Tag Archives: israel

Nazareth, Israel

Fauzi Azar InnI headed to Nazareth with the intention of doing a day tour out to the Sea of Galilee and Golan Heights, which was unfortunately cancelled after I arrived in Nazareth. Determined to make the most of it, I started off by joining in a free walking tour of the city run by the hostel. This tour started with a history of the building.

The Fauzi Azar Inn is an Ottoman style family home built the 1830s. It is a beautiful home with stunning features of Turkish Marble and Cedar. One of the treasures of the home are it’s painted ceilings. Between 1860 to 1870 three rooms had their ceilings painted in floral decorative patterns, which remain today.

In 1948 the living conditions in Nazareth become very difficult and the majority of the Azar family fled, except Fauzi Azar, the grandfather of the current manager, Suraida.

Painted ceiling in the Fauzi Azar InnIn 1980, in the cold winter a fire began accidentally in the living space. It was caused by a spillage of kerosene on refilling the heater. A carpet began to burn and in an attempt to save the home, Fauzi grabbed the carpet and ran outside with it. The house was saved but in the process Fauzi was badly burned, and after some time in hospital the burns cost him his life.

The home, and the vast majority of Nazareth was abandoned, left to ruin. The drug dealers moved into the area and it was for some time, an undesirable region to venture into.

In 2005 the Azar family entered into an agreement to restore the home and convert it into a guesthouse. While Nazareth is still a quiet place for tourism, the Fauzi Azar Inn is going really well and has won awards in Best Accommodation for Local Communities, and numerous TripAdvisor awards. It has a fantastic reputation and in my opinion it is an absolute pleasure to be welcomed into this home and have the family share the history with you.

Abu Ashraf in his pancake restaurant
Abu Ashraf in his pancake restaurant

After Suraida’s introduction to the property, we began a tour of the town with Luma. Most walking tours go to each of the main sites in the city, while Luma pointed them out, the tour was more about getting to know the locals and the history of the city.

It was fabulous to visit buildings which were hundreds of years old, and meet locals whose families had run businesses in these buildings for a hundred years or more.

A famous 300 year old restaurant in Dewan Al Saraya. All the food is cooked fresh daily by Abu Ashraf, he is famous for the Katayef that he makes. One is a savoury type pancake stuffed with goat’s cheese, the other is sweet, stuffed with a blend of nuts and cinnamon.

Abu Salem Coffeeshop
Abu Salem Coffeeshop

Another such place is the Abu Salem Coffeeshop. The building is 300 years old and the family business has been operating for 100 years. Amongst the standard drinks on offer, they make a delicious cinnamon hot drink with a sprinkling of crushed walnuts on top.

Cinnamon hot drink from Abu Salem CoffeeshopAnother of the sites we stopped by was an ancient Arab cemetary, here we learned a little bit about the Arab culture around death. When someone dies they need to be buried as soon as possible. The coffin for the body is only used for transporting the body from the home to the cemetery. The body is buried in a cotton sheet wrapping. All of the graves have two stones, one at either end of the grave, one has the details of the person and the other has a prayer.

We also visited places to learn about the  traditional clothing, traditional marriage rituals, and also local spices from the area.

Colourful artwork in the Church of the Annunciation
Colourful artwork in the Church of the Annunciation

Beyond the local stories and visits, the city has some sights to visit. These include the White Mosque, Mary’s Well, The Church of Annunciation and the Basilica of the Annunciation.

I thought both Mary’s Well and the White Mosque were a little disappointing. However, I really enjoyed visiting the church and basilica. They were both stunning in completely different ways.

The Basilica of the Annunciation is where the Christians believe that the Angel appeared to Mary to tell her she would have child. Personally I am a bit confused as to why there is a Church of the Annunciation and a Basilica of the Annunciation. Are they claiming to be the place of this biblical event, at opposite ends of the city?

Stained glass windows in the Basilica of the Annunciation
Stained glass windows in the Basilica of the Annunciation

The old city is nice to wander through and is like an Arabic souq, many narrow alleys with market stalls. In one of these is the Synagogue Church, where Jesus went to pray and teach. I Visited from teh outside, but didn’t make it back there to visit inside.

Two other sites I would have liked to visit but didn’t, were the: Orthodox Caves which were closed; and the Cactus Ancient Bath House which cost 60NIS to visit, I found this too expensive.

Unfortunately Nazareth is a very small, quiet town. It was nice to visit, but a full day was plenty. While I wouldn’t recommend visiting for a long time, I would still recommend visiting. Despite how it may be presented in the media, it is a safe place to visit and the people are so friendly. It would be great to see tourists return to Nazareth to support the local people.

