The world is burning and terrorists are blowing up one historical monument after another. In other words its about time to pack the backpack and go and see as much as possible. This time I aim Petra, one of the wonders of the world and while i’m in the neighborhood, lets examine Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and if I dare, the west bank.
Sometimes it’s an good idea to do some research before you start something. For example if you go on vacation the same week all schools are closed its quite likely there will be a lot of people at the airport. And don’t forget about Murphy, according to Murphy’s law (if something can go wrong, it will go wrong) the electronic check in system went offline and you don’t wanna know the length of the queue to check in. But to be positive I never really had any chance to get bored at the airport and since I had no time for breakfast at Arlanda my waiting time in Riga went really fast, even that Riga airport is really small and boring.
Once we arrived in Israel I was able to take two steps on the soil before two guards stopped me. Since we landed way out in the middle of nowhere we were suppose to take the bus back to the terminal and the rest of the passengers did while still was on the tarmac questioned by the guards. Obviously its weird to travel alone according to them and once I said that I love to travel they started to examine my passport and I had to answer a bunch of questions what I have been doing in Russia, Turkey, Albania. Not really any problem but it took some time and once they felt happy I jumped on the next bus to the boarder and passport control and there it started all over again.
To be honest it took forever and I don’t really feel welcome here but at least I’m checked in at the hostel now and they were nice, time to be social for a while before I hit the bed, it will be an early evening since I leave for Jordan tomorrow.
One of the reasons I went to the holy land is to see on of the wonders of the world, Petra.It would however both the stupid and boring not use the opportunity to see as much as possible once I packed my backpack so this trip went to Israel and using Jerusalem as some sort of base, from here its quite easy to go to Jordan and Petra, With easy I mean you can join a guided tour or buy a bus ticket and its just crossing the Israel-Jordan boarder (leaving Israel is not a problem) and you are there, however Petra is kind a far away from Jerusalem so I really recommend at least a two day trip so you really can enjoy it, Thats what I did and the schedule for the first day is more or less just to get there with a stop at Jerash and Amman Citadel.
Jerash is an old excavated roman city. What make it special is that it was burried in sand which makes the city very well preserved. I must confess that I was sceptic to the idea to spend a few hours at another roman ecavation site but it was amazing and totally worth it. From starting with an huge arch there was and racing track, temple and a lot of different buildings/ruins so it never went boring. However instead of me just mumbling facts which I might not remember correctly I let my photos speak for them self instead.
Amman citadel is located more or less in the middle of Amman which is the capital of Jordan. You have a lovely view over the city and this is one of the places which has be inhabited for the longest period on earth. Of course there has been different leaders during time which gives the place different kind of styles and you can find churches, mosques in all kind of variants. I really want to go back to Amman and explore the city more and you are unsure if its worth a visit or not, i would say go go go.
As the evening arrived we left Amman for the last trip to Petra. You are not allowed to sleep in Petra but there are hotels just outside the area. I however had arranged a night in a bedouin camp. Great food, a lot of tea, singing and chatting before it was time to go and sleep in my tent, lifes good!
I slept like a baby and woke up to a shining sun and lucky for me, a light breeze. The weather forecast promised 20 degrees but it climbed up to 25 and to walk around among stone ruins and climbing on rocks, it was warm at least what you could say. Since the bedouin camp was just outside of Petra, which is an enormous area we were at Petra early in the morning, both before all the other tourists arrived and before the temperature went to high. Even that the whole group succeed to get an sun burn and the fat American lady gave up on reaching the parts there you had to climb. However don’t be afraid, everybody with a normal condition can make it and there is a lot of people who try to sell you souvenirs, rent you a horse/donkey/camel or horse with a wagon just to make sure that you can enjoy Petra (and they make some euros of course).
Petra was establish around bc825 and was habited until 1985 when UN classified it as a world heritage center. Well thats not completely true because the bedouins who lived there before 1985 are still living there even if they are not allowed to it today, however they have moved away from the tourist attractions. At the same time the bedouins now are working at Petra selling souvenirs and try to make money on all tourist, for example letting you sleep in their camp just like I did.
Going back from Petra to Jerusalem took us through the border control at King Hussain bridge, crossed the west bank and back into Jerusalem. Not that far and would be an easy trip if it not was for the Israeli border guards. In my little group 4 of 9 was “random selected” and then we guard found a keffiyeh i bought for protecting my head from the sun, I was fucked. Into an interrogation room, scan me and all my clothes and luggage for explosives and intensives questioning about who I am, what am I doing here, were have I been, why have you been to Turkey.
