If you’re familiar enough with the travel blogging industry to know of TBEX, you may know that the conference was held in Jerusalem a few months ago.
Being that TBEX is the industry’s biggest conference, many travel bloggers and industry professionals flocked to Jerusalem for the week and had the chance to fully experience this very surprising & underrated city.
Now, I’m not going to talk about TBEX, because despite having had a fantastic time, I don’t really like talking about blogging on my blog.
But I am bringing this up because for many of the visitors who were coming in for the conference, it was their first time in Israel!
Read More – What The Media Doesn’t Tell You About Jerusalem
I’ve been living in the country for 9 years now.
When I first moved, I was coming from the UK and I experienced quite a lot of culture shock.
But since I’ve become very well-adjusted to the culture and people, I have forgotten what my country and culture looks like to an outside visitor. I’m curious to know how visitors experience this country when they come and I always find it really eye-opening to see my home from their perspective.
So I decided to ask a bunch of my new travel blogger friends to share their first time experiencing Israel and some questions about what they thought of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, during their first visits. Let’s get to it!
What made you decide to visit Israel for the first time?
Anita Sane (The Sane Travel) – I made my decision to visit Israel for the first time mainly because of attending TBEX Jerusalem.
Svet Dimitrov (Svet Dimitrov)- My brother and his wife bought me a ticket to the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) International conference in Jerusalem.
Karen Warren (World Wide Writer) – It wasn’t actually my first trip as I had visited Israel once before. However that was in 1976 so a few things have changed since then! I made this trip because TBEX International was being held in Jerusalem.
What were the reactions from friends and family when you told them?
Anita – The reactions from my friends and family were neutral.
Karen – The most common reaction was “You’re never at home!”. One or two people were a bit negative, because they didn’t like what they’d read about the political situation.
Rachel Heller (Rachel’s Ruminations) – Depending on the political situation, I’ve often gotten questions like “Is it safe?” or “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” People were particularly horrified when I took my family, including the kids, in the summer of 2014, when the “Gaza War” had broken out. We had booked to go in order to attend a cousin’s bar mitzvah and we didn’t want to let the family down. After all, they live there all the time; we were just planning a week or two. So I did my research to follow where the Gazan rockets were landing, and we avoided those areas.
What were your expectations of Jerusalem & Israel before arriving and did you have any fears?
Maxine Marlowe (Max Is On The Move) – Since I’ve heard many fabulous, positive stories from friends and family all I heard was “you’ll love it”. A few people were apprehensive and would ask if I was afraid. But no, I had no fears. If it was that dangerous, I think the trip would have been cancelled.
Karen – My biggest fear was that negative perceptions of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would be reinforced. I hoped that I would find that the media was all wrong.
Rachel – On that particular trip in 2014, I expected a very tense situation, but was surprised at how relatively calm everyone was. They were following the news closely, but otherwise just getting on with their lives. (Of course, I didn’t meet anyone in Gaza or the places where the Gazan rockets were landing, and I assume it wasn’t business as usual for them!) The fact is, Israelis (both Arab and Jewish Israelis) live with a certain level of threat hanging over them all the time. So they’ve learned to take it all pretty philosophically. They build safe rooms into their houses and use them as storage spaces or spare bedrooms. If there’s a threat, they know what to do.
After having spent time there, were your expectations met? Were your fears justified?
Karen – Some opinions certainly were confirmed (for instance, that it’s all incredibly complicated!) but generally I was pleased to find people just getting on with their lives and trying to understand one another. I didn’t have any particular fears about safety, but in general I felt safer this time than I did in 1976.
Anita – I didn’t have any fears at all.
Svet – I really loved many things in Israel – people’s incredibly friendly attitude, their eloquence and witty minds, as well as their sense for partying. One would imagine that Jerusalem is not a place for having fun.
What was the most surprising thing you learned or saw during your time in Israel?
Svet – I was surprised to learn that, as I mentioned, Israeli people love to party so much. I had a Jewish girlfriend in the past and she was telling me people are very open and easy going. But I guess I needed a first-hand experience. I was also surprised by how the different religions in the Holy City were able to cohabitate despite the staggering contrasts between them. I guess we live under the same sun 😉
Maxine – My most surprising thing I saw was walking the small “streets”, David Street, near the Jaffa gate, down those narrow cobblestoned streets, the shuks, with merchant after merchant being Arabic, Muslim, Armenian, Christian, Jewish owned – all working every day next to each other, each one being able to guide me to a special shop whose name I had, each chatting with one another, all getting along.
Rachel – Israel is not at all like what is presented in the media, which over-simplifies the politics to a ridiculous extent. If you believe the press, Israel only has two sides – Orthodox Jewish (with black hats and side curls) who are settlers on West Bank land and Arab Muslim Palestinians. Not true. Many of the Jews are not Orthodox. Many do not support the establishment of settlements and do support a two-state solution. Many Arabs are Israelis. Some are Christian rather than Muslim. They don’t all support a two-state solution. It’s just much more complicated and thorny than the version the media shows.
Would you recommend others to visit? Would you like to share some tips?
Anita – Yes, I would recommend everyone to visit Israel. A tip that I’d like to share is that it is very important for an individual traveller to take the Shabbat seriously when planning your travel.
Karen – I’d definitely recommend visiting, as Jerusalem is the foundation of a lot of the world’s history and culture. Top tips:
- Travel with an open mind
- Explore as widely as possible – there’s an awful lot of variety in Israel, with history, countryside and modern culture.
- Enjoy the food – especially the hummus!
Svet – Yes, definitely. Israel is a heaven for vegetarians and vegans, but carnivores will also find their favourite dishes. It’s a country washed in history and soaked in emotions you can only feel by trotting its ancient roads. I’d recommend people to leave their prejudices at home, pack themselves for a fun and exciting trip, and courageously navigate around the secrets of this amazing country.
Read More – Photo Essay: The Secretly Cool City Of Jerusalem
And there you have it! A collection of travellers sharing their first time experiencing Israel!
If you’ve already visited, what was your first time experiencing Israel like? If you haven’t already visited, would you like to? Feel free to share below!
Be Brave & Be Kind,