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Israel

Polaroid of the week: Floating in the Dead Sea

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polaroid of the week israel dead seaI spent most of the last week road tripping around Israel, crossing the country from the Lebanese border in the north to the far south, where I saw both the Egyptian and the Jordanian borders on my morning runs through Eilat, Israel’s Red Sea resort town. This road trip came with so many highlights – it was hard to pick one single moment for this week’s Polaroid! I loved the blue grottoes of Rosh Hanikra which are right on the border to Lebanon, the ancient fishing village of Akko and the spectacular  Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa. From there, my friend and I made our way south to the Dead Sea, where I hiked up the Masada, an ancient fortification located on top of an isolated rock plateau, with stunning views over the Dead Sea (I hiked up there at 5.30am to see the sunrise over the Dead Sea), climbed up to the waterfalls of Ein Gedi, a desert oasis, and finally returned to the Negev Desert where I hiked in Timna Park, a desert area with unusual red rock and stone formations that blew me away (and nearly killed me, thanks to the 100°F/37°C temperatures). I loved my time in Eilat, where I snorkeled on the coral reef that is closer to the beach than any other reef I’ve been to, and the many colorful fish I saw made me wish I’d bought the underwater camera I was eying with this past summer in New York. After that, the road trip came full circle when we drove back north via Mitzpe Ramon, where I got to see the giant crater (25 miles long and up to 6 miles wide) and stopped in Tel Aviv for a dose of big city life before returning to northern Israel for a typical Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) family dinner. I must have taken around 2,000 photos on the road trip alone and can’t wait to show you all of Israel’s natural beauty.

The most unusual stop on the road trip was without a doubt the Dead Sea, where the strange sensation of floating in the water was certainly an incredible and unforgettable experience. The Dead Sea, 1,401 ft/427m below sea level, is one of the most fascinating places in the world. I didn’t think I’d be floating that much, but I couldn’t get my feet on the ground at all! Which wasn’t a bad thing after all, because I learned that the Dead Sea is 1,004ft/306m deep, and deep bodies of water freak me out (which is why I don’t think I’ll ever try diving). With 34% salinity it isn’t just one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, it is also ten times saltier than the ocean. Tip: Don’t rub your eyes!! (I learned that the hard way.) It is impossible for anything, animal or plant, to survive there. The landscape around the Dead Sea is very barren as a result, but oddly beautiful. Even though nature is basically dead in and around the Dead Sea, it is filled with healing minerals and hugely popular for treatments of all kinds of sicknesses, ranging from skin diseases to osteoporosis and arthritis. My skin felt amazing after my bath in the Dead Sea and the mud mask I gave myself there. Sadly, the countries bordering the Dead Sea (Jordan and Israel) have caused a lot of environmental damage, causing it to shrink rapidly. There are plans to replenish it, an initiative especially driven by Jordan. I hope that both Israel and Jordan will work together on this project, to guarantee the conservation of this unique natural wonder for future generations.

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Life lately and upcoming travels: September 2014 Edition

dani negev desert

I started these monthly updates to tell you about my current whereabouts, my most recent travels, what went well and what didn’t, plus a little sneak peek of what’s next for me.

Life Lately

I left New York at the beginning of September, and while I left the city in style with the fabulous chauffeur service provided by Blacklane.com (what a difference it makes to arrive at the airport in a completely relaxed state instead of sweaty and stressed out after struggling with public transportation and three carry-ons plus a severely overweight backpack – totally worth the splurge, especially before a long trains-Atlantic flight, IMHO), I also left with a heart so heavy in my chest that it was hard for me to hold the tears back all the way to the airport. I love this city so much, and I had such an amazing summer there; I left as a completely different person than I was when I arrived there broken into a million in pieces back in May.

New York City love
Love that city!

The only reason why I didn’t fall into depression after leaving: There was just no time, since I was heading straight to Israel (with a quick pit stop in Germany to cuddle my little nephew and spend a girlie day with my nieces, all of whom I had missed like crazy over the summer) and the excitement of getting to visit a new country took over quickly.

I’ve been traveling through Israel for more than three weeks now, and must say that I have been surprised about how much I like it. Everyone who knows me knows how much I love Middle Eastern food though, and the way to the heart is through the stomach they say… well, I guess there is some truth to that! Trekking the National Trail was an unforgettable travel experience and I have met so many welcoming people here that it would be hard not to like the country. I wasn’t sure if I would regret not hiking the Camino, but right on the first day, while I was trudging through the desert at 100 F/37C, I knew I had made the right decision. Looking around me and taking in the incredible desert scenery was enough to reaffirm my decision for Israel, and looking back at the month that I had I wouldn’t change anything.

Israel
Israel: Amazing food and stunning scenery

I mentioned how apprehensive I was to visiting Israel, but the country itself has blown me away. It is difficult, however, to travel and enjoy the country 100 per cent when you can’t stop thinking about the Gaza conflict that looms over Israel like a big dark cloud, especially with the last war having ended just before my visit. I have been learning a lot during my time here, visited the West Bank several times, always trying to understand both sides, but the complicated political situation cannot be ignored (at least not by me, I met other travelers who seem much less concerned about the topic). I will write more about this when I share my experiences in Israel, since it would go way beyond the scope of this post.

separation wall west bankOverall, I feel like I have a much better understanding of both sides than I did before I came here, and like I said, the country itself is just incredibly beautiful. I loved road tripping around the entire country, spending time in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, floating in the Dead Sea, exploring the ancient port cities of Acco and Jaffa, falling in love with beaches along the entire Mediterranean coastline, and of course the desert, through which I trekked for two days as part of the Israel National Trail hike. What made my experience here outstanding though is how warm I was welcomed everywhere I went – by strangers, by fellow trekkers, by the family of a good friend who invited me into their home for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Palestinians who were happy to chat with me about life in the West Bank, people I met along the way who became good friends. I am excited to share all my stories with you and am already planning my next trip to this region in my head.

Israel and the West BankWhat went well

Business! I’ve been working hard on improving and growing this website, and as a result I have been getting more and more interesting business offers and invitations for trips in my email inbox. I still decline most of them, and only accept the ones that I think are an excellent fit for both me and my audience, but it feels good to know that my efforts are paying off. Running the site by myself has been much harder than I could have ever foreseen, and I sacrifice a lot of my free time because I need to invest many more hours than I did when two people were running Globetrottergirls. Sadly, I am not getting around to reading a lot these days or watching movies, but there is one giant project that I am still discussing which would make all these long hours totally worthwhile (a little teaser on that in the ‘what’s next’ section).

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Celebrating a new business deal with a beer and a snorkeling trip in the Red Sea

What went wrong

-Work-Travel-Balance. Which was basically non-existent. I found myself glued to my laptop until 4am every night the week before I left for Israel, surviving on three hours sleep at most and two entirely sleepless nights before travel days. There were days when I felt like a zombie, but I had gotten an unexpected but well-paying workload that I couldn’t afford to decline after spending way too much money on new gear and gifts for my family in New York last month. My travel schedule was just too tight to be able to handle my workload at the same time. I felt like I was barely able to keep up with anything, and am still catching up with my email inbox which was overflowing while I was on the trek (if you emailed me in the past month and haven’t gotten a reply yet – I apologize and promise I will answer your email soon). I’ll have to slow down considerably next month to get back on track, or I will be burnt out by the end of the year.

