The Israel and Palestine adventures
20.12.2011 - 26.12.2011 18 °C
My plan was to make a trip over the Christmas holidays 2011-2012 because I felt a need of travelling outside Europe. I've decided to spend all my money from when I worked in the Highlands for the summer on a trip somewhere. My first plan was Mali, but decided to postpone that trip due to kidnappings of tourists in the northern parts of Mali. I wouldn't go to Mali without visiting Timbuktu, no matter how dangerous it would be. Better to save it for later. Instead Jordan been marketing their country very well in London and I thought, yeah why not? Then I had a reason to return to Israel and Palestine as well. Perfect! I've asked my best travel companion, who also is my ex-boyfriend if he wanted to join in, and he agreed. It's a gambling, but 99% of the trip went perfectly well!
Here is my report from our trip, town by town. I will recommend or not recommend where to go, where to stay, how to travel and tell you about all the mistakes we made along the way.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Transportation: easyJet is flying from London Luton to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport to a reasonable price, of course more expensive during Christmas, but still affordable. From Ben Gurion Airport it's possible to take a train to Tel Aviv, not very cheap though, around 14NIS pp.
Accomodation: We stayed at Florentine hostel and it was excellent! Friendly atmosphere, lovely rooftop terrace and comfortable beds. We stayed two nights, one in the dormitory and one we stayed in a private room for 325 NIS (around £65). Great location in Elifelet Street 10, but tricky to find, since it doesn't look like a hostel from the outside.
To eat and drink: Falafel and drink the Israeli Goldstar beer, a dark lager that is one of the best beer in the world! I've longed for it since my last visit in 2006 and it was a great reunion. Falafel is excellent and cheap fast food. Who says vegetarian isn't good?
To do: Tel Aviv is a small but nice city in Israel by the Mediterranean Sea, with an excellent beach, Old Jaffa town, and a nice mix of old districts with the modern business districts. Buy some beer and sit down by the rocks and overlook the sunset by the sea. Beautiful!
Don't do: Buy Jordanian visa at the Jordanian embassy in Tel Aviv. They charge 20NIS (£40) per person and the price at the border is £20. If you are going to Jordan, either travel by another bridge than King Hussain Bridge or get the visa at home before the trip. You can get the visa from all other bridges than KH and at the airport.
Transportation: There are buses from Tel Aviv at the New bus station to Jerusalem on the 6th floor for 34NIS (£7) for 2 persons. The bus ride is around an hour. There was a soldier sleeping on the bus next to us with his rifle on his lap. Secure, eyy?
Accommodation: We stayed at New Palm Hostel, just by the Damascus gate! Excellent location, and fairly cheap so I'd say it's a perfect budget accommodation in Jerusalem. A bed in the dorm costs £10 per night pp.
To do: Get lost in the Old City, pay the Western Wall a visit, walk the streets, bargain in the shops, by some souvenirs, and just enjoy Jerusalem. It's an amazing city, and very important. Visit all the gates and read about them in a guidebook while their. Personally Jerusalem is one of my favourite cities in the world. It's stunningly beautiful and I'd love to come back a third, fourth and more times!
Don't do: By tea in the old city without asking for the price first. They charge tourists extremely high prices. Be careful and use your bargaining skills! 30 NIS is for example not a good price for a cup of tea with mint.
Eat and drink: Food and drink prices are quite high in Jerusalem. Up the hill from Damascus gate, outside the wall we found a decent Russian pub that sold us expensive Goldstar and had "Vote for Putin"-posters on the bathroom walls.
Transportation: Fortunately there is a bus by the bus station at Damascus Gate to take us to the Palestinian border. There should also be a tourist bus with number 21 taking you directly to Bethlehem without stopping by the border. But we did it the hard way. The bus ride from Damascus gate to the checkpoint is 5 shequel pp. At the Palestinian border we'd pass security and it's badly signed and tricky to know where to go. But the people are friendly and showed us where to go. On the Palestinian side there are a couple of taxis and we got one to drive us to our Guest House in Bethlehem. He was going on an on about that our Guest House was in Beyt Sahur and far away from Bethlehem, but we insisted that we wanted to stay at our place.
Accommodation: Our Guest house, St Elias Guesthouse was correctly in Beyt Sahur, but it's just next to Bethlehem, 5 minutes by taxi and 30 minutes by foot to Manger Square in Bethlehem. The hospitality was amazing! Very friendly family running the guest house and comfortable room. Very cold on the floor though, but nothing else to complain of. The price for 3 nights at Christmas time for a double room was 400 Shequel (£80). I'd recommend this guest house warmly!
Eat and drink: Try out some Palestinian delicates while in Bethlehem. And try out the local beer, Taybeh. It's different from other lagers, it's simply much more bitter, but it's very nice.
To do: Is there any better place to celebrate Christmas than in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus? I'm not very religious but I loved it! We visited the Church of Nativity by Manger Square, which is one of the oldest churches in the world built in 325AD. Beautiful inside. Close to Church of Nativity is Milk Grotto, an amazing underground church. Very beautiful and the cemetery had a great view over Bethlehem with surroundings. If you cross the Manger Square and walk up the hill there is a vegetable market and a bunch of souvenir shops. Very cosy streets. A good place to buy a keffiyeh, the scarf some of the men are wearing. A good price should be around 15-20 shequel per scarf. On Christmas eve we went to a multi language mass at the Lutheran Christmas Church. For me that was a massive experience! To be listening to a mass on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem! We went back later in the evening to listen to some Christmas carols in the same church. A choir were singing "Jul jul strålande jul", a Swedish Christmas carol and that was really nice for us Swedes. Unless that there is not much to do. Bethlehem is a small town.
Don't do: Stay too long. Since it's a small town, one day is enough. I'd definitely recommend Christmas Eve for that only day. And if you stay too long in Bethlehem, do a trip to Hebron or Ramallah to see other parts of Palestine. I'm sad we didn't do it, but the weather was crap and I didn't feel like spending more shequels before going to Jordan.
See part 2 for the Jordan part of the trip