Want to explore Israel with me? Be sure to nab one of the last few spots to our Wander Women Israel: A Yoga, Diving, + Adventure Retreat for May 27-June 3, 2021 or High Flying Israel: An Aerial Arts + Yoga Retreat for June 5-10, 2021.
Well, the title kind of says it all.
I have to admit, I didn’t love Jerusalem. Those of you who read my initial Middle East trip announcement may recall that I already wasn’t feeling very drawn there, even in the planning stages. Yet, when you travel to Israel, you just kinda have to. It must be in some sort of unofficial Traveler to Israel Handbook, no? And so I did.
Jerusalem was the first stop of my trip with Vibe Israel, and I figured if anyone could make me fall in love with this place, it would be this modern, trendy non-profit that aims to show a fresh side of Israel to the world, outside of religion or politics.
Of course, Jerusalem might just be one of the hardest places in the world to discuss, without talking politics or religion. Is there a place on Earth that is more significant to so many different groups of people?
Still, we were off to a good start — I was impressed right from the get go with the group Vibe had assembled. After a lively welcome dinner at modern Menza, getting to know my fellow travel storytellers and our hosts, we set off early the next morning for a tour of the Old City with Daat Travel.
Photos by Vibe
The Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is pretty much the place to be when it comes to sightseeing in Jerusalem. There’s something of incredible significance here to so many major world religions: the Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and the Dome of the Rock for Muslims.
While the first two were on our itinerary, I was bummed to hear that the third was not. I had been quite eager to visit the visually striking Dome of the Rock, but having done zero research, didn’t realize the restrictions on opening time and the documentation needed. If you do plan to visit, be sure to do some planning ahead of time.
Of course, I was humbled by the history of these sites and how much they mean to so many people. Pushing through the incredible crowds at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, some of them in tears, our guide explained that there are Christians who wait their entire like to come to this place. It almost made me feel guilty, just winding up here by chance, like I wished I could have given the moment to someone for whom it would have meant so much more.
I’m not a religious person today, but I grew up going to Sunday School and it was surreal to see the stories I grew up watching Veggie Tale versions of come to life.
True story: I can sing the entire Veggie Tales opener from memory, and as a strict abstainer from all scary movies or other media, if I ever accidentally see a horror movie preview or get tricked into accidentally watching something frightening, I will comfort myself by watching Veggie Tales on Youtube before bed. It’s like, what true evil could exist in a world where tiny little vegetables teach children morality lessons through the arts of storytelling and song?
Any other Veggie Tale fans in the house? Please assemble in the comments.
But enough about me and animated food. I did a double take when the guide pointed out a spot on a stone wall where Jesus supposedly rest his hand while making the long walk to his crucification; today, it’s been worn down by pilgrims who too, brush their hands there.
It’s like it hit me for the first time that regardless of what significance you attach to them, many of the stories of the Bible truly happened right here — and I say that as someone who has been to The Holy Land Experience in Orlando. (One of our most treasured family traditions is roasting my mom for the time she brought us to a Biblical theme park in Florida. Talk about commercializing something sacred!)
Photos by Vibe
Speaking of theme parks, there were moments when the Old City kind of felt like one. While some parts of the market felt very authentic and almost like going back in time, others were overflowing with tacky t-shirt vendors.
I know that this is a complaint of many visitors to Jerusalem. To me it was fairly entertaining — we laughed and/or marveled at the existence of many of them in passing — but I absolutely preferred the more traditional parts of the market. In fact, running around here with my camera and my new friend Becky was probably my favorite part of visiting the Old City.
That and the hummus. In Israel, hummus is considered a full meal, and I loved the lunch where we ducked into one of the side alleys and were served a feast of several different versions of it.
Photos by Vibe
After lunch, we were off to the Jewish Quarter, where we split off by gender and donned scarves in order to leave our wishes in the Wailing Wall.
This was a moment I was very grateful to be with Vibe. Had I been on my own, I would have probably been too intimidated to approach the wall — fearful of being unintentionally disrespectful by participating as a gentile at what is widely considered the most religious site in the world for the Jewish religion. But our warm and welcoming hosts encouraged us to graciously experience it, and I’m glad we did.