Tel Aviv Office
I know I know.. I can hardly complain with a sea view office like this

-Travel tech. This was not a good month with regards to the travel gadgets I travel with – I ruined TWO of my lenses on the desert trek; I assume sand got in. This is really annoying because I had only picked up them earlier this year in New York (at every photographer’s paradise B&H) and the repair here in Israel was more than buying new lenses in the U.S. would be. That wasn’t my only tech mishap though – quite embarrassing, but I dropped my iPod Touch, which I had in the back pocket of my jeans, in the toilet. I am not sure how but it is still working! (Apple quality, my friends!) My reaction was lightning fast, I must have gotten it out within seconds and then tried the drying-the-wet-device-in-rice trick – which seems to work. That was the second near death of my iPod within a few weeks, after it was nearly washed into the ocean in the Rockaways, where it also only survived thanks to my super fast reaction time. After breaking its screen (and my iPhone screen – both within a week) earlier this summer, plus two broken lenses, I realize that I just shouldn’t buy myself any expensive travel tech.

dani ein gedi
Seriously… what would I do without my camera?!

-Health. I came down with a serious stomach bug last weekend (picture some projectile vomiting… or don’t.) and what it taught me: it sucks to be sick while traveling, but it sucks even more so if you’re solo traveling. My new Israeli friends made sure that I am well looked after though, so thanks for everyone who reached out to me and offered me help, medication or company!

-Fitness. I also felt slightly ‘off’ after running on a (nearly) daily basis for four months and not being able to run that much in Israel. Running has become for me what yoga is to others and I realize that I have to find a way to also integrate it in my daily routine while traveling for an overall better and more balanced feeling.

What’s next?

I’m heading to Oktoberfest! Instead of extending my stay in the Middle East and travel overland to Jordan from here (a place very high on my travel wish list), I decided to cut my trip short and leave that for my next trip to this region – there’s so much more to see here in Israel, too. Instead, I’ll be meeting a friend from New York in Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest together. I love the beer festival and have been five times, but I haven’t been there in half a decade. So I jumped at the chance to meet up with my friend who happens to be there for Oktoberfest and introduce her to the Bavarian beer culture and dirndls (we’ll both be wearing one – a first for me! I barely ever wear dresses.) So get ready for some hilarious photos.

Oktoberfest
My last Oktoberfest in 2009, five years ago

As for the rest of the month, I am still not sure about my travels – I am waiting for the flight confirmation for a rather spontaneous trip to a yet to be announced destination… as long as I don’t hold the plane tickets in my hands, I am not going to say anything just yet, but fingers crossed that my next update comes from that very destination.

The same goes for my November/December travel plans, which came together as a complete surprise this month, but since I still haven’t received my plane tickets for that trip either, I am going to have to hold off on telling you about it until the end of next month.

Last but not least, I have been discussing another big project which would be my first major on-camera experience if the campaign moves forward. Sadly, I can’t reveal any details yet, but let’s just say that if this really happens, it would involve a trip to one of my favorite countries in the world (can you guess? ;-)). Stay tuned for an exciting November!

tel aviv sunset with plane

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My short love affair with Tel Aviv

tel aviv beach life

My love affair with Tel Aviv was short, yet passionate. It was like the perfect summer fling; an intense few days – intense because you know it will come to an end soon and you want to savor every precious moment to the max.tel aviv sunsetHowever, when I arrived in Tel Aviv, I didn’t think I would end up leaving this city with a heavy heart. I like pretty cities – when a city is obviously beautiful like Antigua, Paris or Buenos Aires, I tend to fall in love quickly. With cities that aren’t as pretty at first sight, like Berlin or Bangkok, it usually takes me a while. Tel Aviv belonged to the second category, visually not particularly appealing at first, even feeling a little gritty in some parts.jaffa doorsIt took me a few days of wandering the streets, but then, completely unexpected, the city put a spell on me and grabbed me hard, pulled me into its fascinating mix of old-fashioned markets and trendy coffee shops, coexisting cultures of trendy hipsters, Jewish families and Arab Muslims; a city with a delicious food scene, buzzing nightlife and gorgeous beaches right at your doorstep.
tel aviv buildingsTel Aviv took hold of me and hasn’t let me go since: while I travel to a lot of places that I’d like to return to, I don’t often travel to places I’d like to live in. Tel Aviv is one such place though – I would love to live there for a while, taking my time to truly explore the city, understand its culture, its people and as a foodie: have enough time to delve into the cafe and restaurant scene, of which I only scratched the surface.tel aviv mosaicI am not sure what exactly it was that made me fall for the city – it might have been the beach, which is without a doubt part of the draw of Tel Aviv, nearly nine miles (14km) of wide sandy beaches right in the city center. There are just not that many cities in the world that have such a prime oceanfront location. I would either start my days with a run along the Hatayelet, the promenade, or finish my day with a sunset run while the sun colored the sea and the sky with striking tones of orange, red and purple. A daily spectacle that draws hundreds of people to come out to the beach and watch it. I would never get tired of it.tel aviv sunset with planeThe local runners I passed on my runs usually looked as if they had fallen right out of a men’s magazine, wearing nothing but shorts and showing off their perfect abs, covered in a layer of sweat. I would run by the gay beach, where couples sat together all loved up, and of course I have to love a city that has its own gay beach (even though I loved other parts, such as Gordon, Frishman or Banana Beach, just as much) – in the Middle East no less!tel aviv yaffo beachI loved the active vibe along the beaches – no matter if it was running, cycling, inline skating, kite boarding or the popular matkot ball game, people were doing some kind of activity. In all honesty, my daily runs were needed to offset all the delicious food I stuffed myself with, but Tel Aviv just seems to be an active city – and with a gorgeous backdrop like these beaches you don’t need an excuse to go outside and exercise.

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Okay, maybe not everyone in Tel Aviv is active...

I was staying close to El Carmel market, the main market of Tel Aviv, and so I would make it a daily ritual to stroll through the market when I started my wanderings around the city, always unable to resist a piece of fresh bread or baklava, which I would devour with a cup of strong coffee in one of the many cafés that you stumble across on every corner. El Carmel was priceless for people watching: here, you see hipsters mingle with traditional Muslim women and Jewish families, all stopping for a chat with other shoppers and with the vendors they buy from regularly.tel aviv carmel market spices israelPrior to my visit, I had read that Tel Aviv’s 4,000 white Bauhaus buildings were UNESCO World Heritage, and that the part of the city with the highest concentration was called White City. Hence I expected a city filled with grand buildings and stunning architecture – but for the most part, I thought Tel Aviv’s buildings were crumbling and in need of renovation. Which in turn attracts lots of street artists to paint the walls, leave powerful political messages and colorful murals, especially in the Florentine neighborhood.tel aviv street artWhich isn’t something I mind, I usually find this kind of crumbling glory charming, but it was just not how I had pictured Tel Aviv, so it took me a few days to adjust my senses to my surroundings. (Side note: I also came to the conclusion that Bauhaus is just not for me, despite having grown up 15 miles from Weimar, the birthplace of Bauhaus).

