Israel travel info

Israel.: 10 days,  April- May 08




Kind of travel: An independent solo travel

When: 25th April- 8th May 2008

Do I need a visa?: no visa needed, just at the airport stand the ground to not have the passport stamped! Israel stamp on the passport means an endless hassles around the world

How I moved: easy traveling by buses that connect all the towns and there'r a bunch of train lines. It's during the Shabbat (Fr- Sat) that moving gets a bet

Freezing or baking?: in April- May the warm weather is pleasant despite almost a shower per day; pick your umbrella and a sweater

Where I slept: there's no lack of accommodations, but in the hostels full booking can be an issue. If you have no reservation, the best is to pop up in the morning

What I liked: the outstanding safety, Jerusalem, Mizpe Ramon in the Negev desert, the Dead Sea, the Kibbutz… and overall, every single step in Israel is like reading a page of a history book

What I disliked: the freezing air condition on the buses, moving around during Shabbat (Israeli week end) and being rejected from the border near Jenin (read the story)

How much daily: traveling in Israel is NOT CHEAP! Main expenses: accommodation (dorm- single: 14- 30 euro) and meals (5-9 euro), in general for backpacking don't budget less then 50 euro/day

Dangers/ hassles:at worst during a night walk in some narrow street in Jerusalem you could risk being pick-pocketed, otherwise Israel is among the safest places I've ever been

What to have: don't leave without having read about the complex Israeli origin, i.e.: "In principio", Cernia Slovin


The amazing architecture of Tel Aviv airport won't leave you indifferent, however you won't admire it that long you'll be stopped and questioned by self confident youngish guys:
"Why are you in Israel?"
"Who do you know?"
"Where do you go?"
Blah, blah…
Taken for granted you have nothing to hide, they'll make you feel somehow a kinda of guilty and wasting a looot of time. Indeed my Somali visa didn't smooth the whole thing. :-)
Anyway despite have been annoyed, I left the immigration happy, since I avoided my passport being marked by the troublemaker Israel stamp.
Israel is a kind of traveler paradise for moving around: lot of public means of transports and easy to be spotted, left out during the Shabbat (the 'Jewish week end') when Jewish are not allowed to do any physical job, driving buses and train included. Shabbat begins at 2.00pm on Friday and ends around 5.00pm on Saturday; then moving around gets a hassle.
Guess when I exited the Tel Aviv airport?
At 2.15 on Friday, of course!!
Hence, instead of the super comfortable Tel Aviv- Haifa direct train, I had to take a mix of supposedly-Arabians-driven minibus. I pulled into Haifa only in the late afternoon.
Haifa is a kinda of Russian enclave, a nice place where to loiter visiting the gardens (don't miss), the church overlooking the town, the seaside… Good nightlife, as well. So enough to fill half-day and then in 20min I reached Akko.
Akko is both a Muslim enclave and an open air museum, I guess a kind of must for a travel in Israel, but take into account you won't be the only one tourist there!
At 5.00 pm on Friday the Shabbat ended, hence I was more than happy the 'easy travel' commenced.
Tsfat is an ultra-orthodox town perched on the mountains at the border with Lebanon. It's considered the centre of the study of the Torah (the holy Jewish book) and you will find more Synagogues and Haredim (the black dressed ultra-orthodox Jewish) than in any other part of the world. It's a cute and fresh place to hang around for few hours, but, unless you are not in the Torah stuffs, don't expected too much. Moreover forget snapping around excited to take home your pics of these funny guys, since, among the endless list of things they reject, cameras are included and they won't make an exception for you!
Traveling from Tsfat to Afula (3h) I enjoyed the landscape around the blue Galilee sea and I regretted I hadn't time to stop to loiter around, maybe renting a bike…
My initial plan was to enter Palestine passing the border point between Afula and Jenin. In Afula I took a minibus crowd of M16 armed soldiers, walked towards the heavily wire-barbed gate and… I got pushed back (
read the story)!!
Then after some moments of frustration I diverted heading to Beit She'an and taking a bus to Jericho passing along the Israeli-controlled Jordan valley. Israeli buses don't enter the Palestine-controlled area of Jericho, so I got dropped off on the highway and I hitch-hiked to cover the left 5km to Jericho.

