different levels.

It is quite easy to get lost even with a map. Espen was cheating as he used the GPS on his mobile phone. But the best part about walking in the old city is to wander around without a specific plan and get lost every now and then.

Old Jerusalem is a holy city and contains several sites that are sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. You have the Western (Wailing) Wall and the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of Rock was closed the day we were in that area of the city, and as it was the Jewish Shabbat it was not allowed to take photos in the Western Wall area. As I took some photos in Old Jerusalem on Saturday/Shabbat I was told off by some Jews, “It is not allowed to take photos on the Shabbat”. I have thought about this afterwards and do not really see how this applies to me as I am not Jewish and do not live by the Shabbat rules, and I only took photos of some buildings.

Taking this photo was probably also an offence, but I thought I was pretty far away and no Jews saw me. Except the ones that are watching on all the security cameras. I have never walked through a city with so many security cameras, they are really all over the place.

After looking at the holy Jewish and Muslim places we had a look at the holiest Christian places in Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The different Christian Fractions who share the ownership of the church does not agree, and therefor a Muslim family holds the keys to the church. There is only one entrance to the church, and the Muslim family unlocks and locks the church every day.

Pilgrims had their photo taken in the church and in front of the Edicule of the Tomb (where there is a fragment of the stone that covered Jesus tomb and the tomb itself), so I though it must be okay to take some photos in the church too.

It is fascinating to walk around a place with so much history, and that holds the holiest places for three religions and is still an important city. One man told us that Jerusalem is the middle point between Asia, Africa and Europe.

Faith and religion does not always make sense to a none-believer. I am sometimes puzzled about how one thing can be described as something, and then when you read the facts, it is not really what it is supposed to be. We visited “The room of the Last Supper” where Jesus and his disciples had their last meal together.

Outside the room is a plaque that reads: “The Room of the Last Supper was part of the “Holy Zion” Church built in 390 BC, and the Crusader church constructed on its ruins in the 12th Century. The room in its current shape was formed in the 14th Century and it preserves architectural and scriptural elements from the Crusader period.” How can you call a room “The room of the Last Supper” when it was built 1300 years after Jesus lived? It could be that it is the same location, but it is not the same room, is it?

In the hostel in Jerusalem we saw advertisement for trips in Israel and it said “Day trips to all over Israel”. You know you are in a small country when everything can be done as daytrips out of the center. We planned to spend a bit more time than a day when we drove north from Jerusalem.

First stop was the Caesarea roman ruins on the Mediterranean Cost and from there we headed to Sea of Galilee.

On our drive north, everything was nice and peaceful and families were out on holiday. This is a strange contrast when you think about the area you are in. As we drove over the Golan Heights we saw more and more military personnel, fenced of areas with warnings about mines, and a tank having driving exercise out on a field. We stopped in a rest area along the road with a view point where you can see the border between Israel and Syria. One man that also had a break there talked to us and told us that he had seen on the news that a couple of days before there had been fighting in the town we looked down on on the Syrian side. Still, it was so peaceful where we had the rest, beside the noise from a car now and then, all we heard was birds. How can there be a war going on a few thousand meters away from us?

This has been a troubled area for a long time, and it has been concurred by different groups over and over again. From the Nimrod Fortress built in the 13th century we had amazing views over the surrounding area, and over the hill in the distance, we could see to Lebanon.

We had been recommended to drive the road along the Lebanon border going south again, as it had nicer views than the road down in the valley. Again, all is so peaceful and you see families sightseeing, but then you are reminded about the reality when you see a UN watch tower on the border. Even if it is peaceful, it is probably one of the more risky areas we have driven in on this trip.

Besides some sightseeing and arranging for shipping to Europe, our last days in Israel was spent the same way as our first - beach camping.


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Arrived safely in Israel

IsraelPosted by Espen Wed, August 21, 2013 17:59:50

It is strange how different the feeling can be for two places just a few hundred meters apart. The Sinai Peninsula is considered dangerous, and most governments around the world have travel warnings for this area. A couple of hundred meters across the border to Israel, Israelis and tourists are camping on the beach and enjoying food and good wine in the holiday-town Eilat on the Red Sea. Israel has only a few kilometers of coast line on the Red Sea, and it is mostly developed into tourist resorts. Almost at the border is a Marine Reserve (for corals), and they allow free camping directly on the beach.

The evening we crossed the border we drove into town to look for a cheap hostel, but didn’t really find anything. Israel is an expensive place, and the Youth Hostel would charge us 130 USD per night for a double. After checking out a couple of places, we drove back out to the “free beach” and camped there. The plan was to stay for the night and keep driving north the next day, but when two park rangers pulled up (we thought they were there to tell us to get lost..) and wanted to take pictures of the Patrol and the roof top tent, they told us about where we could find water, toilet and shower facilities nearby. We ended up staying four nights relaxing after the long days in Egypt sorting out the shipping that in the end didn’t happen. It was also good the go through some of our emergency food that we’ve had in the car for months coming up through Africa. There were some interesting combinations, but it really is amazing what a Chef can do with dry and canned food.

As we more or less missed out on the desert in Egypt we went for the Negev Desert in southern Israel. We had a route recommended by internet friends from Israel, and we had a fantastic drive up the Nekarot Canyon. Negev reminded us of southern Utah in the USA, and it really is 4x4 country. There must be loads of different routes and camp sites in this area.

Camping under the stars in the Maktesh Ramon Crater. We had the camp for ourselves, and in the light from the full moon the crater was magical!

The road also went up and drove along the rim. The views were spectacular.

Everybody has heard about the Dead Sea and how the saline levels make you float like a piece of cork. The Dead Sea is a lake on the border between Israel and Jordan, and it is about 400 meters BELOW sea level. Yes, this is one of the lowest places on earth. Driving down from the Negev Desert the temperature rose about a degree per 100 meters driving down (300 ft.).

When we reached the lake the thermometer in the car showed 42 degrees Celsius, almost at hot as in Khartoum. As several places along the lake are marked as dangerous because of sink holes, we drove until we found a designated swimming area. We asked the guy at the parking if he knew about any camping nearby, and he told us it would be no problem camping right there at the parking area. Why not? We popped the tent and went for the swim.

Well, it wasn’t much of a swim. You are just too high in the water to get your feet and hands in to push forward. The pictures you may have seen of people just lying there reading a newspaper are actually true. You can. And be careful going in if you have a cut or a wound as it stings like he##. The water is so salt it actually feels thick. Very strange.

We also got a chance to stop at the Masada ruins on a hilltop not far from the lake. They have built a gondola going all the way up to the plateau, and that is probably smart considering the temperatures. We bought a one-way ticket, and decided that we at least would walk back down.

Masada was built between 103 and 76 BC and then got into the hands of Herod the Great in 43 BC. The location is spectacular, and it must have been a very efficient fortress at the time. Unfortunately (for them..), in the end it was conquered by the Romans, the outline of their camps still visible far down below the city. The 967 Jews that had taken refuge at Masada committed mass suicide instead of being captured by the Romans.

The temperature was getting quite unpleasant around midday, and we decided it was time to leave if we should have a chance at all to get down before coming down with a heat stroke. We soaked our hair and shirts in water and went for it. We jogged most of the way down, and 30 minutes later we were eating at McDonalds at the visitor center at the base of the gondola. A dispenser coke has never tasted better…..

Climbing out of the depression around the Dead Sea the temperature dropped, and before reaching Jerusalem it was back down to a comfortable 32 degrees Celsius. Perfect for a few days strolling around town taking pictures and drinking ice coffees.


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