What not to miss in Israel

By Sonja Nikcevic

The newest hot topic here is apparently, the dire state of our generation. My plan is to stubbornly continue to claim that we are totally fine and talk about other things. So… just like last time – hello from Tel Aviv! I’ve been here for exactly a week now, and for all the diversity the country offers, I’m a little disappointed to say that all that I’ve seen has been football related. Football, stadiums, football players, football press areas, with a little bit of exhausted , but fancy ,hotel life thrown in. So, the list below (yes, yet another list), is less of a ‘look at all the cool things I’ve done, you should SO do them too’ and more of a ‘go out and try to experience the country, you idiot’ reminder for me. Enjoy.

1.   Humus. Eat lots of humus.

eating-hummus

Now that, I have done, and will continue to do with every meal. On my way from the airport, the driver gave me a list of all the types of humus I need to try. At a fast food stand, when I asked for humus with my fries, I got a beaming smile and a free drink.  Israel’s attitude towards food, and especially humus is amazingly dedicated, and as soon as I had my first taste of it here, I understood why. Think of the best western-made humus you’ve ever had, add some olive oil, spices and multiply it by 50 –then you’ll get the stuff they have here. Dip some steaming pita bread in and you’re set – the borekas and falafel can wait.

2.  Go to the beach and try the Mediterranean from a different angle.

beaches_telaviv

Tel Aviv is said to be known for two things – the night life and the beach life. I’ve dipped my toe into the first one in between late match-reports and early meetings, but where I haven’t dipped my toe into is Israel’s Mediterranean shore.  It runs 187 kilometers north to south along Israel’s west coast, is home to 70% of the country’s population and is crucial to national economy in more ways than one.  AND it’s a 10 minute drive away from my hotel. I’ve tried to convince myself that the hotel pool is just as nice and authentic, but we all know it’s not.  I have three days left and I doubt I’ll make it out to dig my feet in the sand. That’s almost as bad as not having tried humus.

3.     Go and see how dead the Dead Sea really is.

salt

See all that It’s salt. It makes you float.

The Dead Sea, known for its extraordinarily high levels of salinity unmatched in almost any other part of the world, is a geographical and biological phenomenon. You know how when you have a swim in the ocean or any other sea and you come out feeling a bit salty and sticky? Well, the Dead Sea is 8,6 times as salty and sticky as the ocean. It’s why animal life in the sea varies from scarce to non-existent and is exactly how the name came to be. It’s also why water density is so thick, you don’t really swim, you float.  Floating around on your own with no fear of jellyfish or fish to nip at your heels, all the while being subject to a natural spa-like mineral treatment? Sounds like a dream come true. It’s a 2 hour drive from Tel Aviv, and I have a feeling my mineral treatment will have to wait for another trip.

4.   Jerusalem. Visit the history.

Jerusalem Through Razor Wire

Jerusalem goes back to the documented beginnings of time and doesn’t need much of an introduction. It is the Holy City for Judaism, Christianity and Islam and it is religion that continues to tear it apart. During its history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. To this day, Jerusalem is still a victim of its own holy status, as it stands right in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the old city continues to be surrounded by walls on all sides. UEFA’s u21 Euros, is one of the rare international sporting events to be held in the city and is key to both it and the country’s promotion. So far, I have only seen Jerusalem’s stadium and the walls from a distance.  Fortunately, the football players do need a break some time, and there will be time for me to go soak up the history.

5.     Chat with locals. (They’re super cool, and will randomly invite you out to eat. Probably humus.)

As I sat on the plane from Copenhagen – Tel Aviv, I felt strangely at home. All the passengers (aside from some business-like Scandinavians) seemed to think they were at a mile-high dinner party, or family reunion. There was bickering and teasing, complaining and hugging and everyone clapped enthusiastically when the plane landed. I honestly thought Serbians were the only ones who did that, on the ancient planes of our very own JAT airlines. But what I realized then and there is that Israelis are just as hearty, just as emotional and passionate as everyone back home. They’re quick to tell you all about themselves and what to do and see in their country, and even quicker to help. A colleague left her Android in a cab on the way to the stadium and had painfully come to terms with never seeing it again. When we got back to the hotel, the phone was waiting for her at the reception. The taxi driver had brought it back himself and made her tournament. And that is just one of the many incredible, and incredibly hospitable people I’ve met this past week. The one thing I’m disappointed about? They don’t say ‘Yalla’ nearly as much as I expected.

My Israeli friends, and those who have experienced the country far more than I have, will probably scoff at my outsider’s view on what needs to be done in Israel. And I’m sure they’re right, and that there is much more to do and see. But these are some of the basics, that unfortunately, I haven’t had time to fully check off my list. Good thing there’s always a next time.

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