Friday, March 03, 2006

Photos & update

I've finally gotten around to posting almost all of my Israel pictures. They're up on the same gallery as before, but this time goes up to and including Petra. I still have some more pictures to transfer from my camera. I'll get those up when I get the chance.

Which brings me to summarizing the trip. Basically there were three sections to the trip: the first leg was the Taglit-Birthright tour, a ten day whirlwind that took me and 38 other young Jewish Canadians across almost all of Israel; the second involved some further traveling with people from the tour; the third leg was spending time with family in Israel.

The Taglit-Birthright program is amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone who qualifies for the program. The program is designed for Jews from the age of 18-26 who have never been on a group trip to Israel (and no, going with family doesn't count as a group trip). Besides being a hell of a lot of fun, I feel that I saw a lot more of Israel than I would have traveling just on my own, and the experience is different due to being with a group of similarly aged people and having a tour guide. Our trip's guide, Noga, was absolutely amazing. Not only was she incredibly knowledgeable, but her passion for Israel was felt by all in the group. Our tour leaders, Debbie and Ben, also did a great job of keeping everyone together, yet allowing us our freedom when they could. The tour goes all over Israel and for our group included the north of Israel (the Golan, the Kinnert, Tiberious, Tzfat), Jerusalem (including of course the Kotel), the Dead Sea (along with Messada and Ein Gedi), a night in the Judean Desert, and Tel Aviv. For the last five days of the trip our bus was joined by eight Israeli soldiers. Since Israel has mandatory military service at age 18 this meant that we were with eight Israelis in a similar age group to the rest of the bus. They were all very enthusiastic and were just as interested in hearing about where we come from and our thoughts on Israel as we were on hearing about life in Israel.

During the trip I meet an amazing girl by the name of Ilana, and we decided that we wanted to spend the remaining time that we had together in Israel traveling together along with a friend of hers that she had previously planned to meet up with. She was staying for a shorter time than I, so that meant we had another four or five days to spend together before parting company with her going back to Canada (Edmonton) and me staying in Israel for another six weeks. We spent a busy few days dividing time between Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. After saying a sad goodbye with the decision that I'd come and visit her just as soon as I got back to Canada (and yes, here I am staying with her until mid next week when I head back to Vancouver) I moved on to the third phase of my Israel experience.

From Tel Aviv I went straight to Eilat where my mom (also on holiday in Israel at the moment) was staying. Eilat is where her two sisters both live, and where I would end up spending most of my remaining time in Israel. Eilat is the southernmost city in Israel and is quite isolated from the rest of the country, both by distance and because of the distance socially as well. While Eilat gets very hot during the summer with temperatures that can head well north of 50°C the winter is nice and mild with day time temperatures between 12-20°C. It was really only ever cold during the day when the strong desert wind was blowing, and at night where the temperature cools off quickly because of Eilat's desert location. In Eilat I spent most days just lazing around taking the opportunity to just relax and do nothing. Many of the nights were occupied with Eilat's Israel Dance community. From Eilat I decided to go on a tour to Petra (and naturally my mom couldn't pass up the opportunity and decided to join me). The trip into Jordan and through Petra was amazing and well worth the journey. My mother and I then decided to head north to Jerusalem for a while. We ended up spending over two weeks in Jerusalem. Once again I spent most days just relaxing with some touring of the city and four nights of the week I would go to Israeli Dance sessions in and around Jerusalem. From Jerusalem we rented a car for the journey back to Jerusalem. The drive was about 400km, long by Israel standards, but not really considering distances in Canada. The road takes a beautiful twisty track down to the Dead Sea, along the coast of the Dead Sea, then through the Negev close to the Jordan border and all the way to Eilat. I then spent my last remaining week or so doing some more relaxing and dancing in Eilat until heading back to Canada.

So all in all a really terrific holiday. It's not often that one gets a chance to take two months off to travel, and I'm glad that I took the opportunity when I could.