Once again, time has escaped me, and I haven’t posted because I’ve been busy adventuring! I traveled extensively, had many great conversations, and learned a lot.
Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend a neuroscience symposium at the Hebrew University. Since I have a lot to share in this post, I’ll limit myself to only one of the interesting facts I learned: there are approximately 100 trillion dendritic spines (input connections for neurons) in the human brain. Assuming one spine codes for one bit of data, the brain can encode approximately 12.5 terabytes of data. Now, on to my adventures!
November 18th, 2019
I had a good first day back at classes after being out sick. I jumped into Hebrew, but since I missed a week there were some things that were very confusing. My teacher was very helpful after class, though, and I was able to catch up for the most part; I just need to keep reviewing my vocabulary.
After Hebrew, I had my Music and Cultural Politics in Israel class. A very interesting topic, though I sometimes have a hard time keeping focused during the class itself. Afterwards I had a lot of neuroscience research to do since I’m taking an independent study here, as well as participating in a combined Bachelor’s/Master’s in Neuroscience, which I have to complete work for while abroad. In the middle of my studies, I stopped and went to French Hill falafel to meet up with a friend, though since my stomach wasn’t 100% I just chatted. After coming home, I had some dinner that Jesse graciously made me and then went back to work! Woohoo!
After a couple hours, Jesse called a family meeting and he told us that he was going home next Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. For good. I’m really, really sad that he’s leaving. I’m happy for him because it’s the right choice and he got what he wanted out of this experience, but I’m definitely bummed about losing my best friend here. After he told us, I planned some fun adventures with him for the week and went to bed.
Tuesday the 19th
After classes, I went with Jesse and Alex went to the Temple Mount sifting project. We thought it would be a good experience to do an archeological dig while in Jerusalem, and this was close to our school. I thought it was going to be like in the movies where we would be on a sandy hill top, bent over, sifting through the land and brushing off artifacts. Sadly, it was not. Essentially, this company took land from the Temple Mount (where the second Jewish temple was built) and separated it into buckets of dirt that we placed on a grated table top, rinsed away, and sorted the artifacts into different piles of glass, beads, ceramics, etc.
It was relatively cool for the first bucket, but it quickly grew tiring. I don’t regret the experience, especially because I was with my friends, but I wouldn’t do it again.
From there, Jesse and I took a taxi to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was gigantic, and extremely powerful. I was crying multiple times as I read about the atrocities that occurred. For instance, in the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, approximately 1,000,000 Jews, including more than 200,00 children, were murdered, as well as 75,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma (Gypsies), 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and 10,000 prisoners of other nationalities.
Going through the museum, a real fear spread over me. I don’t understand how such an awful event could happen to my people, the Jews, and many others. What is the point of such violence? Why is there such prejudice, hatred, and misunderstanding?
At some point, I worry that an event like this could happen again. The world seems to be getting more polarized, and I’m not sure how to cope with it. Antisemitism, homophobia, and racism are returning—or so it seems to me—with a higher prevalence and more tolerance from others. I hope I’m wrong.
After the Yad Vashem museum, Jesse and I returned and went to the Thrive family dinner (where he said his goodbyes to everyone there), I did laundry, and then went to bed.
Wednesday, the 20th
After classes, I went to meet Jesse down at the Old City. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention and went too far on the light rail and then had to go back. It was fine, though, because he was running late so I had plenty of time and got to talk with Ashley (my girlfriend) while I waited.
Once we met up, we walked through the Arab shuk, looking around at different shops. One store we approached had a teenager at the front. Jesse stopped to look at a Shofar (a ram’s horn used for religious purposes) and was yelled at. “Go! Leave! Go!” We were both a little confused. Jesse, who has stayed more informed on politics than I, thought it might have been about the U.S. legitimizing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but we weren’t positive.
We left there, and went to the Western Wall, stopping along the way to get some limonana (mint-infused lemonade) and a cup of mango which was delicious. When we got to the Western Wall we prayed (מתפלל) for a little bit and headed out to find prayer beads for Jesse’s girlfriend’s mom.
After going between stores for a while, we came across another limonana seller (and got more) before finding something Jesse (and his girlfriend) liked.
After that, Jesse had a phone call, so I sat in an Aroma and did some work before we met up and grabbed dinner. The restaurant was in the fancy shopping mall by the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Western Wall, and it was so good! I got this halloumi Asian style salad.
