What I Learned Traveling in Israel without a Tour Bus
On May 1st, I did something I haven’t done in over 10 years: I got on a plane and flew to a foreign country. I had been to Israel before, but only on pre-programmed tours. Here are some snippets of what I learned as a solo traveler traveling in Israel, visiting friends and giving a presentation as an international speaker at Google Campus Tel Aviv:
Day 1: Arrival
When traveling in Israel, it pays to have an official European style adapter for a MacBook Pro charger. The only way I could get my charger to work was to find a diagonal plug or a power strip on the ground. Anything else would not hold the bulky charger.
Day 2: Hod Hasharon
Get oriented. And don’t wander out on a 103-degree day without a hat and sunglasses, without knowing in which direction to take the bus. Don’t be shy about calling your friend for help. She will be willing to take you to the bus stop and save you from sunstroke.
The buses don’t come on time. Don’t expect them to. Sometimes you’ll just need to take a taxi. The taxis don’t take credit cards, but they’ll accept U.S. dollars.
When attending a yoga class in Hebrew, it’s a good idea to tell the yoga instructor that you don’t speak Hebrew. She’ll be much more likely to throw in English as necessary.
Sh’efa, ven’shifah = Breathe in, Breathe out
Thought you could get mixed greens in Israel that don’t include arugula? Think again.
The buses don’t come on time in the afternoon either.
Day 3: Swimming, Shopping and Shabbat
If you’re nice to the lifeguard at the outdoor pool at the moshav, he’ll let you in for free, even if you’re not a member.
The Central Bus Station in Jerusalem is like a small city. Be sure to have a shekel on hand to use the restroom!
“King (Melech) Halvah” has the best halvah in Israel. And they give tastes!
The dates in Israel are 10x better than anything you’ll get in the States.
Don’t keep walking in sandals after they have worn a cut on your foot.
The bike path in Jerusalem is beautiful, bordered by lavender and rosemary, and a lovely place to walk on Friday night.
Do not expect to eat Shabbat dinner before 9pm, and do not expect it to be over until midnight. Expect deep conversation. Light your own set of candles if you’re in Israel for Shabbat, even if at first you think it’s okay to bless candles lit by someone else.
Day 4: Shabbat in the Old City and Ein Karem
Sleeping late on Saturday is the way to go after a late Shabbat dinner.
Those yoga videos you purchased on special and downloaded onto your computer? They are great for a country that shuts down on Saturdays!
There are stores and restaurants open on Saturdays in Jerusalem!
The stones on the walkways in the Old City are treacherously slippery. If your shoes slip, wear bare feet. You might offend some people, but at least you will not wipe out.
When you see a door you are compelled to open, open it and wander in. You might be surprised at what you find. And your friend who didn’t want to see the art exhibit might just end up having multiple people she knows in common with the artist.
If you ask someone if you can pick fruit from their loquat tree, they will probably say yes. Loquats are delicious and pair well with those amazing dates.
Always have cash on hand when traveling in Israel. Machines that are supposed to accept credit cards, well, sometimes don’t.
Day 4: Dancing and Yad Vashem
When assisting at a movement class for the elderly in Jerusalem, wear a high-cut top or some of the ladies might get offended. The men have no problem with it.
Plan to spend a whole day at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum) when traveling in Israel. The hours of testimonials are riveting. Four hours just isn’t enough.
Don’t put money on your “Rav Kav” (transportation card) on the Jerusalem light rail if you want to use the money for a bus in Tel Aviv.
Day 5: Joy Gym
This is the land of the Bible. Where there is lightning, there could be hail. Be on the lookout for shelter.
You can run into some interesting characters at Joy Gym in Hod Hasharon, including Eli Danker, an Israeli actor who teaches acting to Martha Graham dancers in New York, and usually plays a terrorist. You can look him up on IMDb.
“Itzuvlates” with Rotem at Joy Gym is one of the best and most challenging fitness classes you’ll ever find! “Itzuv” means sculpting – so Itzuvlates is a combo sculpting and Pilates. The instructor is really encouraging too!
There really is no way to get those light rail tickets converted to normal money on the Rav Kav. Try as you might.
The 8-hour time difference between the US and Israel is great for freedom in the mornings; not so great for having any freedom in the evenings or for going to bed at a decent hour!
If you take the bus to an address but it’s in the wrong city, you will be very late getting to your cousins’ house and probably not get to play with the baby.
A 10-minute car ride can take an hour on 3 buses. Oy.
Day 6: Artists and Eateries
If you’re in Tel Aviv on a Tuesday, be sure to go to the Artist’s Market. You’ll find some beautiful objects there! I bought a Shabbat set that holds tealights instead of the tall white candles I grew up with, and a turquoise scarf with butterflies!
Then wander over to Ouzeria, a restaurant with a Greek twist, patronized by locals – best food I had while I was in Israel!
Office buildings in Tel Aviv can look like this:
Bargaining is all about the facial expression. Biggest win: A chunk of halvah knocked down from 45nis (shekels) to 30nis. Score!
Day 7: Google Campus Tel Aviv
Office buildings in Israel can also look like this:
Israelis can be an enthusiastic and challenging crowd!
Networking meetings can be set up on a dime. I met the next day with a recruiter who attended my presentation!
The Mexican chocolate popsicles at the Sarona Mall are worth the trip.
Day 8: Final Day
It doesn’t take long to make friends at the gym. Eli Danker was there again!
It’s possible to live in Israel without speaking a word of Hebrew. I met another client who lives there and works for the U.S. federal government and she knows one phrase: “Tax receipt”!
Landver might be a chain, but they have really great food, from salads to smoothies to pasta.
Yoga classes at Joy Gym are not for advanced students. Stick to EllaYoga!
A gathering of 6-8 people can be created on a dime. People show up! Lovely evening at the outdoor seating at Landver.
Day 9: Farewell Israel!
Taxis come 15 minutes early in Hod Hasharon. Better than 15 minutes late!
Your friends in Israel will want you to move there.
Refrigerator magnets at the airport are a great way to spend those last shekels.
Leaving Israel feels sad. Already looking forward to the next trip.
L’hitraot (until we see each other again)!