[Travelling in Palestine]

From Jericho there are no direct connections to Ein Gedi, one of the main spots where to swim and enjoy the super-salty sea. So you'll need to get a taxi or a minibus to cover the 10km till the Israeli controlled highway. Here you won't wait that long under the hot sun till a bus on the way to Eliat passes by.
In Ein Gedi there's a nice hostel and you can spend a day, visiting the National Reserve with his canyons and waterfalls, the Ein Gedi kibbutz and half hour at the dawn to float on the sea.
It's possible to reach the famous fortress of Masada by bus (2h), but you have just to plan a little your trip, since there are just few per day. You can get to the top of the mountain where the site is perched by walking a steeeeeeeeep trail or taking the comfortable funicular…
And guess what I did?
Wrong! I walked up! :-)
I think Masada is the best place from where to admire the jaw-dropping view of the huge bright Dead Sea and the place itself is worth the sweaty walk.
There's just one bus per day (in the early afternoon) connecting Masada to Be'er Sheva and then it's just 2h to reach Mizpe Ramon. I found this town the most curious place I've seen in Israel. It's quite a modern town, built in 1950 on the edge of a crater in the middle of the Negev desert. Although being in a desert, the air is very fresh and the atmosphere is unique being many artists settled here. The youth hostel was full booked, so I diverted to the very strange place called ' Adama' in the industrial area; a renewed factory shed where a dance school has classes. The place itself is not bad at all, but I was completely alone the whole night, no way to lock the doors, outside was very windy, so I spent an agitated night…
It's 1.5h from Mizpe Ramon till the Kibbutz Sde Boker, from where the trail through the Ein Avdat National Park starts; here I spent the morning walking at the bottom of this narrow canyon with its cold and green pools. It's a special place, although hot.
5h later, changing bus in Be'er Sheva, I pulled in Jerusalem, where I spent the following day. It's useless to describe the atmosphere of the place where the three world monotheistic religions live side by side. Even if quite a touristy place, visiting Jerusalem remains a deep experience and the dormitories in the basement of the Austrain Hospice do help feeling involved in the atmosphere.

[Travelling in Palestine]



Traveling in Israel is like reading a heap of history and religious books. It's amazing to think in a so tiny piece of land they could have happened most of the facts characterizing the world history of the last 2.000 years. If you add the country it's amazingly safe, the standards of transport and accommodation quite high, locals mostly English speakers and very helpful, by no means it shouldn't be missed.
Israel is a puzzle of religions and cultures where Jerusalem represent the top, but definitely Israel is not just the holy city. One of the most interesting thing I learned was about the Jewish ultra-orthodox: the black-dressed fanatics who spent most of their lives reading and praying the Torah, and don't think it's a negligible part of the population! How ultra-orthodox could 'somehow' live together with Muslim and Christians and how little is known about their existence (while everybody knows the Iranian Khomeini!) is unbelievable.
Even much more numerous then the ultra-orthodox, are the militaries engaged in any corner to guarantee the safety of the country. Public means of transport are full of M16 armed guys and girls reaching the barracks. Military service takes 2-3 years respectively for females and men, hence the country is characterized by a meaningful percentage of ultra-orthodox and another huge percentage of militaries. How can the economy withstand it? Boh??
From the environment point of view, those thinking Israel is just a boring piece of desert will be surprised by its variety. Besides the Negev desert charactering the south, there's the wonderful Dead Sea, the blue Sea of Galilee, the green Golan height and the sandy Mediterranean coast.
As you see, I appreciated the country


