Israel 2014 travel journal – Travels to the country of kind strangers.

Israel intro map

day I.

it’s 06.30, wednesday morning. for two months, i’d been counting down to this day. bags have been packed for two days, last minute stuff will be done tonight. half a day of work before going home to get everything in order and try to catch some shut eye. pfff, who am i kidding? 8PM – i’m jumping the walls. 9PM – i am running up and down the stairs. 10PM -i’m exhausted, flat out on the couch watching some show on the telly that i don’t know about because i don’t really watch TV. half an hour later, mum and i decide to head towards the airport, partly because i want to be there on time, but also because hanging around at the house just makes me edgy and annoyed.

let’s just go already.

flying in the middle of the night is bliss. it’s nice, quiet, dark and comforting. on my list of ‘talents and all the stuff i can do’, i can now add ‘sleeping on an airplane’ – i had the whole row for myself and since it was dark outside and not much to see, i nestled myself on my three plane seats and got some sleep.

approximately 2,000+ km later, i’m running around istanbul airport in (desperate) search of a place to smoke before boarding another plane, this time actually going to israel. i’m lucky again – a soft sunrise and the row to myself. flying in the middle of the night is bliss? scratch that – flying in the middle of the night is freakin’ awesome.

people have questioned my reasons to go to israel countless of times. when i told them i was going on a short trip, combining ‘holiday’ with ‘work’ (working as a travel/documentary photograph is pretty darn awesome too), they react enthusiastically and ask me where i’m going. “israel”. my response is met with the somewhat doomed “oh” and the inevitable “why?”. ‘why the hell not’ was tempting, but after saying that a few times and learning that people simply don’t understand, i chose the easy way out. “a friend of mine” lives in haifa and i’m visiting her. while i’m there, i might as well check out tel aviv and some more of israel”.

they tell me to watch out.
they tell me to be careful.
they tell me they think it’s scary.
some even tell me that there’s a lot of conflict in that country (no shit sherlock).
and all i was doing, was counting down the days.

so now i’m here, spotting the blue of the mediterranean sea, the pilot informing the passengers that we’re bound to land soon.

i have no idea what was waiting for me. i have no idea what i will encounter. i have no idea what i will or won’t see. all i know is that i’m heading towards an adventure and it was about to start.

welcome to israel.

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after checking in and dumping my stuff at the hostel, i immediately headed out. i was more than ready to see, hear, taste and feel this country that, from the plane and the bus, had already held a grip on me. i was surprised to see so much green (it’s a desert, after all!), especially after seeing the state this city was in. of course, i am used to ‘higher standards’ – a burden or a privilege of living in a somewhat typical western country. when one leaves his front garden unattended for several months, this creates the ‘shocker’ and gives the neighbours that actually talk to each other something to talk about. social norms dictate that walk on the pavement and don’t ride our bicycles on the curb. we do not leave trash on the street, we clean up nicely after ourselves, garbage is collected and the streets must look clean.

that brings me to my first point – pavements in israel are something rare. they don’t actually have pavements, unless you find yourself in either a higher socio-economical area, or tourist hotspots. in fact, cyclists usually just ride their bikes on the curb (if it’s there). riding your bike on the road, like we do here in the netherlands, is such a foreign concept that most israeli drivers don’t really know what do to with them (at least, so i’ve been told). it’s perfectly normal here to leave your garbage on the street if it’s too much of an effort to walk a few meters to put in designated dumpsters (and they’re hard to miss too, since the smell greets you shortly after you’ve turned the corner). people even leave things on the street for others to grab, thus making me believe that the concept of ‘finder’s keepers’ originates here. some houses are in desperate need of some (professional) attention, some roads are broken open and i’ve walked passed street construction sites several times for three days and never saw a soul.

