I was on vacation with my parents in Antalya, Turkey in the summer of 2009, when the chance arose to see Israel. It was a one day trip that included Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. I was itching to go, but the price was a bit of show stopper for me (I am pretty budget conscious) but my parents, especially Dad, managed to convince me with the ever popular “how many times will you have the chance to visit Israel?” Sold. The only problem was, there was no Romanian/Hungarian guide at the time – they could have provided one for $200 but I was assured there would be an English one. Little did I know.
Because our flight was in the morning, as in really early, I was picked up from the hotel at 3.30 am. Not a time when I look my best. The minivan was full of Russian tourists (I was told I will be traveling with a Russian group). I was the odd one there, almost felt like an attraction at the zoo. The last pick up was at a neighboring hotel, where we had to wait for the guests for 40 minutes as they overslept. Bad omen number 1.
Arriving at the airport, the passport control officer tells me I will need to buy another visa upon return (which is available for 3 months). I asked why since I got the first one 3 days before. He shrugged and said “these are the rules”. I was furious. Bad omen number 2.
The flight to Tel Aviv was uneventful. I got my Israel entry visa in the passport, after which I realized – I’ve lost my group. Panic time. Take deep breaths and follow the crowd. I exited the airport and looked for the tour bus. The joy of discovering it was extremely short lived because as soon as I boarded, I asked the tour guide “do you speak English?” The answer was a resounding “No”. Shock. Complete and utter shock. Here I was, in a foreign country, in bus full of middle aged Russian tourists NS the tour guide speaks no English. I was livid.
In the midst of all the anger, I had an epiphany – I could sulk all day and say how unfair life is, or look at the bright side – I’m here, the cradle of Christianity, I don’t need the explanations of the guide, I can discover the places on my own. The whole “when life gives you lemons…” thing. As soon as we stopped at the sights, I engaged into tourist mode – took tons of pictures, read all the signs (in English), basically enjoying every minute of it.
The places I’ve seen were amazing – the Church of All Nations with the Garden of Ghetsemane, which was my absolute favorite site of the whole trip to Israel – you see the beautiful olive trees and the rock where apparently Jesus prayed before taken away by the soldiers, the Church of Holy Sepulchre – “residence” of Hill of Golgotha (inside the church, basically you just climb a few steps) and the Holy Tomb.
While here, I was “transferred” to another group since our tour guide managed to explain to me that the group had an English speaking guide. Well guess what – from one Russian group to another. No English. By this time I reached the point of not caring, I just wanted to enjoy the sights. We did a little souvenir shopping, walked through the narrow streets of the Old City, and reached the Wailing Wall. Also known as the Western Wall, it is considered the second holliest place in Jewish faith after the Holy Temple. While there, we could see the little paper notes carrying written prayers, placed in the crevices of the wall.
The final part of our journey took us to the Dead Sea. After enduring the extreme temperatures of the city, I was more than ready to have a good soak. Upon arrival, you are greeted by a huge sign that warns you of the dangers of swallowing water, or getting it in your eyes. Also you are required not to splash while swimming. Now swimming there is a fun experience – you enter the water slowly (the bottom of the sea is full of rocks and mud), then lean back and presto! – the salty water pushes you to the surface (after all, the Dead Sea is 9 times saltier than the ocean). You can even read while floating in the lake (even though it’s named sea, it is a lake). I had an adventure here as well – when I was finished with my floating and was getting up to head to the shore, the water got in my eyes. And trust me, salt water BURNS your eyes. Almost as blind as a bat I reached my towel, hopped into a shower and felt that I deserved a cold beer after all the adventures I went through that day.
The flight back was great, even had the extra leg room seat, got to wear only flip flops (something I’ve always wanted), and thankfully not had to pay for another visa upon reentry.
Maybe it was only in my imagination, but Jerusalem is shrouded in spirituality. You feel it at every pace, and to think that I was walking the streets of one of the oldest cities in the world is an experience I will cherish forever.
You’d think that with all these mishaps I would have a negative experience, but instead realized that it gave me a whole new perspective – travel is adventure, it doesn’t always go as planned, and most times, all the “bad” things that happen make the greatest stories. Expect the unexpected and see the bright side (unless you are threatened or in real danger). Would I have appreciated it more had I had an English guide? Maybe. But this was so much better. Would I do it again? You bet.
Joseph is a young doctor/teacher whose passions include traveling, books, great music and people. His mind is constantly on the road, while his body has a tough time keeping up. He has visited 14 countries and 10 states of the US. He is preparing for his trip to the US which starts in July, where he hopes to discover hidden treasures, take great photos (a new hobby) and write about his adventures in his blog fiy3ro. Being an avid reader, he also has another website, dedicated to books (which he occasionally reviews) called Book Hurricane
Website(s): www.fiy3ro.com , www.bookhurricane.com
Facebook: Book Hurricane and Fiy3ro
Twitter: @jozsef7 and @bookhurricane
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