It sure took some time but finally they had nothing to go on and relunctantly they let me back into Israel after they marked my passport with a stamp I didn’t had before, lets see if that will give me problem then I will try to leave the country.
Jerusalem is not a big city, with its humble number of 850 000 citizens its more like my own town Stockholm than for example Tokyo, however it has far more interesting history. According to Wikipedia it is one of the oldest cities in the world and two countries has declared it as their capitol. If this is not enough to make it interesting the three major Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) has declared the city sacred and of course they share sanctums. Does it work? No, not really.
By above reasons its not an uncommon view to see soldiers with automatic weapons or police officers running around with the gun in their hands and during my free tour around the old city we ended up right then police stormed a house, since it was only we tourist who looked with a mix of freighting and curiosity I guess thats a pretty common sight in this city.
After the tour and when I thought that I had learned to navigate in this maze of streets and roof tops (yea, you walk on the roof tops then you go somewhere quick) I started to walk along by myself and it was no problem to get up on the roof, but where is the exit and which exit should I take? Instead of admitting my defeat I chose to ask my way around and even if my Hebrew is not the best (actually none existent) it went pretty and its the closest I ever get to Assassins Creed in real life.
Today I went back to the west bank and more exact to the city Hebron, maybe one of the cities which best show the situation here in Israel. In the city we have Israelites, ultra orthodox jews and Palestines and the conflict between them started way back in time, long before the state of Israel was founded. Both sides has been doing massacres so none are innocent and both sides are trying to show proof that they were here first. To solve the issue Israel split the city in two zones, H1 which is the Palestine part and H2 which is the jewish part. A jew is not allowed to H1 and vice verse and the city has somewhere around 200 000 Palestines against 700 jews. Even if Sweden among some other countries have acknowledge Palestine as a country Israel has not and its clear that the around 2000 soldiers which are deployed here has one mission, protect the jews.
To try to understand or at least to see it and be able to form an opinion by myself I took a guided tour where you during the morning spent time in H1 (jewish zone) and during afternoon spent time in H2 (Palestine). Since its really strict who are on which side its only us tourist who can visit both sides which means that we had different guides and in that way heard two completely different stories about whats going on. That setup was really good and I can really recommend it. Both guides let us meet an local families who lives in the city and both describes how good, friendly they are and that they only want peace but at the same time how blood thirsty the other part is.
To summarize my experience is hard and to be honest I still cant take any part, both sides act childish and I think our guide Muhammed said it best, “if we want peace we need to work together but neither side are interested in that”. In my view I think that both sides makes to much money on the conflict and as long as they make money on it, the conflict will continue and the common man are the one who gets stricken.
A rainy and rather gray day in Jerusalem screwed my plans of going swimming in the dead sea and enjoying some nice sun bathing, instead I hanged around in a wet Jerusalem. Indeed it was nice too and it gives me an perfectly valid excuse to return to the area another time. Anyway, I started the day browsing through the local market which is located more or less just outside my hostel. Everything looked so nice but I’m not sure its the best way to start the day with an basket of olives, instead I played safe and took a regular cup of coffee and croissant. Together with a cigarette or two its for sure a breakfast for champions.
After breakfast I tried to hunt down the book “Catch the jew” by Tuvia Tenenbom which a couple of people recommended me to read but even if I visited several bookshops I couldn’t find it, guess I have to buy it online once I get back home.
During the afternoon the rain stopped and I moved to one of the holiest place ever, at least if you are christian. I’m talking about the church of the holy. I’m not religious myself but people from at least six different branches of Christianity make pilgrim trips to this church so it must be worth a visit and yes it was. The church is huge and it was packed with people and just a briefly look at the queue down to the actual grave made me decide that no matter how holy this is, I will not stand in that queue. Instead I randomly walked around in church and once I felt that I know this now the big question raised, how do I find my way out? A couple of floors later and once again I see the sunlight and of course gets jumped by people who try to sell junk to you in form of souvenirs, tourist trap deluxe.
