Along the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean lies the State of Israel, the world’s only Jewish majority state. Israel has been the subject of much controversy over the years, as it is widely considered an enemy to many countries in the Middle East, in particular Palestine. Turmoil in the region tied to the Iraq war, Syrian terrorism and Egyptian uprisings, have left a cloud of insecurity, uncertainty and fear, deterring many from visiting the Middle East. While most of those concerns are warranted, Israel has been deemed a safe state, and welcomes tourists from all regions.
It’s a good thing, too, because Israel has a lot to offer. It is said to be one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East as far as economics, industrial development and finance. Not only is it a modern cultural hotspot, but Israel also boasts a number of archaeological and historical sites, unique geography and religious venues, not to mention a wealth of museums.
Surrounding the Dead Sea is a collection of hotels, hostels and houses, restaurants and shopping areas. There are also companies that offer activities like jeep and bike tours, camel tours and rappelling. The sea's edge is dotted with springs and abundant plant life, as well as a desert landscape that offers breathtaking scenery. Some important historical sites can also be found in this region, including the Massada Fortress, ancient Ein Gedi and the Qumran cave, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were dsicovered.
|View from Mt. Zion|
Tel Aviv is the second largest city in Israel and is referred to as "the city that never stops." It is the economic and cultural center of the country, offering a lively, entertaining atmosphere with festivals and nightclubs that draw people out to the streets until the wee hours of the morning. Apart from an active nightlife, Tel Aviv features dozens of daytime attractions, including 20 museums such as the Land of Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Art Museum. The city hosts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli Opera Company, and most of the national dance and theater companies are situated in Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv's has a wonderful shopping scene, too, with bustling street markets and modern malls. Its markets are truly exquisite, displaying a variety of local fare that reflects the locals behind the whole operation. The best known open-air market is Carmel Market, located near the Neveh Zedek quarter, which offers a wide array of fresh produce and ingredients. It's perfect if you have a kitchen where you can prepare a nice meal. If not, it's also a great place to grab some picnic fixings or snacks to munch on as you tour the rest of the city. If you're looking to make a deal on your purchases, head over to Jaffa Flea Market, where bargaining is the name of the game. But be warned, vendors do this for a living, and they have this down to a science.
While you can see original crafts and pieces of art at markets, it's a bonus to see them actually being made in front of your eyes. For this special treat, venture over to Shuk Ha'aliyah, where craftspeople can be seen at work making metal pieces and furniture.
I guess it should be no surprise--especially considering its biblical ties--that Israel has an impressive collection of vineyards and a booming wine industry. The Bible includes dozens of verses referencing planting vineyards, producing wine and blessing the wonderful fruit of the vine. God be praised for wine! Unfortunately, I've never tasted any varieties from the region, but I'm certainly open to it. I mean, if it was good enough for Jesus and his disciples, it's good enough for me. Today, the vineyars supplying grapes for production are planted on sites from biblical and later periods. More than two hundred wineries currently operate in Israel, and wine tourism has become common, focusing on visiting wineries and surrounding areas. Many places have opened wine routes attracting tourists and wine lovers from all over the world. Some possible vineyards to check out include Zohar Winery, Bazelet Hagolan Winery, Stren Winery and Golan Heights Winery, to name a few.
While we're on the subject of wine, I should also mention Israel's thriving olive business. The image of the dove carrying an olive branch is an historical symbol in Jewish culture, and the olive tree plays an important role in Israel's culture. Olive oil is one of the most important agricultural elements for the country, used for food, light, heat, medical treatments and cleaning and hygiene. The olive harvest season is very important to the people of Israel. Olive festivals are held to mark the season, and families make trips to the groves to harvest olives and watch them being pressed. If you happen to be visiting during the season, you're in luck, because tourists are encouraged to take part in the events and participate in harvests.
You should definitely try to check out the Sea of Galilee and a place called the Cove of the Sower, a stretch of undisturbed beach on the northern shore. This area was the site of many events of Jesus' Galilee ministry.
I feel like I could go on forever about everything Israel offers, because what I've written so far does not even begin to do it justice. The solution, I suppose, is to actually visit this magical place. And one day I will. (My parents are actually there as we speak...but unfortunately I could not tag along...I have a job, after all.) I'm sure they will come back with some incredible stories, pictures and memories--and gifts--which will only make me want to visit even more. One day, I'll make it there.