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Israel

While researching the Middle East, we stumbled across a site saying that Tel Aviv, in Israel, was voted one of the best cities in the world… So we decided to cross the border from near Amman in Jordan and spend a few days in the holy land before moving onto Tel Aviv.

Overlooking the Muslim quarter from the rooftop terrace at our hotel in Old City, Jerusalem.

Overlooking the Muslim quarter from the rooftop terrace at our hotel in the Old City, Jerusalem. The obvious golden dome is called Dome Of The Rock.

The Border Crossing into Israel is surprisingly straight forward if you cross at the King Hussein Bridge just north of the Dead Sea. All you need to do is: pay a departure tax of 8 Jordan Dinars per person on the Jordan side and then you have to catch a bus across the bridge to the Israel Border control building (costs 30 New Israel Shekels (NIS) pp). From here to Jerusalem the cheapest way to go is to take the shuttle bus (41JD pp) rather than a taxi (~200JD) – keep in mind though that the shuttle driver only leaves when he has a full car – some guy had been waiting there for 2 hours before we jumped in and left. Just a side note all the border control staff are really young. The majority would be in their 20’s, maybe 30’s – it seemed weird….

Afriend to welcome us on our arrival in Israel... Did you know Australia has the most wild (non native of course) camels in the world! Now you do.

A friend to welcome us on our arrival in Israel... Did you know Australia has the most wild (non native of course) camels in the world! Now you do.

From the moment we entered Jerusalem we could see it was a fascinating place. Albeit frantically busy but full of atmosphere and plenty to see and do.

Isdie the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem

Inside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

To be a part of all the action, we recommend staying inside the Old City. Our hotel was great and only costs $60 per night at Hashimi Hotel with a little bit of negotiation. You can most likely find cheaper hotels outside the gates.

The Old City is divided into four quarters: Christian Quarter (where we stayed), the Muslim Quarter, Jewish Quarter and the Armenien Quarter. It is said to be the place where religions live happily together. And people are more than keen to talk religion….

Elissa in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem

Elissa in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem

There are plenty of tours offered through the Old City but if you are keen to explore on your own and without time limitations, the tourist centre near Jaffa Gate (eastern side of city) in the Christian Quarter distributes free walking guides that provide maps, photos and explanations of what you can see.

People on a pilgrim

People on a pilgrim

The walks were fascinating and having grown up learning stories in the Bible, it was completely surreal to be walking in the steps of Jesus. Within the Christian Quarter we walked the 14 Stations of the Cross, visited The Church of the Holy Sephulchre which was where Jesus was crucified and buried and also saw part of the rock that rolled from the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead. If you are interested, there is a small mass (it could literally only hold about 15 people) held every morning at this tomb at 5.30am – one for the early birds.

The entrance to Jesus' tomb....

The entrance to Jesus' tomb....

This is the tomb where Jesus was buried and then rose again.

This is the tomb where Jesus was buried and then rose again.

We didnt just stick to our Christian roots, we also walked through the Muslim Quarter, mainly to see the mosque (Dome of the Rock or As-Sakhra Al-Musharaf) which is one of the most noticeable buildings in the old city. You won’t, however, be allowed too close to it unless you are muslim (or can dress up like one) – wearing thongs and singlet tops was quite a give away that we weren’t from the Islamic Faith.

This was as close as we got to the Mosque, they could see we weren't Muslim!!!

This was as close as we got to the Dome of the Rock (Mosque), they could see we weren't Muslim!!!

The most important area for the Jewish faith, not just in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem but in the world  is the Western Wall or Wailing Wall. This is their Mecca equivalent, and lots of Jews make a pilgrimage to this place for assembly and prayer. It’s really quite a sight. Its called the Wailing Wall because for centuries Jews have gathered here to lament the loss of their temple which once stood here.

Thousands of people, mainly Jews, visit here each year

Thousands of people, mainly Jews, visit here each year. It doesn't cost any money to visit this fascinating place.

You need to wear a Yarmulke (skullcap) if you want to get close to the wall, and you are male.

You need to wear a Yarmulke (skullcap) if you want to get close to the wall, and you are male. When approching the wall, men and women are split up and pray in their own area.