and yet, despite this, israel is clean. i’d dare say it’s even cleaner than here in the netherlands. it surprises me, not so much because i didn’t expect it, but because of the number of people i’ve seen smoking here. i’d suspected the streets to be full with litter and cigarette butts, but that’s not the case. in amsterdam there are gum-covered streets and cigarettes appearing to be part of the stone pavement, but not here. i oddly found myself in a place right between my own country and portugal. clear signs of poverty, meeting the clean streets of the west. i’d read that tel aviv was the central hub of israel. the place where the middle east met the west. i was starting to understand what they meant by that.

i had found my way to the start of allenby road, leading up to ha’carmel market – okay, honestly, i was on the bus and it was the first word i recognised so i decided to jump off. the last thing i wanted was to unintentionally get lost. not even five minutes after, i walked passed an outside display, metal bars and all, and spotted my first souvernir. i entered the store – a secondhand book store – and was amazed instantly. the owner had collected, bought, been given or whatever, enough books to fill four large rooms from top to bottom. i’m pretty sure i lost myself there for over half an hour, my eyes flying over titles that i didn’t recognise, books that i did recognise and was tempted to restock the philosophy department in my bookcase back home, when i realised i had to bring it all back with me. i could have easily spent all my money there. the majority of Halper’s Book store’s books were in english, but he had a fair collection of hebrew too, and some german and french literature too, even. after a brief chat with the owner, i left the little paradise behind. as soon as i stepped out the door, i was reminded that there was more to be explored.

i roamed the streets, trying to take it all in, trying to bookmark all the highlights so i would never forget, until i literally stumbled across ha’carmel market. i had no idea i had already gotten that far up the road, and the sight completely drew me in. i abandoned all plans and let myself get sucked into this narrow alleyway and disappeared into the crowd.

for a short moment, i was dead serious on moving to israel permanently. these markets, they are made for me. fresh produce stacked so high it towered over me, the most magnificent combination of smells and sights and the wonders of such diversity – this was my place. i remember how i smiled at the thought and then smiled because i acted so stupid. perhaps, i thought, perhaps this might just be home some day, but for now, israel would have to substitute as home away from home. i know home is not here. home is perhaps that country with the green hills and the stormy shores, or perhaps the country of the surfers and the chilling sun, but not here. however, finding myself in a side street of this never ending, snake-like market, i did know that i would return to this place.

and i hadn’t even been here one day.

as the evening slowly fell, i visited pri-or photohouse, dedicated to famous israeli photographer rudi weissenstein, had my first glimpse of the mediterranean sea and had lovely encounters with the locals. for my first night in tel aviv, i decided i wanted to eat out and really make it a somewhat special night. having read about a gluten-free, vegan, organic falafel place (listed on the top 5 of gluten-free places to eat), my tired legs dragged me across the city once more in search of hippo falafel. supposedly, they have a place on dizengoff, but i couldn’t find it. after some quick research, i learnt that they a. either, or b. also, have a diner on ibn gvirol. nearing darkness, i was too stubborn to head back to the hostel and grab something at the grocery store on the corner, and so after an hour of searching, i found it. i wish i could say that i was glad that i headed in their direction, but i couldn’t. i was stoked. the owner and his colleague were incredibly nice, chatting with me as i waited for my order and he even gave me a small insight into his gluten-free pita bread. the weather was incredible and i enjoyed my first diner in israel outside, watching the streets as people strolled by and lights went on. i took me a while to find my way back to the hostel, but i could once again rely on the kindness of strangers. after my third failed attempt at catching the right bus, i asked a woman at the bus stop for the bus to take. she explained to me which one i should take, only to ask me where i needed to go. when i gave her the address, she told me that it would be easier if i went to another bus stop around the corner and catch a bus that would drive me straight to the jaffa clock tower, which was about a seven minute walk from the hostel.

all together, i think it took me about over an hour to get back, but i made it with the help of strangers, using whatever means we could think of to communicate. tired, dirty yet soaked in adventure and new sights, i go to bed that night and can’t wait for tomorrow.