Fashion side note: Many of you messaged me about this dress on social media and on my recent blog post — I bought it specifically for my Middle East trip, hoping it would be the perfect balance of cute and modest. For Jerusalem, I clipped the bottom with a small safety pin so that it would stay closed from below the knee. In the evening, Jerusalem was surprisingly chilly — you won’t mind having a bit more clothing! Elsewhere in Israel, I just wore my usual.
After the wall, the guide gave us the option to keep going in the Old City or head off to explore a more contemporary side of Jerusalem. I was the sole voter for leaving ASAP, ha ha.
I can’t help it — these kind of travel days of looking at religious historic sites just don’t tend to set me on fire the way days spent cast away in beautiful pockets of nature or exploring modern cities with pulsing urban energy do. I don’t even really watch TV shows or movies set in what I jokingly call “ye olden days” — no Game of Thrones or Downtown Abby for this girl.
One of the most common travel questions I’m asked is why I haven’t traveled more of Europe, and I guess this is a big factor.
Photos by Vibe
Objectively I know that these places are beautiful and I see the joy they bring to other people, but they just don’t do it for me. As someone drawn to bright colors, bold patterns and clean lines with my photography, I don’t feel very inspired visually.
I really felt like Daniel on Shitt’s Creek this day, with everyone in my group geeking out over everything cobblestone, and me in the corner freaking out that , “I’m just really struggling with the AESTHETIC of this place?!” (Schitt’s Creek fans also please assemble in the comments.)
Photos by Vibe
The bottom line is, not every place is for every person and that’s just fine. I can’t really understand why some people are obsessed with looking at old buildings, some people can’t understand why I was obsessed with looking at rainbow rock sculptures in the desert. The more I travel, the more confident I become in accepting what I like and what I don’t, and not being embarrassed if it doesn’t fit the normal mold.
Everyone else I was with was pretty much drooling over Jerusalem’s Old City, so I definitely accept that I’m in the minority on this one. Luckily for me, Israel is so much more than religious historic sights — which is something I think a lot of people aren’t aware of. But if you stay tuned to my trip, you definitely won’t be one of them.
In the end, my favorite parts about my time in Jerusalem were the people I spent it with… and the food we ate. Our second night we had a fabulous dinner at Valero, which was super hip and trendy, and along with Menza is well worth bookmarking for any future trips to J-town (no? we aren’t calling it that? mkay.)
Photos by Vibe
I’m sometimes a little bummed when I don’t fall in love with a place — it almost makes me feel like I’m letting someone down. And believe me, whether it’s Ho Chi Minh City, Semuc Champey, or Jerusalem, when you don’t fall for a popular travel destination, someone is going to think less of you for it.
And sure, with only two nights there, I certainly did not experience all Jerusalem had to offer. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back someday. But I won’t be rushing there — there’s too much else on my Israel bucket list to attend to.
Where To Stay
For high rollers: We stayed at the contemporary Herbert Samuel Jerusalem, which had a great view from the breakfast restaurant and was centrally located.
For budget travelers: We also took a tour of Abraham Hostel, which was vibrant and fun and a great place to take tours, meet other travelers, and stay on a dime.
Have you been to Jerusalem? Are you into “ye olden days” sightseeing?
Many thanks to Vibe Israel for hosting me on this trip.
With the greatest respect, I understand that you have a certain preference for the types of things that you like when you travel, however, perhaps when you are in places like Jerusalem, you could take a moment to reflect on how these types of places have indirectly shaped and influenced your life and the world in which we live today. You don’t have to talk about the religion or the politics, but there is a story, a hidden tale to every place you visit that people in your readership could connect with. Perhaps when you don’t connect on a personal level, you could capture this tale or story and share it with some more allure and zest. I appreciate that you write for a very specific demographic, but, you could be so much more inspirational in your writing. I was left feeling a little low reading your post. Please know that this comment is not meant to hurt or upset you. I trust that what I have to say will do the opposite, that is, to inspire you to do better, because you are so much better than this. So please, do not be offended by what I have to say. If you are, just delete my comment and think nothing more of it.
P.S. I appreciate also that you do not like ‘ye olden days’, but just to say, you are not a New York Native (referenced in your Bio). They were killed off by European settlers through disease, war, enslavement and displacement and while this is a common term that all New Yorkers like to use, it is actually greatly disrespectful to the First Nations who once lived there, to say this. People who may not be around today, but for centuries longer than America has been a country, called New York their home. You are blonde, blue eyed, fair skinned. You are most likely a native of Northern Europe. Northern Europeans have a rich history and heritage too. A rich story that led waves of them to leave their homes and travel to the “New World”. Travel is supposed to be transformative, aren’t you a little bit curious about where your ancestors came from and why they left Europe to come to the US? This would be a great story to read.
