Jerusalem vs Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea & Segregation.
After falling asleep on the train from Ben Gurion airport, I awoke to a torso-long gun being gripped by the hands of a man opposite.
My first thought was confusion; where was I again? My second, panic; were we under attack? And my third? Forced relief. Given his and everybody else’s body language I assumed he was a soldier heading to or from work (in Israel 17 & 18 year old lads have to serve in the army.) Needless to say, my first impression of this conflicted nation wasn’t a particularly pleasant one; for the remainder of the journey I sat silent & still..
Sadly, my discomfort didn’t end on the tracks. I’m not sure if it were because I was white, English, young (and naive), gay or non-religious but, never in my life have I felt as vulnerable & uncomfortable as I did in Jerusalem; everyone I passed glared, shop keepers pulled me into their shops… One in particular shook my hand and refused to let go until I ventured inside. (I bought a wooden camel in order to leave amicably.)
The shops were interesting; more like caves sprouting off narrow meandering alleys & streets. The brickwork was intricate, the climate beautifully hot but the ambiance strangely surreal. (I did veer off the generic streets so maybe this is an unfair depiction of the world’s ‘holiest city’…)
From Jerusalem came a solo taxi ride to the Dead Sea where we passed through checkpoints and the building of a giant wall – both of which were ‘tools to segregate the community,’ my taxi driver informs me.
Considering it’s the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea was completely understated (something I loved!) I stayed a few hours & had a swim (I didn’t get the whole, ‘you can’t drown in it because of the salt…’ Course you could drown in it!)
From here I ventured back to the capital, to the exact opposite of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv. This sky-scraper filled city was buzzing with life, warmth and vibrancy; beaches and walkways with spectacular views, bars and clubs galore; an obviously very different feel. One of my nights was spent in a gay club which was hosting a Eurovision themed event (it was fab – and the guys were lovely)
The unusual thing about Israel, was that I fell in love with what I normally dislike; big westernised cities, like Tel Aviv, whilst resenting what I usually crave; cultural places brimming with history… like Jerusalem.
In fairness, the people could have made the difference; with Jerusalem I was a fish out of water having just arrived. By the time I reached Tel Aviv, the culture shock may have settled plus I’d met up with old friends & met new ones… That said, I have no intention of ever returning but, if I were to, I’d categorically invest in a local tour guide for the Holy City – or arrange to meet people in advance.
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