tel aviv housesAnd there still are grand buildings in some parts of the city: the Neve Tzedek neighborhood is filled with beautifully restored houses and the villas along Rothschild Boulevard are signs of the prosperity of the city in the early 20th century, but the true showstopper when it comes to eye-catching architecture is Jaffa, the ancient port town that sits on a hill just south of Tel Aviv.tel aviv windowsYou can walk the beach promenade all the way down to Jaffa and one morning I strolled over there, in time to join the free Jaffa walking tour that starts at the clock tower, and to do some exploring on my own afterwards. Being a fan of old, quaint buildings, I was immediately enchanted by the restored ocher stone buildings of what was used to be one of the most significant seaports in the region. I walked up and down narrow alleyways and stairs and marveled at public art and art galleries, of which there are plenty.Tel Aviv Jaffa ArtThe tour was an excellent introduction to Jaffa, telling us all about the history of the 4,000-year old town that has been experiencing its fair share of ups and downs throughout the centuries, and a wonderful revival ever since its makeover in the past decade. When we finished, I continued to wander the streets, getting lost in the maze of alleys and peeking into some of the galleries, sitting by the fishing boats in Jaffa’s port for a while, standing in awe when locals passed me in horse-drawn carriages which made the ‘stepping back in time‘ feeling I had in Jaffa even more real.Tel Aviv JaffaThen it was finally time for lunch, for which I had big plans: I was finally going to have Dr Shakshuka’s famous shakshuka. Dr Shakshuka, who started out with a small hole-in-the-wall shakshuka place, has now the most famous shakshuka restaurant in the country, and if you read my article on how I ate my way through Israel, you know that I am pretty much addicted to this popular egg dish.dr shakshuka israelThe restaurant is located in the midst of the Jaffna flea market, which isn’t a flea market in the traditional sense but a collection of dozens of antiques shops which line the streets near the clock tower. I could have spent hours roaming these shops where you can buy anything from vintage luggage to furniture, books and other bits and pieces. Sadly, Dr Shakshuka didn’t liv up to the hype (at least in my opinion!) – the shakshuka was good, but I didn’t think it was better than any of the other shakshukas I had in Israel.Tel Aviv Jaffa Flea MarketBefore I made my way back into the city, I stopped at a viewpoint to take in the vistas over Tel Aviv and its long-stretched shore, and it might have been there and then that I decided I had to come back for longer – a week was simply not enough to get a full grasp of this diverse and forward-thinking city.tel aviv beach viewI am still stunned about how gay-friendly Tel Aviv is, especially considering that this is the Middle East and that Israel is a very religious country – there are only very few places in the world where you can live as ‘out and proud’ as in Tel Aviv, let alone have a Pride parade of epic proportions, attracting a crowd of over 100,000 people (I would love to visit Tel Aviv for Pride which takes place every June).tel aviv city at twilightBut not only gays and lesbians seem to be widely accepted here, I felt that also the different ethnic groups, in particular Arabs and Jews, were more successful in living peacefully side by side than in Jerusalem for example, known for the regular clashes between the various religious groups who call Jerusalem home.tips for visiting Tel AvivNot only did Tel Aviv seem more liberal than Jerusalem, it also had a younger, more dynamic vibe to it. Jerusalem is home to the largest number of Orthodox Jews in the country which is why it is much stricter with rules regarding nightlife and which places can open during Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest), while Tel Aviv is more relaxed in that respect. tel aviv bookstoreThe areas of the city that are known for its buzzing cafe scenes, like Shenken Street or Rothschild Boulevard, were always teeming with people, and when I saw trendy 20-somethings in skinny jeans and hipster beards would wait in line for a table at a popular restaurant I felt as if I was in Brooklyn and not in Israel. tel aviv mosaicSpeaking of cafes – one thing I loved about Tel Aviv were the bread shops that usually double as a cafe / restaurant and serve some of the best bread I’ve ever had – and that includes bread in Germany! Even regular cafés take pride in their baked goods and I think it is impossible to get bad bread anywhere. tel aviv breakfastOverall, Tel Aviv doesn’t have a dense number of landmarks such as London or Berlin – in fact, other than a few museums and the Bauhaus UNESCO site I didn’t come across any not-to-be-missed sights – and yet I was still completely pulled in by the dynamic atmosphere of this livable city which is far from picture-perfect, but that’s exactly what I came to love about it: the gritty buildings, the street art, the laissez-faire attitude and the laid-back vibe on the beaches.banana beach with jaffa viewIf you come to Tel Aviv, don’t look for striking sights, but let the city pull you in with its strong charisma. Wander, get lost, eat and drink your way around the city, enjoy the nightlife, people watch, take in the local life and fall in love.Tel Aviv Jaffa

Tips for visiting Tel Aviv

  • The free walking tours are a great way to help you get a good overview of the city; there are several ones you can choose from. If you don’t have time to go on a free walking tour, check out the Before Tel Aviv was born self-guided walking tour, downloadable on your phone or tablet. This tour covers the historical neighborhoods of Jaffa, the American-German colony, Neve Tzedek and the old railway station and covers the main parts of Tel Aviv – perfect if you only have a day or two in the city.

Tel Aviv Jaffa Israel

  • If you love street art as much as I do, you should check out Guy Sharett’s Urban Culture tours. Guy also hosts the awesome Streetwise Hebrew Podcast, which is a great introduction to Hebrew and Israeli culture. I missed the tour because there weren’t any on the days I was in town, but will definitely check it out on my next visit to Tel Aviv.
  • There is no subway system in the city, but I used Google Maps’ Public Transport feature and it always showed me the correct buses to take (you need wi-fi for it but most cafés have wifi). Here is is a good free offline map app with GPS function for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

tips for visiting Tel Aviv

Lesbian Tel Aviv

  • I’ve only scratched the surface of the lesbian scene in Tel Aviv, and the popular girls’ bar Gilda sadly closed down in 2015, but here are a few recommendations: the SevenEleven party on Monday nights, the Shabbat dance party at Ismi Salma on Saturdays, Barvaz in the Florentine neighborhood. On Wednesdays it is girls night at Tel Aviv’s iconic gay bar Shpagat. Tel Aviv’s longest standing LGBT bar Evita is also worth a visit.
  • In addition, there’s a number of lesbian parties at changing venues – Facebook is the best way to find out what’s going on while you’re in town. These pages are worth checking for lesbian parties in Tel Aviv: All Stars GirlsDana Ve Anat, and Pinkhouse TLV for a weekly overview of all gay & lesbian parties.

tips for visiting Tel Aviv

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Adventure Travel In Israel: Hiking the National Trail (Part II)

Dani hiking in Israel

You can read about the first part of this incredible trek, the Shvil Israel or Israel Trail, here:

My hike through the Negev Desert

Part II: The Lower Galilee

When we started our hike on the third day, the scenery couldn’t have been more different from the first two days of desert trekking. Instead of the expansive, ocher colored landscapes of the Negev Desert, we found ourselves in the Judean Lowlands with lush green hills.
israel trailPine trees were wrapping their surroundings in a mesmerizing scent, and birds were chirping. In the desert, there had been barely any sign of life. We hiked up Tel Azekah, a hill with wide open views over the the Mountains of Jerusalem and the Valley Of Elah where, according to the bible, David battled Goliath. The mound itself is known for its burial caves from various periods and secret tunnels from the days of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.israel valley of elahAfter a short introduction to the area and the events that led to David beating Goliath, we interrupted our nature hike to visit Jerusalem, Israel’s capital and most likely the most significant religious city in the world, but since I returned to the city for a whole week later in my trip, I will talk about Jerusalem in a separate article – this magnificent city deserves a whole post in itself.

jerusalem viewpoint
Jerusalem from a viewpoint outside of the city. Can you spot the famous golden Dome Of Rock?

