Just back from this Middle Eastern country, and free from all the prejudices and fears I faced before visiting it with the help of Abraham Tours and Hostels along with Jordan, I’d like to share with you everything I learned wandering across it. Here’re the Israel facts the country taught me and the things you should experience there too.
1. Israel is a well-developed country.
With a very high standard of living. Therefore, the cost of living is expensive enough and you can find practically everything you could need while there.
On a side note, tipping is customary and bargaining doesn’t have a place in Israel.
2. Hebrew was restored after being dormant.
For about a couple thousand years actually, like the new state of Israel needed its own language for better self-determination and recognition. It sets it out from the crowd and, although almost every Israeli I came across speak English as well, the language is used everywhere. This fact could make you need some local help to read a restaurant menu or understanding a public announcement at some point. Today, Modern Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel.
3. The stamps you have on your passport could somehow be a big deal.
Jose was held for almost thirty minutes when crossing from Israel to Jordan, my friend Trisha was forced to skip Lebanon and Iran because of an unfortunate Israeli passport stamp and I am glad I took a taxi to the airport on my way back because I really needed those 3 hours to go through security. There, everything I carry with me was thrown on a table and tested for explosives and drugs in a procedure that took more than fifteen minutes. That on top of the many inquiries I had to answer to before even dropping my bag.
4. Israel is like a continent where you need to cross borders all the time.
Coming from Europe, where we jump from one country to the next one without even crossing a border control anymore, this caused us a bit of a shock in the first place.
The difference is that from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem there are barely 60 km and all those controls and safety can drive someone not used to them a bit crazy in the beginning.
Guns are always present everywhere you go, no matter how mellow the place may seem to not trained tourist’s eyes.
For instance, you might be having a well-deserved beer by the Dead Sea after hiking Masada fortress mountain at sunrises and turn your view to the beach and there you have it. 6 soldier-like guys sitting right next to your table with all their big guns. Or you are heading to your hostel in one of the newest districts of Jerusalem and in front of your balcony, about 30 military youngsters gather in the square steps below your room.
And let’s not get started with transportation hubs, jumping to a neighbor country like Jordan, crossing to the West Bank or adventuring through the old city of Jerusalem itself. I never thought so many controls were possible in such a tiny area.
5. Therefore, your patience skills will improve.
45 minutes queueing before your visit to the Dome of the Rock as part of an organized tour, showcasing all your handbag treasures anywhere it is needed, taking 3 hours and a half to cross the Jordan – Israel border crossing at Allenby bridge to just finding out your bag could disappear in the blink of an eye as the procedure is unorganized and all the bags pile up at the exit like in a landfill. Those will make you stronger and increase your tolerance without question.
6. Panicking doesn’t help.
Taking it easy does. Not finding your bag at the aforementioned border, witnessing lots of police and secret police and military at the same time for no apparent reason, listening how warplanes fly over you sometimes, suffering more questioning in one day than the rest of your life altogether… eventually turn from random acts to regular ones and before you know it, they will go unnoticed and become part of the daily country life.
7. There is an inherent hip factor to Israel.
The bar’s been raised high. Not only the country is home to lots of new stuff such as start-ups, apps for pretty much everything or electric mini bikes, but the cafes and clubs that populate its main cities, as well as the artsy shops in acquaintances neighborhoods and the vibe, has nothing to envy to that in cities like Berlin or Helsinki. If you ask me, Tel Aviv could easily be a mix between Miami and Barcelona. With a twist.
8. Israelis take good care of their bodies.
As my friend Marysia pointed out while sipping a beer by the beach as we watched all those fit locals running around, there are some factors that help explain this phenomenon. Youngsters must attend the military for 2 or 3 years, on top of that the heat and living by the beach make them well aware of their looks. Fit, looking healthy and happy, it is not uncommon to see hundreds of them by the beach exercising daily. Surfers, runners, bikers, and skaters, Tel Aviv is your untapped paradise full of things to do!
9. There is no such thing as Israeli food.
Being the country pretty new, I couldn’t find any really typical cuisine linked to the country. Perhaps, hummus – that is widely eaten specially during the Sabbath – if I had to write something. That said, the cuisine is well taken care of by a number of international restaurants and the food is as diverse as the people living there. From Mexican to Italian restaurants, you are never far from a delicious bite.
10. Israelis like to celebrate and enjoy a bit of a Mediterranean way of life.
And they are pretty down to earth – and they don’t overdress. Instead, casual looks and relaxed clothes are the norms.
You can’t deny your geographical location and roots. Especially where and when religion doesn’t have a place, from a distance I found it hard to distinguish if those people in crowded outdoor patios and terraces listening to live music, social drinking, sharing platters, and having fun were or not Spanish.
11. Kibbutzs shocked me hard.
Socialism and communism took off in the so-called Kibbutz, and some of them remain faithful to their beginnings and what they used to be in the first place. We got to visit one of them.
There everyone, no matter how much we are talking about, needs to contribute their whole salary to the community and in exchange enjoy a number of benefits and communal services.
For me, it is hard to believe this system could work where I was raised and I’d find it incredibly hard to adjust to something like this and, therefore, becoming part of the community.
12. Visiting Palestine and the West Bank cities is possible.
Also, pretty straight forward and if you are not holding an Israeli passport*, perfectly ok.
I was scared, the news on my FB wall, some of my friends’ warnings, even some Israeli people I got to talk to on the plane that dares to tell me there was nothing for me beyond the border and, of course, that Palestine wasn’t a safe place.