Thursday, the 21st
I went to classes and (part of) a social psychology lecture (I thought it was supposed to be cognitive psychology) before heading to Tel Aviv with Jesse for the night! We met up on Rothschild street and walked towards the beach to see the sunset, stopping to take a picture at the same tree we did a few months prior. Unfortunately, we missed the sunset. Fortunately, though, we found the cheese shop we visited last time and I got about 100g (roughly a quarter pound) of free cheese!
It turned out this was a night of free food for me! After the cheese shop, we went to Moon Sushi. I LOVE sushi and follow a lot of chefs on Instagram. This one, Wat Sang, is the main chef for Moon Sushi bar, and when I saw him post the day before, I commented on his picture saying “I’m going to come tomorrow!”
So, Jesse and I went and sat in the first floor. When I asked if Wat Sang was there, though, the waitress said “yes, he’s upstairs!” So we went up t and sat at the sushi bar. We were the only ones there, and we just talked to him and enjoyed GREAT sushi. The first dish I had was two balls of spicy salmon and tuna wrapped with half an avocado and topped with ikura (salmon roe) and a special sauce embedded in a pipette. The second dish was salmon, tuna, avocado, and rice wrapped in salmon and tuna! Super cool! The third dish he gave us free. It was a beautiful tuna sashimi flower in the center with seared salmon, pistachios, and ponzu sauce around it. The fourth dish was a seared salmon and avocado roll with foie gras on the top! That was my favorite roll by far.
I was planning to be done, but they told us we got a 15% discount, so naturally I had to order more. The last dish was a roll with salmon, salmon skin, and avocado on the inside, topped with freshly baked eel.
Wat Sang was super nice, the food was excellent, and the company (Jesse) superb! Definitely a wonderful time.
After the restaurant, we went to the Dizengoff Center and looked around for a little bit before taking the bus back to Tel Aviv and going to sleep.
Tzfat Weekend, 22nd – 24th
We had to leave at 6:00AM for a weekend trip with Thrive to Tzfat, a city in northern Israel known as the center of Kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism). It was really early, and when we got there, we met the Tel Aviv Thrive students. They had snacks for us and we split up onto two groups: the women went to the Mikva, a ritual bath and learned about that; and the guys made tzit-tzit, fringes of cloth that are tied on the four corners of clothing and serve as a reminder of G-D’s presence.
After we learned about and made some tzit-tzit we had some free time to go shopping in Tzfat. Since we were staying in the old city, we were extremely close to the main stores. After a stop for lunch, I went to a candle store where they had the most ornate wax candles. Some were full replicas of biblical scenes like Noah’s Ark, and others were modern day superheroes. Super cool!
After the candle shop, we went to a bunch of art shops and jewelry/clothing stores. I was kind of searching for a Jewish Star necklace; but didn’t find any I liked. I almost bought a cool metallic and ceramic piece, but when I started haggling, the man didn’t go down as far as I wanted so I left.
We went to a glass blowing shop where we listened to the artist’s experience of living in Tzfat and the evolution of her work. I’m a little embarrassed to say I fell asleep during a portion of her demonstration, but the parts I was aware of were very cool!
Luckily, we had some free time before Shabbat so I rested a bit and then got dressed before we all went on a musical tour of Tzfat. The tour was nice, but not my favorite part of the weekend. The main thing I learned is that Kabbalah, a spiritual and mystical Judaic practice as I mentioned above, was established there.
We watched the sunset after the tour, taking pictures, and then went to services. On the way, I spoke with a girl from the Tel Aviv Thrive program. She studies Neuroscience and also wants to pursue an MD-PhD, so we had a lot to talk about.
For the services, we first popped into an old, more traditional synagogue but soon left for a service in an apparent office building. The men and women were segregated in both services and I still disagree with that, but it was really powerful and I’m very glad I went. When we went to the men’s side, there were a lot of chants and dancing in a circle holding hands. It reminded me of some of the Shabbats at Camp Ramah Darom (although men and women aren’t segregated at camp!).
After services, we went back and sat down for dinner. This was a wonderful time! We sat around and just chatted with new and old friends. We must have sat there for a few hours talking, singing (Disney songs were especially popular), eating, and laughing!
After dinner, a few of us went up on the roof and talked some more before calling it quits around 1:00AM. It was a great bonding night and I’m really glad I met/hung out with so many cool people!