Israel travel stories



I promise you, I did do the homeworks before leaving!
In fact I surfed the net at home trying to get as much info as possible about the border point between West-Bank and Israel in the northern area of Jenin, but nobody seemed to know anything about it. Since I was suppose to pass there on my itinerary from Northern Israel to Northern Palestine, the only choice was to try it.
The previous night in Tsfat I was thinking about what to say in case of being questioned: nothing came up in my mind. I thought at least I should have been presentable and I wore the most formal pants I had, namely some clean white ones.
I reached the station of Afula by a comfortable big bus, and I headed to the counter asking for the bus to Jenin. It's been amazing how the tone of the guy changed from kind to rough, once I asked for the bus to the border. I had to repeat more than once to be then addressed to the last platform of the station. Here I got encouraged by seeing an old woman waiting for the bus; "it cannot be so dangerous then" I thought.
After few minutes a group of M16 armed soldiers popped up at the platform.
I thought: "at least there's still the woman"
It didn't take a while a small crappy minibus came in and the soldiers dashed into. I was getting on when the driver stopped me, saying I was on the wrong bus.
Again I had to repeat few times to convince him I was really heading to the border, and, although letting me in, he was so suspicious.
I was getting a little worried, but still encouraged by the presence of the old woman.
The crappy minibus slowly left and 10min later, passing through a kibbutz, the driver dropped her off.
Hence it was only me, the driver, and all the soldiers: I stopped smiling.
One hour later the minibus pulled up aside of a road surrounded by wide golden fields. End of the ride: all the soldiers got off and the rough driver kicked me out.
In front of me just a huge barrack protected by concrete high walls, irregularly interrupted only by few watch-towers. I started walking, feeling observed, although I couldn't see anybody around, apart of the soldiers on the watch-towers. I couldn't even hear anything as well, but the strong headwind of the sunny bright day.
Some hundred meters further a thick barbed-wire gate was blocking my way, while I was surprised and worried since nobody still popped up, so I kept on walking. When I was almost at the border line it took less than one minute two big 4-wheels dashed aside me, some guys came down and, just to avoid some misunderstanding, I waved my passport up in the air yelling:
'I'm Italian, I'm Italian!'
One guy ordered me to freeze where I was. For a moment I got scared he could impose to get down on my knees…. I had my white pants on!
They took my passport, my bag and searched it deeply, while radio contacting the head-quarters. After the few moments of tensions, I stood the ground saying I was a traveler heading to Nablus and they were supposed to let me through the gate. He hit back that once in the other side for sure I would have been shot and anyway I needed a visa.
'Visa??!! Which visa, and where am I supposed to get it?' I complained.
'At the Italian embassy…', he was purely inventing.
I kept on insisting since I could see I wasn't confident of what he was saying. He spoke on the Radio several times till the moment he received some kind of order and pushed me back on my way. Few minutes later I was sadly hitch-hiking for a lift back.

You think I gave up my idea of reaching Nablus in the Northern area of Palestine?
Of course noooot! I then skirted the whole West- Bank on the Israeli side and five days later I pulled into Nablus from the south (Jerusalem) and, I promise you, nobody shot me!


Israel travel tip


EU citizens don't need any visa, the only issue is the Israel stamp on your passport that can be a hassle for future traveling in some Arabic countries as Syria; namely simply you'll be rejected. The best is asking to not stamp your passport, and they'll stamp a piece of paper instead. Obviously if you are gonna to cross the border overland, you'll get the entry stamp of the neighboring country anyway, so it won't help that much avoiding the Israeli one.




The currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS) (1€= 5.6 NIS, 1$= 3.4 NIS). US$ seems still to be the most convenient currency to be changed, but also euros are well known.


I had the usual vaccinations: ephatite A, B, typhus and tetanus. I hadn't any problem with the food or the drink, anyway I never drank tap water.



I used Lonely Planet (in italian 3rd ed, translated from 5th ed, March 2007), as usual it's a good support, but it lacks of detailed info about the frequency of the buses and, sometimes having just two buses per days you'll wish some words more.




Freezing air condition
When taking buses don't forget having a sweater with you (and not in the luggage in the trunk), since air conditioning is always set for pinguins

Questioning at the airport
It's perfect normal to be questioned like hell at the airport, both when landing and leaving, their preferred sport is to try to make you fall in contradiction: just keep the nerves down, the don't aim to you, it's just the procedure. Of course Arabian evidences on your passport won't help to fasten the all thing, but I had the Somali visa and anyway they didn't imprisoned me.

Photos of ultra-orthodox
Never try to take pictures of Haredim (ultra orthodox), especially in Tsfat, they reject the technology and don't seem to do exception for the cameras. The best place where taking pics of Haredim with the black dresses is at the Western wall in Jerusalem, however remember that during Shabbat (friday- saturday) taking pictures is forbidden.

The Shabbat
During the Jewish week end, called Shabbat (from Friday 14.00 to Saturday 17.00) moving get slooooower, since all the buses and trains stop, but minibuses (driven by Arabians) still run. Take it in account when planning your itinerary.

