By Libby Burke
“They’re living life. There is an energy there like nowhere else I have ever been.”
This, in brief, sums up the impressions of my recent trip to Israel.
Quite simply: I fell in love, with the country, with the people, with the vibe – the energy. It truly is like nowhere I have ever been and I cannot wait to go back.
The first week of the Israeli leg of my five-week stay was part of the March of the Living (MOTL) – a two-week tour that spends one week in Poland visiting concentration camps and other areas and sites significant to the Jewish people. The trip then culminates in Israel – a place of celebration after the sobering Poland experience.
The Israel journey started with an early morning flight to Tel Aviv, where the surf was up and the locals were riding high. This was symbolic of the positivity oozing out of this tiny, yet bursting-with-life country.
The vibe of TLV was palpable, and best illustrated by my first day’s walk down the groovy Sheinkin St, where an Israeli stood on her balcony – singin’ and dancin’ to Bohemian Rhapsody. This clearly was a place where life was to be lived and celebrated.
During this leg of the MOTL tour Tel Aviv highlights included Atlit Illegal Immigrants Camp – must see, Caesaria – beautiful, Rabin Museum – fascinating, Independence Hall – moving.
We then made our way to Jerusalem. The depth and breadth of this city’s rich past, which continues into the present, makes a visit essential – regardless of your religious (or secular) beliefs.
The MOTL tour comprised compulsory must-see sites: Tower of David, Yad Vashem and the charming delights of the Old City – just to name a few.
After this tour ended, my personal four-week Israeli journey began.
I opted to settle myself in a couple of places: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and fully experience what these diverse cities offered.
Seeking cultural immersion, I chose to stay at Air BnBs – a worldwide organisation where you stay with the locals. I highly recommend this form of travel. It is not only inexpensive, but you have an added in situ experience, which is priceless.
My J’salem leg consisted of a variety of eclectic activities: ATVing in the Jerusalem Forest; the Sound and Light show (a visually stunning feast of the city’s history); tour of the West Bank, which comprised Bethlehem, Jericho and Ramallah; a day trip to historic Masada, scenic Ein Gedi national park, topped off with an obligatory float at the Dead Sea.
Other activities included a visit to the Israel Museum, which could easily take days to conquer, Mahane Yehuda markets – colour, chaos, cuisine. Mamilla Mall. Elegant.
The Saturday quiet of J’salem roads provided the ideal time to cycle this history-laden fascinating town, exploring kilometres of nooks and crannies not possible on a tour bus.
And then finally, back to Tel Aviv – the sexiest, cosmopolitan city I have ever been to. This city personifies Israeli’s approach to life – it is there to be lived, and played in: there is the beach, the cafes, the restaurants, and abundance of artistic and cultural offerings.
People are outside, celebrating life.
Tel Avivians cycle everywhere, so I did, too. Whether it was frocking up to watch the world renown Batsheva Dance Company in the charming Neve Tzedek district, or going out with friends to dinner and drinks, I just hopped on my rental push bike and off I went.
I saw the Israel Philharmonic’s first concert back in the “Bima” after years of restoration; experienced Depeche Mode kick off its world tour in HaYarkon Park; listened to a lovely cello and guitar concert as part of the Felicja Blumental International Music at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
And still, it was a case of: “wait there’s more” … So much more this vibrant city had to offer: a tour of Jaffa, a bush walk along the Israel National Trail, wanderings down the picturesque Rothschild Boulevard, watching swing dancers in Dizengoff Square, strolling through the heaving Carmel markets, checking out the handmade artisans’ creations – but more than that, simply engaging and talking with the locals, who are just thrilled you have visited their country.
Throughout my four-week solo journey it needs to be noted that as a woman travelling alone I felt completely at ease and comfortable walking or riding alone at night.
And I felt incredibly lucky to have finally experienced the jewels this amazing country offers.