This is going to be a looong post. I studied about Israel and Jewish culture for many years and I was very excited to experience it. I had the opportunity to live and travel around Israel as a volunteer and as a student. This article is about both my volunteer and student experience in Israel.
The archaeology volunteer
The first time I went to Israel was in 2010, for one month. I was a volunteer at an archaeological site close to Tiberias (up North) and I was very excited about it but after the first day… I was ready to go home. Waking up at 4 am, work until it’s too hot to continue (12 pm), a short breakfast in between. The afternoon was not for relaxing either, as we were washing pottery, listen to lectures and other activities. And we were in the middle of nowhere, with very limited internet.
Leaving aside the moaning about the early hours, food, hard work, everything basically, there were a lot of good stuff as well. Nice company, I learned a lot about archaeology from very knowledgeable and enthusiast professors, I helped to discover a synagogue and do a bit of sightseeing.
We went to other archaeological sites, some of them very impressive, for those passionate about history. Caesarea is nice to visit, you feel like you’re back in time.
The language student
The second time I went the following summer, to study Hebrew in Haifa, for one month again. I was staying in the campus with both locals and internationals. I enjoyed that time, and I still remember funny and awkward stories. And I joined all organized trips, of course.
One of the trips was to Nazareth, which is an important place for Christians. So ignorant me got surprised to find out that the city is almost entirely Muslim. And I was in short pants. Luckily I had a long scarf prepared, as I knew we were going to visit a church.
I went a day trip to Acre, Nahariya and up to the (closed) border with Lebanon. It was a nice trip and totally worthed.
Unfortunately, I haven’t explored Haifa as much as I wanted to. The uni is on a hill and I spent most of the time there. But the local market and Bahai gardens are a must.
Moving to Israel
Third and last time, I moved to Israel for one year, 2011-2012. I decided to study my MA in Tel Aviv, my favourite city in Israel. It was quite challenging as a whole, but I think it was a good learning experience, as I got to know myself better.
I was living in Ramat Gan, which is very close in Tel Aviv, but more residential and local like. The weather is nice most of the year, I walked a lot everywhere. Also because bus routes and schedules are no fun, it took me a long time to learn them. Israelis are very friendly and relaxed, I didn’t feel unsafe at all while living there. Going to the beach and the nightlife are some of the highlights of the city, and I have no complaints about it 🙂
My best friend was the only one who came to visit me, most of my friends thought I was crazy for living in Israel and it’s soo dangerous.
We went to Jerusalem, did all touristy things. For me, that was the 5th time I think. Initially, I didn’t like it so much, maybe because I had very high expectations, but after a few times, I started to like it. And now every time I remember it, I think it’s great. And I don’t need to say that it’s totally worth visiting.
I would mention here the tunnels at the Wailing Wall, which tell you a bit of history and you can see how deep it goes under. Because what you see outside, where people scratch others’ papers to fit in their wishing notes, it’s the most recent bit of it. The old Jerusalem is nice to explore and diverse, divided into four quarters, so there’s a bit for every taste.
Next stop: Dead Sea. That was a really cool experience. We took a public bus from Jerusalem and we were very excited to get there. It was all desert for some time when the driver announced the next one is the Dead Sea. We rushed to the doors just to see that…it was nothing… a biiiiig nothing. So we panicked a bit, but then we found out it was the next stop where we needed to go. We got to this spa, surrounded by the same nothing. But it was amazing, we got there everything we needed to enjoy for the day.
The water keeps you floating with no effort, which is very funny. And very salty, so we tried our best not to drink any of it.
Another day, we took a bus from Tel Aviv to Eilat. We booked front seats, so we could admire Negev desert all the way. We didn’t spend much time there, but it was good. Also, our student budget didn’t allow us much, Eilat is quite touristy. The Red Sea is cold, contrasting with the super hot weather.
On a serious note
Israel has a lot of nice places to visit and enjoy, but there are also the not-so-nice places. I’ve been to Golan Heights, where our guide pointed directions “that is Syria, that is Lebanon”, which gave me goosebumps.
I also went to Ashkelon and Sderot, which are bordering Gaza strip. The cities are prepared with shelters, as bombs fall very frequently. It was a very interesting trip, and I also got to see the barrier, which looks no fun at all.
I visited a tanks museum, an airbase and other places related to war. It may seem scary when you think of it, but it’s the reality for some, was good learning, and (unfortunately) is part of Israeli daily life and culture. I also explored a bit of West Bank, since it’s easy to access for Europeans.