Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New Year's Eve in Egypt: Yes or No?


The Great Pyramids of Giza
I had been thinking about Egypt, the Pyramids, the Pharaons and the Red Sea for a while now. In the past few months, I also had decided that I would travel less and invest more time in my city, in my friends and local activities, in order to discover my own territory, from which I had been far away for so many years and longed for too long. As often happens, things don't exactly go according to plans...It is a cold winter evening of early December, and I have invited my best friend over for dinner. We start talking about NYE, what shall we do, where shall we go, what are the options in Naples (where we both live), and, between one idea and another, we sip, slowly but surely, a very nice bottle of red wine. And...here we go again! We start fantasizing about a trip together, how nice would that be to go to a warm country, maybe somewhere where we wouldn't necessarily travel alone AND...here I am with my credit card in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, booking a ticket to... CAIRO! It's official, we are spending NYE in Egypt this year!
We leave in the morning of December 29th from Rome and arrive in Cairo in the late afternoon, in a deserted!! airport. We think that it must be because of the arrival time, but we will soon realize that in Egypt there are no tourists, or almost none. We grab a taxi from the airport, after endless negotiations with, at least, 3 different men, desperate to take us to the city center. When we finally pick one, or better, when the most tenacious of them, finally manages to convince us, we get into the car and to our guesthouse, which is VERY central but also very VERY basic, we quickly change and decide to go towards the Ramses station, as the day after the plan is to take a night train and go down south, direction Aswan. 

Remarkable things that happened in Cairo during the evening of December 29th, 2017

- Once at the station, we are the only foreigners in sight. Stations are usually doggy, the one in Cairo is extra-doggy and, in addition, nobody is able to understand us. English is not spoken and apparently they're not so used to dealing with tourists. Once we make it clear that we want a night train to Aswan, they send us from a guichet to another, and when we are finally about to pay (apparently, we can only pay in EURO for that "VIP" train) they tell us that they don't accept coins, so basically how do you pay 77 euro (quite pricey, isn't it?!) if they don't accept 2 euro in coins, nor exchange 5 euro, nor accept the 2 euro in local currency? Exhausted, we decide to give up, we would try again the day after.


Ramses Station - Cairo
- We are starving and decide to try some street food in the street behind the station. The food is not that bad, a pita with fried aubergines and felafel - not that bad, if you don't look at the hygiene, or, better said, the non-hygiene of that little truck and the filthy street where we stand. The food truck is very nice though, adorned with nice colors and baskets full of vegetables, so I decide to take a picture of it, God forbid! People start shouting at me in a very scary way and although I didn't have any human beings in my picture, they want it removed from my phone instantly. Welcome to Cairo!


Food in Cairo
- After eating and having a quick tour around, we decide to head back to our guesthouse, as we are quite tired after the trip and all the impressions of that evening. I propose to take the metro, and so we do. Once we sit, my friend looks at me and says:"Have you seen how many women there are in this coach, and look at how many more are getting in!" Three minutes later, a lady sitting in front of us, with her basic English, asks us "Are you tourists?"  "Yes", "From where?", "Italy", "Well, you have to get off as this is a female coach and your friend can't be here!". It is the first time in my life that I have experienced metro segregation between male and female. At the next stop, we get off and get into another coach, obviously the men one. There is no way that I would separate from my friend, so there I stand, the only woman among a river of men, looking at me like I am an alien. Finally it's time to get off, we walk 5 minutes and are back to the guesthouse.

- At the guesthouse, we ask to the reception guy if the day after he could book for us the famous train tickets to Aswan and, with a big smile, he says:"Sure! And you will only pay 30 euro each with me, not 77 as they asked at the station, for the exact same VIP night train". Of course, we immediately agree, anything in order to avoid the hassle of going to the station again! We just don't know yet that he will book for us a 2nd class ordinary ticket in a train with broken chairs, broken windows, broken toilets, where once again, we will be the only tourists for a 15 hours ride to Aswan (a single ticket costs 55 Egyptian pounds, equivalent to 2,50 euro - so they made a profit of 27,50 euro on each one of us, well done!). 

