Sebastian and I just returned from an epic two week babymoon adventure through Israel. I detailed most of the journey via FaceBook + Instagram but for those of you not on social media, here is a blog with all the highlights. I hope you enjoy! Please share with anyone considering going to Israel because part of what made this trip so special was friends, family + stranger’s suggestions and insights!
Tel Aviv – Our first introduction to this country was by our dear friends who made us feel welcomed with an epic Shabbat dinner in a rooftop overlooking the growing city. Tradition with blessings and bread, wonderful conversation and warmth of familiar faces. Exploring the streets and different neighborhoods, we found diversity of looks and styles, high fashion to casual, blue hair to babies, coffee shops to international cuisines. Tel Aviv has long stretches of pristine beaches and a refreshing, clear sea that becomes the perfect respite from the hot sun. The city has its own unique feel, modern construction with preservation of old, especially given the cobblestone streets of Jaffa juxtaposed against the burgeoning high rises and hotels. The dichotomy of both only serves to enhance the other’s beauty. There are the narrow roads, a tight squeeze to drive, through tree lined streets of beautiful white apartment buildings with interesting architecture and design. Bikers, cyclists, skateboarders and baby carriages all in movement around the city. But with that movement, there is also an obvious element of lounging: families at parks enjoying the long days of light, young urbanites eating, smoking and drinking into the early morning hours. A culture centered on food, friends and at the core, family. Modern, chic and creative. If that’s not enough, there’s the food. In just two short days, I’ve eaten the best hummus, bread and tabouli ever plus dates that literally melted into my mouth as a sticky, sweet morsel of heaven. Spices and herbs make every dish pop with flavor. We enjoyed blended coffee of milk and ice as we watched the sun dip into the horizon and I even tried drinking chocolate milk out of a plastic bag in Carmel Market. We have also been lucky to have gorgeous, warm and sunny weather and although I’ve heard it can be oppressively hot, right now it is perfection. Having friends here has been a real blessing because we are seeing Tel Aviv not just from a touristic perspective but also from an insider view. Sad to leave this amazing place but excited for our next stop, the mystical city of Safed.
When we arrived at Safed, everything was closed. Literally, everything. Not only could we not find an open restaurant, we couldn’t even check into our hotel! We tried for three hours to find help – even to the extent that the police came – without any luck. We didn’t realize that Safed is an extremely religious community and yesterday was a holiday which means nothing is open. So after crashing at the only vacancy in the city, a beat up hostel, we ventured out to find food and our next adventure. We ended up driving north to Agamon Hula, a bird sanctuary, where we rented bikes and road around the park. This wasn’t on our original itinerary but life had other plans. Instead of resisting, we are vibing with the flow and trusting we are exactly where we are meant to be. This to me is the art of traveling. Expecting the unexpected, following the twists and turns of the road less traveled.
Galilee – After leaving the bird sanctuary, we ventured to explore around the Sea of Galilee. I was born and raised a Catholic and even though religion has changed drastically for me over the years, I remember this historical area from studying the bible. We first went to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, an area with not only a special spiritual vibe but also breathtaking views of the sea. We then explored Tagbha , the site where Jesus miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes followed by the black basalt church of Mensa Christi, the sacred place where Jesus appeared to his disciples after crucifixion. What was most spectacular about this place was walking into the Sea of Galilee. Religious or not, there is an unquestionable, undeniable, unbelievable energy here. Both Sebastian and I felt it immediately and it was so profound, it caused us to just stop, reflect and breathe. We slowly submerged into the calm waters, sensing that even the sand had an element of peacefulness. As I scooped up a handful, I noticed it was composed of miniature shells, each one unique and divinely crafted. In these places, we prayed for peace, lit candles to bless our baby, connected to my father who was an extremely devout man, wished health and wellness for friends and family and felt very often how blessed we were to have this experience. Galilee is just like I imagined it to be from the stories I heard growing up – arid golden desert, shades of ivory sand surrounding a turquoise blue of the land locked sea. Although my beliefs around God and religion have evolved, today’s experience reminded me of how special it was to grow up with ritual, ceremony, story and faith. To experience a place that once only lived in my imagination and to know it now on a heart/soul/body level has left a deep impression on me, causing me to love this country and my own spiritual history even more than before.
