The Magical Land Of Israel

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As the van whizzed past the ochre city confines into open spaces, in the distant horizon, camels lazily walked through the silky dunes of the Judean desert accompanied by their Bedouin owners on motorbikes, dressed in ripped jeans and shiny tees.
Moving ahead, the picturesque panorama unfolded into rows of swaying giant palm trees to a smooth road that led to Qumran National Park where the famed Dead Sea scrolls were discovered by a shepherd in one of the hill’s crevices. A 45-minute break had me do some time-defying jugglery between watching a short film on the Dead Sea scrolls, exploring the ruins of a giant bath, peering into the caves atop the hills and taking a ‘selfie’ with my affable guide Gabi Landau.

Atop A Mountain
Our next stop was Massada, one of the most exciting and much-toured places in Israel. A cable car elevated me up to the high mountains over which King Herod built his palace fortress in 30 BC – an architectural feat that has stumped many modern architects and archaeologists. Beyond the ruins of the palace rampart, tourists gawked at the remains of King Herod’s bath built on the steep sides of the mountain. The view was breathtaking and as the cable descended back to the base, my imagination went on overdrive conjuring up images of fierce battles that occurred at this historical spot. Definitely, a must-visit, especially if you are a history buff!

Floating Bliss
An hour later, I found myself floating blissfully in the Dead Sea. Not very vast – just across I could spot Jordan, Israel’s nearest neighbour – the hypersaline landlocked waters of this sea contains huge concentrations of sodium chloride and other mineral salts, with saline levels surpassing that of ocean water. Hence, one cannot swim in the waters. So like other tourists who took selfies of themselves floating, I too had a picture taken of me reading a magazine while floating on the still waters.
Out of the waters, still affected by the Dead Sea magic, I went shopping for Dead Sea salts and mud – supposedly, excellent for skin ailments, aches and pains. After shopping till I dropped, I padded back to my very plush hotel – the Crown Plaza Hotel, nestled on the shores of the Dead Sea. Dinner there was a sumptuous affair with an array of amazing meats, curries and heavenly desserts.
Tale Of Two Cities
The next morning, leaving the glorious Dead Sea behind, I was whisked off to the fascinating city of Akko, an ancient Phoenician and Crusader seaport. I walked through the awesome Knight’s Hall into a maze of Templar’s hidden tunnels that led to the Turkish Bath; and heard fascinating tales of thrilling suspense and intrigue of the days of yore from Gabi.
Dinner was at a seafood Jew restaurant ‘Uri Buri’, interestingly in an Arab neighbourhood, overlooking the picturesque bay. The food there was finger lickin’ good and the homemade ice creams were to die for. The owner Uri Buri, who looked like Santa Claus dressed in civilian clothes, was wonderful company and a treasure trove of information about Akko.
A quick drive and a whistle stop at the scenically beautiful Bahai Gardens and the Carmelite Monastry ended the Akko chapter.
Next morning, a little time-crunched, I was rushed off to Caesarea, an ancient port built by King Herod. A fascinating multimedia presentation about the history of Caesarea followed by a tour through the city including the amphitheatre, ended the amazing visit there.
Tel Aviv, Ahoy!
And then the van burst out of the time bubble of the past, to race into the vibrant new city of Tel Aviv, which is also the capital of Israel. Supposedly built on sand dunes, this swanky city with its polished streets, tall buildings, high-end brands and eateries, buzzing markets, intertwined cycle and Segway tracks, amazing gardens and parks, is gorgeous.
I was put up at the very comfortable Dan Panorama hotel which had an amazing view of the azure Mediterranean Sea.
Segway Fun
After a little breather and a practice session of 15 minutes, I was taken on the Segway on an exhilarating two-and-a-half hour ride through the port to the harbour. My heart practically popped out of my body as I whizzed past cafes, clusters of people and small markets. But at the end of the ride, I felt really exhilarated. What a ride!
Next on the agenda was a quick city tour. I paid homage at the monument of a slain Prime Minister, walked through the scenic Rothschild Boulevard with its unique Bauhaus architecture and café, the gorgeous Rabin Square, picked up some trinkets at the colourful Carmel market, had a dekko at Habima National theatre and fell in love with the picturesque neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek. Gabbi insisted that I should walk through the illustrious King George and Nahalat Binyamin Street; I spotted some Tel-O-Fun – green bikes on rent but gave it a miss – the Segway ride had got my adrenalins rushing to its zenith, anything more, I’d collapse!.
Dinner was at Porter & Sons. A wonderful feast to end a wonderful day.
Wonderful Finale
Alas my rendezvous with magical Israel with its harmonious medley of old and new, was coming to an end. A last stopover at Haifa through its wonderful ‘Artists Quarter’, the ‘novel’ Ilana Goor museum and a crazy yet fun visit to the flea market, were the icing on the cake.
So next time you have a travel itch, go ahead, lace your sneakers, heave on your back pack and head to awesome Israel. I’m sure the magic of Israel will entice you too.

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