Israel, Middle East
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In Photos : What I did in Israel!

It was after spending a fair amount of time discussing on where to go, that we closed in on Israel. I  remember exactly what tilted our decision – a Youtube video with this guy trying to find the best eats in Jerusalem. He was overly enthusiastic and smiling too much, while stuffing his face with the gooey goodness of hummus  but it was just what I needed to make up my mind. We had friends joining us and as the respective families got whiff of our plans, growing concerns about our choice of country threatened to derail the plan. Anyway, the dust settled and we booked our tickets and on a breezy Thursday night, we landed in Tel Aviv.
My research had convinced me that Tel Aviv is very cosmopolitan and fun, and it was. The not so fun part was that I had a crazy case of bed bug bites our second night, and by the morning it got so bad that the crazy bites became massive red bumps that itched like hell. We called the dude who owns the apartment and he looked genuinely shocked and immediately moved us to another apartment. He also agreed to give us our money back in full, a gesture that pleased everyone greatly and was accepted as a good deal. Except by me, as I was the only one suffering but somehow everyone had been redeemed with the unexpected money 😀 . Anyway, I was irritable after the incident, and fairly cranky in the heat, always covering myself and sprinkling generous doses of talc and applying thick layers of aloe gel. The pictures below will obviously tell another story 😉 .

Chilling at the Tel Aviv Beach

Tel Aviv is uber hip. Amazing beaches, beautiful people, food, bars, culture, art, flea markets, it’s all very cool and chic. The city breaks all the caricatures of being middle eastern, it’s global and it’s happening and it’s perfect for sun, sand and frolic.

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Just look at the color of the water!

Carmel Market

An iconic flea market in Tel Aviv, at Carmel you can find fresh produce, traditional sweets, clothes, accessories, homeware, basically everything under the sun. It was hot and very crowded, but I enjoy a street market greatly so I ended up taking a walk and bought some snacks and a really funky handmade necklace.

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Carmel Market

Evening cocktails at La Shuk

I am not really a big fan of cocktails but our friends wanted to go to the trendy La Shuk, so I agreed to tag along. The evening weather was perfect to sit outside, and it all felt very European, with the tables laid out on the sidewalk from where you can observe the people go buy. It was very expensive though, and I think any restaurant that is empty but still asks if you have a reservation is pretentious, hihi! A cocktail will set you back by INR 900-1000, but I will admit that they did taste really good!

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Cocktails at the very fancy La Shuk

Hummus at Mashawsha

This is hands down, the best hummus I had in Israel. It’s chunky, which I personally prefer rather than the super smooth variety, and is very flavorful. The pita is warm and fluffy, and they have a homemade style lemonade which is the perfect balance of sugar and lime. It was such a great meal that it made me forget about my rash, and I don’t easily forget 😉 . The set up is cozy and the prices are decent(by Israel standards).

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The best hummus meal at Mashawsha

Sunset at Tel Aviv Beach

As the sun goes down the activity on the beach slows down and the last of the swimmers, sun-bathers and volleyball players start winding down. The golden hour is beautiful, all colors of orange, yellow and rust, and is perfectly enjoyed with a glass of wine.

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Sunset the the beach ~Tel Aviv

Getting some local Halva

I was intrigued with this stall called Halva Kingdom, with their massive mounds of a crumbly pie style dessert, and the pushy sales guy calling out to customers. I assumed it to be similar to the Indian halwa, which is basically a grain(chickpea, a lentil or a flour), roasted with clarified butter, sugar and nuts. It’s the sort of dessert that instantly warms you up and it’s made commonly in homes during festivals and auspicious occasions. I ended up buying a few varieties in Tel Aviv but did not enjoy as it’s too sweet and heavy. People seemed to love it but didn’t catch my fancy.

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Halwa King at Carmel Market

Walled City or Old City, Jerusalem

The walled city of Jerusalem is a 0.9 square kilometer area within the main city, home to hundreds of years of history, conflict and worship. The square is further divided into 4 quarters – the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter and the Armenian quarter. As I moved through the tiny lanes, some shopkeepers called out to check their wares. The old city is frequented by tourists, local and international so it’s business as usual for the shops, if they catch a “tourist”. I also crossed the significant monuments, the Temple Mount, The Church of Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock, Al-aqsa mosque as I moved from quarter to quarter. The landscape, people, clothes, language, monuments, it all changes so dramatically from one quarter to the next that you don’t need a sign to tell you where you are. It’s fascinating, how tightly diversity is packed together in the old city.

