After a few hijinks finally my long awaited holidays were right around the corner. My plans were totally different when I booked my flight tickets two months before but I left anyway, with a backpack on my shoulders, knowing mine would have been partially a solo trip. Even though I had already traveled alone on different occasions, this time turned out to be my first real experience discovering a new country.
In this article, I’ll briefly tell you about my itinerary and I’ll give you a few tips in case you’re thinking about traveling to Israel for two weeks for the first time.
I can only anticipate one thing: it was the loveliest, most exciting and captivating trip of my entire life.
My unforgettable experience
When I say it was partially a solo experience I say it because, once I got to Israel, I did have some friends to meet here and there but I spent most of my time alone, deciding where to go and what to do day by day, completely adapting the itinerary to my own interests. I left with the idea of discovering this country in depth, learning the language and culture without taking too much time away from fun and outdoor activities.
By pure chance I chose a really particular time of the year because between September and October are months during which many religious festivals/holidays happen. They were a big added value to my trip, like Rosha Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.
I must confess: actually, the itinerary here below sotto only reflects what I did until October 7th … I never ended up returning to Italy on October 8th, 2017 as I had planned: Israel fascinated me so much that I postponed my return as much as possible. I added more days in Eilat and Jerusalem and, all in all, I spent more than a month in the country (followed, then, by many other holidays there). Anyhow, what follows is what I would suggest for those who are looking to visit Israel for the first time, alternating culture and fun.
This trip had a special meaning for me especially because of how I lived it and felt it. I broke down barriers, I let myself go and I always looked to establish a dialogue with tourists and local people. In general, I found Israeli people to be an extremely nice population, curious and sometimes bold and direct, funny and always ready to lend a helping hand. I was invited to a traditional Friday dinner even though I was a perfect stranger for them, they took me on a tour of the city, I met people at restaurants by pure chance, also walking out of the supermarket and at the Sarona market just by sensing their curiosity to speak to me (and today we are still in contact).
Regardless of the cultural, political and religious differences (according to the degree of observance), I was under the impression that the population was extremely collaborative and united. Did you know many houses aren’t locked? The gates to gardens are wide open, just like some of the house doors: it’s funny to walk along the street and notice someone sitting on the couch that just says hello and then keeps on watching TV.
This makes me think about many cultural aspects, among which open-mindedness of people, the absence of fear for foreigners and the internal security of the country.
I always felt safe
As a solo traveler, I can say I always felt safe at any time of day or night. In Tel Aviv for example, I noticed many young girls calmly walking home alone after an evening out with friends. I was always helped when I couldn’t understand the language or I got lost and I felt as if I were welcomed into a big family: a lovely feeling, not always experienced in other places…
Many Israelis were surprised and happy to hear my appreciation towards their country since they often feel other people’s judgment as very disdainful heavy and negative for political reasons, among others. Israel is renowned to be a country badly seen by many. However, leaving purposefully aside politics and religion, the unbiased beauty of the cities and of the landscapes, the importance of its history which is very strongly rooted and the spirit with which people live their everyday life, really moved me.
No place is perfect and I know the political situation here is very delicate but Israel is special: it won me over for the warmth and the atmosphere, it made me feel happy and at ease and, for this reason, it will always have a special place in my heart.
Two-week itinerary to Israel
September 21: Arrival in Tel Aviv (exactly on the day of Rosha Hashana, the Jewish New Year)
September 22-28: Tel Aviv + One day tour to the Masada, Ein Gedi and to the Dead Sea.
September 28: Arrival in Jerusalem during the evening, one night at a hostel and early morning departure for Jordan.
September 29 – October 1: a tour of Jordan organized by Abrahams Tour including stops in Jaresh, Amman, Petra, and Wadi Rum.
October 1 – 4: Jerusalem
October 4 – 7: Eilat
October 8: Tel Aviv airport and departure for Italy
Maybe some of you will ask themselves why I spent a whole week in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem. Absolutely legit question, given that from the historical and cultural point of view Jerusalem has much more to offer. The answer is simple: I felt like being near the sea, soaking in Tel Aviv’s positive energy and relaxing after a complicated working period. If your needs are different, I suggest that you spend less time in Tel Aviv and dedicate more days to Jerusalem for a more in-depth tour, since Tel Aviv, in comparison, is an ultra-modern socialite city, perfect for those who mostly want to party every day.
Of Tel Aviv, I appreciated above all the extremely lively and young atmosphere which is lacking in my residence city (Genova, in Italy). During this week I tried to learn something new every day and to soak in its spirit: unique cafès, markets, street art, food tours, walk in the narrow streets of Jaffa or simply, admire every sunset with my feet in the sand and a Gold Star in my hand.
The Holy City par excellence and one of a kind for being sacred to the three monotheistic religions. After spending one week in a very western Tel Aviv, arriving in Jerusalem had a certainly different impact: finally, I perceived being in a Middle Eastern country. If in Tel Aviv you can hardly spot religious people wearing traditional clothes, in Jerusalem they are the majority, wearing different styles of hats and outfits. The city exudes very special energy in the central streets and also in the old town, in which Arabs, Hebrews, Christians, greek-orthodox and Armenians live together. Religious tourism is prevalent and there are many organized groups from every country, coming to discover the most antique and sacred places of the city.