By your logic, every single person on earth is a native of Africa.
You need a hobby. And worrying about semantics to this insane degree does not count.
George: I am sure Alex does not need anyone to defend her, but I am going to try to anyhow. Alex, I hope that is okay. I am not a frequent commenter, but have been reading this blog for years and years, and I feel moved to comment here.
Alex’s post are always thoughtful and well written, and she shares many aspects of her trips with us, including her feelings on various destinations. She was respectful of this destination, shared beautiful pictures with us (as always!) – and shared her thoughts and opinions on the city, which is part of her personal touch that her readers appreciate and look forward to. Please allow her to do so, and don’t bother her by vaguely insisting that her posts should have most allure and zest, because her posts have plenty of both.
Also, she says she is a native of New York; she is not claiming to be a “Native.” In the dictionary, native, as she uses it, is defined as: a person born in a specified place or associated with a place by birth.
Given that you felt the need to criticize both her post and her long-standing bio, your comment was insensitive at best, and frankly, I don’t feel it is welcome here. For Alex to come her at this time in her life and continue to share with us is a gift to her readers, and this comment read as unnecessarily hyper-critical, especially taking into account the immense time, energy, effort and heart that Alex pours into this blog, and all of her posts. To demonstrate your great respect for her, I would suggest that you kindly allow her to determine the direction of her blog, her bio and her posts, and that you enjoy the content for what it is, which is beautiful and thoughtful portrayals of her personal experiences.
Jessica, thank you for all your kind words here. You are very diplomatic and sweet and I appreciate you <3
Hey George, I think at this point in my blogging career — over fifteen hundred posts in — I’ve become comfortable with the idea that every post will be a little different. Sometimes I dive into history and cultural reflection, sometimes I keep it light and reference pop culture, sometimes I tell personal tales of introspection. I’m sure there are many, many bloggers out there who have written about Jerusalem with the allure and zest and inspiration that you’re describing — I just am not one of them.
I have indeed found travel to be extremely transformative and have written tens of thousands of words on the subject. I just didn’t find this one particular city to be so.
Girl – I totally feel you on not loving every place you visit (and feeling guilty for it). I am a HUGE lover of Europe but I completely understand your mindset because it’s how I feel about Asia. I live in South Korea at the moment and have traveled around SE Asia, Japan, etc. However, aesthetically I don’t feel connected to this area of the world. Similarly to how you feel about Europe. It’s completely down to personal preference but I love it. There is so much of the world for every single person. And we need people to have different opinions about locations otherwise it would get quite boring. After all, your love for Asia has inspired me to come here myself. And although it’s not 100% my vibe, I can still appreciate it. Thanks for being honest about your feelings! I think many people feel the same way as you do. P.S. I am one of those people drooling over the cobblestone in these pics haha.
Love your reflections here Rachel, and even moreso — love your blog! Your photography is beautiful, you have such an eye!
Wow, thanks Alex! That means so much coming from you x
You’re so welcome, well deserved! xo
My mom went to Jerusalem recently and loved it but I’ve never really been drawn there! More importantly, I still sing “oh where is my hairbrush” anytime I cannot find my brush! I always loved Veggie Tales.
ME TOO. Best Veggie Tales song there is! You’re reminding me that I need to dust off the VT Christmas edition, as that’s one of my favorites.
Okay, I do not recall the Veggie Tales Christmas edition… I am so glad this came up!
Ha! Oh my gosh, this is all inspiring me to have a major Veggie Tales reunion party sometime soon. What a great period of my life, ha ha.
How have we traveled together so much and NOT sang the entire library of Veggie Tales songs?
*Everybody’s got a water buffalo, yours is fast but mine is slow…*
Can’t wait for our future Veggie Tales themed sleepover! Ha!
I went a decade ago and felt the exact same way about Jerusalem! Loved other parts of the country like the Negev Desert, but Jerusalem simply wasn’t my vibe.
The desert is INCREDDDDDIBLE. Stay tuned. I can’t wait to gush about it!
I still have Jerusalem in my bucket list and perhaps one day visit this old city.
Thanks for sharing your experience and views on this city.
