If you like this post, why not read the lessons I learned in Morocco?
Dear Israel. Let me start by saying thank you. Thank you for your heartfelt conversations, your rich history and your equally rich present, your delectable hummus and your contradictions that let me understand how little I really understand. During the week I shared in your presence, I swallowed so many impressions that I will probably spend many more weeks digesting the little Israel-bits stuck in my memory. I thank you for a week of deep insights, but most of all I would like to thank you for these lessons.
You taught me that slow travel is difficult with a lively travel companion
Sometimes you only notice how much you have grown when you meet an old friend. This is what Israel has shown me. Making this trip with my best friend from Holland was wonderful, but also exhibited how different our approaches to travelling have become. Whereas my friend wanted to cram in as many hotspots as possible during our time in Israel and take countless Instagrammable pictures, I noticed a deep urge to slow down and soak in the impressions that surrounded me. In the end, I surrendered to the long days and busy itinerary, vowing to take it slow down next time.
You taught me to argue, but not with the girl holding a machine gun
I quickly understood that Israeli culture is very different than British culture. In Israel, small talk and courtesy are replaced by assertiveness and directness. Nothing made this more apparent than the many bus journeys I took, where locals would simply refuse to share empty seats with me. At first, I was taken aback by this apparent rudeness, but I soon realised that ‘Excuse me, would it be possible for me to sit next to you?‘ doesn’t work in Israel. If you want the seat, you take the seat. My new assertive attitude worked like a charm until I stepped into a bus full of young female soldiers carrying their machine guns. When they refused to let me sit next to them, I thought it was best not to argue.
You taught me that under each conflict lay human stories
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is complicated, and this trip has only highlighted the complexity even further. But it also made me see the human face of each side. I wondered what had made Israeli people so harsh in their demeanour and luckily, they were happy to explain. Several people pointed out that when you don’t know if your country will still exist tomorrow and have to live with the fear of sudden death on a daily basis, all the trivial things in life – such as common politeness – become unimportant. When I made my way over to Palestine, I talked to locals and their experience of the conflict. Nothing was more heart-wrenching that the story of the local Christian woman in Bethlehem (Palestine), whose house was surrounded by the wall, cutting her off from her relatives in Jerusalem. She paid taxes to both Isreali and Palestinian officials, but as a Christian was not receiving benefits from either side (you can read more of her story in this article).
You taught me that my hostel days are truly over
I used to swear by hostels. Meeting people from all over the world, making new friends, laughing about the grimy bathrooms and sleepless nights. But this trip has shown me that spending time with drunk 18-year-olds (or drunk 35-year-olds) as a sober person isn’t enjoyable for me anymore. Whereas sharing travel stories with fellow travellers was inspiring and eye-opening for me only a few years ago, this time around I couldn’t stand yet another person coming up to me to tell I really need to go to Pai. ‘No honestly, you haven’t truly seen Thailand, until you have gone to Pai.’ Thanks, but I will decide for myself which places I will visit. I think my hostel days are truly counted now.
You taught me that long walks are a great cure for insomnia
As expected, my sleeping was disrupted by my trip to Israel. Between getting up at 4 am to catch my first flight and getting used to new sleeping surroundings, the first few nights I was restless – despite being exhausted. But there was one big upside to the hectic itinerary that my friend had stipulated. It meant that we walked for miles each day, with our shortest walking day coming in at 27.000 steps. Towards the end of the week, I would fall into a deep and peaceful sleep at around 8 PM. I slept through loud hostel parties and roommates coming in and out of the room to get ready for a night of partying. This experience has only intensified my desire to walk a pilgrimage trail, such as the Camino de Santiago. Walking is a good cure for many woes, not the least for insomnia.
Dear Israel, you are a country unlike any other country I have experienced. You gave me an adventure I will never forget and from which I can learn for years to come. Thank you.
What is a lesson you learned on a recent trip?