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it’s hard to believe that a mere 24-hours ago, i sat at home on the couch, tired and mindlessly watching tv just to kill the time (bare in mind, i very rarely watch tv). dog at my feet, cup of coffee, and just waiting. before i even know it, i’m at schiphol airport, waving at my mother and sister who dropped me off and i’m checking in to my flight to israel. it all felt so surreal. like i was there, but it wasn’t actually happening. i love going to schiphol, hence i often meet there with people for a cup of coffee. there’s something compelling and familiar about that place of travellers.

tel aviv. what an incredible city. it’s an odd mixture of old buildings and signs of poverty – or rather, perhaps, lack of ‘modernity’ – and tall buildings and high-end shopping centres. i had read that tel aviv was ‘the west of israel’ and that most of the cultural traditions didn’t exactly survive in tel aviv, but boy, this was something else. there is so much green, beautifully built parks where kids are playing with their parents, where people have a seat and enjoy a fresh smoothie and you turn the corner and you’re back in the realm of ‘if i put things upon a wall and place a few bikes here, then i have something i can call a shop’. a few blocks down, giant shops where the nike megastore only seems concerned with an equally as big adidas store right across the road. those parts of the city are, to me, least attractive. i don’t particularly like shopping and if i wish to go shopping, i’ll go in my own country. no. i turn the corner to take a shortcut right through a small neighbourhood, discover a few hidden gems (one of which is halper’s bookstore), am amazed by the crazy combination of ‘fast food falafel’ and fresh juice and smoothie booths popping up everywhere – with an occasional ‘health store’ right in between.

as i’m wandering around, i am once again amazed by my adjusting and travelling abilities. i haven’t even been in this country for 12 hours and yet everything just sort of seems to fall in place. it doesn’t matter where i go because each road takes me somewhere and every somewhere holds something beautiful. i wish to travel more – much more – to discover myself and who i really am, and being here, only for a day, raises as much questions as it answers. i know now that, even in a strange land and with a language i absolutely don’t speak nor understand, i am fine. i find my way. if i can’t find a particular road, i just look around and change my route. i don’t beat myself up, i don’t blame myself for not being able to do something. instead, i take what i have and make something new. riding the bus back to the hostel from north central tel aviv, i was able to follow 70 to 80% of the bus’ route on my map. i was already that accustomed and even recognised the places i had been. better yet – after getting off the bus and finding my way through a small maze, i hit a place i recognise. i put my map away, thinking i won’t need it anymore – i can find the way back now. i laugh at myself, knowing how stupid this attempt will make me look to myself because i know i will get lost. i always get lost. twice i doubted myself. and then i looked beyond, saw recognised the road and kept walking. i found the way back to the hostel after only having walked that route once – in the opposite direction. as far as my rock star shoes are right now, i’d say they’re pretty darn rockin’.

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day II.

i am used to being an unlucky gal. luck, so it seems, is just never on my side. whenever i speak of this, i always have to think of one of my favourite movies, Aladdin, and the scene with the merchant. merchant: “Look at this! Yes! Heh, heh. Combination hookah and coffee maker, also makes julienne fries. Will not break! [taps it on table] Will not – [it falls apart] It broke!” (that part cracks me up every time). in fact, i’m so unlucky that whenever i am lucky, it feels strange to me. alien. yesterday, i was lucky enough to encounter the kind man who helped me on the bus, meeting the people at overstay TLV hostel and their amazing energy, the several people who were friendly enough to help me find my way back to the hostel at 8PM and the guys at the gluten-free, vegan falafel place that were so funny and kind. my second day came with some slight fears that i had used all my luck and was about to dive head-first into a bucket of bad luck.

the morning started with a plan – do some quick shopping in preparation of shabbat and make sure i had something to eat and then heading to jerusalem and wander. however, on my way back to the hostel, i got lost (see?! it’s a talent) and everything got out of hand from thereon. i was thinking luck had turned on me as i arrived back at the hostel way later than i had planned.

