After stepping away from my job a few weeks ago, I've had a lot of time to self-reflect. For the most part, it's been a very healing experience (although it's still a process)...but some days the self-doubt really creeps in. Timing is everything, and when I left my job at the end of the year, Tim accepted a new one. In his new role, we traveled to Hollywood and Los Angeles last week, and next week we will be landing ourselves in Tel Aviv, Israel. Having such distance from home is something I am grateful for, not only is it a time to reflect on life as I know it, but it's a time to experience a new culture, and try new things. Broadening our minds allows us to see different viewpoints and develop a different understanding of the world we live in. There's a lot to look forward to on this trip - a lot to learn - much to appreciate - and a lot to eat!
Today is our second day here. The sounds of the restless city, loud music, and the warmth of the sun remind me that I am not in Seattle anymore. I'm a world away, experiencing one of the oldest cultures in human history. The people here are kind - there is a sense of pride and fellowship among them. They exude confidence in their culture and beliefs, but not to mention their confidence in culinary arts. Their intention and creations in the kitchen are simply inspiring. Their unique take and manipulation of ingredients inspires me to go home and re-think my whole pantry and spice cabinet. The food in Israel is special...and I know what you're thinking...it's only the second day! But I know good food - it's more than just the taste - it's the texture, intention, the family recipes and the cultivation of each and every ingredient. My heart is bursting here! Everyone cooks with passion; and because of that; the food is extraordinary.
For many reasons (health, ethical, and sustainability) Israeli's have reigned in on the vegan movement - they've seen the high-demand and market for it, thus, they have gone above and beyond to sophisticate the movement. Whether it's just a local juice or smoothie bar, a restaurant offering vegan-friendly options, or an entirely vegan restaurant, Tel Aviv has over 300 certified vegan-friendly restaurants! Talk about...mind blown, stomach's full, and an empty wallet!
The next day while Tim had correspondence with his new employer, I decided to venture out into the city and visit one of the largest markets in the area, HaCarmel. The previous day on my vegan tour I had met a very lovely girl named Emily, who was so generous and kind by offering to meet me at the market and give me shekels (Israeli cash) to explore and buy items within the market; since most vendors don't have credit card machines. Emily works at a local bar within the market, so it was quite cool to see where she works and meet her coworkers. Much to our surprise, we have a lot in common! Serendipity at it's finest. And don't worry, I didn't just take Emily's cash and never pay her back for it, haha, I of course repaid her with wine and some more wine.
I was absolutely blown away by the plethora of spices, pastries, fruits, vegetables, clothing and trinkets within this market. I'm not a huge fan of trinkets, mostly because it's hard to truly hard to find ones that are "made in [country of origin]." Most of that stuff comes from China and can easily be purchased at any market around the world - or I'm sure you could find everything on Amazon. However, when it comes to spices, teas, handmade soaps, fresh pressed juices, I'm all about it. Engaging with the locals and supporting small business brings me joy. I enjoy purchasing products that have a story, a background, and a personal connection and memory. On my walk, I found myself at a beautifully displayed spice stand in the center of the market. The gentleman working there spoke very little English, but he was extremely helpful, in that I got to taste pretty much everything! So...needless to say, I stocked up on an array of Israeli spices.
After my wonderful time in the market, I decided to take myself to the Mediterranean sea (the coast) and soak up all the beautiful sunshine and warmth. We were so blessed to have good weather while visiting in Winter. I spent my time on the beach people watching - something I love to do - but not in a creepy way, haha. Watching locals, observing tourists, and befriending every dog that passed by (of course) After spending a couple of hours there I decided to meet Tim back at our hotel and spend the evening together. The following day we were up for an adventure - which included renting a car, driving in a foreign country, and taking our travels to Jerusalem. By the way, Israeli drivers are absolutely terrible! So although it was an experience, I wouldn't necessarily recommend driving. For example, before the light turns green everyone is already honking at each other to start moving; it's comical but annoying after awhile... Any way, so off we went, touring the city with a small group of people. Our tour guide was very knowledge and worth every penny. We got to visit both Old and New Jerusalem, as well as the Holocaust Museum - although somber in nature, a must-see. The stories and artifacts from that time are truly shocking...and for all the pain those men, women, and children suffered, the least we can do is honor their souls by knowing what happened; educating ourselves.
