By Maiclinn Waller
Many people enjoy traveling over fall break, and my family is no exception. Over the years, my parents have taken me and my sister all over the world, and this fall we made the journey to Israel. Israel lies in the Middle East and is known for its plethora of holy sites from multiple religions.
Most of these sites contain ruins from multiple eras, as its land has been conquered multiple times over the thousands of years of its existence.
The Sea of Galilee
Often referenced in the Bible, the Sea of Galilee is a body of water that has been a popular place to live among the locals. It is best described by an oasis compared to the surrounding desert land. The term “sea” is a bit of an exaggeration, however, as the body of water would be better described as a large lake.
It lies in a valley, and you can see the entire lake from any point. Its position in the valley leaves it vulnerable to bad weather. According to our Airbnb host, at least six people drown in it every year since they get caught in the storms that roll off the surrounding hills.
We started our trip here, but unlike the rest of our locations, the Sea of Galilee did not have many religious sites nearby. It was, however, a wonderful place to relax and recover from long travel times.
The old city of Jerusalem is actually much larger than it was in Biblical times since the original wall contained only 14 acres of land. The city has continued to expand and split into four quarters: the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian quarters. Each quarter contains holy sites for their religion and the streets are lined with shops.
Even in the off season for tourism, all four sites are packed with visitors who have journeyed from around the world to visit. The Western Wall, located in the Jewish quarter, is the wall closest to where the old Jewish synagogue stood, and it is an important site for those who are of Jewish faith. Every day, hundreds of visitors approach the wall to pray, often writing their prayers down and stuffing them in cracks in the wall.
Several websites say that women are required to wear head coverings when visiting the wall, but when we went, most of the local women and girls did not have one. The men and women were separated to approach the wall, so if you are traveling in a group, choose a meeting spot for after you have completed your visit, as the vast crowds make it difficult to find people without a meeting place.
The other most well-known site in Jerusalem is the Dome of the Rock, a retired mosque in the Muslim quarter. Anyone who is not of the Muslim faith was not allowed to visit the mosque, but a nearby building in the Jewish quarter provided virtual reality headsets for visitors to see inside the mosque. Wherever you are in the city, you will find endless opportunities to learn and visit about the sacred city grounds.
Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel, and thus the country’s hub for tourism and international travel. We spent our time at the Mediterranean Sea, and I can honestly say that it was the best beaches I have ever been to. Generally, I am not a huge fan of beaches, but I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent there.
The water was pleasantly warm, especially considering we went during the cold season. Surprisingly, the beaches were not crowded and provided plenty of shade for anyone to use. The family-friendly atmosphere made us want to keep going back every day.
The city of Petra lies in Israel’s neighboring country, Jordan. The ancient city is considered one of the seven wonders of the world and was carved into the wall of the canyon in which it resides. It is a beautiful destination, but it is not for the weary.
The eight and a half mile hike up to the final destination, a monastery, was incredibly difficult, especially considering that the temperature 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That being said, the scenery of the city is entirely worth the trek. The walls of the canyon were marbled with a wide variety of colors, and the intricacy of the buildings was breathtaking.
If you feel like the hike may be too much, there are locals around every corner who would be more than happy to rent you their donkey for a ride up the mountain. Overall, I highly recommend Petra to anyone who loves hiking and taking outdoor adventures.
What to Know Before You Go
As with any other country, the culture present in Israel is vastly different from that of the United States. If you are planning on traveling to Israel, you may want to prepare for the differences you will experience.
When walking around the streets, be prepared to see members of the nation’s military positioned on the street with varying levels of weaponry. It may seem frightening, but they are positioned there in order to keep the peace in case of conflict throughout the country.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you will need your passport on you as much as possible, as you could be checked at any point on your trip. Also keep in mind that the visiting sites are large and require a lot of walking, so it would be in your best interest to physically prepare ahead of time. Make sure you do you your research ahead of time so you can have the best experience possible.