Day 6, our second day in Ein Gedi, was possibly the most memorable of our entire honeymoon. It was the day we visited the Dead Sea, and undertook our now-infamous sunrise hike at Masada. An alternative title for this post might be: “the time I almost divorced my husband because we nearly died on our honeymoon”.
Setting Out (Very Early)
If you’re not familiar, Masada is an ancient fortification on the top of an isolated rock plateau in the Southern District of Israel. Its name is a rough translation/anglicised version of the word for “fortress” in Hebrew.
Rowan miraculously awoke early enough to get us out the door in time long before sunrise. The national park was about 15 minutes’ drive from Ein Gedi. We found it no problem (thank you again, GPS!) even though it was dark and eerily quiet. There were a couple of tour groups milling around the entrance (almost exclusively American), but we seemed to be the only ones heading up solo. We paid our 56 shekels to enter, and made our way in just as it was starting to get light.
I asked Rowan where we were headed. This was the moment that things started to turn. My dear husband pointed at the sheer fucking cliff-face immediately in front of us, and said “Up there!” so nonchalantly that I was sure that he was kidding.
He was not.
One of the best parts of travelling – no question – is the chance to sample local food. To do this experience justice, I’m going to publish a series of posts (my Ultimate Guide to Eating in Israel) to cover all facets of our culinary exploration. This is Part I: where we ate in Israel, a highlights reel.
Ah, Benedict. While it’s perhaps not the rustic local street-vendor fare you’d expect from adventurous travellers, we loved Benedict so much that we ate there no fewer than three times during our stay (read about them here, here, and here).
We discovered Benedict when we awoke, jet-lagged, at 4AM on the morning of Day 2. We flipped through the Time Out Israel magazine, helpfully supplied by the hotel. The article that proved to be our holy book – 33 More Things That Will Definitely Happen When You Move To Israel – referenced a “drunk early bird special at Benedict”. We weren’t drunk (yet), but we were certainly starving early birds. Flipping through the magazine and a quick review on Google Maps led us to the nearest location: Rothschild Blvd 29, Tel Aviv – just up the road from our accommodation.
I’ll be honest: when it comes to travel, I’ve always been a DIY kind-of gal. I’ve spent hours scouring websites for airline deals, and I’ve plunged the depths of accommodation reviews. Doing the legwork had never been an issue for me… until it came time to book a honeymoon in Israel. Holy moly. Enter the secret sauce for a honeymoon that is both unforgettable and hassle-free: an amazing travel agent.
It probably won’t come as any great shock to those of you who have followed this blog for a while, but… we didn’t do a great job in preparing ourselves for our honeymoon. One thing that we really should have locked in ahead of time is managing money in Israel. There were a lot of tips and tricks that, had we known before we left, would have made the trip much smoother. Here’s everything with which we really should have armed ourselves before we jetted off, put all together in one place, just for you!
Formally, Israel’s currency is the Israeli New Shekel, but pretty much everyone calls it by its former name: the New Israeli Shekel. This gets abbreviated to “NIS” a lot. Technically, the NIS breaks down into “aragot” (100 aragot to the NIS, so it’s the exact equivalent of cents in the dollar), but we didn’t see prices in aragot all that often. Most prices are rounded off.
As you’ll recall, come Day 5 we were due to transfer from Tel Aviv to Ein Gedi for the weekend… but we’d had to make a hasty change to our plans for transit, thanks to the Shabbat. We had sojourned across the city to the airport – risking life and limb – to rent a car for a Dead Sea road trip (given the lack of public transport options).
As we prepared to depart, checking out of our accommodation, the hotel manager dropped a delightful little knowledge bomb on us: apparently, there are car rental services in Tel Aviv city, rendering our entire little drama-filled expedition to the airport earlier that week completely unnecessary. We tried to explain that we had looked online and couldn’t see any places closer than the airport, to which she replied (seeming somewhat, and most understandably, miffed) that we “could have asked her”. Bloody Aussie tourists…
Still, we weren’t going to let it get us down. After all, here we were! Road tripping our way to a luxurious resort at the Dead Sea. This is living!
So, the day of our pre-booked wedding gift tour of Jerusalem finally arrived! This conspicuously coincided with the day that our body clocks seemed to finally adjust to Israeli time – we had to set an alarm to make sure we were up-and-at-em for the 7:15Am pick-up.
We were collected from the door by an older Jewish man who could best be described as “crotchety”. He explained that he was just there to pick us up, and he would take us to a central depot to hand us over to our tour guide. In my usual (hilarious) form, I quipped: “So, you get all the good jobs, yeah?”. He waited a beat, looked at me rather seriously, and said: “No,”.
On we went!
At the depot, the tourists were corralled into buses with typical Israeli efficiency (see: none). It was about 9AM when we finally got on the road.
The tour guide was Hava, and she was great! She gave us quite the geography lesson, and covered quite a bit of Israeli history as well. It turns out, Israel is bloody tiny – 196km from north to south on the west side, and 490km on the east side, so you can basically drive around it in a day. Blew our little Aussie minds.
Our first pit stop was an Elvis cafe (of course!) plonked into the middle of the desert. You really do get ’em everywhere. We milled around, checking out the memorabilia, side-stepping the dozens of roaming cats, and paid a shekel each to use the bathroom before we got back on the road.