Friday, February 19, 2016

Masada and the Dead Sea

Early Monday morning, Mike and I packed our bags, said goodbye to our wonderful hosts, the Mannriques and headed out. We were going to be spending the rest of our time in Israel in Jerusalem, but it was our last day with a car and we wanted to go to Masada and the Dead Sea while it was easily accessible by car. Therefore, we got up early and headed out towards Masada, which is about two hours away.

After a two hour drive, we arrived at Masada, which is a huge sight of ancient ruins. Herod the Great built palaces for himself on the mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. It's pretty incredible to think about how they built the entire palace in the first century and how it survived a major attack and all of these years of destruction.

There are two entrances to the sight and we ended up at the back entrance, which isn't as crowded. At the other entrance, there is a gondola that you can take up to the top. This entrance does not have them, which was fine because we are in decent shape and like to walk. That being said, by the time we hiked to the top, I was winded. Definitely not for the elderly or disabled.

I can imagine that taking the gondola up to the top is really cool because the views are amazing, but hiking up was awesome as well. We stopped every so often so I can take pictures and I was just amazed at the views. On the side of the sight that we hiked up, we were overlooking mountains and everything was desert-looking. On the other side, you overlook the Dead Sea, which is equally beautiful.

Once we got to the top, we explored the different parts of the palace. Mike and I were both shocked at how large it was and how well-preserved the ruins were. We saw all sorts of rooms, such as the bathing room and the overlooks where the guards would stand duty. It was really cool to imagine Herod the Great's life up on top of this hill overlooking the Dead Sea.

Ohhhh heyyyyy Dead Sea!

We were lucky because we were there in the off-season and we got there early in the morning. There were definitely other people there and, by the time we left, more and more groups were arriving, but it was never crowded. It also was really nice and cool weather. I can only imagine what it's like in the summer when it's SUPER hot and there are a million tourists. Definitely not quite as enjoyable. We hiked back down to the bottom and headed out for lunch, but not before we ran into a dead pigeon who seemed to just fall from the sky. It was strange. He definitely wasn't there when we hiked up, but was obviously dead when we ran into him (not literally, thank goodness!) on the walk back down.

 After Masada, our next stop was the Dead Sea. There are a bunch of hotels along the water and it definitely caters to the tourist. We stopped along the way for lunch and we wanted to do a little research on where we could get in the water. We found a place that most people on TripAdvisor recommended, but when we got there, it was closed due to sink holes. While some other people might be tempted to sneak around the gates and jump in, I don't mess with sink holes, so we decided to keep driving in hopes of finding another place to get in. The road you have to drive on to get from Masada to Jerusalem goes right along the Dead Sea basically the whole drive until you have to turn in to go west to the city. As we are driving, most of the water is blocked off and we began to get worried that we won't be able to find a spot. Right at the end of the road before we turn in to go towards Jerusalem, we found a beach! We were both super excited!

Luckily, this was a family beach. A lot of the beaches require men and women to be separated, but luckily, we were able to go in together. We hadn't packed swim suits, so we were definitely unprepared, but we found some gym shorts and tshirts in our bags, changed our clothes and walked in. I was surprised at how difficult it was to walk into the water. It's not flat terrain and there are a bunch of slippery mud patches that catch you by surprise, but once we got out there, it was SO COOL! It was so strange being able to sit up straight and float because of the salt. After floating around, we got out and covered ourselves with mud. It was pretty chilly and overcast, so the mud didn't dry as quickly as it probably does in the summer heat, but it did the job.


 It's amazing how soft your skin feels after washing all of the mud off. I didn't put it on my face because I didn't want to get my hair wet (typical girl), but I bet it would be a great facial! After getting all cleaned up and changed into new clothes, we hit the road again.

We had to return the rental car to the airport in Tel Aviv and then make our way to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, there isn't a bus from the airport to Jerusalem. Instead, you have to switch buses, which isn't too bad, but there aren't a lot of signs and directions, so we kind of just followed the crowd. Once we made it to Jerusalem, Jenn, an Olmsted scholar a class ahead of Mike who is studying in Jerusalem, met us to the airport and escorted us back to her house.

There was a festival a few streets over, so a few of her friends came over and we went to the festival. It was pretty cool and Mike and I were jealous because there is nothing like that in Izmir. There was music, (strange) street performers, and light shows and we spent the evening walking around and enjoying the festival. At one point, we stopped for hummus at this little restaurant and it was probably some of the best hummus I've ever had. So good!! It was a lot of fun walking around and enjoying the street festival and was a great first night in Jerusalem!

Step Count: 17,625