The next morning, we woke up and went to David Friedman’s gallery to hear how he infuses art with Kabbalah. It was really cool! The artist went through a number of paintings and described the symbolism behind them.
After his shop, we went to a Tai Chi with Hebrew letters. The creator showed us how to move our bodies and produce sounds that reflected the Hebrew alphabet. It was an interesting and fun experience, but I don’t need to do it again. We then had a nice lunch with the whole group of people and had some free time, during which I went with a group to the highest point in Tzfat. It was very pretty there, and on the way down, we found ourselves in a cave with Jewish men chanting in the dark in Hebrew. It was a really unique experience. About fifteen guys in a circle, singing at the top of their lungs. I didn’t know many of the words or songs, but the emotional intensity, passion from everyone there, was palpable.
After we got back from the cave, we got ready for another meal and drew Shabbat to a close with a really meaningful Havdallah. Thrive people from both Tel Aviv and HebrewU were really connecting, and had a lot of great words to share with each other. I remember thinking, “I’m going to remember this moment forever.” And though I don’t remember the exact words exchanged, I remember the feeling of acceptance and belonging. And it was pretty great.
Jesse and I had made plans to go to Haifa following the Tzfat weekend. We had a hostel booked and everything. When we were asking the best way to go, some of the directors said to just take the Thrive shuttle back to Tel Aviv with the students who lived there and then take a train up to Haifa. It should have been about the same amount of time as a bus (three buses, actually) from Tzfat. However, after a long ride back to Tel Aviv, we found out there was no train running that night.
We were peeved that we wasted all that time when we could have just gone directly from Tzfat. We searched for a bus to take to Haifa, but one drove past us and the other didn’t come, so we called it quits. Instead, we decided to go back to Moon Sushi (we had another great experience).
While on the bus to Tel Aviv, we met and chatted with a really nice 20 year old in the army. It’s interesting how different Israelis and Americans are at our age. I don’t know how to explain it, but Israelis are definitely more mature. I think it has to do with the experience of being in the army. Israel has mandatory conscription; men are required to serve three years and women two.
When we left Tel Aviv, we were fortunate enough to catch the last train back to Jerusalem for the night. It was super lucky otherwise we would’ve been stuck all night. When we got to Jerusalem, we took a bus home but missed our stop because we were playing a game (thanks, Apple Arcade). We ended up taking a taxi home since it was a seven minute drive (rather than walking for forty five minutes).
We finally got back by 2:30AM and went to bed.
Sunday I mostly studied for my Music and Cultural Politics exam, and had a wonderful schnitzel dinner with David, Alex, Ella, and some other friends! On Monday we went to a religious neighborhood, Mea Shearim, and walked around. It was a cool experience and, as fate would have it, we read about that neighborhood in Hebrew class that day. After that, we were supposed to go to Karaoke, but our roommate David got sick so Jesse and I ended up going to the Tarim urgent care clinic with him.
He turned out to be fine, but I waited with him for a few hours (Jesse offered to stay but I said he should go enjoy his night since it was one of his last in Israel).
The next morning, Jesse and I went to the Old City to search for Jewish star necklaces. He found one he loved, which was great! I found a few that I really loved, too, but since I had time I decided to wait. We tried some limonana while there, of course, and then went home.
On the way, though, this bird POOPED on me! I was shocked! Jesse thinks it’s a sign of G-D because I was talking about needing to use the restroom not even a minute before that happened. Alas, I cleaned it up and, if memory serves correctly, did some work and hung out with Jesse.
We then went to the Thrive family dinner (where I did laundry upstairs for free, woohoo!). The dryer was taking a long time, though, so by the time it finished, I just went to sleep.
The next day was exciting! And sad! Israel doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but since everyone in my apartment is American we decided to host a potluck ‘Friendsgiving’. We were responsible for the turkey. Jesse got up early, seasoned it, and put it in the oven at a friend’s house (we don’t have an oven). After my classes, we met up for French Hill Falafel and I went to make sure it was done (it was, and it tasted great!). I came back and spent some time doing work and hanging out with Jesse before we both went to get the turkey.
We had to take a taxi to bring it back, though, because it was cold outside and we wanted it to stay warm. When we got back, people started coming over and we carved the turkey. That was cool! It was my first experience with that.