I added Eliat to my itinerary because I wanted to do some scuba diving in the Red Sea. After obtaining my first diving license, I couldn’t miss this opportunity! I searched for some diving centers and I brought the logbook con previous immersions together with my PADI card. The majority of locations advertised are suitable also for beginners and, without reaching a great depth, it’s possible to admire an extraordinarily colorful marine life and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see dolphins swimming nearby. The city reveals itself as a tourist place for Russian and Israeli families. Culturally it doesn’t have much to offer, rather… it’s considered by Israelis themselves as a “trendy” place in which to spend holidays but, in my opinion, it’s worth a visit if you love water sports or if you want to know the desert.
Having many days available and considering how easy it is to reach Jordan, I decided to book an organized three-day/two-night tour that would allow me to get to know, mainly, Petra and the Wadi Rum desert. It turned out to be an unforgettable experience, also thanks to the suggestive Bedouin camp where we stayed. This trip deserves its own post and I’ll tell you about it further ahead … 🙂
There are different airlines operating flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion, among which many Israeli companies (El Al, Arkia e Israir), low-cost airlines Easy Jet and RyanAir and, mainly international ones. These aren’t always cheap flights so my advice is to book early. Living in Genova I was able to find a convenient flight to Tel Aviv (with a short stop in Rome) for 250€ round trip, a couple of months in advance.
There are also international flights to Ovda Eilat and there’s a brand new international airport called Ramon super close to the desert!
Considering accommodation has kind of high prices (according to me higher than most of the European capitals), you need to be flexible and committed during your search.
I personally preferred to alternate nights in hostels and guesthouses because, if on one hand, I was looking to find fellow travelers, on the other I wanted to have full use of my spaces.
In Tel Aviv, I spent a week at the Peer Guest House, a basic facility, but perfect for its position, minutes away from Carmel Market, Allenby Street, and the beach. Returning to Tel Aviv I would probably choose it again because of the privacy and because of how practical it was or, in any case, I would opt for the same area.
In Jerusalem and Eilat I preferred hostels. The Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem was a pleasant surprise: lively, clean, well organized and featuring common spaces that were perfect for creating great social interaction.
In Eilat I stayed at the Arava Hostel, but it wasn’t as thrilling as the one in Jerusalem: it was basic, lacking areas in which to socialize (regardless of it having a nice front garden) and almost exclusively a place for families to stay in during the Sukkot celebrations: as a consequence my hopes of meeting people were close to zero. Maybe my mistake was looking for accommodation really too close to the actual date, so websites weren’t offering such a wide choice and only showcased luxury hotels or hostels.
Returning I would certainly organize everything more in advance, especially returning to Eilat during peak season.
- If you’re thinking about organizing a trip to Israel book your flights and your accommodation with good advance planning. Apparently, there isn’t any such thing as a low season: hospitality structures (excluding hostels which sell out spaces quickly) have unworldly prices, especially if you try to book last minute, and it’s often difficult even to find a place to sleep. I’m speaking out of personal experience.
- Carry a printed copy of your reservations with you, they might come in handy during the interview with airport security before getting your visa. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions especially if you have Arab countries’ stamps on your passport. They will want to know everything about you… and about your Israeli friends if you have any.
- The languages mainly spoken in Israel are Hebrew, Arabic and English. Tours, tourist places, bars, hotels, and locals rarely know other languages, In case your English is below basic, you’ll find interpreters available at the airport, to help you with the strict security screening. Without an interpreter, you can find some pre-printed forms in various languages.
- In Eilat, the most widespread languages are Hebrew and Russian and I often felt a little lost even in the easiest things: I needed to ask passersby to read signs for me, including the ones which distinguished female from male bathrooms…(no, there were no man and woman symbols!). I felt ill at ease almost as if I were illiterate.
- If you’re thinking of traveling and moving between different cities, remember that public transport (trains and buses) do not run during Shabbat, so, starting from Friday evening and until Saturday evening. The rest of the week they are frequent and on time. You can choose to get around by train, bus or sherut (shared taxi) and it’s not necessary to book in advance unless you’re traveling in super high season (like I was when traveling from Jerusalem to Eilat with an Egged bus during the Sukkot celebrations!). I downloaded two free apps which were essential: Moovit to calculate all times and which means of transport to take and GetTaxi that allows you to book and pay for (also with a credit card) taxis in every city. I used this one a lot.
- Unless you are in Tel Aviv (really touristy and “secular”), remember to get organized to eat: during Shabbat, all restaurants and markets are closed. Jerusalem, which only exclusively has kosher eateries, follows this rule rigorously. My suggestion is to go to the old town and look for an Arab or Christian place or, to buy something in advance.
- From Tel Aviv’s secondary airport, it’s possible to reach Eilat in less than an hour (instead of the 5/6 hours by bus). Flights departing for Eliat are frequent with companies like Arkia e Israir and prices are often affordable.
- You don’t need to bring special power adaptors for electricity: even though Israel’s sockets are different, our usual European chargers for phone/computer work without needing an adaptor.
- You should get cash at ATM or anyhow avoid exchanging big sums of money at the airport, if not for your first expense necessary to take the taxi/bus into town.
- Tipping is mandatory (with a minimum of 10% and an average of about 12% just to be sure) in every bar or restaurant. Also, delivery people expect it …just count on leaving a tip every time there is a service, especially at your table, even if it’s for a beer at the beach.
- If you visit Jerusalem, bring appropriate attire to visit sacred Islamic and Hebraic landmarks. In a few words: cover up.
What tips would you add? How was your experience in Israel?
What impressed you the most or what would you like to visit?
I’m waiting for your comments below