From Amman I went to the bus terminal and found a shared taxi to take me the border. On the Jordan side we had to wait over an hour to take a bus which takes us across the no-man’s land and over to the Israel side. I heard that you might get interrogated quite a bit by the Israeli security guys, especially if you’re a brown person or you’ve visited a lot of muslim countries. Immigration asked me a couple of questions about what I was doing in Jordan, why I was coming to Israel and who I was seeing, and that was all. It was a breeze! I had already met a few people so far who certainly did not have the same experience!
Once you’re across the border it’s an easy bus ride through Palestine into Jerusalem where I found my hostel outside of the old town. Hostels in Israel are really nice and well run, although they better be, for $30/night to sleep in a dorm room. Hostels are everywhere in Jerusalem, presumably because hotel prices are so high. Israel is definitely not a budget destination! Just walking around and seeing the prices it felt like being in Perth all over again! However you can find falafel and pita places on the street that are pretty cheap and shockingly good. I feel like I’ve only had mediocre falafel my whole life, so this was eye opening!
In the morning I woke up nice and early to go see the old city before the crowds of tourists arrived. Jerusalem is fantastic early in the morning! All the tourists shops are closed and the only people around are the actual inhabitants of the city, many of which are kids on their way to school, muslims and orthodox jews alike. The city has four quarters, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter, the Armenian quarter, and the Jewish quarter. So it’s fun to wander around and see the differences in each of these places and the various mosques, churches and synagogues. Highlights include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified, the western wall (aka the wailing wall) which is where all the orthodox Jews go to pray, and the Temple on the mount, which is the 3rd holiest place in Sunni Islam, but also has religious significance for Jews and Christians as well. It’s controlled by Jordan, but protected by Israeli security forces and technically non-muslims are not allowed to pray there. It’s only open a few hours a day to non-muslims, so it can get crowded during those hours!
Jerusalem is surprisingly small. You can walk around it all in a few hours. Once it gets to mid morning the tourist stalls start to open up and you get these large groups of people doing religious tours through the city. It’s very popular with Christians of course, following in the footsteps of Jesus. In Jerusalem you can stop at each of the Stations of the Cross, and the groups are usually carrying around a big wooden cross from place to place and singing hymns. It’s interesting to watch! The finale is the Church of the Sepulchure. It also has the empty tomb where he was said to have been buried and resurrected from. Although nobody knows for sure exactly where he was buried. But for Christians there’s loads of important holy places. Walking around you can see groups of Americans, Mexicans, Italians, French, Spaniards, Filipinos, Indians, Africans, you name it! People from all over the world. There’s so many tours going on that the intersections on the main walking routes turn into traffic jams. Like in most places, once the tour groups start rolling in, I start rolling out. I’d come back in late afternoon once the crowds had thinned out.
In Jerusalem I also made a trip to the Palestinian side to see Bethlehem. It’s easy to take a bus. The Palestinians have to go through security checks, but for tourists you just flash your passport and that’s it. The Palestine side isn’t too much different, but you can tell it’s a bit poorer, buildings are more run down, there’s no high end art stores and retail shopping like in the Jerusalem downtown. The cab drivers waiting outside the bus are annoying and leave a bad impression on some people who aren’t used it, but after being in Egypt these guys seemed almost pleasant. It’s a 15 minute walk to the Church of the Nativity and the Milk Grotto, where it is said that while Mary was was nursing baby Jesus, a few drops fell to ground and turned everything white! A true miracle! It was a pleasant place though. I wandered around town for two hours or so before going back to the bus. The overload of religious stuff isn’t all that captivating to me. A British guy on the bus, who didn’t seem to really like the Palestinian side, muttered, “That’s not God’s country, Israel is God’s country”. Sure buddy, I wonder what that means. But it obviously doesn’t have God’s people, because according to his religion, 97% of Israeli residents will be burning in hell for being non-believers. Ouch.
One of things I found interesting in Jerusalem was that it draws in quite a bit of a different traveler type crowd than in most places, ie the very religious kind. It’s kind of awkward talking to some of these people about Jerusalem because for them it has such a deep, spiritual meaning and for me it’s mostly more sightseeing. I talked to some Americans doing a pilgrimage that they’d been planning for two years; they seemed a bit miffed that I was talking about Jerusalem in such a nonchalant manner, like it was just another place on my trip and I didn’t only have absolutely glowing things to say about everything there!