In addition to this history, the Old City has many market stalls to tempt you into buying delicious cuisines, clothing, shoes and bags, spices, dried fruits and jewelry to name a few. You could definitely spend a few days within these walls.

A merchant selling his spices among other things. There are heaps of these stalls to browse through.

A merchant selling his spices among other things. There are heaps of these stalls to browse through.

Outside the city of Jerusalem is quite modern. There is a fabulous mall strip near Jaffa Gates with some beautiful fashion brands, cafes and restaurants. Plus if you just wander the streets, you will stumble upon some gorgeous galleries too.

We really liked this artwork

We really liked this artwork...

Not far outside Jerusalem there are some must see places too. We took a public bus to Bethlehem. Bring your passport because you actually venture into the West Bank and there are borders controls enforced – (they are only enforced when you come back into Israel from the West Bank).

Once in Bethlehem we arranged with a taxi driver to take us to some key sites for the afternoon (cost 100nis total). These sites included The Shepherds Fields, The Milk Grotto and of course the birthplace of Jesus. Note: dress appropriately at all times in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This means long pants or skirt and a long t-shirt (no singlet tops)… You can avoid comments like “this is not the beach” if you dress properly and you will be allowed in to these holy places.

This is the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

This is the birthplace of Jesus Christ. This is where his 'manger' was.

This is the place where Jesus grew up before they fled to Egypt before King Herod had ordered the killing of children uncer the age of 2.

This is the place where Mary and Joseph stayed for the birth of Jesus before they fled to Egypt during the time King Herod had ordered the killing of children under the age of 2.

Jesus on the cross

Jesus on the cross.

Via Dolorosa is the road where you visit the stations of the cross.

Via Dolorosa is a famous road for the Stations of the Cross.

Elissa putting her hand where Jesus "allegedly" did well he fell on the way to his crusifiction.

Elissa putting her hand where Jesus "allegedly" fell on the way to his crucifiction.

On our last day in Jerusalem we hired a car – mainly to drive to Tel Aviv but we also wanted to stop by the Garden of Gethsemane which is very close to the Old City and the church next door which is The Church of Mary Magdalene.

The Garden of Gethsemane sits on Mount of Olives and overlooks Jerusalem. It’s small, superbly manicured and is only accessible to select tour groups (who obviously pay a price). The rest of us can admire from behind the fence at the few hundred year old olive trees.

These olive trees are decendants of the ones that Jesus prayed to God infront of...

These olive trees are decendants of the ones that Jesus knelt before and prayed...

We were not expecting to spend as much time in Jerusalem as the plan was to spend a couple of days in Tel Aviv. There is just so much history here that it was hard to leave. In the end we had an afternoon and time for dinner in Tel Aviv before boarding our flight to Croatia. In the short time we were there, we were really impressed with the beach front but didn’t explore the city centre. In our opinion your time is better spent in Jerusalem and Bethlehem as at the end of the day Tel Aviv is just another city, with a great vibe, but another city. Apparently the nightlife is amazing.

Tel Aviv beach from is very impressive and an enjoyable place to walk alone.

Tel Aviv beach is very impressive and an enjoyable place to walk along

There are some great restaurants and bars along the beach...

There are some great restaurants and bars along the beach...

The food was great at this 24hour restaurant, which also had wifi....

The food was great at this 24hour restaurant, which also had wifi, keeping us entertained before our late night/early morning flight....

Lamb shank salad

Grilled chicken salad

One final note when departing Israel – we arrived at the Tel Aviv International Airport with 3 hours to spare and almost missed our flight. Security in this airport is insane. We went through 6 different bag security checks which included one where every single bag, smaller internal bag, pockets and slips were unpacked and checked. Our computer ware was taken away for additional tests – N.B make sure phones, laptops, ipads etc have battery otherwise security have to charge the items before testing them. Perhaps after our experience you should allow 5 hours to comfortably wander through to the boarding gates.

All in all we had 3 days to look around Jerusalem and a quick stopover in Tel Aviv and loved it all…. We felt safe and welcome whilst there.

For more images, please look at our gallery.

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