Overall, the Friendsgiving was super successful. We had a turkey, different potatoes and veggie dishes, a pumpkin pie, cinnamon apple crisps, and more! Most importantly, we had a lot of friends! About an hour in, though, Jesse needed to go to the airport, so Alex and I walked him out to the bus. We were supposed to have five minutes to say goodbye, but a bus came right as we got there so he had to go immediately. We got on the bus with him and said a quick goodbye, hugged, and went back to the party (after arguing with the bus driver to let us off and not continue driving). It was sad. A lot of people left after another hour, but a few stayed, and we hung out for a while, which was nice.
On Thanksgiving day, I took a bus to the main campus of Hebrew University and got to a neuroscience conference (in time for lunch, woohoo!). I took some time exploring the building, which was beautiful. The actual brain sciences building is essentially a shell. There are classes and offices (and I’m assuming labs) on the outside, but there is a gorgeous atrium that is open ended on the opposite side of the building. In the middle there are grapefruit trees and running water structures. The first lecture hall I went into for the conference was not very impressive, but for the keynote speaker, we moved into this gorgeous auditorium. It could easily fit a couple hundred people and has comfortable seats with a large elevated platform for the speaker. One thing I noticed was Israelis say synapses like “sigh-nap-sis,” whereas Americans say it like “sin-naps-sis.”
I then went back to the dorms for a small Thanksgiving event that HebrewU’s Hillel (International Jewish student organization) helped sponsor. I picked up the sushi (of course) and stir fry, and went to help set up at Dahlia’s apartment. There were veggies with hummus and other dips plus dessert! It was a nice evening, and I met some cool people. I went to the gym afterwards and then to bed.
Weekend in the Golan Heights
On Friday, I woke up and met some friends to head to the Golan Heights! We went on the light rail to the car rental place, where we ran into a problem over age requirement: you can’t drive a rental car in Israel if you are under 21. I was planning to drive, but since I’m only 20, Alex drove instead. That was fine by me since I was able to do some neuroscience work (woohoo!) and we made it in just a couple of hours.
Our friend in the Golan lives on Kibbutz Kfar Haruv (כפר הרוב). It is a beautiful area right in the mountains next to the Sea of Galilee (The Kineret). When we arrived, we hung out while playing with his new puppy, drinking tea, and eating clementines from his yard. We then got some lunch from the Chadar Ochel (dining room of the kibbutz) and went back to hangout in our apartment before going to the Sea of Galilee! We swam there, in the location it’s believed Jesus walked on water, and it was absolutely beautiful. The sunset was stunning—the way it reflected off the water was breathtaking.
From the Kineret we went to get some dinner nearby. Obviously, I got sushi (at this chain called Japanika). It was pretty good! We then came back to our room and hung out (did work) before heading to the kibbutz bar! It was a cool experience, and it was nice because our friend was the manager (ironically, his name was Bar!).
We had a fun time chatting with Israelis, and I had a wonderful edamame dish (though it took a long time)! I spoke a lot with Bar’s girlfriend who told me all about her travel experience to Thailand (I think I need to go!) and her experience living on a different kibbutz near Gaza which is used to rocket fire. She said the scariest part is driving during an attack because rockets hit the roads and there’s nothing to do in that scenario. She showed me videos of rockets fired at her neighboring kibbutz and the Israeli anti-rocket shield that destroys the incoming missiles before it lands. It was wild seeing and hearing about this firsthand. She said it was just something they live with and, to an extent, get used to. I’m not sure I would be able to get used to it!
The next morning, we all woke up around 10:00AM, had some wonderful breakfast of yogurt with granola and peanut butter/cream cheese sandwiches, and went on a hike! The landscape was really barren, though, which was kind of depressing, but at the end was a beautiful oasis. It was essentially a pot made of cliffs with deep blue water on the inside. I jumped in, which was super cold but super refreshing! For safety reasons, though, we had to leave because the park ranger didn’t want us to be there when it got dark.
By the time we hiked back to the car, the sun was setting, and we went to a basalt rock expanse and watched the sunset as we drank tea! It was really beautiful; the sky had hues of oranges and reds mixed with pinks and blues. Afterwards we went to dinner and then came back to the kibbutz and hung out before going back to Bar’s bar. I had some more edamame, hung out for a little bit, said thank you to Bar and his girlfriend, and hit the hay!