The Nitty Gritty

Accommodation

I stayed at the Fauzi Azar Inn, which got numerous glowing reviews both online and from locals. A bed in the 6-bed female dorm costs 105NIS per night. The cost includes linen, a towel, breakfast and all day tea/coffee. The location is good and it is only a short walk to everything.

Transport

To get from Jerusalem to Nazareth you can take a bus via Haifa or there is one bus that travels direct. The trip takes approximately 3 hours.

I took the 955 from Jerusalem Central Bus Station to Nazareth. The bus stops at several spots along the main street of Nazareth and I had no idea where to get off. After asking about the stops and advising which hotel I was going to, the bus driver stopped at the closest stop to my hotel and told me when to get off.

To get from Nazareth to Tel Aviv there are limited bus options and they are slow, taking between 2-3 hours. It’s also quite walk to the bus station from the hostel.

I was advised to take a Sherut Taxi, which cost 32NIS, rather than the 37NIS bus trip. The Sherut Taxi is a shared taxi, they leave when they are full and often make several stops along the way.
I arrived at the Taxi stop 10 minutes before the first Sherut was due to leave. I waited 30 minutes in total until we had enough people to go. Thankfully pretty much all passengers were headed to Tel Aviv and despite a few stops along the way, we arrived within 1.5 hours.

As transit to and from Nazareth is reasonably limited, the Fauzi Azar Inn and Abraham Hostels are planning to implement a shuttle service between Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Nazareth starting mid-March 2016.

Nazareth, Israel

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The Northern Coast of Israel

Based on people’s recommendations of what to see and do, I booking into a full day tour headed towards the Northern Coast of Israel. We stopped by Caeserea, Haifa, Rosh Hanikra and Akre, the tour cost US$114 departing from Jerusalem. (It’s US$103 if you depart from Tel Aviv)

The tour guide Avishay was a really funny and enthusiastic tour guide who brought the tour and the history to life.

Caeserea

CaesereaCaeserea built in 20BCE by King Herod who wanted a deep, safe port with a man made breakwater. It became a beautiful and very successful port. As with most beautiful and successful places in history, it was conquered, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. Modern Caeserea was revived by Edward Benjamin de Rothschild.

Haifa

Baha'i Garden in HaifaThe coastal town of Haifa is a major seaport for Israel. Haifa is the third largest city in Israel and where most industry offices can be found.

The reason most people go to Haifa is to see the Baha’i Gardens. They extend up the side of Mount Carmel and are absolutely gorgeous. The Baha’i faith has strong beliefs in equality and communication. The only other things I know about the Baha’i is that they create absolutely beautiful buildings and gardens.

Unfortunately they were not open when I visited, but the view from the top looking down over the perfectly manicured terraces was stunning.

Rosh HaNikra

Rosh HaNikra GrottoAt the North-Western tip of Israel, right at the border to Lebanon are the Rosh HaNikra grottoes.

The grottoes were formed over time, with cracks in the rocks being created through earthquakes. The cracks were expanded through rainwater seeping down them, compounded by the relentless crashing of waves. The grottoes extend for 200 metres and are beautiful to see.

They are accessed by the world’s steepest cable car ride, and the view from the cable car is fantastic.

Akre

Akre CitadelThe city of Akre is across the bay from Haifa. It is here that you can find a perfectly preserved crusader city. You can explore the knights hall, the prisoners hall, refectory, tunnels and more.

The buildings are in fantastic condition. In the outer region of the citadel people still live and work. It’s a great spot to explore!

Northern Coast Of Israel

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Jerusalem, Israel

The modern Jerusalem, with the Old City behindJerusalem is definitely my favourite city in Israel. It is clean, modern, the people are friendly, the architecture – both old and new – is fascinating and it has a positive vibe. It has a smaller town feel than Tel Aviv, but is actually the biggest city in Israel with an approximate population of 800,000.

The city is a very holy place for a number of religions. While the people appear to get along, not all of them are happy with this and in some areas you can feel the undertones of tension, anger and intolerance. Attacks or attack attempts of various forms happen almost daily according to one of the taxi drivers I spoke to. But they are usually handled swiftly and to the tourists, invisibly.

Jerusalem, the new city

The newer parts of Jerusalem are all quite modern, very square shaped buildings all of a creamy sandstone colour. There are loads of shops, restaurants and cafes. The Mehane Yehuda market is a lively, colourful place to visit during the day or night.

The best way to explore Jerusalem is to wander up and down Jaffa Street, then branch off and get lost in the side streets.

Jaffa Street

Yemin Moshe

Yemin MosheA suburb or area within the newer part of Jerusalem is Yemin Moshe. It was the first settled area outside of the old city walls, it was established by the Montefiore Welfare Fund. It was created as a solution to overcrowding in the old city, but it took a long time to become populated.