With a bitter taste of yesterdays bar crawl I decided to pack my stuff and head over to Tel Aviv instead. A quick look at the map and off I go, at the bus station I need to x-ray my luggage, find my gate for the bus and just before I gonna jump onboard I realize that my backpack is kind a light and have plenty of space, thats not good. Of course I forgot my jacket at the hostel so lets walk back and start over again in the security checkpoint, bummer. A few hours later than I planned I was finally on the bus on my way to Tel Aviv
Traveling by bus in Israel is the recommended way. The buses are modern with air condition, wifi, comfortable seats and its cheap. The alternative is taxi which is cheap compared to Sweden but you cant really compare them. Traveling between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv you actually can take the train too however its neither cheap, fast or comfortable and only recommended as an experience, at least according to the guide books I read and used to the Swedish trains I am not ready to give it a try.
Once I arrived in Tel Aviv I walked over to my new hostel which has just open. I was one of the first 100 guests so I got a little goodie bag but to the honest, they were not really finished building it yet so it was kind a construction place. The standard at the hostel is quite high though and its more like an hotell than a hostel, unfortunately for me its quite low on people here so I have to go out in the city to meet new people, on the other hand I got a 6-bed room by myself which feels kind a luxury right now.
Took a short walk down to the beach and got a briefly look at the city and the differences between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is like day and night. I haven’t seen any big hats or whiskers on the whole day and the city feels like any other european city. The weather is really warm and nice and even if the water is a little to cold for me to take a swim the beach is just marvelous.
Heard rumors about an concert at Ozen bar and since I didn’t had any other plans for the evening i grabbed a beer and walked out, into the nightlife of Tel Aviv. What I found was an small cozy bar and I was wondering if I really was on the right place until I found a bigger room inside with an stage and once the band entered the stage the atmosphere went really good. The band, almost 10 persons played something called “middle east fusion” and even if I dont haven an better name for it I think it had similarities with balkan/gypsie music. Tried to film with my phone but the quality is not that good
Met alot of fun and nice people and even if I wasnt on a “real” club I really recommend the nightlife in Tel Aviv, people here now how to party!
Woke up today to a shining sun and after breakfast I walked over to Old Jaffa (old city). It was quite nice, kind a cozy but a tourist trap with much higher prices then any other part of the city and people are trying to sell stuff and barkers everywhere. Its totally worth a visit but I think we all can agree that Tel Aviv cant compare with Jerusalem regarding their history or culture while Jerusalem cant compare with Tel Avivs nightlife. Tonight I will meet up some friends I met during this trip, we will probably drink a beer or two, maybe an arrack and and tomorrow I head back to Sweden again,
My own private crusade-tour is over for this time and after walking through several security checkpoints, flew over a trigger happy Turkey and Ukraine I’m now sitting at Riga airport and even if I’m not home yet I dare to say that I survived this trip too. Trying to summarize the trip it feels like Tel Aviv is the shit if you wanna go out and party. The beach is fantastic and located in the middle of the city and nightlife is awesome but for people like me who easily gets bored of hanging on the beach and the club life Jerusalem is an better option.
Jerusalem is always up to something, sometimes good and sometimes bad but there is always something happening. Its here I were escorted out of the neighborhood by some ultra orthodox jews because “We don’t like people like you”. Its here, in this tiny area you find tons of sacred places for both Islam, Christianity and Judaism and you can really feel the tension between them. The contrast from one neighborhood to another is like different worlds and as a European you cal always backtrack your countries history here.
The winner is however Jordan, so beautiful nature, great good, friendly people makes me wanna go back and explore more of this kind a unknown country. A big plus is that their police/border control does not call you terrorist just because you are traveling alone. Petra may be a tourist trap but with some common sense thats not a problem, most people accepts an no and I really recommend to go there to see this wonder of the world.
Some statistics from the trip
Hostel costs from €15/night and up
Food is cheap and cost from €4 and up, I would really recommend the street food like
Dede(?) which looks like a pancake with toppings
Sabish which is a pita filled with egg, eggplant and vegetables
Falafel and hummus, always good and so cheap if you stay out of the tourist traps
I walked around 20 000 steps per day, top day was 35 000 steps
To be able to leave Israel I had to go through four security checkpoints with seperate interviews on each, x-ray scanning of me and my luggage, scanning for explosives on my luggage and clothes and I dont know what. Its totally worth it but if you plan to go to Israel, go with a clean passport and if you traveling by yourself, be prepared to be random selected.