Unfortunately, the hay didn’t hit hard enough because I woke up a little bit later (I don’t think I actually fell asleep) because one of our friends got stuck in the bathroom! That was a whole ordeal and they were freaking out a lot. The key was stuck, and the door wouldn’t budge. We went to find Bar and, of course, as soon as he came the door basically opened (the person hadn’t pushed it in to the right place for the locking mechanism to open).
Anyway, soon after that, we went to bed for real!
The next morning, we had a little breakfast while we packed and cleaned the room. We drove to Tiberias, one of the four holy cities (the other three are Jerusalem, Hebron and Tzfat). It was really nothing special in my opinion. The “old city” area was modernized. It had some old religious buildings next to modern apartments or souvenir shops. It was kind of weird. We walked through it nonetheless though, passing by a very pretty expanse of the Kineret (I think), and found our way at a hummus restaurant, which was delicious!
After brunch, we walked back to the car (with a pit stop for someone to get a milkshake) and drove back to Jerusalem. I mostly slept in the car, though I did write some of this blog. When we got back to the car rental place, we paid and took the light rail bank to the students’ village. I went straight to work on a Neuroscience paper I had due that week. After about four hours of that, I tried to take a nap but ended up doing more work since I couldn’t sleep.
Then it was off to the gym for some quick cardio and studying for my Hebrew midterm. I also got some Schwarma after the gym because I was hungry, and it was the fastest thing!
The next day wasn’t super eventful. I took my Hebrew midterm (I think I crushed it) then did neuroscience work for about seven hours (part of my B.S./M.S. program at Wake). I had a really productive day (and might have developed a new theory!), which was great! After I finished, I went to an event where we had Schwarma and learned how to make cocktails (margarita, mojito, pina colada, and sex on the beach). Since I don’t drink alcohol, I really just learned how to make fancy juice, but it was still really enjoyable!
After that, I spent some time talking to Ashley before heading to bed!
Tuesday, December 3rd
I had a class in the morning which was fine, but I had my meeting with Mo and it was REALLY impactful. Basically, we talked about belief in G-D. I say I’m agnostic because on the one hand, science, and on the other hand, I like the idea of G-D. I pray daily, mainly asking for health and happiness for myself and those I care about, and sometimes thanking G-D for the blessings in my life.
Being in Jerusalem where I see someone with a kippah or tzit-tzit everywhere I go has somehow made me feel like their ideas of Judaism or their belief in G-D is greater than my own. After all, their actions reflect that belief, while mine typically don’t.
What Mo said to me basically altered this perception. He talked about how he consumes far too much sugar in a day. He knows and believes that he shouldn’t do it because it’s unhealthy, yet his actions don’t change. He therefore said to me, just because I don’t always act to the extent others do, doesn’t mean my belief is any less.
I started tearing up during that conversation. I don’t know why, but just the idea that there is a G-D, that I believe in nonetheless, even though I am a scientist (in training) resolved this inner conflict that I wasn’t aware of. This permission, for lack of a better word, to believe and act in the way I can was extremely liberating.
I knew I wanted to go to the Western Wall to pray, so I headed off in that direction (stopping to get some French Hill Falafel) and my kippah (I wanted to start wearing it). When I got to the Old City, I walked in knowing I wanted to wear a Jewish star necklace at the Wall, so I was heading back to a store I liked from last week when I randomly ran into a friend in the Old City. She came with me and we bought a necklace! After that, we took a pit stop to Roladin and got some great doughnuts before parting ways.
I made it back to the Old City and headed to the Western Wall (with a pit stop for limonana) where I’m writing this now. Although it’s “just” a wall, it’s truly an incredible experience being at this holy site.
I got roped into Mincha, the afternoon service, but left because I didn’t really understand what was happening. When I went up to the wall and prayed, I was expecting a big aha moment again. For some reason, though, that didn’t happen.
I was (still am) confused. I had this great spiritual awakening (perhaps?) and desire to engage with it, but when I did, nothing extraordinary happened. Underwhelmed, I went back home and (naturally) to the gym!
I left the gym with Dahlia and Alexis and went to the Thrive dinner (which was great—salmon, rice, and a great green bean dish). We discussed self-discipline vs. self-control and the different things we would like to improve in our own lives. One thing I want to work on is, my ability to, quoting Hamilton, “talk less, smile more.” I want to be able to listen more, learn from others, and not speak as much. At least I succeed at not talking a lot while I’m asleep, which is what I went to do next…
The next day, I got to class a little late (first time, yikes!) and learned a lot. I picked up the reimbursement money from Hillel for the Thanksgiving meal during one break, and during another I spoke with Mo. My conversation was really about what I would need to change or should I even change given my transient experience of spiritual revelation. If my relationship with G-D is meaningful to me as it is, what would acting in a more traditional Jewish manner do for me? Can I simply have my own relationship with G-D in the confines of Judaism?