Welcome to Egypt!  

December 30th, 2017 - The Pyramids


Finally the big day has arrived, we go see the Pyramids today! We get a car from the guesthouse early in the morning and in about 1 hour drive we arrive at the first site on the list, the Pyramids of Saqqara

I don't want to spend time in describing how amazing this site is: what mostly shocked me is what I saw on the way there. From Cairo to Saqqara, all you can see are destroyed buildings, where people actually live, dirt, rivers completely covered in trash, kids playing in dumps, people walking barefoot, roads that can't be called roads, military forces and all sort of armed groups every 50 meters or so. Even when you get at the Pyramids, they check your car with metal-detectors, ask questions about you, your nationality and the reasons why you're there...not the best way to start your sightseeing day! 


Saqqara Pyramids, Laughs and Friends Love 
After Saqqara, we head to the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. After being checked once more, we enter into the site and decide to take horses to visit the entire area (quite huge and tiring to walk, being all desert and sand dunes). We finish the visit almost at sunset time, and seeing the sun going down behind the pyramids was just beautiful! Of course, this is a must see site, being one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World ❤
Once we are done with this amazing scenery, we head back to the guesthouse, take a shower and get ready for the night trip to Aswan.
Once we step into the train, we immediately realize that we have been scammed: no sleeping VIP train for us, just an old, dirty coach with old, dirty, non-reclining chairs. Oh well, what can we do? We try to sleep, rest and, most of all, we laugh and make the best out of that crazy trip, where people jump off the train while it still moves, till the morning, when we finally get to Aswan, where we have decided to spend NYE ☺☺☺


The Great Pyramids of Giza
December 31st, 2017 - NYE Party   

We arrive in Aswan by lunch time, and head straight to the hotel. We have booked a very nice hotel for just 25 euro each and I have never been so happy to find a clean room with a clean bed, after 15 hours journey. We eat, spend some time at the swimming pool and head towards the colorful souk, where you can find any sort of local goods, from spices to carpets, from traditional baskets to talismans. In Aswan I bought the cheapest souvenirs and also the tastiest mint tea ever! In the late afternoon, we head back to the hotel, as we have booked ourselves into the NYE party organized at the hotel premises and we want to rest and look pretty, for the last night of 2017 💖
At the party, once again, we are the only tourists among locals. We have bought 2 very expensive beers in a hidden bar down-town (come on, what kind of NYE would it be without bubbles!) and I have dressed up with a skirt and a t-shirt, making of me a rebel for a night and also the in-discussed guest star, so much to deserve an interview by local TV!  
After the buffet dinner, we wait for midnight, surrounded by laud Arabic music - which I always loved, to be completely honest - and once midnight comes my friend and I hug and kiss and we realize that we are the only ones doing that, even wife and husband don't touch nor show in public any signs of affection to wish each other all the best for the new year who has just began.Traveling teaches you so much, these people were there just like us, on holidays, having fun, listening to music, caressing their kids, appreciating good food, celebrating life. At the same time, they seemed so far away from us, in terms of freedom, attitude, and beliefs. As they would say in Asia:"Same Same but Different" and this is the entire beauty of this world.        


Drinking Mint-Tea in the Souk of Aswan
January 1st, 2018 - Abu Simbel Temples

We wake up early and get a car to go the magnificent Temples of Abu Simbel, among the most beautiful creations that I have ever seen in my life! From Aswan is about 6 hours drive (3 to go and 3 to come back) and for the entire journey there is pretty much just the desert surrounding everything with its beauty and immensity. We were lucky enough to have full moon and sunset on the way back, immersed into desert and silence! This day was just perfect, even though I could not quite get why our driver was always asking us to keep the curtains of the car windows closed the few times that we saw other people on the way...later we will realize that it was to protect us from the high risk of kidnapping in that specific area of Egypt...



Abu Simbel Big Temple 


Abu Simbel Big Temple
January 2nd, 2018 - The fight!

