Our journalist Hortense des Dorides is currently on a FAM trip in Israel at the invitation of Air Transat, which will offer two direct flights between Montreal and Tel Aviv each week – in addition to trips and tours – beginning on June 18. Today, she presents her experiences in the country’s two largest cities – Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Tel Aviv, situated along the Mediterranean Sea, and Jerusalem, located at an altitude of 800 metres, are only separated by a distance of some 60 km. And yet, there are wide differences between the two cities. On one side, Tel Aviv – labelled the ‘City of Vice’ by one of our guides – is known for its vibrant nightlife, particularly for the LGBT community. On the other hand, Jerusalem carries religious significance for Christians, Jews and Muslims, and is in high demand for prayer and pilgrimage.
The common ground of these two destinations remains the Israeli youth, whose enjoyment of life and urgency to take advantage of the present surprised us more than once.
The city that never sleeps
We started our journey in Tel Aviv, the location of the country’s main airport – David-Ben-Gourion Airport, named after the founder of the state of Israel.
It is this same Ben-Gurion – or, at least, a statue in his likeness – that is seen performing a handstand on the beach. The long beach is bordered by many hotels and a promenade where joggers, cyclists, swimmers and surfers go about their business, giving the place a slight air of California.
Tel Aviv is a city that’s determined to anchor itself in modernity, while still respecting its past. Jaffa, the southern, ancient part of the city, has more than 5,000 years of history; the oldest port in the world, it has seen all the most famous civilizations of humanity, from the Egyptians, to the Greeks, through the Romans, the Persians, the Christian Crusaders and even the Ottomans. Today, it is tourists who venture there, attracted by its ancient stones.
The beginning of the night is when modern Tel Aviv comes alive. In its numerous restaurants and bars, we discover a trendy crowd, similar to those of many Western capitals. The LGBT community has been welcomed there for a decade – a notable exception in the Middle East.
History with a capital H
The next day, we make our way towards Jerusalem, only an hour from Tel Aviv. Around the old city, which represents just one per cent of Jerusalem, security is noticeably cranked up a notch, although the place remains serene. While the military is everywhere, they pose for photos with some tourists without a problem.
The old city of Jerusalem, where all the most important religious sites are located – the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Stations of the Cross (Via Dolorosa), Al-Aqsa Mosque, and even the Dome of the Rock, at the crossroads of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christians of all origin come to touch the rock of Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, and join the queue to enter the tomb of Jesus. The devotion of pilgrims here is very strong.
At the Wailing Wall, the synagogue with an open ceiling, men and women of Jewish faith come to pray and lay paper sheets in the cracks of the wall. Old Jerusalem is an immense maze of narrow roads, divided into four distinctive quarters – Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim – and surrounded by a wall constructed by the Ottomans. You have to walk around and really take the time to get lost.
With its 3,000 years of history, Jerusalem attracts religious and non-religious tourists, in pursuit of history with a capital H, to come and discover a city with a unique past.
To learn more about Transat’s offers in Israel, visit http://www.airtransat.com/en-CA/Destinations-from-Canada/Europe/Israel/Israel-must-see-destinations/Tel-Aviv?opentab=photo.