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  • Writer's pictureKatarina Zlatkovic

First time in Palestine and Israel


Al-Aqsa Mosque

Jerusalem


Have you ever visited a country or a city, and you knew right away you’ll never be able to compare it to any other place you’ve been to in the past or will visit in the future? For me, Jerusalem is definitely one of them.


I was lucky to be able to spend three days in Jerusalem and I’d like to share things and activities that stood out for me the most. If you ever happen to visit the Holy Land, you might find this post useful, and if that is possible only virtually then I hope you’d enjoy it as much as I did.


Few useful information before we embark:


• Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and is considered holy to the three main Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.


• Currency used is Israeli Shekel and we exchanged our AED (Emirati Dirham) at the Ben Gurion Airport, although there are plenty of money exchange shops and ATMs in Jerusalem.


• The city is heavily guarded by the military and there are a lot of security check points throughout the Old City, so we recommend carrying the visa ticket received at the airport with you at all times.


• Visiting most of the tourist attractions is reachable by foot, however, there are public buses, trains and Gett (kind of like an Uber) that are well connected and easy to use.


• You don’t have to be religious to visit Jerusalem, it’s enough if you enjoy history, great food, diverse landscapes and architecture.


DAY 1


Old City of Jerusalem Bucket List


The Old City of Jerusalem is 5,000 years old and is divided into 4 quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter and the Armenian Christian Quarter, with four gates named Jaffa, Damascus, Lion and Zion.


Visiting all 4 quarters is a must when visiting Jerusalem as each one is so different but beautiful in its own way.


Here are my top recommendations if you’re in Jerusalem for a short stay!


Exploring Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulcher


Church of The Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is considered the holiest site in the world for Christians and is believed to have been built on the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Unlike the other sites I’m going to mention that are so worth visiting, this building almost be overlooked if you don’t know it is there.

Destroyed and rebuilt many, many times, the church still stands, and it is a place of pilgrimage for Christians.

Consider it being the holiest site for Christians and having thousands of visitors, we were not surprised to see people lined up to see most of the main attractions inside the church which is the tomb of God Jesus where he was resurrected.


Inside of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
walls of the church of the Holy Sepulcher
Church of The Holy Sepulchre
 the site where Jesus was crucified

Western Wall


Western Wall prayers

Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall is the holiest site for Jews around the world and is the last remaining outer wall of the ancient Jewish Temple built by King Herod around 20 BCE. When the temple was destroyed by Romans, the support wall survived and for hundreds of years, people prayed in the small area of the wall that could be seen.


Nowadays, there are sections for Men and Women to pray or write a prayer in a small piece of paper and fold it, then place it in the cracks of the wall.

Note: - Taking pictures of people praying by the wall during Shabbat is not recommended and both Men and Women should be dressed modestly.


- There’s an airport style security check before entering the Western Wall and it’s open 24 hours a day, all year round.


Reading the Torah
Jewish women praying by the Western Wall
Jewish men praying by the Western Wall

Muslim Quarter

The Muslim Quarter is the largest of the four quarters in the Jerusalem’s Old City. Narrow alleys were simply calling us to get lost and wander around the ancient Islamic architecture. We stumbled upon some stunning mosques, but this Quarter contains Temple Mount that is now also home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third holiest site in Islam.


The scent of incense and spices, the sound of prayers, seeing family-owned restaurants making fresh falafel and hummus captured my heart. Although being familiar with Islamic culture, visiting the Muslim Quarter was a great experience, and I would highly recommend to those who are interested in learning more about the Islamic religion.

Note: - Stop by Abu Shukri’s restaurant for Falafel and Hummus plate, it’s incredibly tasty!


- Get a souvenir from one of the shops in the souk.


- Try the freshly squeezed Pomegranate Juice.


Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem
Jerusalem Street Bazaars
Fresh hummus and falafel at Abu Shukri's restaurant in Jerusalem

DAY 2


Exploring Jerusalem during Shabbat


Little did I know that on Friday afternoon, the whole city closes their businesses, restaurants and shops for Shabbat. Shabbat is a weekly religious tradition and is a day of rest for people practicing Judaism.


It didn’t affect us much in terms of transportation, as we were walking to most of our desired cites. When it comes to food, I was a bit scared by the fact it will be nearly impossible to find a nice place for dinner. Luckily, there are always restaurants open throughout this holiday, and although rare, I was thankful they exist.

