Known as the Holy Land by the practitioners of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Israel has been a focal point of many events throughout history. Join me as I visit some interesting sites in Southern Israel.
Thanks to Cathay Pacific Fanfares (weekly fare discounts) I had managed to snag myself a super cheap ticket for the carrier’s inaugural direct flight from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv. I was extraordinarily excited to be on the way to a place I’d heard so much about as a child. As the Holy Land for three major religions, Israel has always been a bit of a mystical fascination for me. My trip started off well when I had a whole row to myself on the plane. Being able to lay down on a 10 hour flight is awesome.
You may be aware that the mostly Muslim Palestinian Territories are currently occupied by Israel. Due to the issues between the two countries, everyone entering Israel gets thoroughly questioned. Apparently being a single female means that ‘thorough’ is taken to a whole new level. It’s uncomfortable and you get asked ridiculous questions. If you have stamps in your passport from countries with Muslim communities, like Indonesia and Malaysia, you get more questions. It’s a pain, but it’s just something you have to endure to be able to enter the country.
Interesting Sites in Southern Israel – Tel Aviv
Luckily, things get a whole lot nicer once you get out of the airport. The city was generally clean and beautiful.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Tel Aviv, but I found out almost instantly that it thinks of itself as the fun Israeli city.
Judging by some of the things I saw while walking around, I would have to agree.
I’d never thought of it as an artistic city, so it was surprising to see a fair amount of street art while walking around town. Who doesn’t love a bit of street art!
It seems that the contemporary art scene was alive and well in Tel Aviv.
I was lucky to have some friends in Tel Aviv, that I’d met while travelling in India a few years beforehand. They took me along to a couple of underground performances. Art wasn’t the only thing happening around town. The annual Pride festival was also taking place.
With the Pride festival going on, there were a lot of rainbow flags around town, both outside and inside.
As well as posters for current and upcoming events happening around the city.
It was a hot day and I had been walking for a while, so I decided to cool off in the Pride Market. I’m sure it was just a normal market with rainbow flags. Almost everything you could buy in the market came with a pride flag or two.
Including this strangely named, ridiculously large and slightly overpriced meal.
Interesting Sites in Southern Israel – Old Jaffa
There’s nothing like a walk into history after a satisfying meal, so I headed to Old Jaffa, the historical centre of the area. To be honest, it seems more commercial than historical these days. Although the narrow cobbled paths did have an old-timey feel to them, the buildings were mainly full of expensive seafood restaurants, galleries and souvenir shops.
The old Clock tower still stands and is quite impressive. It can be seen from many places within the old town, including Abrasha Park, above the old city. From Abrasha park, you can look over the city and out into the Mediterranean Sea. The park also contains the Wishing Bridge, complete with Zodiac sculptures along its railings. The idea being that you wish on your zodiac sign for your wish to come true.
A walk over the bridge brings you closer to the ‘new town’ and more rainbows.
Then a walk through a tunnel brings you to a popular beach with modern Tel Aviv as its backdrop.
Seems like a good place to relax for a bit, right?
After an interesting few days in Tel Aviv, I headed to Northern Israel to discover its wonders. I’ll cover that trip in my next post. From the north, I made my way southeast to the Dead Sea.
Interesting Sites in Southern Israel – Kibbutz Ein Gedi on The Dead Sea
I had prearranged a stay in a Kibbutz called Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea. If you’ve never heard of a Kibbutz, it’s a collaborative community based on utopian and zionist ideals of equality. Basically, everyone contributes equally to the community and therefore shares everything that the community has. It’s quite amazing that so many of these mostly agricultural communities survived into the 21st century. Of course, some of them have moved with the times and now rely on manufacturing or tourism as their main source of income. Especially around the Dead Sea.
As I entered the Kibbutz, there were a few sculptures that gave a subtle nod to the community’s agrerian past. Obviously, a modern day Kibbutz looks much different to those of olden times. This one was like an oasis in a desert. You might know that the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, at around 420 metres below sea level. Ein Gedi is a little bit uphill from the ‘Sea’ where it is surrounded by desert mountains.
The Dead Sea
I had travelled all that way to see the Dead Sea, which isn’t actually a sea at all. It is in fact the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. Pretty much everyone that goes there, does so to float in the lake. The high salt content makes swimming a little difficult and dangerous. My host, Ran told me that spending longer than 15 minutes in the water was a bad idea.
Ran had taken me to a private beach on the shore of the Dead Sea that was owned by his Kibbutz. He had asked if I wanted to visit at night and that sounded amazing to me. The Israeli summer is hot and I’m not much of a beach person. We had the whole beach to ourselves and it was amazing to see the lights from Jordanian villages on the other side while floating under the stars!
What is Floating in the Dead Sea Like?
To be honest, it was kind of weird being in the lake. You feel it’s oddness as soon as you take your first steps into the water. It feels really weird between your toes. It also feels like the water is trying to push against you slightly as you go further into the lake. I could see why swimming wasn’t an option; it would take far too much energy. Floating in the lake was a rather odd sensation and I wasn’t too interested in staying in the water for too long.
As I exited the lake, I noticed that a thin film had developed on my skin that looked both greasy and dry at the same time. It’s very hard to explain and I rinsed it off as quickly as I could under a shower on the shore. Ran advised that it was important the rinse my swimming clothes straight away and wash them as soon as we got back to his place. Apparently the salinity of the water can destroy the fibres of some clothes if left for too long.
I’m glad that I was able to find out first hand what the lake is like and even if it’s a bit weird, I’d still recommend it.
Keep an eye out for upcoming articles in this series –
Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel
Historic and Natural Places to See in Northern Israel
What is it Really Like in Palestine?
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