We then continued our trek on the Shvil Israel, what the Israel Trail is called in Hebrew, in the Lower Galilee region in northern Israel and climbed Mount Tabor, also known as Mount Of Transfiguration. Mount Tabor is a stand-alone mountain, emerging majestically from the flatland area around it. It is famous for the Franciscan Church Of The Transfiguration that sits on its peak, and you’ve guessed it, for being the site of the transfiguration of Jesus.
israel national trail church of the transformation mount taborLooking at the green fields at the bottom of the mountain, it seemed surreal that I had just traipsed through the desert a couple of days ago. This is one thing I love about Israel though – despite being such a small country (8,522 sq mi – smaller than the U.S. state of Maine, or one sixteenth of the size of Germany), the landscape is more diverse than in any other country of comparable size that I’ve visited.shvil israelisrael national trail acornHiking the entire 620 mile (1,000km) Israel Trail is quite an undertaking, but it is possible to do it independently – as long as it planned right. The biggest and – in my opinion – most stunning part of the trail goes through the Negev Desert, where settlements are sparse and water is hard to come by. Most people either hide water rations in stashes that are commonly used by hikers or arrange for people to meet them and supply them with water and food. (See below for more information on how to prepare for a hike of the INT.)

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The Negev Desert, where water is hard to come by

Our last big quest was to conquer Mount Arbel, where you can still see (and enter) dozens of caves that had been inhabited by Druze settlers three hundred years ago. These Cliff Dwellings reminded me a lot of the ones I visited in New Mexico last year and I was surprised about how similar life had been for the settlers in North America and here in Israel, thousands of miles and an ocean away from each other.israel national trail mount arbel cliffsmount arbel caves israelWhen we reached the peak of the mountain, we were rewarded with sweeping views over the Sea of Galilee, where many of Jesus’ miracles occurred, including him walking on water and him calming the storm. We enjoyed a coffee break right the rim of steep cliffs (1,250 ft / 380m high) – a coffee maker is something that is brought on every hike in Israel, I was told – while looking out over Arab villages, date palm orchards and avocado plantations of northern Israel. We could see as far as the mountains of the Golan Heights, which reach well into Syria, and I was once again surprised about the inherent natural diversity of this small country.

israel national trail mount arbel dani
Coffee with a view

Shvil IsraelAlmost as much as the country is diverse in its landscapes, it is diverse in the religious communities that live here together – in some places more, in others less peaceful. The trail passes Arab and Jewish settlements, sometimes villages that are home to both, it passes Christians, people of the Bahá’í Faith and Druze, a small religious community we got to know in the Lower Galilee when we had the pleasure to be invited for dinner at a Druze family’s house, enjoying some of the best food I had in my entire time in Israel, while learning more about this little-known religion. It was fascinating to hear about their beliefs, traditions and history first-hand, and the people you meet along the INT are undoubtedly a vital part of the experience as a whole.israel national trail druze kunefeThis is what makes the Israel National Trail so special, compared to other long-distance hikes: the combination of historical and biblical places, magnificent and varied landscapes, urban experiences and a glimpse into Israeli life, plus the distinctly different people you meet along the way,  all of which add up to an incomparable experience.mount arbel mountaintopAfter this hike, we all felt like we had deserved our last stop of the trek: the Jordan River. It was here where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but we had much less biblical things in mind when we got there. A cold beer, a refreshing dip, and a foot spa, which was available free of charge from the hundreds of little fish in the river that eagerly nibbled on the access skin of our feet while we were enjoying having slipped out of hiking shoes for the very last time was the perfect way to end our trek.jordan river fish spaJordan RiverWhile on the one hand, I was relieved that the strenuous hike was over and I’d get to enjoy Tel Aviv’s city life, I felt like I had so much more to explore on Israel’s National Trail. The parts I had walked were just a teaser of the full route, whetting my appetite for more, but I couldn’t have gotten a better introduction to Israel than the week on the INT. I hope I’ll get to go back and hike the path in its entirety one day.israel national trail mount arbel path

Practical information: How to hike the Israel National Trail

Shvil Israel Guidebooks

There is a comprehensive guidebook available in English, including detailed topographical as well as road maps, information on what you need to pack, where to set up camp and where to replenish your supply /cache water, and even contact details of people who offer water deliveries to the desert. This book also has information on the places you pass along the trail, detailed day-by-day treks and a list of Trail Angels. You can order the book on Amazon: Israel National Trail and the Jerusalem Trail (Hike the Land of Israel). It is also available in the Stiematzky book store at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (outside the baggage claim).

Judith Galblum Pex wrote a book about her experience walking the National Trail, called Walk The Land. You can order it on Amazon here: Walk the Land : A Journey on Foot through IsraelShvil Israel

Physical Preparation

I would suggest taking a long walk (and increasing the distance) for a couple of weeks prior to starting the trek. Do a couple of test hikes in your city/ a nearby forest with the backpack you’re planning to bring to see how long you’re able to walk with the weight. Five liters of water per day are necessary, and weigh more than you think. A couple of practice hikes with your backpack will allow you to get rid of some things should you realize your pack is too heavy. If you are an experienced hiker, you shouldn’t need too much preparation, provided you are in a good physical condition.Israel Trail

How long does it take to hike the Israel National Trail?

If you’re planning to hike the entire Trail, it will take you between six and eight weeks.

What to pack for the Shvil Trail

The Israel National Trail Forum is a great resource for all gear and packing related questions. Bex aka the Ordinary Adventurer shares her complete Israel Trail packing list here.

mount arbel treeWhen is the best time to hike the Israel National Trail

Don’t even try to hike the INT during the summer months – it is just too hot, especially in the desert part – and 60 per cent of the country are desert.

September until November would be perfect, or any time between late February and May. The winters can get pretty cold, especially in the north.

North to south or south to north?

North to south – and Wikitravel has an excellent list of reasons why: Where should one start?

israel national trail northern israel path

How to get in touch with Trail Angels

There is a list of Trail Angels in English on the INT Wiki, listed by region. There is also a list of low cost accommodation along the trail.. In total, there are about 150 Trail Angels. All of them offer either hot showers, a bed, a hot meal or a place to refill your water bottles.

Make sure to call the Trail Angels before you head there- they might not be around or not have any availability that day.

It makes sense to pick up a SIM card with data for such calls, but also to have a map available and to be able to look something up online when you’re on the trail. This site has a good overview of prepaid SIM cards with data in Israel. Note that there is not everywhere a signal though.israel national trail northern israelIsrael national trail route

Where can you find more information?