The shorter answer is yes. The slightly longer answer, as I understood it, is that as long as I’m growing and working on myself and my relationship with G-D, then I am doing okay. Mo said simply having a relationship is a huge thing and, though we didn’t have enough time to get into a lot of details (he said we would do that next week), he conveyed that I don’t have to go from 0 to 60 right now. I can do little steps as I’m comfortable with them.
So, I decided to wear my Jewish star necklace (which is good because I love it!). I decided to not always wear a kippah, though, even in Israel where it’s commonplace. It just makes me uncomfortable in a way that I can’t articulate. Maybe one day, though.
Anyway, from classes I came home (a new way of leaving campus through the backside of the botanical gardens which was gorgeous), took a much needed nap, then ran to the gym for a quick workout before heading to a mindfulness meditation event with a friend.
The mindfulness meditation was really interesting, especially in the context of spirituality. It’s hard to keep your mind focused on the present and I’m definitely not great at it. We started the session with a Hebrew chant and then sat in silence for 30 minutes. It was really peaceful.
I kept repeating a mantra in my mind my grandparents taught me about, “Sa Na Ma Ta” which is supposed to keep you grounded, as well as saying “here, now” to my breath. I checked in with how my body felt at that moment, and just tried to be present. I really liked it and hope to go back!
From meditation, we went to Hummus Ben Sira (which was excellent!) running into Alex and Max on the way (who came from Ben Sira)! I had a great time just chatting and eating good food! We took the light rail back home (and I went a new direction to the dorms which was cool!).
On Thursday, I had classes and then took the light rail down to Steve’s Packs in Jerusalem. Steve’s Packs is a store my parents went to when they were in Israel before, and my mom wanted me to get her things (I got a fanny pack like my dad’s for myself!). On the way, I had an interesting conversation about Trump with an Israeli. He loved him and said he’s the best president for Israel “bless the United States and bless President Trump.” I personally don’t think the pros for Israel outweigh the cons that I see in America’s social divide, but alas. I’m not going to get too political. I also had a fantastic sandwich at Safta’s (grandma’s) sandwich shop.
After leaving Steve’s Packs, a nice lady complimented me on my Jewish Star necklace! I said thank you very much and we had a short conversation about where I bought it (I’ve been learning the past tense of words now—very exciting!)
I got a haircut and walked through a small Arab market area before going to the gym and getting some French Hill Falafel. Then it was off to bed for my trip to Jordan!
I woke up early around 5:20AM and met Alex to catch a bus so we could meet up with our tour group. It was really cold, and the driver for the bus we tried to transfer to didn’t let us on for some reason so we had to talk part way, but we made it in time!
To get into Jordan, there is a $65 border crossing fee. The tour company handles it, so you give the money to them. It peeves me, though, because they want $65 USD or roughly $70 worth of shekels. Luckily, I found a $100 bill in my backpack (thanks mom!), but I just get annoyed that they up charge you for different currencies.
Anyway, the bus to Jordan is nice and we’ll see how the ride is! Update: the bus was good. I sat next to a physician from New York and we had some good discussions about Israel, politics, and medicine.
When we got to the Israeli border, there was an annoying issue with the exit fee. We waited in line to board the shuttle between borders. When we got to the front, they said we needed to pay the exit fee. We had already done so through our travel agent, so we had to go back and forth with the company and the border patrol to sort out the payment issues.
When we finally got everything figured out and got on the bus (an hour later) we arrived at the Jordanian border with no idea of where to go. After going to security prematurely, we waited for a tour guide that didn’t come. After two people called the company, and I went to the customs office, we decided to turn around and get our passports stamped.
Inside the office, while on the phone with the tour company who didn’t know what was happening, we found our tour guide! After that, we got our passports stamped, went through security again, and got on our little bus. The morning’s disorganization was a great ice breaker for the eight people on my tour.
Near the beginning of our ride to Jerash, the police officers pulled us over to check our passports. I wasn’t quite sure why, but it was an interesting start. We also got water bottles and these really good date-filled cookies called Ma’amoul.
