November - December 2019
  • Day11

    Goodbye Israel

    December 1, 2019 in Israel ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    The long-feared day has arrived. After 10 unforgettable days in the magical and yet cursed land, it's time for us to fly back to Europe and to our lives.

    For once, we can pamper ourselves with a late wake-up and a slow breakfast, while enjoying the fantastic view offered by our hotel on the Dead Sea. Luckily, we travelled light, so even the packing part is not as dramatic as usual, despite the many souvenirs and food provisions. When we get on the bus, I realise that I don't have with me my jumper, so Ludo runs back to our room to look for it... Well, the jumper was actually in the bus, but Ludo finds my beloved scarf from Jordan under a sofa cushion in our room. So, maybe the jumper was hiding for a reason... 😬

    It will take us a couple of hours to reach Ben Guido Airport, but we first take some time to take a last look at the Dead Sea from a panoramic lookout. Even if it looks like we are on the top of a pretty high mountain, we are actually still almost 200 metres below sea level. In fact, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth with its 423 metres b.s.l. 😳

    After the panoramic stop we resume our drive to the airport, where a new wave of security controls, questioning and, inevitably, repacking (😓) awaits us.

    Time to say goodbye to this land so rich in history and culture and, yet, so restless.
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  • Day10

    Last night in Israel

    November 30, 2019 in Israel ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    After the visit to the Masada Fortress we can enjoy the amenities of our hotel for the afternoon. So, for once, we can have a real "Wellness day". Or, well, at least for half a day.

    Instead of going to the sea, we decide to try the heated pools of the hotel, which contain the same water of the Dead Sea... Just much warmer! 😁
    After spending quite a lot of time floating around (there is not much more you can do with this type for super-salted water), we get read for dinner, where a bad surprise awaits us...

    Today is Saturday and we soon realise that Sabbath is taken very seriously in Israel. Just to give you an idea, Jews cannot even press the button of the lift to select their floor, so there is one super slow lift stopping at each floor (and there's a lot of in this hotel) to allow them to get back to their rooms without dying on the stairs.
    Well, if taking the lift is a "no go", cooking is a veto. Also, they apparently have meals at very special times of the day.

    The result is that by the time we get to the restaurant and start getting food from the buffet (1 hour before the end of the service), we are the last ones in the whole dining hall and waiters start taking the food away. The food itself is also pretty bad and you can tell it has been reheated for 24 hours. When the waiters start sweeping the floor going over my feet, we understand it's time to go... 🙄

    As it's our last night in Israel, we join the rest of the group for a glass of wine. And then... may the packing start! 😭
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  • Day10

    Masada National Park

    November 30, 2019 in Israel ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    We start walking along the perimetral walls of the fortress, from where we can admire the beauty of the natural wonder all around us: it’s the Masada National Park!
    On the mountain sides we can still clearly see the canals created to make water flow to the cisterns of Masada.

    On the western side, the massive ramp built by the Romans to take the fort over can still be seen. It’s just unbelievable that they completed it in just a few months. The guide explains that the people sieged in the fortress didn’t do anything to block the construction of the ramp, as it was being built by Jewish slaves. And it was by seeing the conditions in which their compatriots were living, that they decided they would rather die as free men than live in chains. And they made this choice even though in Jewish law it is forbidden to kill or commit suicide.

    Now it's time to go back to our hotel to enjoy the Dead Sea... and start packing!
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  • Day10

    Masada, Palace

    November 30, 2019 in Israel ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We start visiting the some of the chambers of the palace that remained almost intact, preserving part of the beautiful inside decorations: beautiful mosaics covered the floors, while the walls were decorated with colourful frescoes.

    The most impressive part is however the heating system: the floor of the rooms had a sort of false bottom sustained by short columns under which the hot air heated by a furnace was blowing. In some chambers, this quite advanced heating system is still clearly visible.

    Before leaving the main palace, we see a big basin, once used to keep vinegar. Indeed, people at the time used to mix water with a bit of wine with a double objective: give it more taste and disinfect it!
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  • Day10

    Masada, Fortress

    November 30, 2019 in Israel ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    The 360° view all around us completely catches our attention for a few minutes, but when we turn around, we see another wonder: the fortress itself!
    Masada was already a fortress even before Herod’s times: it had been built to ensure water supplies. In fact, Beer Sheva is the last civilised place with water supplies and, South of it, there is only desert.