To be honest, I really didn’t like the majority of Americans I met on this trip, mostly the ones in the hostels I stayed. Normally when traveling, it’s extremely difficult to find Americans who are full-on Trump supporters. They’re like unicorns. Unicorns with lots of cognitive dissonance. Israel is a little different though, between conservative American Christians and Zionist leaning Jews, the religious right is alive and well here, so it’s not uncommon to find Trump slappies. The current state of Israel’s zionism and Trumpism are eerily similar. And with an ever frightening world consisting mostly of 3rd world shitholes and the socialist hellscape that is Europe, Israel appears to be a Safespace! It was pretty annoying in the hostels because there would always be one vocal right wing nut job who would get into an argument with the whole table, which of course would never go anywhere, and everyone at the whole table would eventually just throw up their hands in exasperation. Seriously, convincing these people of anything rooted in facts is just not worth it, might as well be talking to a brick wall. Sigh.
I spent three nights in Jerusalem and then took the bus to Tel Aviv. Originally I was going to go to the Dead Sea but I was getting a bit worn out from traveling and it seems like nobody really even swims in the sea because it’s too salty; it’s mostly just a 5 minute photo-op floating on the water. So I took a pass. To Tel Aviv it was an easy one hour bus ride. I decided to walk the mile or so from the bus station to my hostel. It wasn’t exactly the nicest part of town, but it had character. Lots of little run down grocers and bakeries and Jewish flags. It reminded me of walking around the Lower East Side in NYC. It also surprised me how diverse Tel Aviv is. I was kind of expecting to see all white people, but that was not the case!
The hostel I was staying was quite the sight, it was more like an interactive apartment complex than a hostel! It was five stories, complete with multiple common areas, a small library, a work space, two bars, a rooftop terrace, etc. Impressive! $35 for a dorm though. Nobody wants to pay for a hotel in Tel Aviv though. I met a couple cool guys in my room, an Israeli now living in London, an Aussie from Sydney, and another American that I mentioned before, the Spanish Jew from Houston. This guy was hilarious, he’s 39 and his sole intention of coming to Tel Aviv was to pick up Jewish chicks. When someone asked him if he traveled much, he was like “yea man, I was in PCB (Panama City Beach, Alabama) last year!” I almost spit out my drink! It’s hilarious because absolutely nobody outside of the US would ever know what PCB is, and that someone over 22 would actually consider going there! It really is an awful town, and I would know because I went there not once, but twice for Spring Break! But anyway, it was going to be a good couple of days with this group.
The first night we just hung out at the rooftop where they had happy hour, which meant $4 beers. Most nights they’re $8 a glass. Yikes. Another American from New York invited himself to our table and he was quick to interject when someone made a Trump joke. We later found out he thinks any mainstream news source is liberal propaganda, 3,000,000 illegal immigrants voted in California, everyone on welfare is lazy or a cheat, we need to arm the populace, Trump is a genius who also has genuinely cares about the average American, and that the sky is in fact purple. We couldn’t get rid of this guy fast enough! Need a fly swatter, jeeez.
The next day was beach day. It was 25 minutes walking to the beach. The ocean was nice and warm and it was 80 and sunny, so it was a relaxing, cheap afternoon. Tel Aviv is indeed a very pleasant city. That evening we all paid $20 to go on the hostel run pub crawl where you go to 5 different bars, skip the lines, and includes a ‘free’ shot at each place. The shot is Raki, which is a licorice tasting abomination. Beers at the bars cost something like $12 each and I don’t even want to look at my credit card to see how much money I spent, because it’s not going to be pretty. But all the bars were fun and lively with lines down the street, so the nightlife is definitely strong in Tel Aviv! I don’t know how all these young people can afford it!
The next day was hangover day and we made it out to the port and the old town of Jaffa in the late afternoon, which is the Arab area. We took it easy that night, except for the guy from Houston who was still on a mission to pick up girls, so he went out to Israel’s biggest club, as he couldn’t bear the thought of going to Tel Aviv and not going to the biggest club in the Middle East! And that was basically it for Tel Aviv for me! I flew out the next day to Cyprus for $18! They did give me a little hassle at the airport, asking me all about all the muslim countries I have in my passport, which is like 10 of them, but it was less than 10 minutes and I was free to go. Time to find some poker action and start making some money!