Although my first visit to Israel was only a quick tease of a trip, it was still long enough to fall in love. We flew into cosmopolitan and progressive Tel Aviv, where Seth, Jared and I met up with our good friend and incredible host Brian, and we fit in as much as we could in our whirlwind visit.

Jerusalem is only a 45 minute drive from Tel Aviv, but the two cities could not be more different. Though people in Tel Aviv scoffed at super religious Jerusalem as a "graveyard," I found it stunning and very lively. With so many holy sites on top of each other and the quiet throngs of religious pilgrims crowding the narrow alleys, the whole scene of the old city left me in awe.

Sisters watch from a distance as men pray at the Western Wall: Jerusalem, IsraelSisters watch from a distance as men pray at the Western Wall: Jerusalem, Israel


There is plenty of military presence, especially around the Temple Mount, but I was surprised by how calm the center of the old city felt. 

Al-Asqa Mosque: Jerusalem, IsraelAl-Asqa Mosque: Jerusalem, Israel


We made some new friends, who fought with each other to ham it up in front of the camera.

New FriendsNew Friends


Leaving the bustling streets to enter the silent Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of Jesus' crucifixion and location of his tomb, was like entering another world.

Candles line the outer walls of Jesus' tomb at the Church of the Holy SepulchreCandles line the outer walls of Jesus' tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre


In Jerusalem we rented a car and left the city for the Judean desert, cutting through the West Bank in the process. Having left the city we suddenly felt like we were in the middle east; sandstone mountains punctuated with Bedouin camps, camels, and the occasional military checkpoint dot the landscape. We hiked through a waterfall-filled oasis at Ein Gedi Nature reserve, which had a huge population rock hyraxes, which are incredibly related to elephants but look more like taxidermy guinea pigs.

Rock Hyrax: Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, IsraelRock Hyrax: Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Israel


Higher in the canyon we encountered a big herd of sand-colored Nubian Ibex, which are sleek and lean compared to the beefy Alpine Ibex I stalked in Switzerland this summer. 

Nubian Ibex: Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, IsraelNubian Ibex: Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Israel


We finished off our day in the desert floating in the salt bath that is the Dead Sea, which was infinitely more delightful and surreal than I ever could have imagined, especially with the outline of Jordan across the water fading into the haze as the sun went down over the mountains. 

Back in Tel Aviv we rounded out Seth's birthday watching huge fruit bats swarm a fig tree and got serious about taking advantage of the amazing restaurants and bars in "Little New York" 

The Dead Sea!The Dead Sea!


I left Israel exhausted from a big summer and happy to head back to California, but I am already plotting my return...



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