    Before becoming King of Judaea, Herod came to Masada with 800 people (including his mother) and left them there. He then went to Rome, where he trained to become a Roman ruler. It was indeed the Romans who made him “King of the Jews”, not the Jews themselves.
    Herod built the new Masada as a backup in case he would have to leave Jerusalem. Since it was designed to host a king, the new fortress had a royal Palace (with all the amenities) separate from the rest of the city.
    The Masada could also serve as an outpost to control the borders of Judaea. However, to the South and the East there were the Nabateans, who were in good terms with Herod, as his mother was actually a princess of the Nabateans!

    As there is no rainfall in this area, it was necessary to collect water flowing down the mountains (where, on the contrary, it rains for about 45 days a year above the height of 1.000 metres. For this reason they built an aqueduct bringing water from the mountains to some cisterns in Masada.
    When the Roman siege started, the city had 2.9 million litres of water and could have resisted for years.
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  • Day10

    Masada, History & Cable Car

    November 30, 2019 in Israel ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    It’s our last day at the Dead Sea and actually in Israel too: tomorrow we will fly to Europe and go back to our lives. While a few people decided to keep the day off to relax at the beach or in the spa, we signed up for an optional activity: the Fortress of Masada. And it turns out to be a great choice!

    We leave the hotel and start driving alongside the shore of the Dead Sea, with the mountains of the Judaean Desert on our left hand-side. On the top of one of this mountains lie the remains of the fortress of Masada, an impressive palace-fortress built by Herod the Great in 31 b.C.
    At that time, the Kingdom of Judaea was part of the Roman Empire. When Rome burnt in 66 A.D., the Empire suddenly needed an enormous amount of money to rebuild it. Hence, they started collecting money from their provinces in the form of taxes and confiscation of local treasures. When they tried to enter the temple Mount to ransack it and take all the valuables, however, the Jews rose up and kicked the Romans out of Judaea. However, this sudden freedom didn’t last for long…

    In 67 A.D. Emperor Vespasian came back to Judea with his army and reconquering the country. He asked a slave – Josephus - to write everything down in a book that carries the name of “The Jewish war”. After conquering the Northern and Western part of the country, the siege of Jerusalem started and was ended by Vespasian’s son: Titus. In 70 A.D. the great temple on Temple Mount was burnt down and thousands of Jewish men and women were brought to Rome as slaves.

    In the meanwhile, some Jewish rebels managed to take over the fortress of Masada – which had become a Roman garrison – becoming the last sparkle of hope for the rebellion.
    In 73 A.D. The new governor Lucius Flavius sent 15.000 Roman soldiers to besiege Masada: in order to take the inaccessible fortress, they first built a circumvallation wall (so that nobody could escape) and then a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau where the fortress stood. After a few months of siege, they finally managed to break the gate with a battering ram and started burning it down. The Roman troops waited until the next morning before attacking the fort, because of the fire.

    That night, the rebels decided to kill themselves rather than become Roman slaves: each man killed his family and then each other until there was nobody left. When Lucius Flavius entered the fortress, nobody was left apart from 5 women and children who were found hiding in the water conducts. It is thanks to these survivors that we know what happened.
    This dramatic story inspired the American mini-series “Masada” starring Peter O’ Tool in the role of Lucius Flavius.

    While driving to the site, we saw from the road a tiny mule track going up the rock mountain all the way to the top. We are already starting panicking, when we realise that we are going to reach the fortress with a cable car!
    And once we get to the top, the view is simply breath-taking…
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  • Day9

    Dead Sea, En Bokek

    November 29, 2019 in Israel ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    After a quick lunch stop at a random shopping mall in the middle of nowhere selling dates at the price of caviar and "bargain" beauty products with three-digit tags, we finally reach the Dead Sea, a dying Nature's wonder.

    This huge saltwater lake is indeed literally disappearing in front of our eyes... and not even slowly! In fact, the water level goes down by 1 meter every year.
    The reasons are mainly two:
    1. Evaporation
    2. Lack of water sources (all freshwater in Israel and Jordan is used for irrigation or as drink water)
    As a result, the quantity of water evaporating is greater than the inflow.

