Israel travel info
Israel.: 10 days,
April- May 08
Kind of travel: An independent
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
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
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
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
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
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
"Why are you in Israel?"
"Who do you know?"
"Where do you go?"
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
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.
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
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
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]
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT ISRAEL
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!)
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
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
REJECTED AT THE BORDER TRYING TO ENTER PALESTINE
REJECTED AT THE BORDER TRYING TO ENTER PALESTINE
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Palestine map, click on
Kind of travel: An independent
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
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
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
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/
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
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.
IMPRESSIONS ABOUT PALESTINA
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
CROSSING POINT FROM WEST BANK AND ISRAEL
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
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
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
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
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.