The above mentioned INT forum is a wealth of information for any trail-related queries and you can post your own question in the forum. The IsraelTrail.net website has a great Resources Page with links to other websites about the trail.

American Julian Bender hiked the INT a couple of years ago and kept a detailed diary on his experience, plus information on trip preparation, packing, etc.

Diana Barshaw also chronicled her INT treks on her website along for advice for novice hikers and packing lists – she hiked the trail in shorter segments, which is another option to do the trek: instead hiking all of the trail at once, many people hike shorter segments in weekend or week-long trips.

If hiking the trail by yourself isn’t for you, you can join the Walk About Love, an annual INT group hike that starts every spring in Eilat and finishes in Dan 81 days later. Anybody can sign up for it, and it is also possible to join for shorter segments, as long as you commit to at least 12 days.

The red line in the picture above shows the exact route of the Israel Trail.

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Polaroid of the week: Hiking in the Negev Desert

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polaroid of the week israel national trail negev desertI arrived in Israel last week and started my National Israel Trail trek pretty much right away – after one night in Tel Aviv, we drove down to the south of Israel, where we were dropped off in the middle of the Negev Desert, knowing we would be on our own for the next couple of days and probably not see another living soul during our desert hike.

The trek started off much more challenging than anticipated – the sun was high up in the sky already by the time we set off, and there was no shade, which meant that it was incredibly hot. I love the barren desert scenery though, and so I enjoyed traipsing through the ocher-colored desertscape, walking on sand and rocks, and not passing a tree or any other sign of life for hours.

On our first day, we crossed the Makhtesh Katan, a small crater that is not formed through a meteor impact, but by erosion. The makhtesh phenomenon is unique to the Negev Desert, where you find three larger ones of them which all look remarkably like meteor craters when you stand on the rim of them, and yet they have been created through erosive processes. The craters vary in size from 3 miles (5km) to 25 miles (40km) – luckily our trek only involved hiking the entire length of the small crater and parts of a larger one.

Instead of setting up tents at night, we slept right under the stars, which was an absolutely amazing experience – even for me, who is usually not a big fan of camping.

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Polaroid of the week: Jerusalem’s Golden Glory

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polaroid of the week israel jerusalem golden dome of the rockLast week I got my first introduction to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital and the most significant religious city in the world. Even though Jerusalem is not part of the National Trail, (which I was hiking), we made the detour to get a brief tour of this important site for Christians, Jews and Muslims. The religious gravity of Jerusalem creates an aura that is hard to put into words. Orthodox Jews, devote Muslims and faithful Christians living together in such a small space is something you don’t find anywhere else in the world, and I was wowed by the different quarters of each religion, all of which are distinctly different from one another.

The Dome of the Rock with its golden cupola is the most recognizable structure in Jerusalem, towering on top of Temple Mount high above all the other buildings of the city, unmistakably sticking out of the skyline of the Old City. While some sights that you know well from posters and pictures can be a letdown when you finally get to see them with your own eyes, I found the Dome Of The Rocks to be just as breathtaking as you’d expect it to be. It is known to be one of the oldest buildings in Islamic architecture, but is significant for all three religions (I’ll spare you the historical details, but you can read more about it here). I will return to Jerusalem next week and am already looking forward to spending more time there – if you’ve been to Jerusalem and have any tips or recommendations for me, please share them in the comments below.

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Adventure travel in Israel: Hiking the National Trail

dani negev desert

Part I: The Negev Desert

Sweat was running down my forehand, my legs, my stomach, sweat was dripping down my elbow, and I felt like I was going to pass out. I was in the middle of the Negev Desert, and I had another day and a half of walking through the burning sun ahead of me, nowhere a shadow. I felt like I was going to collapse, but I kept putting one step in front of the other, trying not to tumble on one of the rocks that were covering the sandy and gravelly desert ground.makhtesh katan trail with hikersmakhtesh katan crater israelIt was around 100°F/37°C, and the sun had reached its zenith. I turned around and looked how far we had gotten yet – it seemed like we had walked forever since the minibus had dropped our group of hikers in the middle of nowhere earlier that morning. The breathtaking desertscape behind me made up for all the sweat and exhaustion, and reminded me that the strenuous hike was worthwhile.makhtesh katan negev desertIn actual fact we were not in the middle of nowhere, we were in the middle of a small crater, also known as makhtesh in Hebrew, a special kind of crater that is unique to the Negev Desert. Instead of being created by a meteor impact, a makhtesh is created through erosion. Later that day, when we would finally scramble up the rocky and steep side of the crater, I would turn around and ask myself how it was possible for nature to create a crater so round an even that it looked just like a meteor crater without being one.israel national trail negev desert1makhtesh katan crater israel negev desertThat first day in the desert was the hardest part of the entire trek. The scorching hot sun was burning on my face, the extreme heat made walking even harder, and the last part of the hike being the steep and winding trail up the crater wall. All that exhausted me so much that I fell asleep on the thin mattress on our improvised campground before dinner was served.climbing up the craterI had set off to hike segments of the Israel National Trail, a 1,000 kilometer / 620 miles long hiking trail that crosses the country from south to north, beginning at the Red Sea near the Jordanian border in the south and finishing near the Lebanese border in the north.
makhtesh katan crater wall israelFor anyone who is into multi-day trekking, anyone who finds treks like the Camino de Santiago, the Appalachian Trail in the U.S. or the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal appealing, this is a hike of epic dimensions. While the trail has already been praised by National Geographic and other reputable travel magazines, it has so far been mainly walked by Israelis who want to get to know their country in a very special and intimate way.israel national trail negev desertThe trail itself is far from being as famous as the Camino or the Lycian Way in Turkey, but it is also far from being as old as those trails, even though it passes a myriad of historically significant places. Not only does it pass places of historical and biblical significance, but it also shows off the diversity of this tiny country: from the Negev Desert in the south to the rolling hills around Jerusalem, the coastline of Tel Aviv and the mountains near the Sea Of Galilee, until finally reaching the ancient city of Dan, Israel’s northernmost settlement.negev desert hike israel national trail hikersCompared to the Camino de Santiago, which has been walked since the Middle Ages, this path is still a baby, inaugurated only 20 years ago, in 1994. Walking the entire trail takes between six and eight weeks, but we hiked only some parts of it: some of the Negev Desert in the South, the mountains around Jerusalem, and the Lower Galilee in the north of Israel. Since we only had eight days, we got only a sample of each region through which the INT passes, and in the end, we were all left with the desire to walk more of it.negev desert hike