however, luck hadn’t totally abandoned me. one of the owners of the hostel lived in jerusalem and offered me a ride as he was heading home for the weekend. not only did he save me loads of time getting to the city, he also saved me time and effort by not having to sort out how to get to jerusalem.

on our way there, i was told more about the tension between the groups in israel and been given some brief history lessons. my ‘personal driver’ dropped me off at the corner of a place he thought would suit me and i could easily wander around. yet, as i was standing there trying to figure out where i was, i realised i had no map and thus no idea of where to go. i asked some israeli girl soldiers where i could possibly find one and they sent me to the central bus station. i arrived at the central bus station and the bookstore they thought might sell maps, only to discover they were closing up just as i got there. with no other options, i headed back again. about 4 or 5 meters from where i was dropped off, i spotted the hotel across the street (thinking that i was a massive idiot). i walked in, asked the owner for a map and he must have seen the slight desperate look on my face as he said ‘”look no further, i have a map for you”. i told him that he made my day and left with a huge smile on my face. thank you’s are meant to be felt, i believe. i sure hope that he felt my thank you because he really helped me out. 45 minutes later and now with map, i ventured out into the direction i was advised to go to and boy, was he right.

i wouldn’t know if the air is always this festival-like at jerusalem’s market, or if it was because of shabbat, but there was this funky tension in the air – the good kind. the kind that made you excited. i watched as i saw people in their beautiful, traditional jewish clothes run around, some pushing small carts, hurrying as they went from stall to stall like bees chasing honey. elderly couples debating which oranges to take and youngsters picking out the last of the bread. as with ha’carmel market, i was astonished when finding the indoor part of the market, which was even bigger. there were little cafés and restaurants stuffed at the sides, streams of people barely able to pass through the small corridors, some breaking the laws of foot traffic as they went in the opposite direction or changes lanes when spotting a bargain. it felt like rush hour and i was loving every bit of it. the chaos felt organised and even though it was a mess (people-wise) it all seemed to fall right into place. surprisingly enough, walking around with my large backpack, i didn’t feel nearly as many people bump into me as i do at the friday market back in the netherlands – despite the fact that that market is way less crowded and there’s more space to walk. i’m not sure if that says more about the dutch or the israeli, but i’m guessing both. dutch, i honestly believe, are rude and arrogant in the space that they occupy, whereas i’m starting to learn that the israeli not only appear to just fit together in small spaces, but are also a lot more polite and less dominant in where they’re going. if a dutch person wants to go somewhere, they go there. i’ve lost count of the times people just crossed the street and i nearly tumbled over their feet, nor do i remember how many times people either just stopped in the middle of the road without looking who’s behind them, or pushed themselves to the front of the line to look at something that, in the end, they’re not going to buy anyway. israeli people – yes, i know i’m biased – are not like that.

i spent a good hour rummaging around, taking in all the beautiful food and things, before finally heading towards the old city.

because of shabbat, a lot of shops closed early and hordes of people were heading towards their churches, mosque or synagogues. while this meant that there were certain things that i couldn’t see or do, it did enable me to see more cultural happenings that i would have missed otherwise. at the same time, i became aware of the fact that i’m not good at playing tourist. i don’t care much for all the sight seeing – i’d rather find myself a spot somewhere with a view, sit, and watch. i was in jerusalem old city and apart from feeling estatic that i was in freakin’ jerusalem, i was more excited about seeing the jews rush towards synague, with their beautiful clothes and dressings, observing children skipping ropes and noticing the lack of cellphones (that was perhaps one of the most amazing things i saw! shabbat rules state a number of things, not being allowed to use any electronic devices being one of them. seriously, they’re not even allowed to switch on the light!). people were actually interacting with each other, talking, laughing and enjoying other people’s company, rather than staring at their phones. i watched a massive group of people gather at the western wall plaza, their singing and chanting amplified by the enormous space and magnitude of the historic place i was looking at. i stood there, overlooking the plaza, not feeling any desire to get closer, partially because i was running out of time, but also because i was liking my first taste of jerusalem. i only saw a fraction of it, and there’s so much more to explore, so i’ll have to go back to do as such.

