In 2018 I found myself booking a trip to Tel Aviv for work and extended it to cover a weekend so that I could take the opportunity to see some of the sites. When I traveled for work I often tried to find ways to extend the trip and get to see local sites and make the most out of being in the country. This wasn’t always feasible given the schedule of the client meetings I was attending but on this occasion the stars aligned for the trip.
I arrived on Saturday afternoon and would have only Sunday free before other colleagues arrived. To maximize my time I found a day trip that would take me from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and across to Bethlehem as well. It was an opportunity to tick a lot of major sites off of an Israel bucket list.
The timing of the trip was unusual – I would be in Israel during Hanukkah and it was scheduled just a few weeks before Christmas. So it seemed seasonally appropriate to visit Bethlehem when I was taking this particular trip. I was also excited to be visiting during Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights that is celebrated for a period of eight days in December. My neighbors growing up were Jewish and had invited me several times to participate in the festival, so I had happy memories and some understanding of the holiday.
This was my first time in Israel, though I returned in 2019 for work and visited the Dead Sea.
Arriving in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv had been on my radar for some time, after various friends had returned from trips there. When I heard I would be sent for work I was really excited.
Tel Aviv is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city that never fails to leave an impression on its visitors. With its stunning Mediterranean coastline, bustling nightlife scene, and incredible food culture, Tel Aviv has something for everyone. Whether you’re exploring the historic neighborhoods of Jaffa or taking in the city’s modern architecture, Tel Aviv is a destination that is sure to leave you captivated.
Although I didn’t get much of a chance to explore Tel Aviv on this trip I really appreciated the vibrancy of the neighborhood I stayed in.
I stayed at a trendy hotel called the Vera, chosen by my work colleagues.
On my arrival to this charming Tel Aviv hotel I was greeted by their fantastic staff. They had a wine dispenser for guests that featured local Israeli wines, and invited me to partake, and helped me book a nearby restaurant for the evening.
I could already seen the menorah on the bar top, and they invited me to join them in their lighting ceremony that evening. After settling into the room and enjoying a glass of local wine I made my way downstairs to participate in their Hanukkah celebration.
Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the Greek-Syrian army in 164 BCE. The holiday is celebrated by lighting the menorah, a special candelabrum with nine branches, and adding one candle each night for eight nights. Eating donuts during Hanukkah is a popular tradition in Israel because they are fried in oil, which symbolizes the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days when the Temple was rededicated.
The main receptionist, who had welcomed me earlier, began the evening by explaining the importance of Hanukkah to the gathered guests. The staff were all present and sang the traditional song while lighting the menorah. It was clear that this was not some routine for them but truly a part of their celebration. The inclusion of guests really made this a special moment of the trip for me and I appreciated the opportunity to celebrate alongside the team at the Vera. It was a unique way to experience Israel during Hanukkah.
Day Trip to Jerusalem
To make the most of my time in Israel I booked a tour that would take me to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. At the time I planned this work trip I wasn’t expecting to come back to Israel, and if there was one thing I knew I had to see it was the city of Jerusalem.
I joined a small mini van of other like minded travelers and we set off early for the city of Jerusalem. The first pit stop on the way was at a small gas station to stretch our legs. Normally I wouldn’t mention pit stops, but this was undeniably unique. It was the Elvis pit stop, named after the “King” himself, and existed as an extension of the unique conspiracy theory around Elvis.
There is a belief among some fans of Elvis Presley that the iconic singer faked his own death and is living in Israel under an assumed name. Despite the lack of evidence to support this claim, it has become a popular conspiracy theory and has even inspired a cottage industry of Elvis-themed tours in Israel.
Visiting Jerusalem is a unique experience that offers visitors the chance to explore the rich history, culture, and spirituality of one of the world’s most fascinating cities. With its ancient landmarks such as the Western Wall and the Tower of David, as well as its bustling markets and vibrant food scene, Jerusalem is a city that truly has something for everyone. Whether you are interested in religion, history, or simply soaking up the atmosphere of a truly unique city, Jerusalem is a destination that will leave you with memories that last a lifetime.
I was incredibly impressed with the history of each of the different quarters in Jerusalem, and the stunning architecture throughout the truly ancient city. We started by visiting a neighboring hill to get a glimpse of the expansive city. Then we drove around the city walls before entering the gates close to the Christian quarter, exploring the alleys and streets there as we traversed to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church is a pilgrimage location for Christians as it is believed to be the location of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. It was truly a site to see – impressive, ancient, and queues of guests waiting for a glimpse inside the interior chapel within the Church.
From there we crossed a checkpoint to enter the Jewish Quarter, where we had lunch and explore the labyrinth-like marketplace, before heading to the Wailing Wall. The Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall, is the most sacred site in Judaism and is believed to be the only remaining part of the Second Temple complex. For centuries, it has been a site of pilgrimage and prayer for Jews from around the world, and continues to be a powerful symbol of the Jewish faith and people. There are two sections to visiting the Wailing Wall, one for females and the other for males, and our group split to pay their respects to the wall and slip a note into it – a practice that is believed to allow worshipers to communicate with God and make their prayers known. I was particularly appreciative that I was able to visit the Wailing Wall and experience Israel during Hanukkah.
After our time in Jerusalem we headed off in our minivan to visit Bethlehem. Bethlehem is located in the West Bank, which is a territory that is internationally recognized as part of the Palestinian state. This mean that we had to go through a car checkpoint upon entering and leaving the West Bank, and we were required to have a guide local to the West Bank. Our Israeli guide could not operate on this part of the tour but kept us company in the van.
Visiting Bethlehem is a unique and unforgettable experience, offering visitors the chance to explore the birthplace of Jesus Christ and one of the world’s most important religious sites. The city is home to the Church of the Nativity, which is believed to be built over the site where Jesus was born, as well as many other significant Christian landmarks. With its rich history, beautiful architecture, and vibrant local culture, Bethlehem is a destination that should not be missed by anyone visiting the region.
Our tour specifically was taking us to visit a small marketplace and the Church of the Nativity.
The Church of the Nativity is a stunning example of Byzantine architecture, and is built over the site where Jesus is believed to have been born. The church features intricate mosaics, frescoes, and other artwork that date back centuries, and is a major pilgrimage site for Christians from around the world.
I was unaware that the church was Greek Orthodox until we entered, and I was astonished by my familiarity with the decor, priests and the unique scent of the incense. I was quite moved by the church and visiting the birthplace of Jesus, tucked beneath the church.
It was particularly meaningful to visit the birthplace of Jesus on the leadup to Christmas. I am Greek Orthodox but am not often
Evening in Tel Aviv
After returning to Tel Aviv I met up with my work colleagues, who had just flown in. We enjoyed more of the hotel’s gorgeous Israeli wine, and then headed off for dinner nearby. Dalida, a local restaurant, had come highly recommended by the hotel and a local friend of my colleague’s.
The local cuisine was some of the best I’ve had in my travels. That evening we ate tapas style between us all to try various dishes that the restaurant offered. Every dish was delicious, but my favorite was a meat brioche with bone marrow.
Tel Aviv for Work
The rest of the trip was focused on work meetings and engagements, but I really enjoyed everything that Tel Aviv had to offer. As a technology consultant I was impressed with the tech sector in Tel Aviv and the stunning business and financial side of town.
If I had more time on this trip I would’ve loved to have visited the Old Town in Tel Aviv, or even spent a few hours on the beaches. I was utterly charmed by the seaside city, and fascinated by the ancient city of Jerusalem. For a quick escape tied to a work trip I felt that I had been given a great chance to explore some fantastic locations in Israel in a short period of time.