By Alyssa Anelli

My boyfriend, Michael Lieberman and I recently flew in to Tel Aviv and had an hour drive to Jerusalem. My first thought when I arrived was, “Wow, this is not what I expected.” I was expecting only desert, and here I was looking at this beautiful land of green mountains! Our first night, we walked down to The First Station, a major downtown center of entertainment, culture and food. We passed many cats along the way; they have an abundance of cats on the streets because the British wanted to fix the city’s rat problem. We had dinner at Abu Shukri Hummus; a selection of traditional Israeli salads, hummus and falafel. It was a great way to start out the trip, and highly recommend it.

The next two days we toured the Old City, immersed in beauty and history. We went through the four quarters in the Old City: the Armenian Quarter, Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter and the Muslim Quarter. After walking through the Old City and taking it all in, we walked to the Shuk, which is Jerusalem’s market. The streets were overflowing with fresh produce and local restaurants, and at night, our fun truly began. Each produce vendor shut down, the bars opened, and the streets suddenly filled with people mingling throughout the whole Shuk. 

But the fun wasn’t limited to restaurants and markets. We took a Jeep tour of the Judaean Desert and saw everything from endless mountains to local Bedouins riding donkeys and herding their goats. One of my favorite excursions was our stop at the Mar Saba Monastery, perfectly placed in the walls of the Judaean Hills, where to this day monks still reside. 

The next day, on our way to the Dead Sea, we took a tour of the Dead Sea Scrolls and then continued our way to the Dead Sea where we floated effortlessly and coated ourselves in Dead Sea mud, soaking in all of the health benefits we could! It was a beautiful day we’d turn our heads and find ourselves looking at mountains of Jordan.

Next, the wineries. I’ve never seen such varied agriculture in my life. From onions and dates to olives and native Israeli fruits, it was quite an experience. We ended up at a goat farm where we ate a platter of cheese and vegetables and, coincidentally, arrived for the birth of a baby goat. True story! 

On our last day, we took a trip to the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. With an abundance of fashionable shops and people visiting with friends and family, it is just an all-around great spot. 

Jerusalem wasn’t what I expected; I enjoyed the Old City and its history, and how a few blocks away the streets turn into the perfect hangout spots to sip a drink and eat great local food in a family oriented, culturally-diverse atmosphere. ◆

Did You Know?

Orthodox tradition holds that the Holy Fire happens annually on the day preceding Orthodox Pascha (Orthodox Easter), in which a blue light emanates within Jesus Christ’s tomb (usually rising from the marble slab covering the stone bed believed to be that upon  which Jesus’ body was placed for burial) now in the Holy Sepulchre, which eventually forms a column containing a form of fire, from which candles are lit, which are then used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. The fire is also said to spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church. While the Patriarch is inside the chapel kneeling in front of the stone, there is darkness but far from silence outside. One hears a rather loud mumbling, and the atmosphere is very tense. When the Patriarch comes out with the two candles lit and shining brightly in the darkness, a roar of jubilation resounds in the Church.