You’re welcome Jessica. Wishing you a special trip when you make it!
I’ve never been a religious person or had any interest in visiting religious sites. I can totally see why Jerusalem wasn’t your favorite, but I’m glad you gave it a chance!
When in Rome, right? 😉
These photos are SO gorgeous!!! Brings me right back.
Thank you for sharing your honest perspective (aside from appreciating authenticity, I also feel the same way about this city haha though there is the BEST falafel shop in the country on the outskirts). So many people think Israel is Jerusalem and Jerusalem is Israel, and there’s nothing else to see in the country, and that’s just SO not true. I also enjoy the other cities more, especially Tel Aviv, though I do appreciate the history of Jerusalem.
I think that’s true, regarding people’s idea that Jerusalem sums up Israel. I hope to prove otherwise with my upcoming content 🙂 And yeah, I wouldn’t mind living in Tel Aviv at some point! I’m obsessed!
I’m bummed for you that you didn’t get to go to the Dome of the Rock! Especially considering your penchant for bright colors and patterns, I think that would have been a welcome sight among the cobblestones.
It’s pretty intimidating going, since you have to pass through security and a LOT of soldiers with machine guns, but it’s a really cool part of the Old City. Not being Muslim, you can’t go into the mosques, but the outside is pretty fantastic and I met some really interesting people waiting in line to get into the area. Quite a few Americans who had moved to Israel or Palestine because they felt called to by god. Definitely not the people I typically meet in my day to day life at home or during travels.
That sounds memorable indeed! If I find myself back in Jerusalem, this will absolutely be top of my list.
Oh wow, so many cultural references I didn’t get. I promise I’ll check out the Veggies right after posting this!
Jerusalem sounds like my kind of place. I really enjoy sights that spark something in people. I’m just afraid by how busy it will be…
The Old City was absolutely one of the most crowded places I’ve been! I don’t know, I think it kind of added to the experience, in a way…
We learn each time we travel what touches us and sometimes it’s not the things we think will. That’s the beauty of it all!
I would love to visit Jerusalem – to see how I feel. When little I was given a children’s bible and it was my favourite book. I poured over the stories and illustrations and would so much like to see, if it touches me in real life. The food looked divine. Tell us more about israeli cuisine please. I’m a hummus maker and would like to know how to turn it into a meal, rather than a snack.
Also, I once ghost wrote the autobiography of a world war two soldier, who was stationed in Jerusalem in the 2nd world war. It was a fascinating recount of a life lived and how friendships were forged and countries understood.
I look forward to more of your posts. 🙂
That sounds like a fascinating book! I’ll have more about food coming up from Tel Aviv 🙂
How boring life would be if we all loved the same things and the same places.
I haven’t been to Israel yet, so I can’t say how I’d feel about Jerusalem. On the one hand, I love history, and Jerusalem certainly has a fascinating history. But on the other hand, I’m not religious either, and I admit that I do worry I’d feel… maybe a bit like an imposter by visiting spots that are SO important to so many other people?
Guess I’ll have to visit someday and see for myself how I do or don’t connect with it!
But yeah, there are plenty of places I just haven’t loved that others rave about (Amsterdam immediately comes to mind), and there’s nothing wrong with that!
YES you described perfectly what made me feel a little, well, guilty while I was in Jerusalem. I did love seeing how much everyone else in my group loved it, however 🙂 And then on the plane back to New York, I totally cracked up my seatmates telling them how I’d fallen in love with Tel Aviv… they were like, what?! They were religious tourists and thought it was hilarious that anyone would come to Israel and spend their trip the way I did. Different strokes!
I totally understand. I think because I started in Tel Aviv, I connected with it more. I loved the young energy there. In comparison, Jerusalem seemed much more buttoned-up (until I checked out the nightlife). I also grew up in the church and found these places to be incredible, but also didn’t have quite the emotional experience others had.
I didn’t really get to experience the nightlife! Which was my own fault: I WAS FREEZING. I was so inappropriately packed, even walking the very short distance to dinner I was freaking out about how cold I was, ha. I was so relieved when I got to Tel Aviv and started sweating again. I had no idea how different the climates would be.
I never comment but I love veggie tales so much that I had to lol. Really interesting take on Jerusalem -and one you don’t hear from a lot of people. i really appreciated this blog.
Thank you Danielle! And Veggie Tales foreverrrrr! 😛
I’m here for the Veggie Tales and Schitts Creek!