Safed – After exploring Christian sites yesterday, today we switched gears to check out the ancient city of Safed, a medieval town known as the center of Kabbalah Jewish mysticism. Located almost 3000 feet above sea level, Safed is the highest city in all of the country which makes for magnificent panoramic views. What is particularly interesting is that the entire city is composed of narrow cobblestone alleys, quaint side streets, small guest houses, medieval synagogues and hidden nooks of secret doorways, winding staircases and flower-filled balconies. Most structures are beige and tan with accents in blues and turquoise, giving it a charming, picturesque and alluring vibe. It’s a bit hard to navigate because there isn’t many streets signs so it took us nearly two hours to find our Zimmer, akin to an AirBNB. Admittedly, pregnancy had me short of breath walking up some of the steep hills! But what really drew us here especially for Sebastian was the Artists Colony, a hub of creativity and talent that showcases work from some of Israel’s leading artists. We spent most of the morning popping in and out of galleries enjoying a wide diversity of work, much of which was inspired by Jewish culture and religion. There was drawings made by etching, modern and bold oil paintings, captivating sculptures and welded statues. Sometimes we were lucky enough to meet the actual artist, who was in his/her respective studio working on a new piece. Each gallery was totally unique – some were dark and cavernous, others brightly lit from small windows that allowed sunlight to pour in. Aside from the incredible artist community, Safed is extremely religious with scores of synagogues, schools and centers for learning. And for me, it was quite a a learning experience having never been surrounded by such a devout Orthodox community. I wondered if I would be uncomfortable or out of place but I felt only warmly welcomed and was extended such a level of kindness that left me both inspired and intrigued. This combination of spirituality and creativity, of mysticism and mystery, of sacred scriptures and ordinary life gives Safed a special aura that makes it a one of a kind experience.
Jerusalem Part 1 – Our a three hour roadtrip, we made it to the holy city of Jerusalem. Walking alongside the walls of the Old City then entering through Jaffa Gate transported me to another time, another place. I felt in an instant an overwhelming awe, a palpable history, a spiritual energy, the vibration of life. We didn’t have a chance to explore much, mostly because we arrived in the late afternoon, but we did see and feel and taste enough to know this is a very sacred, special and surreal place. We walked only through a few alleys of the Christian quarter but long enough for Sebastian to get a tattoo from Razzouk, a shop that’s been in operation for 700 years! We ate dinner in a quiet, serene garden right next to the wall and couldn’t believe how much our collective human history began here. Already, IN LOVE with this extraordinary place and so excited to spend the next few days here.
Jerusalem Part 2 – On our second day, we did a 12 hour tour (with many snack/bathroom breaks!) through the Old City of Jerusalem. I am still trying to wrap my head around all that we experienced especially since I have come away with a new respect, appreciation and understanding of the world’s three major religions and how they intersect, overlap and differ. As a born and raised Catholic, I couldn’t believe I saw the sites where Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples, where he prayed the night before he died, the path he walked on his way to be crucified and the tomb in which he was buried. These stories I grew up listening to only had existed in my imagination and now to witness it in person shifts my whole perspective and deepens my appreciation. I also visited one of the most important, historic and sublime Islamic sites in the world – The Noble Sanctuary with the Dome of the Rock as it’s crowning glory. Although we couldn’t go inside, the exterior is something to behold, with adorning, multicolored tiles that gives this majestic structure a focal point in the city’s skyline. And if THAT wasn’t enough, I had the opportunity to visit one of Judaism’s holiest sites, the Western Wall. In one word, WOW. As I placed my hands on the towering wall and carefully inserted my paper prayer into a deep crevice, I was emotionally moved to tears for the power and energy of this place is beyond comprehension. Reflecting on the magnitude of this day, learning 3000 years worth of history that we are all connected to, I feel like a better human being for having witnessed the co-existence of different beliefs and traditions all with a similar starting point, this mysterious, modern, mystique, holy city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Part 3 – Jerusalem continues to be nothing short of mind blowing, life changing moments that I am still processing. We started the morning at Yad Vashem, the stunning, powerful, artistically masterful, heart wrenching yet profoundly inspiring Holocaust museum. Despite the challenging subject matter, this was a must see for both Sebastian and I. As a young girl, this chapter of history always fascinated me and I remember devouring books to learn more. Visiting this museum, from the format and flow of the entire experience, was totally unique and gave such thorough context, individualized stories, broad perspectives and so much historical depth. It took what I already knew and expanded it exponentially in such a range of directions. Although solemn and sad, the museum was a beautiful space to reflect and remember. I thought about all the people throughout history that have been killed, persecuted, terminated, ethnically cleansed or murdered for faith, religion or race. I thought about how far we’ve come as a human race and all the challenges that we are still faced with today. How much has changed and how so much remains the same. And as I walked out onto the majestic pavilion overlooking the peaceful forest, I prayed not only for the souls that have perished but also for our children and all the future generations that will hopefully never have to bear witness to such extreme atrocities ever again.