nightfall crept in – i knew i had a long way back to the central bus station and had to walk back to the hostel from there. i had planned on taking the sheirut (a shared cab-van) back, but i had trouble finding the spot where they parked. the area around the central bus station isn’t the greatest of areas to be walking around (not at night, alone and as a female anyway) and the walk back to the hostel also goes right through an area i wouldn’t necessarily want to walk around at night. as i exited the old city through zion gate, i spotted a cab and the driver smiled and waved at me. after going down my list of take-a-cab-and-do-it-safe rules and guidelines, we drove off.

as it turned out, my luck seemed far from running out. john the cab driver was actually a tour guide (on them big buses), trying to earn some extra money by working for his father’s cab company. for the same, fixed price, he took me all the way up to mount of olives, mount scopo, passed the hebrew university and two prestigious hospitals in the same area – and he even stopped at some points so i could take pictures. he refused to drop me off at the central bus station and instead, stopped right across the street from the hostel to make sure i would get there safely. how’s that for service, eh? after he gave me his cell phone number for when i’d return to israel, we said our goodbyes and i returned to the hostel with some amazing stories.
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i was photographing the door as it looked amazing, when i heard someone running down the streets. it turned out to be a young jewish guy, and i’m assuming he was hurrying to get to the synagogue. he slowed down when he spotted me trying to photograph the door, so i signalled that he could pass. he apologised and smiled so very kindly as he hurried down the street again, disappearing from my view finder shortly after i pressed the shutter.

day III.

i spent the past two days here walking around, running from one place to see to the next. saturday means that most shops are closed because of shabbat, which is pretty much like sunday, only on saturday. because of this, i decided to take a slow day, explore old jaffa and visit the port market before heading back to the hostel to relax a bit. i know that tomorrow is going to be a hectic day – i wish to visit jaffa’s famous flea market before making my way to the central bus station to catch a bus up north to haifa. since i don’t want to arrive in haifa in the late afternoon, i know that time is going to be scarce tomorrow morning and i will need to get up early if i wish for everything to fit into one day.

i headed out after a relaxed start of the day and wondered around jaffa, seeing the ocean (finally!) and saw some beautiful skylines and sceneries. i had still gone out for a good five hours, but came back to the hostel long before the times i got back the days before. there was a brief moment that i doubted my decision – i don’t feel like pointlessly hanging around in a hostel with nothing to do, knowing fully well there was an entire city left to explore. however, i knew that florida (one of the volunteers at the hostel, who was, as you could have guessed, from florida) was going to do a wall painting so i figured i could keep her company. i had some lunch (got my hands on greek yoghurt and i was in heaven) and retreated into my room for a while. as i positioned myself on my bed and finally took a moment to breathe, i instantly knew that it was a good decision to take it slow today. my feet could use some ‘time off’. so i kept myself entertained with the pictures i’ve been taken over the past couple of days and really just tried to wrap my mind around this journey, this adventure and all the things i’ve come across already. one of the owners came to check up on my adventure to jerusalem and was more than surprised to hear about john the generous cab driver. i hung out with florida, divided my time between watching her paint, going through my photos propped up on my bed, and watching the city from the rooftop.

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i’ve only been here for two whole days now and it feels like i’ve been here so much longer. i am comfortable in my surroundings, i am at ease with whatever little thing i do (i very unplanned-ly decided to grab a cup of coffee at the same place i went yesterday and actually enjoyed it, rather than it being a task or something on my to-do-list). there’s no constantly looking at my watch and readjusting my schedule, planning and timing to make sure i get around to everything. before leaving, i figured that it was going to be stressing to find my way and really try to make due and being all on my own. but i like it. i like being a travelling stranger in a world that becomes a comfortable explored anonymity. i almost feel like, if i keep moving, time will have no hold on me.

