photographer: Christian Demireva

During the flight I asked myself: What will I actually do in Israel? My decision to travel there was dictated in the first place by the desire to escape to a warmer country. Although winter has its charm, it is difficult to adapt to cold temperatures, so I decided that I would just go somewhere with the sun, even for just a few days.

 

Not even three hours away from gloomy Sofia, the sun was already shining through the portholes, and beneath them was a deserted view and nothing else. No cities, no trace of human activity. I further criticized my decision and the fact that I did not prepare with more information about the country. Apart from the purely political dimensions and the Israel-Palestinian conflict, I was not aware of the culture or traditions of the country.

 

The airport is literally in the middle of nowhere, and as we waited for a bus to take us to the city, clouds of smoke rose from the hills in the distance, accompanied by a roaring noise. I admit I was worried, I kept telling myself that we were too far from Gaza. In addition, we are located in the only liberal democratic state in the Middle East. Then the bus driver explained to us that these were military exercises, they happen often and there is no need to frighten us.

 

We also had to get used to the sight of young uniformed men and women armed with vending machines on streets, cafes, in public transport, even on the beach. It turns out that in Israel, the barracks are mandatory for both men (3 years of service) and women (2 years of service). In addition, the country's air force is ranked fourth in the world, behind those of the US, Russia and China.

 

The first stop was Eilat, the southernmost city in the country, located on the shores of Red Sea and literally "squeezed" from the Jordan and Egyptian borders. Temperatures in the winter months are between 22 - 27 degrees. The sun is generous, the scent is pleasant, and the beach is a few palms away.

Eilat

photographer: Christian Demireva

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The southern part of Israel has extremely poor flora and fauna, the land is literally dry, the landscape consists solely of rocky hills. As a result, beautiful canyons were formed (e.g. Red Canyon or Timna valley), which are a great option for a short (or longer) walk. On the other hand, there are many beaches. The most attractive of course Coral Beach Nature Reserve. This is where the northernmost coral reef in the world is located. Diving and snorkeling are a must! Dolphin Reef и Underwater Observatory Park they can literally immerse you in the colorful underwater world of the Red Sea.

photographer: Christian Demireva

photographer: Christian Demireva

With its strategic location, Eilat is a great starting point for visiting Jordan or Egypt. However, we headed north, where temperatures slowly began to drop. Ignorance of cultural features and lifestyle proved to be an obstacle, as on the day of departure it turned out that there were no buses. Not at all! Friday afternoon and all Saturday for the Jews is the so-called Shabbat (day off, starts 18.00 hours Friday and ends at 18.00 hours Saturday) during which it is not open.

 

However, we were able to find alternative transport and before lunch we found ourselves at Ein Bokek (resort complex), on the coast of The Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth (430 meters below sea level) and the saltiest sea in the world - about 35% salt content. In addition to its purely therapeutic properties, the waters of the Dead Sea are also known for feeling that you "float" on the water without sinking.

photographer: Christian Demireva

Further north, where the temperature difference is already noticeable (12 - 15 degrees) and the earth is getting greener, waiting for us Jerusalem. Jerusalem is vast. The time we have devoted to it is not enough for one of the oldest cities in the world, home and holy place for Christians, Jews, Arabs alike.

photographer: Christian Demireva

The city is considered sacred by Jews for nearly 3000 years, Christians around 2000 years and Muslims - 1400 years. The 2000 Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem lists 1204 synagogues, 158 churches and 73 mosques throughout the city. Unfortunately, although in theory different religious groups coexist peacefully and seamlessly, in practice people are faced with various problems, disputes about holy places, misunderstandings. Access to the most beautiful building in the Old Town (in my opinion) - "Dome of the Rock" - is forbidden to non-Muslims.

Dome of the Rock

photographer: Christian Demireva

The old town is divided into 4 parts: Christian quarter, Muslim quarter, Jewish quarter and Armenian quarter.  You can tour the 2 - 3 hours for the most famous places, such as: Western Wall, Tomb of Jesus Christ, Armenian Patriarchate, Dome of the Rock (and al-Aqsa Mosque) and not only. However, to experience the city, learn more about the places you visit, the history and emergence of the most common religions today, it takes a lot more time.

 

Israel is said to be the only country where you can meet zealous evangelicals and liberated people belonging to the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer) community. Tel Aviv is called the gay capital of the Middle East, and how gay-friendly she is, we can judge that there are no gay bars in the city anymore - people just don't make that split and they don't need one.

 

Israel has left me with mixed feelings. If I pay attention only to cultural sites - the country has more museums per capita than any other country in the world and no less natural ones. It will take me years to get to know the rich and ancient history of Israel. On the other hand, the peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs, the equality of religions and the generally persistent and still unresolved ethnic conflict, is doubtful.

 

Regardless of ethnicity, however, the people we met were warm and kind, and the places we visited left a bright mark on our minds. Israel is a scent of pomegranate, a breath of fresh air, like a warm embrace, bringing humility and joy. The spontaneous winter escape turned out to be a great breath of fresh air for the adventurous soul. If you carry a spirit that is always looking for new horizons, allow Israel to happen to you.

while traveling

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With Bulgaria in the heart

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