The roof of the Greek Orthodox Church in the old city of Jerusalem
The 1.5 km walk through rock crevices to get to the ancient city of Petra

DECO’s features writer and copy editor Michael Owen recently travelled to Israel and shares a few of his highlights.

Jerusalem at dusk | Michael stranded in the desert on a broken down bus | the Western Wall

My best friend Amelia and I had our hearts set on travelling to South America, Colombia in particular, with its promise of an affordable Caribbean experience. Our exotic dreams came crashing down when our entire budget for our holiday would be used on the flight alone. Plan B: look for a place that was quite easy and affordable to get to (you can fly from Joburg to Tel Aviv for about R6500 return on El Al), sizzling hot with good beaches (the Western coastline of Israel is one long stretch of Mediterranean goodness) and a sprinkling of sights to satisfy the senses and strike off the bucket list (Jerusalem ahoy!). So off we went!

Israel does have very real problems, felt quite strongly during the rigorous security interview that every traveller has to endure before departure. It’s a controversial destination, but the pull to visit has always been strong. It’s a land that is part of the collective conscience, a mythical land of contradictions and Middle Eastern beauty. Its arid deserts, mounts and quiet inland seas seem as familiar as a Sunday school story.

The food is exceptional – especially if you are a fan of carbohydrates – the thinly diced Israeli salads accompany most meals as does a generous helping of humus which resembles, and tastes like, double thick cream rather than chickpeas.

The people are brusque, honest, friendly and serious, the bustling streets of its cities peopled with soldiers, religious locals and, of course, tourists making their way to the holy land for whatever reason.

Jordan landscape near Petra

Israel is a small country, roughly the size of the Kruger National Park, so it’s quite easy to see a lot in a very small amount of time. It is also widely accessible with reliable bus and train services (it’s also a country to experience on foot and extremely safe).

Landing in Tel Aviv, we decided to spend the first night in the capital to get our bearings (for more of what to do, see, where to eat, stay and party in Tel Aviv get your hands on our Trends Issue on sale now). The rest of the trip was entirely unplanned and we took it day by day. From Tel Aviv, we spent two nights in Jerusalem in order to tour the Old City, visit museums and take in the golden glow of the ancient city at dusk.

From there we travelled south towards Eilat to soak up the sun, scuba dive in the Red Sea and make sure we were settled before Yom Kippur (Israel shuts down completely during this extremely sacred holiday so we needed to be prepared). From Eilat we crossed over into Jordan to see the city of Petra (bucket list!) and travelled back into Israel to bob on the Dead Sea and, finally, meandered our way back to Tel Aviv to enjoy the beaches, exuberant nightlife, shopping and get a glimpse of The White City – the largest, original Bauhaus architecture collection in the world.

Photographer: Dror Varshavski
Bobbing in the Dead Sea and more views of Petra

Due to a shortage of time I wasn’t able to venture north to see the Bahai temple, the Sea of Galilee or the lush northern parts of Israel and would definitely recommend this if you have the time.

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 All images by Michael Owen unless otherwise stated.