Why Am I returning to countries that I’ve already been if I’m trying to visit every country in the world?
A few reasons. But most importantly, I have always been more concerned with quality experiences over simply counting countries. Most of the nearly 100 countries I’ve traveled, I have returned to. I love digging deeper into a place rather than just ticking a place off a list.
(If you were wondering, these are my favorite countries.)
Secondly, this trip to Israel would explore places I have not yet been while revisiting parts I want to explore in more depth. I have a deep affection for this part of the world. I had an incredible 6-month trip through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Egypt back in 2008. I fell in love with the hospitality of the people, the landscape, the delicious food, and the mind-boggling history of the region and never quite got over it.
These are the other reasons why I went to Israel again:
It almost always starts with a cheap flight, doesn’t it? I found a $60 fare from Athens to Tel Aviv and have been thinking about the world’s best falafel for the past 10 years (it’s in Nablus, by the way). Which leads to the next reason.
Wherever I travel, I am always on the lookout for Israeli and Middle Eastern food. So my stomach was partly to blame for this return to the Holy Land. It begins with hummus, fresh pita, and falafel. And I’m talking about really fresh, hot falafel. If you’ve had great falafel, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Jerusalem bagels from a street vendor or a late afternoon stop at an Arab sweet shop in East Jerusalem were also on my mind. Cheap shawarma wrapped up with veggies, pickles, and tahini for a quick meal. Israelis and Palestinians don’t mess around with good eats!
In 1994 my family hosted an exchange student from St. Petersburg, Russia. Fast-forward over years of email and Facebook and I am visiting him for a second time in Israel, where he’s immigrated to. His baby is now eleven years old, and it would be good to catch up with him and his wife and now three kids, two of whom I’m meeting for the first time. Besides the personal connection, visiting friends in another country provide great insight into life there.
I’ll never lose interest in the historical depth or religious complexities in this part of the world. To start, the history is just a whole different level of old. I’m used to dealing with centuries and here it’s more like millennia. And the cultures and religions are far more diverse than you might imagine. Your experiences can be as varying as visiting the gorgeous Bahai Temple in Haifa, to touring a brewery run by Christians in the West Bank, to a sunrise climb up the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mt. Masada, to visiting a very small community of Samaritans, to admiring the exquisite Dome of the Rock, to wading in the river where Jesus was baptized.
If you’re not impressed, stop in Jericho, where archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements, the first of which dates back 11,000 years.
The mere existence of Israel is controversial. Formed out of the British colonial mandate of Palestine in May 1948, Israel and the Middle East have been plagued with instability ever since. During my first visit to Israel in 2008, I spent the majority of my time in the West Bank, learning the viewpoints of the Palestinians. During this trip, I wanted to spend my time in Israel with the goal of balancing out my perspective.
Have you been to Israel and the Palestinian Territories? Would you return?