Israel – What To Know Before You Go

If Israel’s not on your bucket list, put it at the top, now!

Israel is a rare country that you can drive across in 6 hours, making it a great destination to stay settled in one place and day trip out from there! One of the hardest parts about traveling to far-away countries for me is constantly moving and never being able to unpack and settle. If you’re like me, you’ll love Israel!

The Ultimate Israel Trip 

See the following blog posts for information on what to do in each of these places!

If you follow this itinerary, I promise you will have a life-changing and awakening trip that will leave you forever smiling at the memories!

  • Jaffa
  • Tel Aviv
  • Golan Heights
  • Arad
  • Dead Sea
  • Jerusalem
  • Tiberias (if time)

 

Israel – Where To Stay?

The Margosa Hotel in Jaffa was the perfect boutique hotel and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Located a 10 minute walk from the Jaffa Port, the world’s oldest seaport and a 10 minute drive into the heart of Israel, Tel Aviv. Margosa is a boutique hotel that really takes care of their visitors. Stays include a delicious buffet breakfast with a yogurt, fruit and muesli bar, eggs, breads, pastries and lots of other Israeli fare. In addition, the Margosa has the best coffee/cappuccino I’ve ever had, available 24 hours a day, along with freshly squeezed orange juice, lemonade and water with fresh mint free of charge. They’ve also got snacks available 24 hours including fruit, pastries, chips and other treats.

One night we went downstairs for some chips and there were no more (though there were plenty of other snacks), the concierge heard us say we were disappointed that there were no chips and he went out to the store and brought us back a large variety, free of charge. I can’t think of any other hotel like that! They had great recommendations about where to eat, where to go and were always there to give us directions and help us make bookings for excursions, taxis and restaurants. The special touch added by such attentive staff, the quaint rooms with Jaffa orange trees on the balcony and the lovely atmosphere make the Margosa a must stay! It’s got free parking as well if you rent a car.

http://www.margosa-hotel.com/

Fun fact: Did you know Jaffa Cake cookies are named after Jaffa Israel due to their abundance of orange trees? I’ve eaten them since I was a child and had no clue!

 

Israel – Where to Eat?

Almost all of the Port restaurants in Jaffa and Tel Aviv serve 20 different kinds of salads, dips such as hummus and tahini, falafel and fresh cooked pita bread before your meal even arrives. You also have the choice to skip the main and fill up on these delicious starters that they re-fill free of charge in most places. This is a true Israeli dining experience and the flavors will overwhelm your taste buds like nothing else! We ate at Fisherman’s Restaurant in the Jaffa Port and would highly recommend it, skip the mains (they weren’t very good). The starters were more than any of us could eat and were mouth-watering, especially the falafel! You’ll also have a front row seat to lots of wedding photo shoots occurring along the port as you eat and drink the most delicious fresh squeezed lemonade that comes with the starters. http://www.rol.co.il/sites/hadayagim/

Onza was a restaurant that our hotel recommended to us. It’s a Turkish restaurant and having been to Turkey, I wasn’t overly enthused to try it. Was I ever wrong! This food was spectacular, but likely not your cup of tea if you’re very health-conscious. We shared Turkish bread, the shawarma, the Lahmi Bajn Taboon, a pizza mixed with a lamb taco type of dish, and the lamb “Arais,” a panini lamb sandwich. The shawarma was the best I’ve ever tasted! Everything was delicious! The server brought us over free shooters and free dessert and the service was exceptional start to finish! A must-go while in Jaffa! http://www.onza.co.il/

In the same area as Onza there are a ton of great restaurants and bars. One alley will give you a busy upbeat atmosphere while another will give you quaint quieter restaurants, perfect for a date. We had a great Italian meal around here.

If you’re in the mood for something sweet, there is a gelato shop right by the Margosa Hotel, literally across the street that made incredible Nutella crepes topped with the Gelato of your choice (the snickers gelato is a must!). There are lots of great gelato shops around the area.

Finally, if you want some of the most delicious falafel but are looking for more of a grab-and-go in the Jaffa area, Haj Kahil Express by the clock tower in Jaffa is bar none! Stick to the falafel here and enjoy every delicious mouthful, the fries were delicious and extra crispy as well if you’re in the mood! The only English word on the restaurant sign is “Express” but you won’t miss it! They’ve got a full service restaurant right across the street as well if you’d prefer a sit down experience at Haj Kahil.  http://www.hajkahil.rest-e.co.il/

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Onza, Turkish Restaurant, Jaffa
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Fisherman’s Restaurant, Jaffa Port

Israel – Markets & Shopping

The Jaffa Flea Market is much like an old storage locker full of random knick-knacks that as a tourist, it’s doubtful you’ll ever need. It’s interesting to walk around and see how these people make a living and marvel at the fact they’re able to sell from packed rooms full of anything and everything.

There’s a free walking tour in Jaffa that will take you to many great sites including the market. The tour leaves from the clock tower at 11:00am and 2:00pm daily.

Carmel Market has much more to offer the average tourist and is a must-do in Tel Aviv. Go hungry and have lunch in a local restaurant or try food throughout the market. They’ve got everything from sunhats, sunglasses, clothing, makeup, accessories, art and lots of food! It’s always fun and vibrant to walk around Carmel and listen to the sounds of local musicians playing in the square at the entrance. If you’re in the mood for pasta, there’s a great spot at the entrance with large portions for cheap prices.

Dizengoff Center is the local shopping mall in Tel Aviv and has both stores known and unknown to North Americans. It’s a 15 minute walk from Carmel market and is worth a browse if you’re in the mood to shop. You’ll also find some great boutique stores along the walk, some of my favorites in Tel Aviv.

