The beauty of vacation, is that when my alarm goes off at 0500 I don’t wince and drag myself out of bed. I spring up like a slinky falling down stairs because I know a new experience is ahead of me. After a full day at sea exploring our temporary home base, Duncan and I woke up bright and early in our first port of the trip – Ashdod, Israel. We were to meet for our shore excursion around 0630, and we made sure to have enough time to eat breakfast before we left.
With bellies full of chocolate croissants and watermelon we made our way to the theatre to meet for our tour. The process was smooth – we were given a number and were sent to find our bus with the matching number. Before we could exit to find our bus, we had to stand in the longest customs line of the trip. We waited for what felt like an hour, but we made it through receiving a small passport-like paper allowing us to be in Israel for 90 days.
We were on bus number 7, where we met Eli (ell-EE), the most amazing tour guide I will likely ever meet. A tour guide is like a cup of coffee. The quality can make or break your experience.
Our excursion for the day was a visit to Masada National Park, and the Dead Sea. We drove from green grasslands to barren deserts in a matter of moments, and the drastic change was fascinating. These areas of Israel were unlike anything I have ever seen. We began our day at Masada, a new to me location, and this rugged natural fortress has a somber yet inspirational backstory.
What started as a palace for King Herod the Great, turned into a refuge after Judaea became a province of the Roman Empire. The refuge was home to the last survivors of the Jewish revolt who chose death by suicide rather than slavery when the Roman enemies broke through their defenses. The Romans built a ramp to climb up to an entrance of Masada, where they found the bodies of the Jewish refugees.
For months the defenders of Masada had to watch the approach of the ramp and the Romans. And I thought my anxiety was bad.
Today there are two additional ways up to the fortress: a cable car, and the snake path. Perhaps if you’re really brave you can take the old Roman ramp, but that has bad vibes written all over it. The snake path walks up the entirety of the mountain, and while I’d have loved to do this we were strapped on time and it was 90F outside. After patiently waiting for Eli to argue with the cable car operator on why we needed physical tickets, we made our way up the mountain where we got our first view of one of the many Roman camps below.
These camps are where the Romans organized the building of the ramp, and the attack on Masada.
Eli was a wealth of knowledge. His tour enthralled me to the point of forgetting how hot it was. Until he stopped talking and I had to find shade in any corner possible. We met another couple on this tour who was not only from Washington, but from the same town, and the four of us cowered away from the sun any chance we had. Us northwesterners don’t do well in the heat.
Duncan didn’t wear a hat and his forehead turned crispy like a piece of well cooked bacon.
After an amazing trip to Masada, we made our way to the Dead Sea for the final stretch of our tour. After walking and standing in the heat at Masada, relaxing in the salty sea was a great way to end the day. We went to one of the many hotels near the Dead Sea for a meal (included with our tour), where I quickly shoveled a plate of chicken, hummus, cucumbers, potatoes, and fish into my face.
We only had an hour and a half to eat AND to get our bodies floating – I didn’t want to waste a single minute. Thankfully Duncan was just as keen on turning himself into a human vacuum, and we ate quicker than anyone else on the tour. We made our way to the locker rooms to change, and found an empty spot of land away from the majority of the other people.
Floating in the Dead Sea is unlike anything I can explain by words. They tell you that you will float, you know scientifically that you will float, but you cannot fully grasp what it will feel like to float until you are in the water for yourself. Duncan was a fish in a past life and when you get that guy in the water he is the most content I’ve seen him (other than when he is in the safety of his own space.)
Duncan is to the water like Brittany is to the mountains.
We ended up having plenty of time to float, swim, and roll around like pool noodles, while actively ensuring our faces did not go under the water. Dead Sea salt in the eyes is not something I’d ever like to experience. The water was warm, but I was not uncomfortable despite how hot the day was, and despite wearing black. While planning for this trip I was unsure of what type of bathing suit I should wear. I wanted to be modest and respectful of Israel and their customs, so I chose a halter top suit with shorts to ensure I wasn’t too revealed.
Once we arrived, there were people in bikinis, and speedos. We were in a small, private beach area belonging to the surrounding hotels and I don’t think anyone would care what I wore. Ultimately I was more comfortable in this bathing suit so it all worked out.
I’m a sucker for anything holistic, and the minerals in the waters of the Dead Sea are said to be very healing. That, paired with the Dead Sea being the lowest body of water on earth made this visit bucket list worthy. I could have left the vacation and gone back home happy after day one with the experiences I had. This first day was the best day of the entire trip.
The bus ride back to Ashdod was about two hours, so we settled in for the ride and watched the desert fade back into green while Eli told us stories of his home country. Our tour started at 0800, and we made it back on the ship at 1830. A full day, back just in time for dinner. My souvenir for the day was a clump of salt I found while walking with my hands on the bottom of the sea near the shore. These clumps were everywhere, and my clump made it back home in one piece.
Duncan found a cool rock, and I am scheming a plan to steal it.
Before leaving for this trip I had a lot of anxiety about Israel in particular. The country continues to get attention in the media for protests, for unrest between Israel and Palestine, and more recently for missile attacks throughout parts of the country. These are all valid reasons of concern, but at the end of the day there is unrest everywhere in the world. Travel to Israel is currently only a level 2 out of 4 on the US Department of State website, and as long as certain areas are avoided this country is just like any other.
I am thankful for the experiences we had on our first day, Israel is a beautiful country full of kind people and rich with history. We were able to spend our second day exploring Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but more on that in my next post.
Q: Are there any places you were fearful of, but once you visited you were thankful you went? Are there any places you will not visit?