this reminds me of what florida told me yesterday, “we can’t control time, but we can control space. so if we control space, we can control time”. when she said it, she laughed and said that it didn’t make sense. but it does. it makes so much sense. when you control space – the space within yourself (which is essentially the only space youcan control, up to a certain point) you control time, if only because of the way you look at time. when you change the way you look at time, you intrinsically control it. think about it. if your day feels like it’s one task after another and the day just creeps by, you are obviously not enjoying what you’re doing. but when you do something that you do enjoy, time’s different. time slows (when you’re calm and at peace) or speeds (when you’re having fun or losing track of time). florida was asked by two of the backpackers here how long she thought it would take her to finish her painting. she answered “an hour. whenever i paint something, it always takes me an hour. that’s what it feels like anyway, in reality it is probably two days”. if we control space, that space in our heads and our chests, we control time. and i’m learning to understand that.

apart from wondering what it means to adapt this quickly, i know that this is the start of it. i have always had the desire to travel, to see and explore the world and see new things every day, but never really had the courage to go. there was always an excuse. there was never time. there was never enough money. now that i have done this, and picked israel to start even, i am working my way through this travel with a smile, kindness and honour for whatever culture i am finding myself in and it feels so natural to me. i know that the next journey is only right around the corner, just like i know not all my travels will be as fortunate as this one. but this is the start of something that is never going to stop because, as addictive as this feeling is, this feeling is also part of me. part of the unexplained and undefined that is part of me. i am finding who i am as i go – it’s the art of getting found when being lost.

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day IV.

i wake up and look at my phone. it’s 3 am and i can hear the rain hailing down, often interrupted by thunder. there’s a pretty good storm going on outside and before i fall asleep again, i just hope it’ll have cleared up in the morning.

i wake at 7, thinking i dreamt about pouring down rain and thunderstorms as i groggy wake up. the very first thing that i notice, is that it’s still dark. i loved how the light was already seeping into my bedroom at 7 am, something i desperately miss during the autumn and winter days in the netherlands, but this time it was missing. i’m fully awake quickly enough to hear the rain.

it was still pouring.

grabbing my jogging pants and a vest, i exit my room almost immediately, not even bothered by the fact that i look like i literally just rolled out of bed – because i pretty much did. i spot ‘kent’ behind reception and ask for an update. is it really raining? has it been raining all night? fuck. what’s the forecast like? any good? he checks phone and asks me if i want him to lie or not. “don’t tell me” i say. yup, kent grins. rain, all day. my plan goes to hell, five minutes after waking up. since there wasn’t much i could do, i decided to just wait it out – not being prepared for rain in israel – and grab a cup of coffee to see the weather for myself. the famous overstay rooftop is pretty much gone. the tent has partially been destroyed, there’s pools of water every where, the couches are wet and it doesn’t really matter where you stand – you end up getting wet anyway.

fortunately for me and everyone else at the hostel, i have a gift. i can’t do many things – not useful, great lifesaving or talent-like things, anway – but i do have a knack for being able to quite often correctly predict the weather. as i’m looking around, smoking my third cigarette and on my second cup of coffee, i see the clouds in the distance. it’s going to clear up, i say.

naturally, nobody believed me.

i waited. i looked at the sky some more. i waited a while longer and studied the weather a bit more. it’s going to clear up, i say. trust me.

i head back down for breakfast and pack whatever i hadn’t packed the night before. i’m slowly getting ready to leave and am mentally trying to figure out if i should or shouldn’t skip jaffa’s flea market since i’m going to be later than i had originally planned. at some point, the guy i was having my morning smokes with walks up to me. it’s clearing up, he says. you were right.

ha! of course i’m right, i think. when it comes down to the weather, i’m (almost) always right.

i grab my backpack and start to hurry towards jaffa’s flea market. outside, i’m instantly greeted by the sun. there are still some threatening rain clouds in the sky, but the sun is out and the weather is lovely. how’s that for my weather forecast-skills, eh?