Nonetheless, the weather was perfect for exploring more of Jerusalem, so we broke our record and walked 18 kms that day.


Breakfast shakshuka in Jerusalem
Traditional Israeli Breakfast

Israeli breakfast is something that no one should skip while visiting Jerusalem. Rich in flavor, fresh fruits and veggies are to die for. I am not a vegan, but I could easily do a month of meat detox in here. Fueled by this food masterpiece, we went off to see the Mount of Olives and the Gethsemane.


Gethsemane


The garden at Gethsemane, a place whose name literally means “an oil press,” and is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. According to the New Testament, in this very garden was Jesus betrayed and arrested before his crucifixion.


Because of its reference to an oil press on a narrow hilltop blushing in olive trees, it is believed to be a small garden, kept relatively private. It also contained an oil press; a tool used to crush olives and then extract their oil for cooking and other uses.


The garden includes 8 olive trees and all of them were planted 12th century CE. It’s a very peaceful garden that we found on our way to Mount of Olives and would also recommend visiting Church of All Nations that is right next to it.


The garden at Gethsemane
Olive trees at Gethsemane garden

Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives was named for the olive groves that lined the hillside. To this day, there is an olive tree over 2,000 years old on the hillside. Mount of Olives is believed to be place of hope, redemption, prayer and victory as Jesus used to come here to pray.


This place not only have an enormous historical and religious significance, but the view of the city from it is quite spectacular. Mount of Olives is the world’s oldest continually used cemetery, and the area has plenty of churches and gardens that are good to visit.


The Mount of Olives
Panorama of Jerusalem from The Mount of Olives

DAY 3


A trip to Bethlehem


Bethlehem streets

Bethlehem is a birthplace of Jesus and while it holds a title to be the holiest site in Christianity, that is not why I decided to go. I went to for the people. Living in the United Arab Emirates gave me a chance to meet many Palestinians who are kind, respectful and proud of their roots even though many of them have never visited their country before.


A lot of people would probably hold back from visiting Palestinian Territories due to the constant conflicts happening between Israel and Palestine. And yes, while the tension was obvious on the way to Bethlehem, it was so worth the visit.


We decided to go by bus to the border and then cross over by foot. The ride was almost 30 minutes long and once arrived, we went to kind of a tunnel to enter Bethlehem. There was no control to enter, however, there was one on the way back.


There were lot of taxies waiting on the side of Bethlehem, but we decided to go all the way to Manger Square by foot as it’s really not that far, plus we’ve got to see interesting graffities done by Banksy.


Palestine separation wall
Banksy's art in Palestine
Graffiti on the separation wall in Palestine
Bethlehem separation wall

The main attraction of the city is of course, the Church of the Nativity that was built by Constantine in 326 to honor the birthplace of Jesus. Compared to cathedrals in Europe, we found this one quite humble but still exquisite with its marble and mosaic works.


Once we entered, stairs from two sides were leading down to the altar of the nativity, the place of Jesus birth. There a fourteen-point silver star marks the exact spot of Jesus’s birth. There are 15 lamps around the altar. Six belong to the Greeks, five to the Armenians and four to the Latins.


The Church of The Nativity Bethlehem
Inside of The Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem
Walls within The Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem
Beautiful mosaic works in Bethlehem

Chapel of the Milk Grotto


There is a legend that this is where Mary and Joseph stopped before fleeing to Egypt and a drop of milk touched the stone which turned it white. A statue of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding her newborn baby sits peacefully above the grotto entrance.


This chapel is very close to the Church of the Nativity and takes only couple of minutes to reach. The most frequent visitors are actually new mothers and the ones trying to conceive as it’s believed that scrapping the dust of the white walls and mixing with food will bring them miracles.


Chapel of the Milk Grotto
Inside of the Chapel of the Milk Grotto

Walled Off Hotel


The Walled Off Hotel is located next to the separation wall in Bethlehem and this boutique hotel was designed by anonymous London-based artist Banksy alongside other creatives. Banksy has worked in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 2005 and his art was auctioned to raise money for Palestinian causes.


He promotes the hotel as “The hotel with the worst view” because it is looking right at the separation wall built by Israeli government. His art is designed to bring awareness of what is happening here, but there is more to it. In the hotel there is an actual museum which we loved, gallery and a bar as well.


Visiting the museum and the gallery will give a great historical and emotional tour for anyone interested in this specific conflict.