For me, it was the perfect introduction to Israel, as I started my month-long exploration of the country with the trail, and it made me appreciate my surroundings more when later on I returned to places I’d gotten to known during the trek – like the Negev. Once you’ve actually spent time out there, in the vast nothingness that is the desert, walked for hours through the barren landscape that has barely any life in it, you see it in a completely different light than if you were just driving through.negev desertOn the first day, we rarely passed a tree, and other than a few dusty bushes there was no sign of life whatsoever. Often it was even hard to make out any trail at all. However, there were rocks painted with the colors that mark the National Trail in regular intervals, showing you that you were still on track when nothing else indicated that.negev desert hike israelThat night, most of us slept under the stars, and seeing the wide open desert sky above you is an unforgettable experience. Tents were optional, and why would I obstruct this magnificent view: millions of stars brightening the night sky. After a hearty dinner, for which I luckily woke up, we gathered around a campfire to get to know each other better, but the announcement of a 6am wake-up call made me crawl into my sleeping bag not long after.negev desert campfire israelThe desertscape we traversed on our second day in the Negev was quite different from the first one. We passed more trees and bushes, as we walked along dry riverbeds through which flash floods would rush during the few days the country gets rain in the winter, allowing for plants to grow in this otherwise infertile area.negev desert hike israel national trailEven though the hike felt less exhausting than on the first day (which is I believe only because our bodies got used to walking in the extreme heat), it was still very challenging. At one point, we scrambled up a mountainside so steep that we needed the help of hooks and handrails to get up there.negev desert national israel trailisrael national trail hikersYet the views and the scenery always made up for the toughest parts of the hike, and I loved the sense of achievement I felt when I made it through a particularly arduous stretch of the trail. A trek like this is about the journey itself after all, not about getting to the final destination.negev desert hike israel national trailnegev desert canyonAfter a picnic lunch in a spot where countless travelers had stopped for water and shelter for thousands of years before us, we tackled our last desert adventure: the Big Fin, or as I saw it: the very steep wall of the Big Crater, the biggest of the makhteshs in the Negev.big fin hike israelbig fin israel national trailKnowing that this would be the last big challenge of the day, I pushed through and scrambled up the rocky mountainside, braving the relentless sun and pushing my boundaries. Up on top, once again the magnificent vistas made up for the hike that tested our abilities. We had to make our way back down, and most of us were on the last sips of water in our bottles by then. Knowing that we had to ration our water supplies reminded me once again that we were far away from any settlements and that this is a really rough trek if you plan to do it by yourself.big crater israel national trailLuckily, trekkers are not completely on their own on the hike, and one extremely helpful support network are the Trail Angels – people that allow hikers to sleep in their houses, take a shower or simply replenish their water supplies.negev desert hike israel national trailnegev desert hike israel national trailInstead of spending another night under the stars, we hopped into a minibus that was waiting for us and drove to Sede Boker, where we met some of said Trail Angels. All of us were taken in by incredibly welcoming and warm families, and that first shower after two days in the desert sure felt glorious. We knew that this would be our last night in the dry Israeli desert – the next day, we would drive north to hike in the mountains around Jerusalem.moon negev desert israelContinue here with Part II of my Israel National Trail hiking adventure, plus some practical information on how to hike this Trail independently.

For more photos of my hike through the Negev Desert, check out my Flickr gallery:

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”Globetrottergirls” id=”72157648858153896″]

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Eilat: Israel’s underwater paradise on the Red Sea

dani red sea

After trekking through the Negev Desert, doing a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, wandering across the Lower Gallilee in northern Israel, road tripping to the Dead Sea and the Ein Gedi oasis hike plus my sunrise climb to Masada and a day of desert fun in Timna Park, I was ready for a vacation.eilat at sunsetAnd in Eilat, I would finally get a break to recharge my batteries before heading back north to explore more of Israel and visit the West Bank.

jordan view from israel
Aqaba, Jordan, seen from Eilat

Eilat is basically a resort town, and I was shocked surprised at first about how touristy it was when we arrived there just in time for sunset and went for a stroll along the promenade, which was filled with people who were doing the same thing. It reminded me of a lot of European beach resorts with its long beach promenade which was lined with massive hotel complexes, restaurants and shops that sold everything tourists could possibly need.eilat hotelBut I had found a lovely hotel which had only recently opened (I would definitely recommend it in my Hotel Tip category, but I was on vacation after all, and so I refrained from taking my camera out while I gorged on the glorious breakfast buffet every morning. I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of the best breakfast buffets I’ve ever had. You can book Hotel Soleil via Booking.com, which is where I had found it) and Eilat might be touristy, I was here to relax for a couple of days and go for my first ever dip in the Red Sea.eilat beach cat israelWedged between Jordan and Egypt, Israel only gets to call a tiny part of the Red Sea to call their own, but they’re using it well. Eilat is not only a popular vacation spot with foreigners but also with Israelis, even though it is quite far from everywhere, separated from the heavily populated north of the country by the massive Negev Desert. When we drove down to Coral Beach the next day I understood why it was such a popular vacation spot.eilat red sea fish israelUpon arrival, we paid the entrance fee for the nature reserve and rented snorkeling equipment, and while I was a bit disappointed at first by the rocky beach, I quickly understood what this was about: the underwater life, and not the beach! I’ve never been to a place where the reef is as close to the shore as it is in Eilat, and at this part of the beach you can’t even just walk into the water because it is part of a protected nature reserve. Instead, a couple of long piers have been built over the coral, and you step into the water via a set of stairs at the end of them – right next to the reef.coral reef in eilatMy first thought when I stepped into the water was how cold it was! The Mediterranean and the Dead Sea had both felt like a bath tub in comparison, and especially after a long hot summer and the proximity to Egypt, combined with the sweltering heat, I would have expected the Red Sea to be much warmer.When I turned towards the reef though, the shock about the cold water was forgotten in an instant – I was wowed by the coral and the beautiful fish instead. I couldn’t believe how much marine life was happening here, so close to the shore! I also couldn’t believe that I didn’t have an underwater camera to document it.Underwater life eilatI tried to take some photos from the pier, but just imagine what these would look like had I had an underwater camera. I even saw tropical fish like parrot fish and clown fish here!coral reef eilat israel

There were more colorful and bigger fish than I’d seen on any other snorkeling trip, and entire families of fish were swimming past me as if I wasn’t even there. While I had been a bit skeptic at first if the money for the beach and the snorkeling equipment was worth it (NIS35 /US$9 admission, NIS30 /US$7.72 gear rental), I was now ecstatic about the reef life I got to see without having to dive. In my head, I was already planning to bring my nephew here to introduce him to this mesmerizing, colorful underwater world, and didn’t want to leave water anymore.eilat coral reefThis experience alone made driving down to the most southern tip of Israel worth it, and combined with some beach time and surprisingly good food, I left Eilat just the way I wanted: completely recharged and ready to see more of Israel.

Eilat Israel

Practical information

How to get to Eilat

The cheapest way to get to Eilat from Tel Aviv is taking the Flo Shuttle, a daily door-to-door shuttle service for only $17.

Where to stay in Eilat

Eilat has accommodation ranging from basic backpackers hostels to 5* resorts (the Dan Hotel). I stayed at Soleil Boutique Hotel which I’d recommend. Double rooms start at US$99 in the low season, including the amazing breakfast buffet (it will fill you up for the entire day, trust me). Arava Hostel is a popular budget choice.

Where to eat

I highly recommend Pedro’s and Olla, both places where I had excellent vegetarian food (but both places aren’t vegetarian restaurants – in fact, Pedro’s is a steakhouse). CafeCafe also has lots of vegetarian food and good coffee.Israel Eilat food

Eilat: The best beaches and day trips

Timna Park

From Eilat, you can visit the spectacular rock formations in Timna Park (30 mins north of town) or hike in the Harei Eilat (Eilat Mountains) Nature Reserve for superb views over both Eilat and Aqaba in Jordan. For both places I recommend visiting in the early morning or it will get too hot.

