Jerusalem. It’s a city that has given me a good dose of religious experiences, history and emotions. It is one of the oldest cities in the World and sacred to all Muslims, Jews and Christians.
I stayed five nights in the citadel hostel, the chepest place in town, yet has the best view and quite an interesting location. It was in the Old City wall where all the bathrooms and bedrooms felt like dug out caves.
Being on the border of the West Bank, Jerusalem was a great base for trips to nearby Palestinian cities. The city also had a lot to offer when it came to nightlife, museums and activities, but I think best of all was the Western Wall, where orthodox Jews were wailing on their prayers. The city also has some quite extensive tunnels that can be explored in a tour well worth it’s five Euro price. The city just has such a rich history, so having a guide taking me around for one and a half hour while explaining passionately made a difference of seeing just the city for what it is today and the city which has blossomed through the last couple of thousand years.
When going to the Dead Sea, most tourists seem to choose Ein Gedi as their entry point as it is a natural oasis in the desert with a waterfall. When I was there there was no access to the Dead Sea in Ein Gedi because of dangerous sinking holes at the sea front. So instead I went to Ein Bokek, which I think is actually a much better option.
When me and my German friend got into the water we could feel that something was different. The water was cold and when touching the skin it felt almost a bit slimy with the salt water layer on top of it. We went out, leaned back and the density of the salty water took care of the rest. We were floating on our backs without any effort.
If it wasn’t for the cold weather I think I would have bought a neck pillow and just have slept there easily.
There were not much to do other than visiting spas, restaurants and the dead Sea, so after about an hour of swimming we got on the bus back to Jerusalem..
Masada is a mountain fortress by the Dead Sea that has, in my opinion a quite amazing story.
The fortress was tried occupied by the Roman’s around year 75, but due to the strategic location and around a thousand Jews throwing rocks at the intruders, the Romans did not have much luck conquering it when trying for almost two years. What they did in order to finally get in was to put Jews captured from other cities to build a ramp up to the castle entrance. That way the people living in the fortress would stop throwing rocks as they would not want to kill their own people. Many of the captured Jews threw themself from the top of the ramp instead of helping the Romans complete their ramp, but after almost three months of constructing the ramp it was clear that the Romans would finally manage to break in.
Instead of being captured by the Romans, the Jews decided that they would commit mass suicide. Twelve men were assigned to kill all the people inside the fortress and then to kill themselves, so when the Romans entered the fortress, all the 950 inhabitants of the fortress were laying dead in the streets.
Being in the fortress nearly two thousand years later and hearing the story was incredible. Most of the ruins of top were in good shape so one could easily imagine how life must have been in the fortress these days and the view from the top was also quite incredible.
The Jesus trail is a pilgrimage hike that can be done in four days, walking between his hometown in Nazareth to where he delivered his famous sermons and performed his first miracles. Instead of walking I took the easier way of hitch hiking and riding bus, so that I could see both cities in one day.
Tiberias was a city by the Sea of Galilee, which I think sounded very promising with a sculpture park and lots of historical sites. When I came there I was quite dissappointed to see historical castle walls being covered with advertisement (like the pic below), attractions being closed down and St. Peters church which now also hosted a hotel and a bar. When a guy with a Kippah/ skull cap for directions to St. Peters church church I also got an arrogant answer “do I look like I go to church?”. When I said “No, but you must know where to find the most famous attraction of the city?” he just said “of course” and waived me off in the right directions. Although I really like the Jewish people, I sometimes don’t quite get this humor..
Nazareth was a city pretty much without Jews. Here the Muslims and Christians were living side by side- a place where I was standing in front of the church hearing gospels and prayers from the minarets at the same time. A place where I got the first time in life have seen a church where everything was written and spoken in Arabic.
I really liked the city of Nazareth. It was a place where I could walk the streets and feel the Christmas spirit for the first time this year. Being on a Sunday I got to join in on a mass, but the downside was that I missed the Nazareth Village attraction that was closed on Sundays, where people would act out the old city of Nazareth with historically correct clothes etc. That would have made my visit complete, as I felt like the city itself was much more modern and full of traffic and modern commercialism than I first had imagined.
Again I found myself couchsurfing in a Kibbutz- a Israeli collective community. Traditionally Kibbutzes were based on farming, but today they stand for almost a tenth of all Israeli output, producing everything from IT services to military equipment. They also work in different ways, which I found out after my second Kibbutz visit.
The people I stayed with in Kibbutz Eilot had told me that all the money they made went to the Kibbutz, the expenses were paid and then all the money was equally distributed between all members of the Kibbutz.
In Kibbutz Palekh it was done in another way. Here I stayed with a group of six people, hereby referred to as a unit. The unit members did not have their own bank account, just one for the whole unit, so they worked more like a marriage where everyone could buy a coffee, some clothes or other necessities without asking the others, but for computers, cars etc there had to be a discussion in the group first. The unit had one common economy and would pay taxes to the Kibbutz for the services it provided.
In both cases it were the Kibbutzes who owned the buildings and things like a work office, gym and common rooms. The difference was how big of a role the Kibbutz had and how much the unit had. In that sense the first Kibbut, Eilot was the more totalitarian communist working one and the second more like a socialist country with a good welfare system. Both were quite interesting to love in and learn about- I think it is quite incredible to see that communism can work well in cases were everyone is just as dedicated to it.
For my travels onwards in Israel I had decided to do what I could for collaborative consumption, like couch surfing and hitch hiking my way around.