Well, guess what. Nothing happened. Nothing sketchy, weird, or bad at least. On the other hand, I got to meet some Palestinians and share a mini journey through their land with them. Ramallah, Jericho, and Bethlehem are lively cities that welcome visitors.
On top of that, I saw the wall, many security controls everywhere, a huge drop in prices, and people trying to keep a low profile. Also, I fell for Bethlehem, a beautiful and bright city that alone makes the trip worth it.
*Israel passport holders aren’t allowed to visit Palestine but since a good number of them have double or triple nationality – holding 2 or 3 passports – most of them have been to the West Bank before.
13. Religious fellas and pilgrimages have turned some historical sites into a sort of Disneyland.
And I am still trying to make my mind around it. As for now, as much as I enjoyed the city of Jerusalem inside its walls, for instance, I’m not sure if I will be back soon. It just gets too crowded sometimes!
14. Hiking Masada fortress is exhausting.
What’s to say, you’d better be fit if you are planning to go all the way up on foot. A refillable bottle (drinkable tap on the hill) and lantern, if you are doing the hike at sunrise, could be useful too.
15. Acting like a tourist can result in having so much fun.
And that is exactly what happened when we visited the Dead Sea.
Slightly disappointed in the beginning for not being in front of that brochure-like turquoise and salty water, we rapidly got into it with all our soul and body.
16. The world is changing at a pace we can’t even begin to understand.
We knew this already but there are some places where changes can be perceived at a glance. And we found a couple of those in Israel.
Did you know that the Dead Sea is every year a meter lower?
And that the sink-holes that eventually appear in the newly dry shores of the same have engulfed road sections, trees and constructions already?
At the moment, there are more than 5000 of those but new ones appear every month.
17. More times than I’d like, I found the most visited and acclaimed places skippable.
At the same time, my joy remained in other places not so touristy and completely avoided by the crowds.
Examples of this would be Jaffa and Ein Gedi. The first, dull and without a clear spot where to admire the day’s main show – sunset!- from. The second, crowded with pilgrims and overrated (taking into consideration that an entry fee is charged as the place is a protected reserve.
On the contrary, night markets were a huge plus and both in Jerusalem where the market became our place to buy groceries late, eat, go out and the best wall art display in town to the Carmel market in Tel Aviv that we visited a couple of times when it was already closed, dirty floors being washed and all.
Give us non-traditional spots, please! Fun is on us.
18. Hospitality is a thing for Israeli people.
And the standards of accommodation are some of the highest I’ve ever seen.
Let’s analyze the two paces where we rested our heads in Israel. Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
With more staff I could get to know, there was always one (most of the time two or more) people at the reception desk, bar, tour desk, kitchen, maintenance or housekeeping. As a result, everything was always quick, neat, and well taken care of.
To be more precise, our Tel Aviv room might have the hostel surname but it was a hotel room with no TV. A very spacious, full of light, and with the right equipment and amenities we needed (fridge, fast Wi-Fi, en-suite bathroom, huge window overlooking the city skyline, card key, desk and chair, lots of plug-ins, blinds, etc).
No wonder why the Jerusalem one, boasting one of the best terraces in town, is repeatedly chosen as one of the world’s finest.
With a centric location and social schedule averaging two activities on-site and two or three available tours daily which make for great connections and fun, balanced and fresh breakfast to start the day with the right foot, TV room, communal and fully equipped kitchen, bar service (with happy hour!), WiFi working perfectly all over and an insider’s tip map of the city, I couldn’t think of a better place to have based our explorations from.
By the way, these guys have a cool app – called Abraham Hostels – full of great tips from biking routes to nightlife, food, and sights.
19. Socrates was right.
The only thing that I know, is that I know nothing.
This is exactly how I felt about the country’s recent history and events, mainly among Arabs and Jews.
It’s way more complicated than general media induce us to think and there is no right or wrong, black or white. Often, a shade of grey is the answer.
And I am not alone there. Israel is home to an enormous expat community that doesn’t support any religion in particular and tries to live apart from the conflict. Good for them!
20. The country has incredible natural diversity.
And some of its landscapes will blow your mind. It’s not everything desert or coast and there are waterfalls, mountains, and diverse ecosystems to make your inner explorer happy all the way.
That takes us that the country is larger than it seems on the map. The Negev, Caesarea, Hebron, Sea of Galilee, Haifa, Banias, Samaria, Golan Heights, and all the gorgeous places I didn’t have time to visit this time, I will be back soon!
BROWSE MORE MIDDLE EAST ARTICLES:
- For some extra visual Middle Eastern goodness, head to our article on the 40 pictures that will make you want to visit Jordan now.
- And if you want to check out what another Middle Eastern spot taught me, visit the 10 Things I learned in Dubai.
Thanks once again to Abraham Tours and Abraham Hostels for giving us this chance of getting close and personal with Israel and Jordan.
- Kibbutz experience
- The Best of the West Bank
- Tel Aviv Pub Crawl
- 3 Day / 2 Night Petra, Wadi Rum, and Jordan tour from Tel Aviv
- Jerusalem Holy City Tour
- Masada sunrise, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea
- Tel Aviv City Tour
helped us uncover some of the gems of this country and contributed to this article indeed. They are a good choice if you are planning to visit these two countries soon.
Would you like to add any other Israel facts to the list? Leave your comment below.