Our time in Jerusalem started on the Mount of Olives, where we viewed the historical Golden Gate; which according to Christian literature, is the gate that Jesus arrived through on Palm Sunday. According to Jewish tradition this gate is also called the "Gate of Mercy," and in Arabic, the"Gate of Eternal Life." I could go on and on about the history, but I afraid I'm no expert. I definitely recommend reading up on it. For such a small city (relatively speaking) the amount of history is overwhelming. We spent time at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - visiting Jesus' tomb, the rock on which he was crucified, and the marble slab his body was prepared for burial. The energy is unreal in that church... Very quiet, but strong. Men and women of all ages in deep spiritual prayer, weeping with gratitude and praise. Truly memorable.
We also visited the Western Wall, also known to many as the "Weeping Wall," however locals prefer to not use this term. In brief, the Western Wall is one of the most holiest place for Jews to visit. It's the closest they can get to the Temple Mound - but as history tell us - the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim holy place sites on the same soil. It's believed that their savior Muhammed ascended into heaven at this location. Both Jews, Muslims, and Christians share the common belief that the Temple Mound is holiest site in Jerusalem that brings all three religions together (but for different beliefs)... Side note; because of Arabic control over the Temple Mound, only Muslims are permitted to entire the Dome of the Rock - which is why the Western Wall is considered the holiest place because it's the closest structure to the Temple Mound. Needless to say, so much history. The energy at the Western Wall is surreal; many chanting in prayer, praying with Bibles and Torahs, and as you would assume, weeping.
After our day spent in Jerusalem we made our way, in the darn rental car, back to Tel Aviv. The following day was a mix of activities, meeting with my friend Emily again, and the evening ended up coming to a close quite early; our jet lag was finally catching up with us.
On Friday we got a different rental car for our one-night trip to the Dead Sea. We drove through the West Bank, witnessing donkey-riding, camel transportation, and many wild mountain goats; all equally just as cute. It was interesting to pass through the West Bank and sense the cultural shift - leaving Jerusalem you are surrounded by Jews and Christians, and when you continue East past the city you enter Palestinian territory (although you're still in the country of Israel). The desert is jaw dropping and gorgeous, but the poverty along the way was hard to see. I can't imagine what life would be like, living out there, without running water or electricity, especially in the Summer months. Life is hard out there.
I cannot rave enough about our experience at the Dead Sea...it was absolutely breathtaking. There is such beauty in the stillness of the water and how it feels. It was better than I had ever hoped for, therapeutic and detoxifying in many ways. I felt at peace for the first time in many, many months. I let the energy of the salt and minerals wash over me and truly felt most present in this moment. Maybe some of it is in my head, but it felt right and so meditative.
We were truly shocked by our abilities to float - the "Dead Sea float" is a real thing! It's pretty fun to watch people and their reactions - much like kids in a candy store for their first time... The joy of innocent fun, "oh my gosh, I'm floating!"
Not only was the experience peaceful it was incredible to witness how much salt accumulates on everything it touches (even your hair and skin!) The entire coast is coated in what looks like snow, buts it's actually 100% salt! It's wild...after our water adventures, we dined at a tiny local restaurant that offered plenty of vegan options and PLENTY of feline friends. Cats and dogs in restaurants seem to be pretty common in Israel (not in the kitchen but among the dining room), and I can't say I mind too much... Honestly, bring me good food and animals (not as one) and I'm a happy lady, lol.
We made our way back from the Dead Sea the following day, enjoyed a final evening together and met up with my friend Emily for one final cocktail (and hug!)
And here we are, sitting at the Toronto International Airport waiting for our next leg of travel. Without sharing too much, our travels home been absolutely horrendous and frustrating. We stayed the night in Toronto, but with little sleep and we are going on 40+ hours being awake. It's not the best, but we are making do with what we have - although a small detour to Denver is involved before we officially make it back home to Seattle (in time for another snowstorm). We are looking forward to getting home, being warm and safe, preferably with a bowl of soup.