Lol! I love it — we have a fan club up in here.
I totally get not vibing with places that most people love. I was bored in the south of France, underwhelmed by Croatia & Vegas just makes me sad. I also realise with all of these that it was more my particular trip that wasn’t great than the actual destination.
It’s funny though, some of your most memorable posts for me are about magical historical sights & old buildings! Like your adventures through ancient Greece & historic tour of downtown Honolulu. In fact, I think the latter post inspired me to read “Unfamiliar Fishes” about the history of the US occupation of Hawaii.
Personally, learning about a place’s history is one of my favourite and most rewarding parts of travel and if I really fall in love with somewhere, I pore over all the books and movies I can get my hands on when I get home! But you’ve got to have the right hook. And there’s no accounting for the power of one hook over another. For example, why am I completely drawn to Aztec and Mayan pyramids but not to Egyptian ones. Why!!
Loving your Israel coverage regardless. And thanks to you, was inspired to look into Tel Aviv flights from London. Had no idea it’s 5 hours non-stop and only 100-200 pounds. WHAT! Seriously considering a winter trip now. Thank you as always, Alex in Wanderland!
Ha, I’ve asked myself the same tortured questions. Why do I love the cute little blue and white churches in Greece but find cobblestone ones in Spain so oppressive? Why!! Indeed. And WOW I’m jealous of how easy and cheap it is for you to get to Tel Aviv! It’s a haul from New York.
I absolutely loved Jerusalem! This place is such a mixture of cultures!
Different strokes for different folks! I know it is a beloved destination of many 🙂
Alex, I love how honest you always are with your posts. You were still respectful in your words, but you always keep it real. We need more of this in the world so that people know it is ok to have different opinions and views, and to not love something just because it is trending somewhere. An interesting, informative and reflective read! xx
Thank you so much Caitlyn — I truly appreciate this comment! I agree, being able to have civil and respectful disagreements and differences of opinion seems to be a lost art these days.
Veggie Tales! “Oh Where Is My Hairbrush?” is now immediately and irrevocably stuck in my head.
Haha! I LOVE the Veggie Tales love in this post.
I am absolutely into “ye olden days” travel, and in fact I spent this post daydreaming about jumping into your photos. I totally get what you mean in that every place isn’t for every person, and no one is under any obligation to fall in love with each place. As always, I love that you share your honest feelings about a place, no matter what.
Thanks Marni! It can be a little scary to publish a post saying you didn’t love a place, so I appreciate the reassurance.
Broccoliiii, Celeryyyyy, Gotta beeeee.. Veggie Tales! Cauliflower! Sweet n Sour! Half an Hour… Veggie Tales! Great posts, keep em comin 🙂
Lol! I’ve never loved you all more than as we are forming our new Veggie Tales fan club, ha!
Literally just scrolled down here the second you mentioned Veggie Tales. I LOVE Veggie Tales. I grew up Episcopalian but discovered a VHS copy of Where’s God When I’m Scared as a kid that someone had left behind at our church. I don’t know why or how but we were allowed to take it home, my siblings and I LOVED it. The movie was awesome too. I can sing so many of those Silly Songs with Larry by memory! (we had the collection on cassette!) Good suggestion to watch clips on youtube when I’m sad.
Ha, they always struggled to find Sunday School teachers for us in my church… so popping in a Veggie Tales was the backup plan. We LOVED IT!
What incredible photos! I’m with you on preferring nature or city vibes rather than history. I can image that the cultural significance and class of some many religions combined with the political situation creates both incredible beauty and also some feeling or confusion or tension. Thanks for the recap!
You’re welcome Kimberly! Many more posts on my trip to Israel to come…
Alex, I completely loved Jerusalem, I must confess. It’s probably my favourite city on the planet (so far). But I get that not everywhere will do it for everyone. If it did, all cities would be exactly the same, and where’s the fun in that?!
I’m glad you were able to see the positives in Jerusalem’s hummus though. It’s so good I can almost taste it just thinking about it!
What I wouldn’t do for true Israeli pita right now! My mouth is literrrrrrally watering as I write this comment.
Is your blog so successful that you can hire someone to take photos of you taking photos?
Jokes aside, the photos are beautiful.
Never been to that part of the world but from your photos it does look lovely.
I was very lucky on this press trip — we had a professional photographer along with our group!