Russian language
It seems amazing but in the northern part (Haifa) Russian language could turn out more useful than english. Also around the Dead Sea Russian is widely spoken.



Palestina travel info

Palestina: 10 days,  April- May 08




There's no answer to such question, or at least I haven't found. The best is reformulate it in:
'Which areas are controlled by Palestinian authorities?
Obvious answer: West Bank + Gaza strip? Wrooong!
Palestinian National Authority (PNA) governs only a minimum part of the West Bank, in particular the cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Jerico. These areas are forbidden to the Israelis, while all the other zones, including the whole road network, are under the Israeli control. This means that traveling from Jerusalem to Jordan you cross the whole West Bank always on the Israeli road and you won't even realize to be in Palestine. While if you want to visit Jerico, 5 km before entering the town you'll find the Israeli check point to exit Israel, while 1km further the Palestinian one.

click to enlarge
Palestine map, click on to enlarge



Kind of travel: An independent solo travel

When: 25th April- 8th May08

Do I need a visa?: No and not even stamped. Your passport won't even be checked by Palestinian Authorities, but it'll become familiar to the Israeli ones

How I moved: plenty of minibuses, shared taxi and few slow buses. Distances are short, but at the check points it can be a loooong wait; it might even be faster walking through and change vehicle

Freezing or baking?: temperature hot (even in the night), bearable though

Where I slept: not so many cheap places, anyway you might prefer to be based in Jerusalem having day trips; the cheapest room I found in Jericho was a dreary place for 15euro

What I liked: the charming old town in Hebron and walking in Nablus will make you really feel Palestinian atmosphere

What I disliked: the Israeli oppression against Palestinian is impressing and the separation wall jaw-dropping . As for the places itself I found Jericho dull and uninteresting

How much daily:after having traveled in Israel, Palestine will turn out cheaper, not peanuts though. You should consider al least 35 euro/day for transport, accommodation/ and food

Dangers/ hassles: unless you go in the areas where fights are on going (you won't even be allowed), you'll find only the not-negligible hassle of the long waiting at the check points

What to have: updated info about the off-limits areas (LP Thorn Tree is a good source)


[Travelling in Israel]

Three km before entering the town I passed a check point guarded by Israelis militaries, followed (2 km further) by a much-less-guarded another one by the Palestinian soldiers. I made both of them through without any hassle.
In Jericho unless you are eager to pay 100$ at the Sheraton hotel (shame on you if you do!), you won't have that much choice for an accommodation: a dreary soviet-like building in the outskirt of the town was were a stayed.
The town itself is definitely not so interesting besides I felt a little 'observed'. Anyway I had no problem even walking in the night on the way back to the hotel. The few tourists who pass trough Jericho are typically Russians reaching the orthodox monastery of Qurantul, perched on the rocky edge of a mountain few km from the town. You can walk a steep trail or get the funicular…
And guess what I did?
On foot? Wrong!
I took the funicular! :
However I quickly regretted since crazily overpriced, 10$!!!!!!
The monastery is definitely worth the trip, not only for the view over Jericho, but also to observe the fanatic Russians during their ecstasy in front of the 'Madonne con Bambino'.
Next leg: Dead Sea.

[Travelling in Israel]