unfortunately, whilst i loved seeing the flea market, it wasn’t quite what i had in mind. that said, it could be because it’s a sunday, and it had been raining quite a lot all morning, so there wasn’t that much to see nor where there many people out on the streets. i did stock up on some souvenirs for the family back home and visited this lovely shop called ‘zielinksi & rozen’. yael from overstay tipped me about this place; they create their own perfume from scratch, combining all sorts of amazing scents in bottles. it was only a small shop, but filled with delicious smells, bottles of perfume and soaps. definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in the area!

i do a last bit of roaming around the streets, having a hard time to say goodbye, even though i’ve only been here for 3,5 days. i struggle to find the words that would suffice in their meaning to describe this country and what it does to me. this country definitely has found a sweet spot somewhere in my heart and i can’t wait to return.

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i took me over an hour to say my goodbye’s at the hostel. just as i thought i was alright with leaving, a conversation sparked and i’d be standing there again, talking, laughing, having a good time, the thought of having to depart floating right out the window. i was surprised to see how many of my fellow hostel-occupants had the same difficulty with goodbye’s – not because they weren’t incredibly nice people, but there just seemed to be an instant-coffee connection that created a bond. strangers united in a strange country, finding equal ground and footing as we stumble and get lost. i’d like to think that i’ve made a few new friends. and i’d also like to think that when i return, i’ll see some familiar faces again. that, and i’ve got some invitations open to meet in other parts of the world (kent, coming over soon!).

it’s like pulling a band-aid. i resist the urge to smoke a last ciggie with kent and one of the danish guys and start walking. as the door behind me closes, i feel… sad. torn, almost – i am leaving this amazing adventure behind, an adventure that i didn’t want to end, and at the same time, i know i’m heading towards another great adventure. instead of shaking it off, i just soak it in and decide to let it live it’s own life. i find my way to the central bus station, find the right bus – which isn’t as easy as it sounds, tel aviv central bus station has 8 or 9 floors – and wait until tel aviv slowly passes me by and we leave it behind. instantly, i feel that tingly sensation, that anxiousness and anticipation of a new journey and i’m excited again. the upset feelings of this morning and having to leave vanish now that i’m standing on the edge of something completely new again.

the ride to haifa was beautiful. i had the ocean view on my left and the country side on my right. water left, mountains right, sun is out, storm clouds ahead. what a great way to start – i’m nervous about meeting adi and seeing a whole new part of israel. i saw that on my bus ride, the calm and reminiscent ocean on my left, the new, unexplored mountains and dark rain clouds on my right.

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i found adi at haifa’s central bus stop and she gave me that warm hug that she had promised me. we’ve known each other years now, fantasized about meeting for the better half of our online friendship and to be able to actually see her in real life, to watch her as she smiled and to be able to give her this big hug was such a wonderful moment. i got to meet her mom right away too, who was waiting for us in the car. she took us through – as far as she knew – the only tunnel in israel, or at least the only toll tunnel in israel, to drive right through haifa and end up on the other side. it’s amazing that this city is literally built atop of a mountain, with a slight dip in the middle. i’ve seen several places in haifa being called something with ‘camel’, but it get it. the way haifa is laid out, it does resemble the camel.

adi’s mom dropped us off at the shopping mall where adi took me for a delicious late lunch – inside a book store! eating a quinoa-spinach salad, all healthy and plant-based, inside a book store and i felt like i was in heaven. we wandered around for a bit before deciding to go to adi’s house. we had some initial struggles with which bus to take, but we made it home alright. i was appointed my own room so i had some privacy, welcomed by a heartwarming kindness as these two opened their home to me. adi and i enjoyed the evening taking pictures with her pikachu-yellow polaroid and talking about photographs – what else?

