I did not particularly want to visit Israel. I had this country on my list as I have many other countries but I did not plan a moment for it in the close future. The deciding factor was a winter flight offer from TAROM which came exactly at the moment when I was looking for a place to spend my birthday this year. The only condition was to be as farther away from the office as possible.
Analyzing all the destinations included in the offer, I started excluding the ones where I have already been, maybe more than once, the ones where I considered it’s too cold to make me happy and the ones that are not at the moment on my wish list. After doing that, I was left with an offer for Tel Aviv.
I have read that Tel Aviv is a modern and alive city and the perspective of a warm Mediterranean weather was delightful. And if I add the fact that even I, as a not so religious person I have wanted to visit Jerusalem at least once in a lifetime, the decision of spending my birthday on Israeli lands was not so hard to make.
Coming back home I can say with all my heart that this was indeed an inspired decision. I loved Israel and what this country has to offer even If I’ve only seen a little part of it in the four days while I was there. But…for sure I am planning to go back!
How do we get to Israel?
This depends very much from which part of the world you are travelling to Israel. I flew to Tel Aviv from Bucharest, Romania and we have at least three flight options to Israel and the flight duration is only two hours and a half. Probably there are a lot of flying options from all the countries, it would be too hard for me to analyze them all :).
When should we go in Israel?
If you do not have a problem with the hot weather…anytime, otherwise the summer months like July or August are preferable to be avoided. If you have also in plan several days on the beach the best would be to go there between April-October or March-November if you choose Eilat or the Dead Sea.
The entrance in the country
I have read a lot of opinions and stories about this subject before leaving and I have to tell you that some of them made me think twice and be somehow afraid. I read that it’s not ok to have on the passport certain visas especially Muslim countries visas and that it would be preferable to change the passport with a new one before visiting Israel. On the other hand I read that a clean passport would also produce suspicions.
As my passport had still one more year of validity I decided that my best option would be to keep it and stop worry even if I had a lot of visas from some countries not considered to be “the best friends” of Israel (but I had only touristic visas, I have never lived in any of them).
I had already prepared myself for a long questions list but I have to tell you that it wasn’t anything like that. Everything was not just fast but very fast when entering the country. The only question asked was: “Why are you visiting Israel?” and after the short answer: “Holiday” I have immediately received the Blue Card. For me, it was possible to get the visa directly in the airport. I did not receive a stamp in the passport but only a little card called Blue Card. I had to keep that card until exiting the country. Exiting the country was just as simple, common sense questions like: “Where did you stay while you were in the country?”, “What did you visit?”, “Did you receive something from someone to be transported in your destination country?”, all taking place in a very relaxed setting. If you are in the same situation as I was do not let yourself be overcome by worries. It’s right, I only visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, areas that do not pose any problem, I don’t know if the situation would have been the same when visiting Palestine.
Sabbath days – should we avoid them or not?
This is also a hot topic if we are talking about a trip to Israel. Unfortunately I have made a mistake and I chose to go in this city-break while including the week-end days. And of course I bought the plane tickets before being documented about what exactly is happening during Sabbath and how this would affect me. When I finally started reading about the topic (after the plane ticket was bought and the accommodation reserved) I was a little bit annoyed with myself for skipping the initial analysis. Why? Because starting Friday around 4 o’clock and until Saturday evening theoretically all the restaurants and shops are closed and there is no public transportation. And considering that my plan was to have Tel Aviv as base and going 1-2 days in Jerusalem returning in the evening to Tel Aviv, the lack of public transportation would have messed up my things. All the arrangements were done so I had no other option than solving the transportation issue by renting a car from the airport and have it returned in the same place.
I chose for this the Budget company but I didn’t have the best experience with it (a giant queue at the renting office, the receipt of a car from a lower class than what I’ve rented, the car situated in a completely other place inside the parking than the one indicated at the renting office) but being the first time renting a car from here I will not generalize for the moment.
The food issue was not really an issue. Because even if a lot of places are closed there are enough open places so no one will starve to death or die of thirst.