These days it is a super cute, foot traffic only, area to walk through. Towards the end of it on the uphill side is a windmill. The windmill was built to allow the poor jews to be able to grind their own flour

If you head down the hill there is a really nice park with a fountain. An awesome spot to sit and relax in the sunshine.

The Old City

Ceiling above the Tomb of Jesus
Ceiling above the Tomb of Jesus

Any reference to the Old City of Jerusalem, is a reference to the walled city of Jerusalem into which you can enter from any one of seven gates. The old city is split into ‘quarters’ or regions; the most significant religiously is the Temple Mount area which has highly restricted access and is only open a few hours of every day. The other areas are the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian quarters. These areas are full of fabulous old architecture, and old cobblestone laneways in which you can easily get wonderfully lost.

Rather than wander the city and not know the significance of anything, I did a paid, 90NIS, four hour Holy City walking tour. The tour guide Emmanuel was absolutely brilliant. He shared an objective view of all the sights, while explaining their historical and religious significance . The tour included sights such as the Room of the Last Supper; the Tomb of King David; the Church of Dormition where Mary died; Mount Zion and Zion’s Gate; the path of Jesus from where he was given the crucifix to carry along where he fell, where he said goodbye to his mother to where he was crucified; the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the Western Wall; and the Temple Mount.

Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount

The Temple Mount area is quite fascinating as it is so tightly regulated in terms of hours as well as who may enter. It is only open for a couple of hours in the morning and only one hour in the middle of the day. The Jews are not allowed to enter. The Temple Mount is an area, within which is the Dome of the Rock. This is essentially a shrine over the top of the Foundation Stone, more typically referred to as the Holy of Holies. It is believed to be the most sacred spot on the earth. Jewish history says this is where the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments was kept in a temple.

Men praying at the Western WallOn the West side of the Temple Mount is the original Western Wall of the temple built by Herod. This is the closest public place that Jewish people can get to the Holy of Holies, and this is where they go to pray and talk to God. I have often heard it referred to as the Wailing Wall, but it is actually called the Western Wall. It’s fascinating do a tour in the Western Wall tunnels for 30NIS. In the tunnels is the closest you can get to the Holy of Holies.

On a Friday from sunset onwards until sunset on a Saturday, the Western Wall is particularly busy with Jews celebrating Shabbat. People will gather to sing, dance and pray.

Day trip to Masada, En Gedi & the Dead Sea

In order to see Masada and En Gedi I booked a day trip with Tourist Israel for US$69 (departing from Tel Aviv it costs US$79). The pickup was very early in the morning and we returned early afternoon.

Masada

Congratulating the Israeli soldiers on their graduationMasada was built by King Herod as a fortress. It was the last bastion of Jewish freedom fighters against the Romans. It is a plateau at the top of a mountain, overlooking the Dead Sea.

I did a sunrise hike up the Snake Path to the top of Masada. The tour bus arrived a little late so we had to rush as fast as we could to get to the summit. While we got there in full light, we did get to see the sun crest over the horizon.

In addition to the historical significance of Masada, it is the place where the Israeli military swear their oath of allegiance and hold other important graduation type ceremonies. While up Masada one such ceremony was taking place. There were a hundred or more soldiers receiving awards, clapping for their friends, chatting, taking pictures and singing the National Anthem. Conscription into the military is still a requirement for all Jewish Israelis. Men are required to serve for three years and women for two, I feel that this encourages views of equality between men and women and also forces young people to mature before choosing a career path. While I am not a huge fan of conscription, it seems to work well for Israel.

Sunrise from Masada

En Gedi

Davids Waterfall at En GediEn Gedi is a nature reserve, with beautiful scenery. It is a great spot for hiking and swimming in the springs, though I must say that compared to the nature reserves back home I found it a little underwhelming.

With limited time we walked up the valley along the river, lots of little waterfalls up to the larger falls David’s Falls. Along the way we saw some random oversized rat type creature which I later learned to be the Hyrax.

Dead Sea

The Dead SeaBetween the sites of En Gedi and Masada, we stopped at a resort to use their change rooms and showers in order to take a ‘dip’, read as ‘float’, in the Dead Sea.

Having already done it once I knew what to expect, and it was honestly just as fun the second time around. Body mud mask and all!

The Nitty Gritty

Transport

I travelled to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv twice, I caught the bus both times. Buses depart every 20 minutes or so, no matter what station you leave from. The ride takes approximately an hour and costs 16NIS. You buy the ticket on the bus.