Jerusalem Part 4 – Since we are leaving Jerusalem, I really wanted to savor the final day here, to soak in the vibes as much as possible. And in that span of the last 24 hours, I experienced Jerusalem in all of it’s glory – starting with a light rail ride to the Mahane Yehuda market at it’s peak frenzy followed by a second trip to the Wailing Wall timed perfectly for the start of Shabbat at sundown. I drank Arabic coffee in a small, fabric covered bookstore with the kind Palestinian owner who shared with us his views and perspectives about living in Israel. We visited the church on the site in which Jesus was sentenced to death and later knelt by the tomb where he was buried. We lit candles in churches, smelled incense in the streets, prayed with devotion, chugged fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and made friends with locals. Walking through one small section in this revered place, I saw Coptic priests with beards and large crosses, a group of Chinese converts with matching shirts and belly bags, Indian nuns gleefully gossiping over King David’s tomb and Hasidic families rushing to synagogue all while hearing the Islamic call to prayer. The religiousness of this place is dizzying yet mesmerizing. I have always visited places where there was one main religion, an exclusive focus of faith. But here, all three of the world’s religion have stakes and claims, history and roots. Like NYC it is a huge melting pot of colors and culture but what truly makes it so rare is that it is all the holist place for so many faiths. For both me and Sebastian, it’s been the highlight of the trip thus far and even though the adventures continues with the Dead Sea tomorrow, Jerusalem has left a permanent mark on our hearts. We are certain we will be back.
Masada/Dead Sea – Our babymoon continued with a day trip to Masada, a rugged natural fortress in the Judean desert overlooking the metallic sheen of the Dead Sea. It was once a great palace built by King Herod but captured and passed from Jewish rebels to Roman soldiers to Byzantine monks. Present day, it is a World Heritage site and for us, a must see while traveling through Israel. We had two options to get to the top: a 1 minute cable car ride or a 45 minute hike up a steep ascending, winding path. Obviously we decided on the hike, making sure to stop often for shade, water and snack breaks. Upon reaching the summit and after cheers of victory, we explored all the different areas ranging from what was once hot baths and cisterns, to the synagogue and the swimming pool. With a little imagination, I could envision what an incredible paradise this once was. Despite my wonderment, it was SO HOT so we decided to take the quick cable car ride down and make our way to the Dead Sea. With bathing suits and water shoes on, we were soon floating in what felt like a gooey, thick, viscous water. What a weird sensation! Laying half in Israel and half in Jordan, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth with water that is so mineral rich, it is impossible to sink! Sebastian and I enjoyed relaxing on the water, effortless and easeful. It made me connect to what my growing baby must experience in the womb, to be suspended in water and able to flip and twist and play with total freedom. For both of us, it was the most otherwordly body of water and the perfect remedy to recharge after the intense morning hike. Salty and sun kissed, we left the Dead Sea and ventured into the Negev desert to spend one night in a Bedouin camp.