Walled Off Hotel Palestine
Walled Off Hotel Palestine by Banksy
Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, Palestine
Inside of the Walled Off Hotel in Palestine

Bethlehem was an eye-opening experience from so many different points of view and by far the highlight of this whole trip.

Note: - Carry the passport and visa throughout this visit, it is required when entering Jerusalem.


- Eat THE BEST falafel and hummus at Afteem.


- Visit the wood workshops and get a handmade souvenir.


- Palestinians are a friendly bunch, don’t shy away from having a chat with locals.


View over Bethlehem, Palestine

DAY 4 & 5


Sunny days in Tel Aviv



Tel Aviv golden hour by the beach

It’s quite a shock if you are visiting Jerusalem first and then Tel Aviv. From conservative, religious and intense environment arriving to very opposite Tel Aviv was refreshing.

There is something very lively and captivating about this city. Although known for its spectacular cuisine, beaches and nightlife, Tel Aviv has so many things to offer for every traveler and it’s super diverse and open.


Vibe of the city is definitely easy-going and relaxed. What I loved is the fact that this city has more than 300 sunny days in a year and it is super bike/scooter friendly.


I know that two days isn’t really enough to cover Tel Aviv by foot, but we walked our walk, let me tell you that.


Price wise, everything was just as same as Dubai, where we currently live so we didn’t feel much of a difference. We rented a cute Airbnb studio in the area called Florentin, which is known for the hipster vibe and Levinsky market.


Now let me show you a few places I personally liked the most!


Old Jaffa


Old Jaffa Tel Aviv

Jaffa has been home to Arabs and Jews for centuries, making it an incredible blend of cultures and architecture. Some say, Jaffa is considered to be one of the oldest ports in the world, as its history reaches back to ancient times.


We enjoyed wandering around the narrow alleys of Old Jaffa, we stopped by the Clock Tower, the Flea Market, and the Wishing Bridge.


There are plenty of museums, art galleries and restaurants but I personally enjoyed the Flea Market the most because of its unique atmosphere where you can bargain, pick up some vintage paintings, rugs or even haute couture clothing pieces.


Graffiti in Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv
Israeli lunch in Tel Aviv
Exploring Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv
Flea Market in Tel Aviv

Carmel Market


The Carmel Market is the biggest market in Tel Aviv and here the traders sell everything from spices, clothing, fruits and veggies to electronics.


At first it felt a little intimidating because of the whole vibrant, chaotic vibe and noise but then fascinating at the same time, seeing the freshest produce being picked up by locals, tourists taking pictures and tasting food.


We couldn’t resist but stop by the small restaurant in the middle of the market and snack fresh hummus. A definitely unique experience that doesn’t cost anything to see, but I bet everyone spends some shekels on food and drinks.


Flower shop in Carmel Market in Tel Aviv
Fried snacks at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv
Fresh fruits at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv
Traditional Jewish pastries at the Carmel Market

Beaches


Tel Aviv Beach

Tel Aviv has 13 beaches and these stretch on 14 km long coastal strip and what’s even better about the coastal options in this city is the variety and unique features that each of the beaches offers.


Surely it would take me days to visit all but still I managed to see at least the central ones. Local beaches in Tel Aviv are fully equipped with bars and restaurants, outdoor gym and cycling tracks.


One interesting fact is that there are 3 very distinctive beaches located just next to each other: LGBTQ Friendly one, Gender segregated beach for religious folks and Dog Beach. If there is one thing, I would recommend visiting Tel Aviv for, it would be for its beach life and sparkling blue Mediterranean coast as it is a vital part of Tel Aviv's essence.


All beaches are free for everyone, and sunsets here are stunning.


Old Jaffa Beach in Tel Aviv
Soaking up the sun in Tel Aviv
Sunset by the beach in Tel Aviv

That’s it from my short stay and first time in Palestine and Israel, the ancient part of the Middle East. It’s a long post, I know. Would I recommend visiting Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv? Absolutely yes!


It’s such an enriching, emotional, spiritual adventure that it still keeps me thinking about it, remembering such beautiful moments, sights, food and experiences.


There are many more of food places, tourist attractions and information on my Instagram page so feel free to ask any questions or recommendations, I’ll be more than happy to help!


Until next time,


Kat




































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2 Comments


Guest
Sep 10, 2023

So interesting!

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Katarina Zlatkovic
Katarina Zlatkovic
Sep 10, 2023
Replying to

Thank you!

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