The 605 Jerusalem Express departs regularly from the Super-Pharm Tel Aviv Central Bus Station.
The 480 departs regularly from the bus station on Arlozorov Street, just near the Tel Aviv Center – Savidor train station.

From the central bus station in Jerusalem to my hostel was approximately 25minutes walking or about 5 minutes on the tram. The tram runs along Jaffa Street and a single ride costs 5.90NIS.

Getting around Jerusalem was easy, as everything is walking distance. The only time I caught a taxi was after watching sunset on Mount Olive, it cost me 25NIS to go from the top of Mount Olive to the New Gate in the Old City.

Accommodation

In Jerusalem I stayed at The Post Hostel for six nights in a 4-bed female dorm. It was quite pricey at around 150NIS per night.

The hostel itself was really clean and modern. It had a real urban feel to it. I was highly impressed with the facilities, including USB charging ports by each bed and by the bar. The breakfast every day was absolutely brilliant and the staff were incredibly helpful.

The location was absolutely brilliant and it was only a 5-10 minute walk to the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City.

The only thing that was a little disappointing, was that a towel is not included in the price and if you would like one it costs 20NIS. Overall, it was worth the expense.

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Tel Aviv, Israel

Landing in Israel was a bit of a shock to the system and I will admit I felt incredibly ignorant about the country when I arrived. I had assumed, being in the Middle East, that Israel was a Muslim, Arabic speaking country. But it is actually a Jewish, Hebrew speaking country. Compared the Arab countries I had been to recently, the infrastructure in Israel is better, the streets and buildings are cleaner and newer. The city and it’s people are much more modern and open minded – it was a welcome breath of fresh air.

The only unfortunate aspect of my visit to Tel Aviv, was the weather. As a three day break between gorgeous sunny days, I got to experience cold, wind, rain, thunder and lightning. Not to be deterred, I made the most of those three days.

Jaffa, the Old City

The floating tree art piece in JaffaAs I try to do with most places, I started my exploration of Tel aviv by doing a free walking tour. On this occasion it was with a company called Sandemans.

The tour started near a clock tower in the suburb called Jaffa, which is the old part of Tel Aviv. For two hours we wandered by the Tel-Aviv promenade to the wharf area and through the narrow stone laneways and alleys that make up Jaffa.

The buildings are all a beautiful yellow stone, with many stairways and arches. Colourfully painted doors and windows frames. While the area is quite small, it provides a lovely little labyrinth of old architecture to wander and get lost in.

Street Art

Squirrel Street Art tagged by the artist DedeOne of the first things that struck me about Tel Aviv is how much street art there is. Some of it is fairly average, as you might expect, but loads of it is really cool.

Almost every street I walked down had street art worth taking pictures of. Areas particularly dense with street art were the narrow laneways east and west of Elifelet Street.

Neve Tzedek

Cute houses in Neve TzedekNeve Tzedek is a gorgeous suburb. It looks like an area that used to be quite run-down, but has had new life breathed into it. It feels a bit like a artists, urban zone. The houses are all colourful and compact. The main streets are lined with boutique stores and cafes.

I really enjoyed just wandering through Neve Tzedek, it is a suburb with a very chilled out vibe.

Rothschild Boulevard & Dezignoff Street

Architecture on Rothschild BoulevardTel Aviv’s White City is the central area of the city of Tel Aviv. It was UNESCO Heritage listed in 2003 and has the worlds largest concentration of Bauhaus architecture.

To see the architecture it is best to walk up and down Rothschild Boulevard and Dezignoff Street. Everywhere you go are interesting buildings and sculptures to look at.

Carmel Market

Spices at Carmel MarketCarmel Market is a local market worth visiting. You can see and try local fresh fruit and vegetables, juices and sweets. On Tuesdays and Fridays the market is extended for arts and crafts.

It was a pleasant market to visit and I certainly indulged in a couple of tasty treats. Unfortunately it rained my entire visit to Tel Aviv, so when visiting the arts and crafts section of the market, very few stalls were set up.

The Nitty Gritty

Transport

I arrived in Tel Aviv by taxi from the airport. It cost 144NIS, which I thought was a huge expense. The bus and train combo costs 6NIS (bus) + 13NIS (train) and takes the same amount of time or less.

Getting around Tel Aviv I walked everywhere. It is a fairly easy city to get around and in my opinion the things to see were all within walking distance.

Accommodation

I stayed in the Florentine Backpackers Hostel. It had a great location, it had a very enthusiastic (sometimes overwhelming) community feel. It was reasonably clean and tidy, but there are only four showers available for all the dorm rooms.
A bed in a 4-bed female dorm costs 82NIS per night.

Tel Aviv Photos On Flickr

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