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Carmel Market, Tel Aviv

Israel – Jerusalem

The Wailing Wall was so significant to me that it needed its own post, but it’s really part of the Jerusalem tour. We had a friend of the family who used to be a tour guide, guide us so I can’t provide a recommendation for a tour guide. However, the city is so remarkable I’m sure a quick search on tripadvisor will lead you in the right direction. Some things to make sure you do while in Jerusalem are, buy a Jewish bagel off a street vendor, try some halva cheese in the market, walk through the 4 Quarters of the city, visit the Western Wall and place a prayer in a crack and finally, visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I should preface this by saying I’m not religious so none of these sites relate to me more than the other and yet the feeling I felt at both the Jewish Holy Wall and Christian Holy Church were nothing short of spiritual.

Whatever you believe, one thing most religions can agree upon is that Jesus lived and was crucified. At the time, there were many heretics claiming to be the Messiah and for their “outrageous” claims, were crucified as an example to all others. I can’t side with either opinion about Jesus. If someone came today and claimed to be the Son of God, I’m sure we’d deem them mentally unwell. Yet, if I believe in something bigger than me like God, how can I rule out the idea that perhaps he did send his Son to Earth? None the less, we know this happened despite who we each believe Jesus was, and it is alleged that his crucifixion and resurrection occurred at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

This church is grand and is located in the Christian Quarter. History tells us that in the 2nd century AD, the Roman emperor Hadrian built a temple to bury the cave where Jesus had been buried. Around the year 325 the temple was replaced with a Church by the Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great. While the Church was being built, Constantine’s mother, Helena went searching for remaining signs of Jesus and was said to have rediscovered the tomb. They say Jesus was crucified on a rock and that an earthquake occurred at the site at some point after that and before Helena rediscovered the tomb (according to our tour guide).

In the Church, you go up narrow stairs to the area where they say he was crucified and can wait in a long line to pray at the replica of Jesus’s feet or can simply marvel at the space from in front of it. As we were upstairs, a parade of Orthodox Christians made their way through the Church in black cloaks with black hoods, singing. It was eerily appropriate for the moment. It is said that Jesus’s disciples took his body off the cross and laid it down on the ground, before burying him in the cave. This area is back on the main floor of the Church and is represented by a large and beautiful marble slab. Allegedly, his blood fell through the cracks of the Earth and onto Adam’s buried body and this is how he abdicated the sins of all humanity. As you walk through the Church you come to the cave which is covered by a temple where it is said he was resurrected. There’s a beautiful skylight above the area which shines light to make it look like he is being arisen in front of your eyes. All we can know for sure is that he did exist, he was crucified and these events allegedly took place in or around this Church. Religious or not, when you’re inside a place that holds so much hope, prayer and belief you’ll feel an unprecedented energy and connection to something, whatever your something is.

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Where He was Crucified
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Where He was Laid
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Where He was Resurrected

Israel – The Western Wall

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Oh Israel, you did it again. You stole my heart and left a piece of it there forever. My first foray into this unknown land was with Taglit Birthright, a privilege I was awarded due to a Jewish heritage on my father’s side. This trip showed me a culture and a land that I would likely never have known without it and left me wanting more. I knew I would come back again and plan to many more times, each time discovering new experiences that shake my core and take my breathe away.

On Taglit, I was the only non-Jewish individual and for this reason, the others plotted and prayed for me to feel a connection to a homeland and faith that my family has very strong ties to.

Alas, I had my moment of connection to Israel and my heritage towards the end of Taglit. We walked through Rabin Square and stood where former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in 1995. From here we made our way to the world wonder, the Western Wall or Wailing Wall as it is also known. What significance can a wall hold I wondered? It’s not even part of the original Holy Temple, but rather the last standing piece of the retaining wall that has been and may always be contested over by the various religious sects in Israel.

I wrote my prayer on a small piece of paper and walked up to the wall. I had to wait… and wait… and wait until I could get some space to approach the wall. I thought I would place my note in a crack and let the next person come up to the wall and say a prayer.

It hit me like a lightning bolt, a feeling I only hope to ever experience in a spiritual sense. I fell to my knees and I sobbed. I sobbed for my heritage, for my history and for the connection that came through me like all of the souls that had ever touched or longed to touch this wall. I felt their tears, their prayers and their pain. I finally felt my connection to Israel. This to date, was the most profound moment and feeling I had ever experienced. Whether the Western Wall has significance to you or not, I can’t imagine anyone visiting it and not feeling something!

Israel – The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is not far from Kfar Hanokdim so it makes sense to continue your journey through Arad to the Dead Sea. If you’ve planned your trip like me you would have traveled from the Golan Heights which is home to the highest point in Israel, Mount Hermon at 2,224 meters above sea level down to the Dead Sea which is the lowest point on Earth, what a journey in a single country!

Get a day pass or stay overnight at the Crowne Plaza hotel and book a spa treatment, the massages are amazing! Venture out to the Dead Sea where your body will float as you lie back, watch not to get any in your eyes! If you walk down the beach you’ll find areas with Dead Sea mud that you can cover yourself in. Within the hotel, there is a pool that pumps water from the Dead Sea into it daily. Due to its concentration you become even more buoyant then in the Dead Sea. It’s so much fun to splash around and try and keep your legs from flying over your head! The Dead Sea is relaxing and spectacular! I highly recommend spending a night here and enjoying 2 days at this world wonder! The buffet at the Crowne Plaza is amazing as well.