On the way to Jerash we got a lunch on wheels. Literally! We drove through this town square with various shops and our tour guide hopped in and out of our van grabbing ingredients piecemeal: pita, falafel, yogurt, and hummus. It was a fun, and tasty, experience! The hummus was really cool because it was in a container like a juice box and you just squeezed it out of a slit.
When we got to Jerash, we went to the Arch of Hadrian, the hippodrome (one of the only in the Middle East), the Temple of Zeus, and the amphitheater. They were cool ruins, and I got to meet up with an old high school friend, Ryan, who’s studying in Amman. Apparently, Amman was called Philadelphia during the Greek and Roman period.
After we left Jerash, we went to Mount Nebo, the place where it’s purported Moses died. It was a beautiful view of the surrounding area, including much of Israel. The sunset there was gorgeous, different hues of reds and yellows melting into the landscape. We also went inside the church at the top of the mountain, which housed some beautiful mosaics.
From Mount Nebo we went to a hotel near Petra, with a pit stop at a factory/shop in Madaba that created beautiful mosaics. We learned about the process and perused their store. If I ever go back, and am not a broke college student, I would love to get something from there.
When we got to our hotel, we checked in and had dinner. Our tour guide got into a conversation with us about the relationship better Israel and Jordan. He made some interesting claims about Israel being the strongest nation in the world due to support from large superpowers like the United States. He expressed his wish that Israel would be a little less cautious with security, and more open to trade with allies such as Jordan. I don’t know enough about the topic to form an opinion, though, so it looks like I have some reading to do!
After that, Alex and I went back to our rooms and talked for a little bit before heading to bed.
The next day, we got up, had breakfast in our hotel, and went to Petra! It was SO cool. When we first entered, there were these temples and burial sites carved into the stone. As we progressed further, we saw gorgeous canyons/cliffs/rocks. I’m not really sure what the appropriate word to describe them is, but they were beautiful. I think they were sedimentary rock, comprised of many layers of different types of stone. They were different shades of reds, blacks, browns, etc. As we continued further, the canyons parted way for the treasury (where they filmed Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail), which was breathtaking. It was a colossal building with ornate columns and sculptures carved into the cliff side. We spent some time around there, taking pictures and relaxing, before hiking up to the monastery.
The monastery is (according to a random lady) 1.4 times the size of the treasury. It had columns and designs etched into the stone, too, and was magnificent. We ate our lunch gazing at it.
As chance would have it, we met our friend Sarah from HebrewU at the monastery. We hung out for a few minutes and then she had to leave while Alex and I went to look at two absolutely stunning panoramas. We could see far into the distance and were so far removed from everything that it was just us and nature. It was silent and serene. No other people were there (the second viewpoint was technically closed—oops).
We had to head down to the entrance of Petra quickly, though, so we could rendezvous with the rest of our group. I ended up sitting in a bar that was constructed inside of a cave at the entrance, which was cool, and talked to the physician (Marty) for a little bit. I kind of regret not going to the museum, but Ashley said it wasn’t that great compared to the actual monuments, so I was content.
We drove south to Wadi Rum (with a pit stop for a store and bathroom) where we dropped off two people to sleep at a Bedouin camp. We then went to Aqaba and checked into our hotel and had dinner. We walked around with our guide a little bit and then went to meet Sarah at her hotel. She wasn’t picking up her phone, though, and we had trouble getting in because we didn’t have her room number. It was a whole fiasco, and we were almost ready to leave when we saw her in the hot tub! We joined her and her friend for a while before running into the Red Sea. We promptly got escorted out by security, though, because there was no lifeguard.
Alex and I stayed in the hotel hot tub for a little longer after Sarah and her friend went to sleep, then walked back to our hotel, got Alex some Popeyes chicken, and I went to this waffle shop. My tour guide joked that the waffles were the only reason he came to Aqaba, recommending the pistachio one. Naturally, I had to try them. It was a Nutella and pistachio waffle, and it was easily the best one I’ve had in my life. I decided to get a Nutella and Oreo one afterwards, which was almost as amazing. I have no regrets, though my tummy wasn’t the happiest as I laid down to sleep.