The following day always being based in Jerusalem, I visited Bethlehem and Hebron, both using minibuses (you have almost no other choice in Palestine). Bethlehem is 40min from Jerusalem and you won't pass through any check point, or better, you'll pass but only the vehicle exiting Palestine are stopped and searched. After having obviously visited the 'Basilica della Natività' I walked to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, 5 km from the town. Don't think it's a dangerous and muddy cluster of tents; the camp is a kind of poor quarter with concrete houses, but it was quite interesting to walk on Yasser Arafat street, or see house-size painted pictures of the leader. People where nice and available for picture, slightly different than the Jewish ultra-orthodox:
From Bethlehem in 1h it's possible to reach Hebron by shared taxi or minibus. The city itself has a bad reputation since a colony of 600 Jewish ultra-orthodox lives in the Muslim old-town, guarded by more than 2.000 militaries, so fights are frequent.
Despite its tension, the old town is a kind of jewel and the building shared by the holy synagogue and the mosque has a unique atmosphere. I didn't have any problem, but walking around can be annoying due to the endless number of check points, and be sure you won't pass unobserved!
The real experience has been to enter Israel crossing the check points at the separation wall near Bethlehem. The whole big check point is underground and you'll feel like going into a prison: barbed wire, steel barriers , cameras everywhere, …
The last day of my travel I crossed again the separation wall to visit Ramallah. This lively town, it's the effective capital of Palestine (the formal one is Jerusalem), where the government is settled. Ramallah was also the head quarter of Yasser Arafat and nowadays a brand new memorial has been built. In a such chaotic place, it's quite suggestive to visit this peaceful and tidy place.
Here I took a shared taxi to reach in 1h the Huwwara check point where I got dropped off and I passed the normal procedures. Entering Nablus it's quite smooth and quick, while exiting it can take time. Finally I took a taxi to cover the few km to Nablus.
The city itself has no highlights, but you breath a very Arabian atmosphere. At first I wasn't at ease since feeling a little observed, as not many foreigners walk around. Anyway I found people very nice and helpful, even greeting me while passing. After having had a tea (here it's a kind of ritual), I began my long travel to the Tel Aviv airport: taxi to Huwwarra check point, (by passing the long queue thanks to the soldiers), bus to Ramallah (passing the check point), minibus to the separation wall, passing the underground check point, minibus to Jerusalem, minibus to Tel Aviv and taxi to the airport. For the whole thing it took 4 hours.
Goodbye Israel & Palestine.



It's hard to write about Israel (or Palestine) avoiding any political position. I could write about the Palestinian helpfulness I found or their undeserved bad reputation for being hostile towards Westerns, but my main take-out from the travel has been another.
While I approached this travel without any kind of prejudices towards any of the two parts, I couldn't help feeling the Israeli oppression over Palestinians. I saw some humiliating scenes against at the check-points: while the Palestinians standing in line waiting to pass the young Israeli soldiers were doing their business as writing at the cell phone. Israeli controls all the road network in the West Bank, so to travel between their main cities Palestinians had to pass the Israeli check points and now with the separation wall obviously there's no way to exit the country unless towards Jordan. And what about the Jewish colonies in the West Bank? I know that the past can explain why Israeli had to reach such extent, but now the conflict seems far far from a solution.


Palestine travel tip


EU citizens don't need any visa for Palestine and you won't even got your passport stamped neither by the Israeli check points nor the Palestinian ones. Keep in mind being EU citizen you can go where you want in Palestine (but the militaries areas) without any special permit.
I experienced Israelis soldiers trying to convince me I did need a kind of visa to enter the area around Jenin and Nablus; obviously it was bullshit since I went anyway without any problem.



The currency is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS) (1€= 5.6 NIS, 1$= 3.4 NIS), although US$ are widely used.



I had the usual vaccinations: ephatite A, B, typhus and tetanus. I hadn't any problem with the food or the drink, anyway I never drank tap water.



I used Lonely Planet (in italian 3rd ed, translated from 5th ed, March 2007), as usual it's a good support, but it lacks of detailed info about the border points to cross the Israeli- West Bank 'line'. Due to the lack of info I got rejected trying to go from Afula to Jenin




This has been the main issue for me, since I had confusion (I still have some) and I lost a lot of time. Before leaving I didn't have clear West Bank is mainly controlled by Israelis and only small areas as Jericho, Bethlehem, the northern zone around Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah are under the Palestinian Authority.
Hence the real check points I found were:

- entering/leaving Jericho
- entering/leaving Nablus (Huwwara check point)
- entering/leaving Ramallah from/to Nablus
- entering/leaving Jerusalem from Ramallah
- entering Jerusalem from Bethlehem (no controls on the opposite direction)

Traveling from Jerusalem to Jordan (King Husseini bridge) you won't meet any check point, while in the opposite way entering Jerusalem you will experience the controls of the separation wall.

Traveling from Beit She'an to Ein Gedi along the Jordan valley no check points

From Afula to Jenin it's not possible to enter West Bank, if not Arabian.
On the opposite way is it possible to leave West Bank? I don't know, but I would suppose it is.




At the check point
It could be a long queuing, but if the Israeli soldier see you, they will make you pass without even asking for your passport, while all the Palestinians are deeply searched and questioned. Hence try to catch the attention of the soldiers, I did for Huwwara check point in Nablus and worked greatly.