    As a consequence of all this, the Dead Sea is literally dying, with terrible consequences for the ecosystem.
    There are many plans aiming at solving the issue. For instance, the was a project
    consisting of crating a tunnel to convey water from the Mediterranean or the Red Sea into the Dead Sea. Jordan was promoting the project, but Israel opposed and asked for an independent opinion. The answer was that the channel cannot be built, because the chemical composition of the Dead Sea and Red Sea water is different and mixing the different water types will generate large amounts of gypsum, toxic to the local ecosystem.
    So, basically, everything is on hold.

    If all this were not enough, every year in Winter the mountains get a lot of rain: as the soil is extremely dry in this area, the water strams flowing down the mountains cause floods and destroy everything on their passage. That´s why we see many bridges and water containment walls even though it looks like we are in a desert.
    Fun fact: if it rains in Jerusalem, it would take 8 years for the water to reach the Dead Sea!

    Nowadays the Dead Sea is split into two parts and our resort is on the smaller (Southern) one. The ground on the shores is very salty, which makes the environment suitable only for very specific types of trees and bushes.

    When we finally reach our hotel we cannot believe our eyes: if in Jordan there was absolutely nothing around us, here we are in an exclusive sea village and the hotel itself offers swimming pool, spa, massage, fitness studio and anything else you might think of.
    I start regretting signing up for the optional activity tomorrow...

    Ludo immediately tests the world-renowned floating effect of the waters of the Dead Sea (the 34% salinity pushes bodies up) and is caught on a drone shot while doing artistic swimming with our travel mates.
    And his bright tan doesn't go unnoticed...🙄 😂😂😂
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  • Day9

    Jordan River

    November 29, 2019 in Palestine ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    We leave the Shoah museum and Jerusalem and head South East, towards the Dead Sea. This will be indeed our next and last destination before flying back to Europe.

    For about an hour we drive through a desert of hills and rocks, with no signs of either vegetation or civilisation. Once we reach the valley, we turn right and stop at an iconic point of the Jordan River.
    According to the tradition, this is where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist and still today Orthodox baptisms are held here.

    We get off the bus and reach the bank of the Jordan, which is actually closer to a muddy stream than what I would call a river. All around us, dozens of adults wearing long white tunics are entering the waters of the Jordan to receive the Baptismal benediction. They actually keep the garment for their whole life, as they will be buried in it.

    On the other side of the river, stands a beautiful Limestone church. It's just a few meters away because the river is just a couple of meters wide. However, we cannot cross, because the Jordan River marks the border between Israel and Jordan. And two armed soldiers on the opposite bank clearly convey the message... 😟
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  • Day9

    Jerusalem, Yad Vashem Museum

    November 29, 2019 in Israel ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    After so much sightseeing, shopping and fun, it´s time to look at another side of Israel and go back in time to one of the darkest times of human history: the Holocaust.

    Our next stop in Jerusalem is indeed the Yad Vashem Museum, dedicated to the horror of the Shoah. The complex is located on a hill with a stunning view over Jerusalem. and comprises a garden with memorial places and a museum.
    Our guide gives us 2 hours time and we soon understand why: the whole thing is huge!

    After crossing the gate, we are welcomed by a beautiful garden : each tree was planted by a hero that saved human lives together with the people they saved. And, inevitably, there is one for Schindler.
    The museum itself consists of a collection of objects, photos, models, graphs and video-testimonies of what happened to the Jews between the rise of Nazism and the end of WWII. The experience is really overwhelming, but the most impressive part is probably the last room: a huge circular hall covered with shelves containing folders with the lists of all the names of the 6 million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. The psychological impact is indescribable...

    When we finally leave the museum's grounds, I cannot stop thinking about the contrast between the beauty of the surroundings and the horror of the inside. But trying to ignore what has been just to feel lighter, would mean murdering all those people twice.
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  • Day9

    Jerusalem, Mahane Yehuda Market

    November 29, 2019 in Israel ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    The long-feared time to say goodbye to Jerusalem has come. But it couldn't be a better goodbye.

    Before leaving this magical and yet cursed city, we pay a visit to one of its most iconic places: the Mahane Yehuda Market.
    As the name hints, it's a local food market selling any type of delicacies ranging from fresh fruit to bread, pastries, spices and tea. As usual in Arabic markets, what strikes the most are the colours and smells.

    The only slightly disturbing part is the sight of dozens of young soldiers walking among the fruit stands carrying guns and rifles and reminding you that, despite all appearances, Israel is a country at war...
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