Friendly Planet Blog

#FriendlyFiles: Experiencing Jerusalem

One of our newest Sales Team members, Lucy, shares her take on the wonder and adventure that Israel has in store for those who visit. Check out her tips for how to get the most out of your bucket-list trip to this destination!

Israel is much more than a religious destination. It is a country where ancient meets modern. While some travelers visit for a pilgrimage or spiritual awareness, others trek to this small Mediterranean country for the history, architecture, and nightlife–and Israel excels in all of these aspects! My family and I moved to Talpiot, a neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem, when I was very young. And even after living there for more than 14 years, I still find new ways to fall in love with it every time I return! No matter what drives you to travel to this incredible place, I can promise you will leave awestruck!

Each alleyway has an adventure! Jerusalem Old Arab Quater ©Dan/Flickr

Each alleyway has an adventure! Jerusalem Old Arab Quater ©Dan/Flickr

Get Lost.

“Getting lost” might sound like a silly thing to do in a foreign place, but sometimes those moments are the most memorable! The best place to lose yourself is in Jerusalem’s Old City. With so many narrow alleyways and packed streets, you’re sure to find something unique on every corner. On my most recent trip back, I was exploring and came across a part of the Old City I had never seen before! Despite living there for over a decade, I managed to find myself falling in love with places I’m still discovering.

The smell of spices from a Jerusalem market are not easily forgotten! ©Blues Brother/Flickr

The smell of spices from a Jerusalem market are not easily forgotten! ©Blues Brother/Flickr

Close your eyes and open up your senses.

This is a tip I use regardless of where I am traveling. In a place as vibrant and rich as Jerusalem, closing your eyes and letting your nose and ears experience this new place is just as important. It is a whole different way to experience a nation. When you close your eyes, your ears open up and begin to notice things you may not have before. Have you ever been on vacation and only worn one type of perfume/cologne and the next time you wear it back at home you are suddenly transported back to that vacation? It is known as olfactory memory, and anytime I smell shawarma cooking, I am immediately transported back to the old city, and all these beautiful memories start rushing back.

Small plates of salads, vegetables, pickles, hummus, and more! ©Paolo Mutti/Flickr

Small plates of salads, vegetables, pickles, hummus, and more! ©Paolo Mutti/Flickr

Eat like the locals.

If there’s one thing you should know, it’s that Israelis like to eat! From busy markets to trendy restaurants and everything in between–shopping for and sharing tasty foods are staples of Israel’s rich culture. One of my favorite local dishes is ka’ak with za’atar. Ka’ak translated means street bread, which is a long oval shaped bread coated in sesame seeds, and za’atar is a middle eastern spice blend. This was my favorite afternoon snack to pick up for my walk home. It is best when the za’atar is mixed with olive oil so you can dip the bread in a flavorful oil. I can taste it now just writing about it!

For all you foodie travelers, don’t skip a visit to the Mahane Yehuda Market. This shuk (market) is chock-full of vendors selling cheese, fruits, meats and home goods! Be sure to go on an empty stomach because the local falafel and hummus is a must! If your itinerary has some evening free-time, it’s also a great spot to visit after the vendors have closed down and the market comes alive with tiny bars and restaurants.

And once you’ve picked out your dining spot, be prepared to eat together! It’s not uncommon for local restaurants to serve what’s called a mezze, or a collection of small dishes (such as hummus, salads, pickles, olive oil and pita bread), that everyone samples from together. Sharing a meal together gives everyone a chance to slow down for a moment, take in the bustling surroundings, and really experience the joy of spending time with friends.

Join a local Israeli family for Shabbat ©Sharon Gott/Flickr

Join a local Israeli family for Shabbat ©Sharon Gott/Flickr

Shabbat.

Shabbat for the Jewish faith starts sunset on Friday night and ends sunset on Saturday night. It is a complete day of rest so don’t be surprised to find the streets nearly empty and most vendors closed. According to tradition you are not supposed to work, including the use of electronics. You may even come across elevators that are in Shabbat mode, stopping at every floor so those observing this religious tradition aren’t required to push any buttons! I’m excited that our Discover Israel tour includes sharing in a Shabbat dinner with a local family. They will invite you into their home and you get to witness this unique tradition which includes prayer, candle lighting, blessings, and dinner together.

#FriendlyFiles follows Friendly Planet’s adventurous staff as they travel the world. It is crucial that our team experiences first-hand the sites, hotels, food and transportation so that we know exactly how the trip will feel for our travelers—and to help us as we strive to provide experiences, not sightseeing!

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