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day V.

my last full day in israel. i can’t believe my trip is slowly coming to an end already. i feel right at home and i fit in just perfectly. it feels almost wrong to leave, were it not for the fact that i can’t wait to see mace again. it’s the only reason why i only went for such a short period and the only reason why i am returning tomorrow. if he would have been with me, i would have most certainly stuck around. 

that morning, i start the day with the most delicious breakfast i had since arriving – the traditional yoghurt (tastes so much better in israel!) with grain-free granola and a banana. i knew right away, even with the impending rain and the dangerous dark clouds above our heads, that it’s going to be a great day. amazing what breakfast can do to a person, eh? adi and i venture out as soon as we can to explore a bit more of haifa. we return to the louis promenade where we overlook most of the city, including the seaport, and i stood there in awe for a while. not only is it disarming and humbling to see such a view, i could see all the way to the next city too. to think that haifa is the third largest city in all of israel!

haifa is known for the bahá’í  gardens and that pretty much sums up all the tourist things to do in haifa, except maybe to wander through the german colony, which is pretty much haifa’s tourist and culture centre. it used to house a large german population, but now that the area has been restored it’s filled with red-roofed cafés, bars, restaurants and shops. it was nice to walk through it and see the gardens crawl up on the mountain like it’s trying to reach the top, but since adi knew a place to get something to eat, we passed through it rather quickly. if you ever need a tour guide, do ask adi. not only is she fun and hilarious to hang around with, she also knows all the cool places. don’t let her fool you when she says that she doesn’t know where to go (which she did, quite often)! travelling with adi may be quite the adventure, but what’s life without a little turmoil and getting lost?

adi and i hurried back to her home in the hope to catch the last bit of sunlight to do some shooting, but we were too late. however, two photographers can’t meet without a shoot, hence we agreed to get up in the early morning to take pictures, before i had to leave.

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day vi.

i’m not much for goodbye’s.

either it takes me too long, or i leave promptly. knowing that i must go, i prefer to get it over with, rather than to dwell and prolong it, like what happened at the hostel. though i wasn’t excited to be leaving, i knew it was coming. it helped that i had a plane to catch, and was thus limited on time. adi and i enjoyed a good hour of shooting each other in her backyard, the sun creeping up and playing with the scene. she took an incredible portrait of me and i’m so honoured to have had my picture taken by someone as talented as adi. in return, she posed for me too and i had her lay down on wet grass, half buried in a prickling bush.

with half an hour to spare, adi’s mom drove us to camel beach (which is opposite of the trani station, remarkably) so we could do so last minute exploring. haifa’s beaches are a must-see when visiting and since it was actually the first time i was on the beach during my visit, it was a great last stop.

after numerous hugs and waves, i left adi to become a spot on the distance, my luggage trailing my heels as i made my way to the platform. i felt sad leaving adi, her mom and israel, but there was something that lifted my spirits, and it wasn’t israel’s warmth.

i left with the knowledge that i’ll return.

soon.

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thinking of travelling to tel aviv? i highly recommend overstay. when looking for a (cheap) place to stay during my stay, the overstay hostel was pretty much the first thing that i came across. i booked a private room for four nights and figured – i’m going to be away for most of the day, i won’t be spending much time there, so if it sucks, then it’s okay. after some initial difficulties of finding the hostel (totally my fault – even with proper directions emailed to me prior to departing, i still got lost – it’s a talent, seriously) i was met with the creative walls that defined the entrance of overstay. the place stood out for sure, and not just because it’s located in an industrial (mostly cars/garages) area. when checking in i met ‘florida’, who showed me around a bit and showed me my room. first thought was that it was alright, it was nice, basic and had everything i needed. i compared it to indoor camping, respectfully. i headed out as soon as i dropped my stuff and didn’t return until after diner. it wasn’t until the next morning that i started to realise what an incredible place it was – especially the rooftop, where i spent most my time. the owners, managers and volunteers really turned a simple hostel into – and it’s the only way i can describe it – a giant that welcomed me with open arms and pulled me into a really warm hug. it’s a ‘home away from home’.

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