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Walled City Jerusalem

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The Western Wall

The western wall is probably the most significant place of religious worship for the Jews. It is the only part of the Great Temple that survived the Roman destruction and throughout the year thousands of Jews come to pray at the wall. It’s one thing to know history, it’s totally another thing to see it’s impact play out in front of your own eyes. I reached the wall and was pointed to the “women area” , a separate side of the wall to pray. As I walked towards the wall, I could see  women leaning with their foreheads pressed towards the wall. I reached closer to see many putting folded notes between the stone cracks and weeping, not a lone tear but actually sobbing. It’s a very intense experience, even for a non-Jew to see how strongly people feel about the wall, even today.

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Western Wall

Damascus Gate

As we were walking through the Arab Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem, we reached a grand exit gate called the Damascus Gate. We went through it and saw a police watchtower. A sign board pointed towards the West Bank city of Nablus. Curious as to why the security, we immediately took out our phones and got onto Google. We learnt that Damascus gate lies in the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem and has been the site of recent attacks and unrest between Palestinians and Israelis, hence the watch tower. This has drawn criticism from Palestinians who feel it further restricts their entry into the walled city. Jerusalem is a divided city and crossing this gate lands you on the Palestinian side of the city. 15

Freshly baked breads

In the early morning hours, the smell of freshly baked breads, both sweet and savory wafts through the streets of Jerusalem. I especially loved the croissant style breads filled with warm oozing cheese. It’s the perfect breakfast on the go with a good cup of coffee.

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Freshly baked bread

Float in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, with water so saline that no marine being can survive, hence the name, Dead Sea. The water has an oily texture and the saltiness makes it extremely easy to float. Plus a dip in the sea is said to have healing properties, and it’s mineral rich mud nourishes your skin . We visited the Ein-Bokek beach which is a free one, and it was fairly crowded with people either floating or covering themselves in the mud. The bed bug bites stung so badly in the salty water that I decided not to indulge further. It’s still fun though and a very unique experience.

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Dead Sea

Masada

Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a fortress built atop a rock plateau. It’s all very orange and Martian, and you can take a cable car or trek to the top of the fort. We went for the trek but it was noon by the time we got there and it was so incredibly hot(in June) that we ended up avoiding the 2 hour trek. There is a cable car as well that takes you to the top of the fort but if you plan to do the trek, it’s best to go before sunrise.

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Masada

Hummus workshop at Abraham Hostel

Abraham hostel is nothing short of a cult in Israel, with their economical hostels, events, workshops and tours. We decided to try a group hummus making workshop while in Jerusalem. A large community style table was set up and we were told that we will be cooking in groups of two, by our enthusiastic “chef” for the evening. The cooking part was pretty much non-existential, the chickpeas were boiled already, the Tahini was made and all you had to do was mash, mix and add the lemon and seasoning. Since I was really looking forward to a hardcore hummus making class, the cooking part was a downer. But the bar was open and we were enjoying the drinks, so I guess we made some evening out of it. Interestingly, this evening led us to one of our key highlights of the trip, a tour of the divided city of Hebron in the West Bank.

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West Bank Tour

Abraham tours organizes what is called as the Dual Narrative Tour of Hebron,  a conflicted city divided between Palestine and Israel. We decided to do it, and while I had surface information on the Israel-Palestine conflict, once I started reading about it, I wanted to know more. It’s also neither possible nor advisable to visit the West Bank unless with a tour group so this seemed like our only chance. This full day tour took us to Hebron, and involved spending time with an Israeli guide and a Palestinian guide, both of whom present their own narrative on the conflict, their angst, and what the current scenario looks like. Their narratives are compelling and it is a hard hitting experience. I walked away feeling confused and sad. But if I am successful in documenting it to some degree of coherence, I will definitely share it in another post.

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The group at the Hebron Tour

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Hebron ~The Israel Side

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A bird’s eye view of Hebron

Mahane Yehuda Market

The Mahane Yehuda market or “The Shuk” is a bustling street market in Jerusalem, frequented by locals and visitors. During the day, the market is a perfect place to roam around and get some small bites and drinks and buy local spices. By the evening, it’s a happening street with lights and music. It’s a lively place to hang out for a couple of hours and get some local shopping done.

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Mahane Yehuda Market

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A Jewish gentleman buying his groceries at Mahane Yehuda

Mahane Yehuda

If you love olives, you will love Mahane Yehuda for the variety and flavor

Tmol Shilshom

A cozy little cafe and bookstore, I loved Tmol Shilshom as soon as I saw it and ended up going multiple times. Jerusalem is an intense city and Tmol is just so calm and peaceful and artistic. I loved the Jewish breakfast of Shakshukya and the coffee. The staff is friendly and you can enjoy what you are eating in peace, without feeling rushed. Perfect to also catch up on some reading or emails.

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At Tmol Shilshom – that’s my look of regret when I overeat!

Hope you enjoyed these highlights from Israel? Would you ever consider travelling to Israel?

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