The next morning, we went to Wadi Rum, a gorgeous desert. Because I have a history of concussions, I decided not to partake in a Jeep tour (a lot of bouncing), so I wandered around the desert on foot for two hours. It was an amazing time! I had a lot of sand in my shoes, but it was extremely peaceful and beautiful. I really liked the contrast between the red tinted sand and the blue sky, as well as the perennially extending rock formations.
When I returned near the starting point, a random driver pulled up and asked if I was American, to which I said yes, and he told me to get in. I presumed I was late, and my group went somewhere else, and sure enough, he brought me to them five minutes later.
We went back to Aqaba and had some free time. I walked with Alex and got a schwarma type snack before we parted ways. I went on a snorkeling trip with four other people from my tour group, while he went off galavanting. The boat we went on was a double decker with tables and couches on top and benches and a transparent viewing floor on bottom.
We enjoyed a ride for about an hour to a shipwreck and coral area where we all went to the bottom floor and looked at the sights. It was really cool! Apparently, it was the wreck of a Spanish ship. We saw a bunch of scuba divers, coral reefs, and a variety of marine life (mainly fish).
The captain took us to a good snorkeling spot near the coral reefs, and we had about 30-45 minutes in the water. It was one of the best experiences of my trip! The coral was spectacular and the fish beautiful. I remember one that was orange near the periphery and bright pink near its center.
After a guided loop around the corals, we went back to the diving boat. The last thing I remember is seeing a jelly fish float directly in front of me (yes, I freaked out a little bit). Back on the boat, they served us a great lunch of rice, grilled meat, hummus, and pita!
We watched the sunset and chatted while heading back to the port. At some point, one of the attendants came out in a Mario costume and we had a dance party. I danced the Macarena and it was a lot of fun!
As we pulled into the port, we had about an hour before we had to cross the border, so naturally, I told my group about the waffles and off we all went! I had another amazing Nutella and pistachio waffle, which was just as delicious as the first one.
When we got back to the hotel, we loaded up our luggage and went to the border. It was much easier crossing back into Israel than it had been getting into Jordan. Our tour company had a man help us through the Jordanian side, and there was a shuttle waiting for us on the Israel side.
We had a long ride back to Jerusalem, since we crossed near Eilat (southern part of Israel). When we approached Jerusalem, we met a smaller shuttle that I got on with a few others, while the original bus continued to Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, some people forgot their luggage on the original bus. When we called the tour company and told the driver, they basically said good luck—there was no way to get them back that night (which was annoying cause the buses had maybe been five minutes apart).
They worked it out though, which was good, and we all said our goodbyes in Jerusalem. Alex and I then walked in the rain to the light rail station. I would’ve much preferred taking a taxi but Alex didn’t want to, so we got wet. Woohoo. After a missed light rail, a soaked hat, drenched socks, I was unhappy and tired by the time I got home and went to bed. I knew I would need a nap the next day.
Post Jordan week
Nothing exciting. A nap after classes, the gym, and I think I got French Hill Falafel. The next day, a similar thing: classes, followed by a meeting with Mo (no grand revelations this time, sadly, more of a wrap up), a nap, a short workout, and the Thrive family dinner! The dinner was excellent, with chicken, quinoa, and sweet potatoes. The conversation and company were great. And my laundry got done (after three hours in the dryer…).
The next morning, I wasn’t feeling well, so I slept through my alarm. When I woke up, I watched a little TV, did some reading, and went to the doctor. She basically said I had a weak virus, but should be fine soon (no fever, thankfully). Thus, I hopped on a bus to meet my friend Ryan (the one studying in Amman) in Tel Aviv for the afternoon. When I got there, we met up in the Shuk HaCarmel, one of the first places I went to in Israel, and walked towards the Jaffa Flea Market (along the beach!).
The flea market was cool, but basically a touristy shop area where people insisted on us buying things. We didn’t. We did check out a cool art gallery there, though, and walked back up the beach towards Moon Sushi! We got there a little before Wat Sang (the amazing sushi chef), so we ordered an appetizer. He posted a new roll on Instagram so I asked to try that when he got there, and then we all just got some more food based off his recommendations. He was super nice again and the food was delicious. I’m serious: if you want good sushi, go there!
After dinner, I had to run to catch a bus back home, which I made. Unfortunately, my connection took a while so I waited in the cold before finishing my trip to Jerusalem. After that, I just did some homework and got ready to go to Turkey (featured on the next blog)! It’s hard to believe that I have less than a month left before I head home… I’ve learned so much and am so grateful for the experiences I’ve had while here.