The Red Canyon

The Red Canyon is also a 30-min drive from Eilat, but northwest of the city, closer to the border with Egypt (in fact, you will drive along the border fence for a while). The stunning canyon is in fact a narrow gorge, part of Wadi Shani, and named after the red stone that it is made of. The hike itself can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be: There is a short 2-kilometers trail which is well-marked and has handles and ladders to get into the canyon and to navigate the more difficult sections. You don’t need to be an experienced hiker for this part, but you definitely need proper hiking shoes and a good fitness. If a 2-km hike isn’t enough for you, there’s a longer 5 kilometer hike you can do.Red Canyon IsraelYou can get to the Red Canyon by taxi, but expect to pay a lot. There is also a public bus from Eilat – #392 to Beersheva runs every weekday and stops at the Red Canyon. There are only four buses per day though (at 9am, 1.30pm, 3pm and 5pm; and back to Eilat at 12pm, 1.15pm, 4pm and 7.45pm) and you’ll have to walk about 1.5 kilometers from the bus stop on the main road to the entrance of the canyon.

Admission is FREE.

The best beaches in Eilat

Beaches: Don’t miss Coral Beach, and I also liked Dekel Beach where you can hang out on a floating beach bar in the Red Sea. You can take bus 15 from the city center to both these beaches if you don’t have a car.gold star israeli beer

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Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem: A home away from home

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When I arrived at the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, it took me about ten minutes to know I’d be feeling completely at home here during my stay. ‘Would you like to participate in our Shabbat dinner tonight?’, I was asked during the quick and smooth check-in, to which I excitedly said ‘Of course, yes!’. I had been invited to my first ever family Shabbat dinner the Friday before, and eight days after my first introduction to this wonderful Jewish tradition of an extensive and festive family dinner, I still found myself daydreaming about all the good food I had gotten to try at my friend’s mom’s house, so taking part in the one at the hostel was a no-brainer for me. I put my stuff down in my room and headed straight to the communal lounge to do some writing before the Shabbat dinner. Happy Hour had just started and I ordered myself a glass of the excellent local Israeli wine and took in the atmosphere around me.abraham hostel jerusalem signPeople were sitting around lounge tables in small groups, laughing and talking, the bar was just starting to get busy, the hostel staff were mingling with the guests, and the volunteer staff were chopping away in the kitchen to get dinner ready in time. The music playing in the background was wonderfully relaxing, not the noisy dance music you get in some other hostels that have a bar. I knew that I’d be feeling right at home here for the next six nights.Jerusalem Abraham HostelAnother indication that this wasn’t your typical party hostel: the guests were of all ages, ranging from couples in their 50s, solo travelers in their 30s to girlfriends in their 20s. There was a TV room just off the lounge, so if you were not in the mood to mingle, you could retire to the TV room, but if you were looking to meet people, there were plenty of opportunities to do so. The rooftop terrace with its comfy lounge sofas was another great spot to meet other travelers, or just sitting at the bar was an easy way to get chatting fellow travelers.abraham hostel jerusalem roof terraceWhen I, prior to my arrival, had read that the hostel had 250 beds, I was a bit apprehensive, because I usually find those big hostel too impersonal, too loud, or too chaotic. My concerns were unfounded though – at Abraham’s, I never felt that there were that many people (and I later learned that there were even 260 beds), even though the hostel is near full capacity almost all the time.abraham hostel jerusalem private roomInstead I found a hostel where I could have my privacy in my spacious en-suite single room on the third floor whenever I wanted, but I could also go mingle in the lounge or, after 6pm, at the bar, preferably during the great-value happy hour of course, or take the social aspect one step further by joining one of the nightly activities where you can get to know other travelers – perfect for solo travelers like me. There is the weekly Pub Crawl, a Mexican Taco night, movie nights, a weekly open-mic night or the already mentioned Shabbat dinner on Fridays.abraham hostel jerusalem chillout areaThe dinner the volunteers at the hostel put together was almost as good as the home-cooked food I had had the Friday before. The options for vegetarians were plentiful and everything I tried was delicious – and seeing how many people went for second helpings, I was not the only one who felt that way. The price tag for the Shabbat dinner, ILS30 (US$7.70), is also extremely affordable, especially considering the amount of food you get and compared to the pricey restaurants of Jerusalem. While the lounge was fairly busy during the dinner with around 50 people in attendance it still had an intimate feel to it, thanks to the guests being grouped around smaller tables, which also had the advantage that you could get to know one another.Shabbat Dinner Abraham HostelEven though I preferred the seclusion and quietness in my private room which came with a desk (perfect for the writing I needed to catch up on) and a small kitchenette with a full-size fridge, I was impressed with the four-bed female dorms when I peeked inside one of them one day. Not only was the room spacious and each bed had its own reading lamp and socket, but a make-up table had been added just so that the girls could get ready in front of a full size mirror and spread out their make-up and toiletries. There was even a hair dryer! Abraham HostelThe dorm also has a kitchenette, which is basically just a cupboard with a fridge; the shared main kitchen is where you really find anything you need to make yourself a meal is downstairs right by the communal lounge, but it is nice to be able to store something in the room. With two stoves and ovens in the main hostel kitchen I never saw anybody having to wait to cook, and found the kitchen to be very clean. Plus: there is free tea and coffee in the kitchen all day long.abraham hostel jerusalem shabbat dinnerThe mornings were the best part though – that’s when a fancy espresso machine magically appeared and allowed guests to wake up with a proper espresso or cappuccino instead of a simple Turkish coffee. I might have gone over-the-top with my morning espresso intake a couple of times during my stay at Abraham’s..

In addition to the perfect coffee, breakfast consisting of bread, Nutella, cheese, hard boiled eggs and cereal – and of course the for Israeli breakfasts essential cucumber and tomatoes, both of which were served in a big bowls. (Side note: salad for breakfast might just be the best Israeli invention.) All of this is offered self-service style and is included in the room rates.abraham hostel jerusalem dining room1A great addition to the hostel itself is the tour company, Abraham Tours, in the reception area. Hostel guests get a discount on the tours offered, and if you can get several people to join a tour, there is an additional group discount. The list of tours is so long that I had difficulties deciding which ones I wanted to join. Abraham Tours basically offers tours to all of Israel’s main sights such as the Dead Sea, Haifa, Nazareth, and Masada, but you can even venture as far as Jordan, on a 3-day trip to Jerash, Petra and Wadi Rum, or Egypt on a 2-day tour from Eilat.