I spent the Saturday in Tel Aviv taking a long walk along the wonderful sea cliff accompanied by a great weather. I want to say that everyone was on the beach or taking a walk and all the restaurants, terraces and stalls on the cliff and in Jaffa Port were open.
The only bigger issue from my point of view during this period remains the transportation one but if you do not plan to transfer between cities from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening or if you rent a car there is no reason to avoid a holiday/city break that would include these days.
One more little mention regarding renting a car would be that you will not be allowed to visit Palestine with it and you will find this out from the beginning at the rental office. In case you want to get there, you will only have the public transportation option.
What do we eat in Israel?
Everything 🙂 but mainly Falafel. I will not give you a recommendation such as “do not to miss the Falafel” because you will really not have a way to do that. You will find it every step of the way. It is special, it’s absolutely brilliant and I personally ate at least one Falafel per day. And I would have eaten more if I would have stayed longer because I didn’t have enough of it. Hummus is another specialty of the Israeli kitchen but, again, there is no way for you to miss it, or, if somehow you missed it, you would still have eaten it inside the Falafel. Otherwise, you will find a lot of bread-based specialties at every corner especially in the old Jaffa town in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem. Fruits and fresh juices also can be found everywhere, I definitely stopped every day for 1-2 orange and pomegranate juice (the pomegranates are sweet and tasty, completely different than the ones found at the supermarket in my country). I can say also that the vegetarians or vegans will be spoiled in Israel, there are plenty of culinary options for them but if you do not fit into this category don’t be sad, you will also have a lot to choose from.
How we plan our spending?
I have to say from the beginning, Israel is an expensive country, at the same level with many west European countries. If you caught an offer and you found some cheap plane tickets do not jump up joyfully thinking that you will have a holiday with little money spent. The hard part is just beginning.
First, the accommodation is very expensive, especially in Tel Aviv. As accommodation options, there are hotels but also many apartments, the latter ones being a little bit cheaper. But, if your desire is to stay in the city center, in the middle of the action, the chances of getting out of your pocket less than 100 EUR for a night are pretty small.
I am a little obsessed with this and I do not take into account staying in other places than in the city center, so, spending a lot of money on accommodation is assumed. I prefer to lower a little bit other expenses than being bound to walk half of the city every time I get out. More about the central area of Tel Aviv and about what to do/visit in the city or where to stay I will write in a future article.
Not only the accommodation but all other prices are high. Financially speaking prepare just as you would prepare for a holiday in Amsterdam, Barcelona or Rome and you will be fine. If you are expecting something similar with Budapest or Bucharest, you will be disappointed.
I do not want to discourage you from visiting this country, from my point of view it deserves to be visited exactly as any other European country but I’m trying to set you up with the right expectations.
The local currency is the Shekel. You don’t have to go with your pockets full of cash, cards are accepted everywhere (not at the stalls or markets but this is a valid fact everywhere) and there are ATM machines in many places.
What we visit in Israel?
Unfortunately I only visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and as I was saying before I would for sure like to return to see also other places. For right now I will limit myself telling you something in several words about these two cities, I will certainly dedicate a distinct article to each of them in the future.
Tel Aviv is a modern and living city, a city where you can party night after night, go to the extensive, beautiful and clean beach, surf or walk on the long sea cliff but also enjoy a little bit of history by visiting the Jaffa Old City. It is not a city with so many objectives but it has a relaxed and bohemian air that you will definitely enjoy. And no, I have not felt unsafe even for a minute even if Israel is situated in a conflict area, especially when being so animated. You will just have to get used to see soldiers everywhere, maybe less in Tel Aviv but many more in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a different city from what I have seen so far. It is a city where you are going for history and religious sites, a very interesting and intriguing place I would say, with many objectives, most of them religious of course. It is not hard at all to get lost for an entire day on the narrow streets of the Old City; you will not notice when time is flying.
As a conclusion I want to say one more time that I have enjoyed this short Israel visit very much and I recommend to all of you to try it at least once. It definitely convinced me.