Hello wonderful people!
I hope the holiday season is off to a festive and relaxing start. Here in Israel, things are winding down as I begin the last two weeks of my first semester. It’s always amazing how fast time passes! I thought I would give you a quick update on what I’ve been up to these past few weeks before buckling down for finals. So, without further adieu…
Last Wednesday Hannah, Mimi and I hopped on a bus to the south, eager to check one of our final first-semester travel destinations, Petra, off the list. We had a subpar kosher sushi dinner in Eilat (an area of Israel many rave about but I failed to see the beauty in) and spent the night at a funky inn close to the Jordanian border crossing’s security complex. At first light the next morning we crossed the border by foot, first clearing Israeli customs and then obtaining our visa from the Jordanian security once we reached the other side. I had never crossed an international border on foot before— so I guess I get to cross that one off the bucket list! Crossing the border (which was designated by a change in the shade of grey asphalt between Israel and Jordanian security checkpoints) also was a reminder of how close Israel is to other Middle Eastern countries. Sometimes Israel (like Silicon Valley) can be very bubble-like. Even though Israel has its own set of conflicts within its borders, the high level of security within the country and on its borders make me forget how close it is to other conflicts. Beer Sheva, for example, sits half an hour west of Gaza, twenty minutes south of the West Bank, three hours from Egypt and four to five hours from Lebanon and Syria. Right in the heart of it all.
Our Jordanian tour guide, Ali, met us on the other side of the border. “A hundred welcomes to Jordan,” he exclaimed upon seeing us and the other Israelis on our tour, “a thousand welcomes to Jordan, a million welcomes to Jordan!” He helped us onto the bus and explained to us Jordanian history (from a Jordanian, rather than Israeli, perspective, which was great to hear) on our two-hour drive to Petra. Upon arrival at Petra, we explored the many wadis , carvings, tombs, and artifacts. We were especially blown away by the “Treasury”, which is the most famous portion of Petra that is still intact— you may recognize it from this Indiana Jones scene. #soepic
After walking around Petra for five hours, Ali took us to have a traditional Jordanian lunch. One of the funny things about the Middle East is that every country or group of people claim foods as their own. Hummus and falafel, for example, are served all over the Middle East, but each place will assure you that it originated from their culture. That being said, we had some hummus, Jordanian salad (or Israeli salad, depending on which side you want to take), grilled fish, potatoes, beets, and lentil soup. Ali made sure we got a good helping of dessert (which consisted of custards and bread galore) and drove us back to the border crossing. We arrived at the security checkpoint just as a sandstorm hit— coating our teeth, nostrils, and eyes with grainy sand and desert dust. We were sweaty from hiking all day, tired from spending hours and hours in a car and grimier than you could ever imagine. Needless to say, while I was thrilled to do a day-long whirlwind Petra adventure, it was nice to arrive back in Beer Sheva late that night to a clean bed and hot shower. The little things in life!
Perhaps the only other notable experience of the last two weeks (besides scrambling around putting the final touches on presentations and papers) was our trip to the north this weekend. We spent Thursday night at a moshav outside of Haifa— sleeping in heated tents (major cringe from me regarding this “glamping”) and cooking an Israeli dish called pooikey (basically a vegetable stew with rice and every spice you could imagine). Friday we went on a hike through the vineyards and fields surrounding Haifa, absorbing all the beauty of a landscape that strangely resembled northern California. It made me so homesick for hikes on Skyline and in Napa. The rest of the afternoon was spent at a spice farm picking spices for homemade pizza baking and taste testing (and purchasing) different granolas. Obviously a day in Cass heaven!
Today we had a low-key day in Acre— an ancient port city north of Haifa. We ate a lot of hummus, wandered through the shuk and took a boat ride along the port’s ancient walls. It was enjoyable, but everyone was a bit anxious and tired, preoccupied with the amount of work we have to get done for finals in the next two weeks. Such is life while studying abroad!
Now it’s time to buckle down and get into the finals groove. I will be finished with tests and presentations a week from tomorrow. After that, I’ll have four days of freedom to wander around the country before I have to pack up my bags and jet-set off into my next adventure on the 23rd— Hanukkah and Christmas in Madrid with the Weiners (our neighbors and second family)! I am beyond excited to see some familiar faces, have sleepovers with two of my three sistas, get lots of Naomi hugs, eat yummy tapas and explore a new city. Estoy tan feliz!
More updates and maybe even a comprehensive first-semester reflection (wow, that sounds professional!) next week after finals cease to exist…
Big hugs and lots of love,