Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Unforgettable Journey!

Hello to all those who have been following my blog! It's been quite some time since my last entry and not surprisingly, a lot has happened since December 9th! One school semester ended, another began, I wished my Georgian family farewell and then returned to welcoming arms and we held a large supra in honor of Mishiko's 49th birthday.  Most importantly though, I visited the Holy Land of Israel and Palestine and embarked on a 30 day journey backpacking through both beautiful countries, rich with history, culture and pretty amazing people.  
Tara and I eating delicious hummus and pita (a staple of our Israeli diet) in Akko
A beautiful sunset in Tel Aviv
Because I could go on and on writing about my trip, I've decided to revert back to my high school days and play a game called Top 5.  The following are my top 5 favorite (in no particular order) memories, events or places from my trip.  Enjoy!

1. CouchSurfing
Instead of paying for hostels and hotels throughout our trip, we decided to couchsurf our way through Israel and Palestine.  It ended up being the best choice we made our entire trip because of the amazing people we met.  Our first couchsurfer was particularly great because he completely opened up his home to us and after only knowing us for 3 days, offered to let us keep our large bags at his place for the month.  We obviously took him up on his offer and so Jerusalem became our home base for the month.  We went back every few days to exchange for new clothes and I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to feel like we had a home in Israel.  We had our fair share of funny stories from later couch surfers, such as the couchsurfer who wouldn’t stop talking, or the one who thought it’d be a good idea to wake us up at 6:30 am to watch the sunrise…but we also had the amazing couchsurfers who cooked us wonderful meals, gave us entire apartments to stay in, and introduced us to other amazing friends.  All in all, couchsurfing definitely made our experience unforgettable and I highly recommend it if you’re going to go backpacking in the near future, or are just looking for a way to meet new people!
Hanging out with our amazing couch surfer, Eran! 
2. Swimming in the Dead Sea and Hiking in Ein Gedi
Swimming in the Dead Sea was quite the experience.  Because there is so much salt in the sea, it’s impossible to do anything, but float on your back or stomach and try to keep your head above water! We only lasted about 20 minutes in the sea because after a while, the salt becomes quite painful and it undoubtedly gets in your eyes and mouth and feels/tastes pretty awful.  
Tara, Michelle and I floating in the Dead Sea! 
We went in unscathed, but came out looking like a group of girls that had just been attacked! Our feet were all bloody from the rocks on the shore, my nose was running because I had gotten salt up there and I was crying because my eyes burnt so much from the salt! It sounds quite terrible, but after a cold shower everything felt much better and we were able to laugh at our ridiculous selves.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the warm sun and taking advantage of the oasis where we were staying. 
A beautiful view of the mountains we hiked in Ein Gedi
Hiking in Ein Gedi the next day was absolutely wonderful! We walked along a path from waterfall to waterfall, took lots of pictures and oohed and ahhed at the various desert animals we saw.  Later, Tara, Michelle and I decided to trek up the mountains a bit more off the paved path.  Along the way we picked up several other loner hikers and turned into quite the eclectic group of people! We hiked for about an hour and made it to the top of a small mountain, but had to turn around and head back so that we could catch the bus back to Jerusalem on time.  It was such a beautiful hike though.

3. Walking around Old City in Jerusalem
The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into 4 quarters: the Christian Quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Armenian quarter and the Muslim quarter.  Each quarter contained its own unique history and it was so wonderful to walk around exploring the markets and sights within.  I was fortunate enough to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was supposedly crucified and buried.  It was quite the experience that I can’t exactly put into words.  We also visited the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter several times because it was just such a calming and soothing place to be.  Exploring the markets in each quarter was a blast and we enjoyed lots of different foods including yummy falafel and shwarma in the Muslim quarter. 
Near the entrance to Old City in Jerusalem

Standing in front of the Western Wall
4. Christmas in Bethlehem
It was quite surreal being in Bethlehem for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it was definitely one of my favorite memories.  The town was packed with tourists from all over the world and it was just really exciting to be a part of all of it.  We attended a Christmas Eve service at a Lutheran Church that was conducted in 3 different languages, English, Arabic and German.  At one point, we were all singing Christmas hymns in our own languages, all at the same time! It was so beautiful.  We had a delicious Christmas Eve dinner at a Mexican restaurant with some friends we had met that evening.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with Trena, a friend from college, who was volunteering in Israel/Palestine for the year.  It was so great to catch up with her; plus seeing a friend from home just lovely as home definitely felt far away!
Trena and I after the candle lighting procession
Christmas Day we visited the Church of Nativity, saw (rather quickly) where his manger supposedly was, went to Saint Catherine’s Church, visited Shepherd’s field (where the shepherds saw the star in the East on Christmas morn…) and enjoyed walking around Manger Square.  We also happened to make it on National television! There was a Fox news correspondent right near the entry to the Church of Nativity and he wanted people to say Merry Christmas in their native languages! We wished everyone a Merry Christmas in Georgian!
Posing in the Church of Nativity with our new friends from the Philippines!
(they were on the news too!)
This was taken on Manger Square in Bethlehem.  Notice: balloons, a man dressed
as a bee and a mosque and palm trees in the background.  Too funny!
5. Spending time in Ramallah, Palestine and other Palestinian cities
This part of our trip was a surprise because it was not originally planned, but it was probably my favorite aspect.  Seeing firsthand what is happening between the two countries and the effects of the conflict was a lot to handle, but incredibly eye-opening.  We explored many of the larger cities in Palestine including Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem.  I also attended a demonstration in the small village of Bil’in.  I can’t even begin to explain how wonderful the people in Palestine are.  I met some that I will never, ever forget.  I felt so connected to several people that I had literally met the week before, which was what made it so difficult to leave.  I’ll be the first to admit that I was not terribly informed regarding Middle Eastern politics and the Israel-Palestine Conflict itself, but after spending a month directly immersed in it, I have such a craving to know more.  While I have no idea when it is I’ll be back, I do know that I’ll be back there, someday.
A beautiful sunset in Nablus
The four of us in front of the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron
Spending time with our couchsurfer/amazing friend Sam!
Ok, I should stop because if I don’t now, I never will! If you have more questions, please feel free to email or comment!


  1. It's about time and WOW. Can't wait to see more pictures and your next "5 most favorites" now that you have had time to think more about some of the details from each day. Welcome back to Georgia! lyl Dad

  2. Emily!!!! So amazing! It looks like the most amazing way to spend a month away. Its so special that you got to be in that part of the world over Christmas-time. I can't wait for you to get back so we can hear all the stories & see even more pictures.

    Much love, cuz rach

    p.s. that Sam is pretty cute!

  3. That's it! Israel's just been added to places I'd like to see:)
    What inspired your going there?