Israel can definitely be called a magical place. Its story is full of symbolic, historical, and religious significance and, despite any turmoil the country faces, it's held in high regard to those who see it as a spiritual destination but also by the average traveler for its geographically diverse features, beautiful seas, Bauhaus architecture, and other cultural curiosities. Hayley, from our production team, was lucky enough to take part in a sponsored Taglit-Birthright trip and took a few extra days to explore the country at her own pace and develop a personal connection to each special place visited.
Name: Hayley Jones
Department: Fabric R&D and Production
Duration: 14 days: 10 days on a sponsored Taglit-Birthright trip, and 4 days free to explore.
Reason: An all-expenses-paid trip to Israel? You’d be crazy not to go!
Mode of transportation: A direct 10-hour flight to Israel, then a charter bus around the entire country during Taglit. The days I extended at the end were spent almost entirely on foot.
Travel companion(s): 36 strangers and 2 good friends.
Accommodations: For the ten day Taglit trip, we migrated between various hotels and hostels around the country: the first two nights in the north (Tiberias), one night in Tel-Aviv, three nights in Jerusalem, two nights in the desert (one of which was spent outdoors, sleeping in a Bedouin tent), then back to Tel-Aviv for our last night. For the four days after the organized trip, my friend and I shared a beautiful Airbnb in Jaffa, an ancient port city on the western coast in southern Tel-Aviv. The apartment was in a hundred-year-old building that had once been a hotel, during the Ottoman Empire, so it had a lot of authenticity and character.
Three must-have items for this trip: At the risk of sounding nerdy, the essentials were really just a good hat, an insulated water bottle, and a fanny pack… I never thought I’d wear one in my life, but I found a great old-school 90’s Kipling waist-pack that I literally wore every day.
Favorite eat: It might be obvious and/or cliché, but the hummus and pita were truly out of this world. I don’t know what we’re doing wrong over here, but American “hummus and pita” is nothing like the real deal.
On a more obscure note, I did eat at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to: Romano. Anyone visiting Israel must go! The chef, Eyal Shani, is world-renowned; his chain, Miznon, has locations not only in Israel, but also in Paris and Vienna. He creates an experience around each dish, down to the poetic descriptions on the menu; for example, his signature roasted cauliflower is described on the menu as “Golden baby cauliflower melting into itself.” My mouth is actually watering just thinking about that cauliflower…
We hiked Masada one morning for the sunrise, and I can honestly say I’ve never been to a more awe-inspiring place. Masada was once a fortress, built between 37 and 31 BCE, on top of a giant plateau overlooking Jordan and the Dead Sea. Miraculously, there are still remains from the fortress, even so far as intact clay pipes and frescos in what was once a bath house. To touch the stone walls that were laid over two thousand years ago was incredibly humbling, to say the least. We spent the early hours of the morning sitting atop the 450 meter-high mesa, watching the sun rise over Jordan and the Dead Sea.
Hiking! Living in NYC, it's easy to forget how much you miss and need nature. We went on about six hikes during the course of the trip, each of which was more amazing than the next. I became more in touch with the Israeli terrain and surroundings while also exercising my own muscles and stamina, and ended the trip feeling as if my lungs, eyes, and heart had been expanded.
Most memorable moment: Our last day before flying home, we spent hours on the beach in Tel-Aviv. I have a beautiful memory of floating in the calm Mediterranean Sea at sunset, surrounded by my American friends and our new Israeli friends, talking and laughing until we became pruney in the warm bathwater. I felt so truly happy and peaceful… I try to think of that moment when the harsh, stressful pace of NYC weighs down on me.
One word to sum up the trip: Eye-opening.