Bedouin Camp – After our Dead Sea soak, we decided to spend one night in a Bedouin camp in the middle of the Judean desert. Prior to this trip, I had never even heard of this nomadic Arab desert dwelling tribe but now that I got a small taste of it, I am intrigued. To get to the camp, Kfar Hanokdim, there was one windy road leading into a valley. Much of the color palette of the arid scenery is tans and beiges but suddenly, out of nowhere, appears this green, lush, oval shaped oasis. It seriously looks like a mirage! Shaded with verdant palm trees, Kfar Hanokdim is a large, picturesque complex composed of tents, lodges and cabins. All of the rooms, whether in wide open spaces or more private areas, are decorated with thick, woven, multi-colored fabrics used for wall hangings, curtains, beddings and rugs. There are numerous halls for dining, group gatherings and seminars where we attended a short talk on the life of a bedouin. The entire structure as well as all the furniture is built of wood and local stones with fountains and flowering gardens, hidden coves, perfectly placed hammocks and inviting picnic benches. There is charming art work in the forms of crystal globes, handmade windchimes, salt lamps and sculptures which gives the expansive space a sense of warmth and cozy comfort. It was amazing to literally be in the middle of the desert, to have access to the stars but not wifi, to eat authentic Bedouin food and drink their delicious sweet tea and to experience a way of life so foreign to what we know back home. The hospitality shown to us was authentically kind and gracious and a welcomed respite from our busy travel schedule, especially with an evening campfire to toast marshmellows! Sebastian even got to take a camel trek through the rocky grounds and although I wasn’t able to go (cause you know, pregnant 🙂 I did walk beside him and his camel to witness the glorious morning of desert calm. Perfect way to celebrate Halloween in Israel. We only wish we had more time to spend here but we have our next destination….the resort town of Eilat!
Eilat/Petra – As a final stop on our trip, we made our way to Eilat, the beach resort and port town on the southern tip of Israel. What’s especially interesting about this place is that aside from bordering the Red Sea, it shares a coast with three other countries: Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Eilat was great to relax and although it reminded me of Atlantic City, we welcomed the chill, beachy vibe. But the real reason we decided to come here was to cross the border into Jordan to visit the Lost City of Petra. It’s been a dream of Sebastian for almost 30 years making it a huge highlight of our Babymoon. After driving through mountainous, desert lands, we made our way to this phenomenal, ancient site. Similar to the Grand Canyon, the walk into Petra was whimsical, jaw dropping and surreal. Towering rocks with layers of rust and gold create a narrow, winding pathway to the most recognizable site and the grand entrance to this advanced civilization, the Temple Treasury. I had seen this place in movies and pictures but none could compare to actually viewing it in person. Staggering in its beauty and detail, the Treasury is a site to behold – beautiful in its precision and hard to grasp that it’s over 2000 years old. We also saw tombs and statues, an amphitheater and cave dwellings plus a complex water system with pipes and dams as a way to conserve and control water. The sophistication and architecture for such an early population is astounding and likely the reason why it has been preserved in such pristine conditions. As our last day of this life changing trip, it was the perfect ending to our epic adventure.
Wow…What an adventure! 13 days, 12 cities, over 1000km driving through the magical holy land of Israel. I stepped in 4 different seas (Mediterranean, Galilee, Dead + Red), biked, hiked, walked, climbed, snacked and napped my way through this extraordinary place. It’s been such a life transforming experience and one that I will carry into parenthood and beyond. I feel so grateful to visit a place where the world’s three main religions originate and to return with an enriched sense of history, faith, respect and understanding for each one. The trip deepened the love I have for my partner Sebastian who worked so hard to make sure traveling was as easeful as possible. It reminded me of the profound power of prayer, the sanctity of life, the importance of family, the interconnectedness of us all, the divine energy that is accessible to us in the way we choose. It reaffirmed my commitment to the path of adventure, investigation, curiosity and an openness to learn and grow. More than anything, Israel reminded me of the kindness of strangers: my Israeli friends who I now consider family and their generous welcome into their culture, the Hasidic mothers who took me into their home and fed me warm tea and sweets, the restaurant owner, who was more like a grandma, pinching my cheeks and patting me on the head and for the countless strangers of different colors and backgrounds who pointed us on the right path more times than I can count. I am taken back by the friendliness we were shown, especially being pregnant and to receive an abundance of baby blessings, prayers, mazel tovs and well wishes than I ever thought possible. (This is one lucky baby!) I understand two weeks time can only give us a limited perspective of the reality here and from the many people we spoke to, it can be a challenging place to live. But from what we saw, it is unlike anywhere else in the world and one that has changed our lives for the better. Absolutely incredible, so deeply grateful.
Now on to our next adventure….becoming parents in 2017!