What impressed me the most though were the various tours to the West Bank that were thrown in the mix of classic Israel highlights. In my opinion, people who visit Israel should also visit the West Bank to get a better understanding of the ongoing Israel – Palestine conflict, but not everyone is comfortable to explore the Palestinian territories by themselves, so these tours are a great way to experience the West Bank with a qualified guide, also guaranteeing that you learn about the West Bank firsthand rather than just going there. I ended up going on three West Bank tours with Abraham (which I will write about separately) and these three days were among the most eye-opening in educating myself on the entire situation and to learn more about life in Palestine.West Bank Tour Abraham HostelI also took a cooking class with Abraham which I loved and can’t stop raving about. I didn’t have a single bad meal during my month in Israel, and the dinner we prepared during this class was among the most memorable ones.Cooking Class Abraham HostelOverall, I felt right at home at Abraham and am already looking forward to returning to Jerusalem were I know I have a home away from home.

Standout feature: Friendly staff

The staff can make or break a hostel, and Abraham is doing it just right when selecting their staff: every single person who was working at the hostel during my stay was always approachable, friendly and making sure that the guests were having everything they needed. There are even staff insider tips for Jerusalem on the Abraham website, but you can walk up to anyone at any time and get an answer to any question you might have.abraham hostel jerusalem lobby

Standout feature: The social activities and the tour desk

As I’ve already said: the tour desk offers a fantastic range of activities all over Israel, and what could be better than sightseeing with new friends from the hostel while having a knowledgeable guide with you? On every single one of the tours I took I felt well looked after and that the guides knew what they were talking about. Plus: If you stay at the hostel, you get a discount on any tour!

abraham hostel jerusalem message board
There is even a message board to connect travelers.

The social activities like the pub crawl or the Shabbat dinner were nights when I felt like I could really get to know my fellow travelers at the hostel without having to try hard. I recommend taking part in at least one social activity, but if you hang out at the hostel bar, you also won’t have any problems meeting new people.

Room for improvement

I have to admit that I found it really hard to find a flaw in this seemingly perfect hostel. I was trying hard to find something that was missing, but with the cozy lounge, the power outlets and reading lamps at every bed, free lockers, the bar with its great Happy Hour, the generous breakfast spread, the tours, a computer room with PCs to use for those who don’t travel with a laptop, a laundry room, the wonderful rooftop terrace, and the clean, spacious rooms, I didn’t miss anything during my stay.

Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem
I loved the signs and decoration throughout the hostel

The only thing I could pick on was that if you joined breakfast later in the morning, the tables were usually sticky and a bit dirty. While the staff was always on top of refilling the buffet, I thought that they could be more on top of cleaning the messy spots on the tables.

Abraham Hostels – The Details

Location: 67 Hanevi’im Street, Davidka Square, Jerusalem, 94702
Price: Dorms start at ILS85 (US$22), private singles start at ILS270 (US$69), private doubles start at ILS360 (US$92), triples start at ILS420 (US$107)
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes (high speed internet, desks in the rooms)
Amenities: Complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, free lockers, communal lounge, communal kitchen, laundry room, TV room, roof terrace, tour desk,
Website: http://abrahamhostels.com
abraham hostel jerusalem bedroom

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Travel Challenge: Is it possible to visit Tel Aviv on a budget?

tel aviv beach life

I am in the middle of packing my suitcase because I am going to visit Tel Aviv again – tomorrow, to be precise! I’ve already mentioned it briefly in my monthly round-up last week, but I wanted to share some more details about the trip, and last but not least: I’d love your input, if you’ve been to Tel Aviv!tel aviv beach view

What makes Tel Aviv such an awesome destination?

You might remember that when I visited Tel Aviv for the first time last year, I completely (and unexpectedly!) fell for the city. I loved the vibrant coffee shop scene, the nightlife, the beaches right in the city, the old port town of Jaffa on the southern end of the city, and how people were enjoying life there. I spent my days strolling through El Carmel market, running along the promenade, watching the sunset with hundreds of people on the beach every night before checking out some of the many fancy bars. I searched (and found) the street art I’d heard so much about, and I ate my way around town, or through all of Israel to be precise, because Tel Aviv has some of the best food I’ve had anywhere in the world – I am still talking about the delicious dishes I had there all the time, and just the thought of all the good food I’ll eat when I get back to Tel Aviv makes my mouth water. dani in israelI dove into the gay scene, and one of the things I loved most about Tel Aviv was how gay-friendly and tolerant the city is, especially considering this is the Middle East. Not a single country or city in the region is accepting or tolerating gay culture, but in Tel Aviv, it is celebrated openly and the city was recently voted best gay city in the world, ahead of New York even!

By the time I had to leave the city, I was ready to move to Tel Aviv. There was only one downside to this amazing city: it was expensive.tel aviv carmel market israel

Why is Tel Aviv so expensive?

One of the first things I noticed during my visit was how pricey everything in Tel Aviv was. I had just come from New York, where prices for most things are through the roof, but I hadn’t expected Tel Aviv to be on par with prices in New York. A small bottle of beer in a bar or restaurant for example was usually 30 or 32 Shekels – that’s 7.75 – 8.25 US Dollars! That’s even more expensive than New York, and this article revealed that Tel Aviv is in fact the third expensive city for beer in the world, only Hong Kong and Geneva charge more for beer.jaffa israelPrices for food span a wider range – similar to New York, I was able to find falafel sandwiches at little street stalls for about US$3, but I also paid ILS55 (US$14.19) for a simple Israeli breakfast and a coffee in a coffee shop in Tel Aviv. Which might be okay for someone coming from New York, but for someone from Berlin, a city filled with cheap breakfast places, this would be downright expensive. Even the famous Dr. Shakshuka, who started out as a small hole-in-the-wall shakshuka place, now charges upwards of ILS40 (US$10.30) for this simple egg dish. visit tel avivBut it’s not only food and going out: living costs in Tel Aviv have increased dramatically over the past few years. The city jumped from #32 to #18 in the ranking of the world’s most expensive cities last year, indicating just how much pricier everyday life has become. So it’s not a surprise that young Israelis flock to Berlin in droves to take advantage of the 79 Cent beers in the supermarkets and cheap rents, but is it possible for someone from Berlin to visit Tel Aviv on a small budget – and still have a good time?tel aviv jetski

The challenge: Tel Aviv on $77 per day

So when I was challenged to find out if it was possible to visit Tel Aviv on a shoestring, I didn’t have to think twice: I’ll be returning to Tel Aviv with a tight budget this week and will find out what a daily budget of 69 Euros – or 77 US Dollars – gets a visitor in Tel Aviv these days. Of course it is possible to visit Tel Aviv with even less money than that if you only eat at home and couchsurf, but I want to know if I can visit Tel Aviv on a small budget without limiting myself to doing only free stuff. I still want a comfortable place to stay (which is already included in the daily budget), be able to go out and have a good time, eat out instead of cooking for myself.visit tel aviv

I need your help!

Right now, I am researching cheap places to eat, drink and other free things to do, and could use your input. If you have been to Tel Aviv and have any tips for me – cheap eats, happy hour deals, etc -, please share them in the comments below! If you happen to track your spending like I do, I’d love to hear how much you spent on average per day during your stay in Tel Aviv. After my trip, I will put together a Tel Aviv On A Shoestring post for you, in which I’ll share my favorite inexpensive places to eat and go out and cool things to do on a budget. I will also try to keep my budget even lower – will it maybe even be possible to have a good time in Tel Aviv for 50 Dollars a day?visit tel avivFor more information on Tel Aviv and Israel, check out GoIsrael.

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