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Holy Land travel guide - Part 2

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A visit to the Holy Land should not be focused entirely on the religious-related sites, as Israel is a vibrant country with many cultural assets waiting to be explored and experienced by the traveler. That is why, this second part of the travel guide introduces the traveler to a different manner of traveling – not seeking to visit museums and churches, but rather experiencing the Israeli cultural life, its wildlife, the Kibbutz, the rural tourism, etc.

For instance, while winter in Europe is mostly cold and unpleasant, Israel attract tourists with hot weather, continuous summer, the Mediterranean Promenade and endless streets with shops dedicated to the selling of just one product – shoes, wedding dresses, fabrics, furniture, art, etc., boutique-hotels, gourmet restaurants and pubs of literally every color.

Tel Aviv and Jaffa are the indicated places for such experiences. Seikin Street is the place to visit if you are interested in fashionable shops, bohemian cafes, and chic people. However, if you want to experience the trading of goods and discuss with the sellers it is best to check the Jaffa Bazaar and the Carmel, Ha Tikva and Levinski Markets.

Those interesting in purchasing rare gems are advised to go to Ramat Gan, the center of Israeli diamond trade. There are even tours organized from this place to the Oppenheimer Museum – the most modern diamond museum, equipped with its own display shop, offering customers considerable discounts.

For those visiting the city with their family, quality time could be spent in the city’s numerous parks such as the Abu Kabir or Hayarkon Gardens, the University Botanical gardens or the Luna Park to the delight of children.

Allenby Street is well known to be the center of disco entertainment in Tel Aviv, with 20 house, funk and techno clubs gathered in the area.

In recent years, rural tourism has been developed in Israel, consisting of accommodating tourists in the Kibbutz and having them participate in the many manufacturing activities performed there: gathering fruit from plantations, engaging in small jobs in the production lines of various products – olive oil, fruit juice, Dead Sea Mineral Mud creams, riding, etc. The Ein Gedi Kibbutz , situated in a tropical oasis, close to the Dead Sea has its own botanical garden. From there tourists can go on expeditions to Massada, the Qumran Caves, desert safaris, bird observation (in the special built centers in Lotan – Arava and Kfar Ruppin on the Beit She’an Valley).

Other popular activities are sprinting through the Negev Desert in the annual “Israel Rider” Sprint Cup, or trekking in the mountains. Popular routes are those of the Red Canyon in the south, close to the Red Sea Eilat resort and another one in the north, in the Arbel Mountains - a very steep one, but offering a breath-taking view of the Dead Sea and the Golan Heights. The country is a paradise for all those interested in sports: there are biking, riding, driving routes organized all over the country, with interesting stops in the Bedouin communities.

Sport is seen as a national mentality in Israel - the country has its own Olympics, organized every four years – the Maccabeea Sports Festival. Being close to the water, there are many water sports that could be practiced while in Israel. Those who want to learn how to dive and explore the Eilat submarine splendor could do it at the diving schools in Haifa, Akhziv and Ros Ka-Nira. In Tel Aviv and Haifa have also several surfing schools for the more courageous ones. Other water related activities include parachute surfing and nautical skiing on the Red Sea and the Kineret Lake, swimming with the dolphins in Eilat, under the supervision of a trainer – either for fun or for therapeutic purposes, rafting on the Jordan River or simply fishing in the Accra harbor. For those looking for snow, they can go up the Hermon Mountain, where, at over 1600 meters altitude they will find a skiing resort, with 5 slopes and 14 cable systems.

Israel has its own gastronomy of which the tahini, couscous, humus and falafel are very famous. For those looking for a unique experience, there are “kosher” restaurants, where the menu respects the principles of the Judaic diet of three millennia ago, which forbid the consumption of certain foods or their mixture. Due to the country’s geographic position – on the coast of the Mediterranean, the food, fruit, oils, spices and wines taste rich and are an utter delight for those seeking an authentic Jewish culinary experience.

Despite all these activities, Israel’s main asset is its culture. In this regard, one has a variety of festivals, celebrations, theater performances to choose from, along with the modern and ultra-modern interactive museums (a good example in this regard is the Book’s Temple, a state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls)

Culture is everywhere in Israel, in many shapes, colors and sounds. For those interested in Israeli sound, Safed, on the Galilee hills hosts every years a “Klezmer” Festival dedicated to the type of music performed by the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe. Another interesting musical experience is the open-air music festival organized in the Ma’yan HaRadum Market.

A dance festival is organized every July in Karmiel, in Northern Israel, while an international jazz festival takes place every August in Eilat.

The Tents’ Celebration of September-October reunites in Accra many alternative theater performers and the Israel Festival is in charge of attracting those interested in classical music.

Jerusalem is also home of the Israel Museum, which is a very eclectic piece of work and reunites art and archeology collections, futurist buildings, a fairy-tale garden and a special youth area. The story of the museum is an intriguing one. It was built by Teddy Kollek, one of the city’s mayors, who, while on a mission to gather donations for the young Israeli State was asked by someone whether there was an exhibition place for some objects the respective person wanted to donate. In the absence of such a building, Kollek made huge efforts and built this museum, in an effort to reunite under one roof all Israeli art.

In Tel Aviv, the cultural offer never ends and neither does the artistic season. A simple walk can take one to the White City – a group of 4000 Bauhaus-style buildings which is now part of the UNESCO Heritage, the Art Museum, with its largest collection of Israeli art, the Suzanne Dahl Dance Center, the State Opera House in the ultramodern Golda Center, the National Ballet Company, etc.  

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