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10 Days in Egypt & Israel – Day 10

By tam-admin | December 8, 2007

Saturday
We fill up on gas (very important, as this is one of your few opportunities to do so if you’re heading to Masada) and travel east across the Negev (the southern half of Israel). The scenic drive across this hilly, desert region is beautiful. We pass through small villages and quarries. But for the most part, this area is sparsely populated. As we near the Dead Sea, the elevation gradually declines and the temperature outside gradually increases as we travel to the lowest point on earth.
Driving across Negev, from Be’er Sheva to Masada.Photo: Driving across Negev, from Be’er Sheva to Masada.

Signs along the way indicate the changes in elevation, beginning with +500 meters down to -100 meters shortly before the highway meets the Dead Sea. We head north along a road overlooking the water and pull over at a beach area dotted with hotels, resorts, restaurants and small markets. After a stroll along the beach and a feel of the mineral-saturated water, we head to the freshwater shower area to try to get the slippery feel of saltwater off our hands – not an easy feat.

It’s still early in the morning and already large numbers of tourists are on the beach and floating in the sea. Swimming here is said to be a natural spa treatment. If you prefer, you can also visit numerous spas in the area that use salt from the Dead Sea in many of their treatments. Also keep in mind that this is the lowest point on earth and surrounded by desert – it is vital that you bring a high-SPF sunscreen. Even a few minutes in this intense sun can lead to sunburns.View of the Dead Sea.Photo: View of the Dead Sea.We have a leisurely brunch at one of the local cafes along the beach. Today is Shabbat, so food options are very limited and many of the stores and restaurants don’t open until later in the day.  Afterwards, we continue north along the Dead Sea, stopping at various points along the way until we reach the turn off to Masada. This elevated plateau overlooking the Dead Sea is littered with ruins. You’ll need to drive up to the tourist complex at the foot of the plateau. Here you can park, view the history of the area, and purchase tickets for the cable car ride to the top, unless you feel like hiking up Snake Path instead.

Masada’s history is a long and violent one. From Herod the Great to the Zealots to the Romans and finally to the Byzantine monks, Masada has been captured by numerous groups over the centuries, but perhaps the most memorable event is said to have taken place during the 1st century. It was during this time that the Romans surrounded the area at the base of the plateau and planned their siege. Instead of succumbing to the Romans and being forced into slavery, 967 Zealots burned their own homes and possessions and committed mass suicide.

Today the area still contains Herod’s palaces, the bathhouse, storehouses, ancient residential villas, and a variety of other remains from each conquering group.

With the temperatures outside now scorching hot, we jump in the car and head west back over the Negev towards Tel Aviv. Today is our last day in Israel, and we still have a city of our own to conquer.

Once in Tel Aviv, we find a lot to park in near the Mediterranean. After a stroll along the sea, we walk to the first Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv – Neve Tzedek. Narrow streets here are lined with a mix of old and modern homes and businesses, painted in a variety of pastels, decorated with colorful, ornate shutters and topped with tile roofs. Children play in the streets and couples and families casually stroll down the sidewalks of this wonderfully peaceful and slow-paced neighborhood. We end our day in Tel Aviv and our stay in Israel with a wonderful dinner at Suzana, a small, popular outdoor restaurant in Neve Tzedek. The Neve Tzedek neighborhood in Tel Aviv.Photo: The Neve Tzedek neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

After dinner we stroll back to the car and drive to the Tel Aviv airport for our flight home.
Ten days, six flights, 2200 photos and thousands of memories later, we arrive back in Portland, Oregon. Now a great deal more knowledgeable and armed with infinite learning experiences, we’re already looking forward to a return trip.

Travel Notes on Israel:
1. When visiting religious sites, most do not allow shorts, hats or sleeveless shirts. Dress conservatively.

2. Israel, and especially Jerusalem, is a conglomeration of many different religions, so there’s always bound to be an event or holiday. Be sure to check the calendar to make sure sites will be open during your trip. And remember that the Jewish holy day of Shabbat begins every Friday at sunset and runs through Saturday. During these times many areas may open late or not at all. And restaurants that remain open usually have a special limited Shabbat menu.

3. Again, for a travel reference, use the Lonely Planet’s guide to Israel.

4. Despite the media exaggerations regarding the Israeli-Palestinian tensions, it’s currently advised to stay away from the Gaza Strip as well as the Sinai Peninsula. Some of these areas are becoming off limits to tourists due to the danger involved in traveling to this region. In addition, it’s important to note that terrorist attacks and suicide bombings have typically been attempted during major religious festivals or events. The local city buses have also been a favorite target, so take other transportation if you can. Always check for warnings before you travel, and register with the local embassy.

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