We wake up quite early again, as today we head towards our next destination: Luxor. We don't know yet how we will get there, however we have met an Egyptian girl at the hotel that offers to bring us to the local bus station and negotiate a good price with the local drivers that leave to Luxor. Once we get there, and after about 20 minutes conversation, she comes back to us telling us that they do not want to take us on-board, as crossing the desert with two foreigners is too risky, as the probability of getting stopped to kidnap us is high! Oh dear! So, now, how the heck do we get to Luxor, which is about 5 hours from Aswan?! The girl starts negotiating with a guy that could bring us there, we agree to go with him only if he can find a newer car - the one that he has will not even get us to the gas station in front of where we are. He tells us that another friend is coming with a new car, and naively, we pay. While we wait for his friend to arrive, the driver that brought us yesterday to Abu Simbel appears and we immediately decide to go with him - he had been very nice to us and his car was good! So, I go to the guy which was still holding my money and tear off the money from his hands before he can even realize it. In a split second we are into the other car, secured and with the curtains closed. Unfortunately, we underestimated the reaction of the guy and his friends: they start assaulting our car from all sides, even the Egyptian girl that is with us in the car is scared, as they shout against us and our new driver, the car bounces left and right, and the worse is when I glimpse from a small fissure and I see people with guns in their hands! The worse goes thru my mind, however, we manage to escape and arrive in Luxor safe and sound (including our Egyptian friend, who came all the way to Luxor with us just to escort us, as she felt somehow responsible for what had just happened). 

Once in Luxor, we say good bye to our heroes (the driver and the girl) and we go visiting 2 of the most important temples of the country: the temple of Karnak and the temple of Luxor. That evening, in the hotel, we meet a very nice Egyptian tour guide from Alexandria that has been living in Luxor for the past 10 years, and she's bored and kind of depressed, due to the fact that in Luxor there is nothing going on and she's 40 and still single. I tell her to come to Europe, where she will find new opportunities, new challenges and new excitement. She looks at me with a resigned face and with a big sigh she tells me: "If only it were so simple..." This is when you realize how lucky you are to have a certain passport, to be born in a certain country rather than another and to be free to decide of your own life, where to live, where to go on holidays, who to marry, and if to marry, at all. 


Luxor Temple

January 3rd, 4th 2018 - Finally at the beach! 


Once again we wake up super early - Gosh, this holiday is killing me - and we go to the Valley of the Kings, to visit the famous tombs of the Pharaons and the Colossi of Memnon. After this sunrise experience, we finally head to a beach destination: Hurgada! Not before 5 hours drive into the desert, of course...In Hurgada we manage to get a 5 stars resort for 25 euro each, ALL included. This is the best deal that I have done in ages! The day after I book myself into a full day on the boat, including snorkeling in one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world and island hopping. I have to say that December is not the best month to go to Egypt nor snorkeling or diving there, as it is quite chilly and the wind blows strong and cold! The snorkeling was great though, as were the people that I met on the boat that day ☺



Hurgada
January 5th, 2018 - Back to Cairo!

We leave from Hurgada at 2pm with a local bus - this time they let us on-board! - and arrive in Cairo around 8pm. We quickly grab an Uber, get to the guesthouse and hop into the car of the reception guy, as there has been a mistake and there is no place for us where we booked. They have upgraded us to another roof-top guesthouse of the city center (God only knows the name), so we quickly check in, get out to have dinner and go to sleep. Tomorrow we fly back to Italy.     


Somewhere in the Egyptian Desert
Interesting people that we met in Egypt:

The Egyptian girl who saved us from the fight and traveled with us till Luxor just to make sure we made it there safely. 
A polish girl that I met on the boat in Hurgada, living in Scotland, converted to Islam, she had bought a house in Hurgada and used to spend there her holidays with her little kid (she was divorced and not well seen by her family back in Poland, because of her faith and social status of single mum). She wore a long hijab and I found her so delicate and elegant! 
Two Australian sisters of Egyptian origins that I met on the boat in Hurgada and again on the bus back to Cairo. They spoke fluent Arabic and managed to get us cheaper stuff, Orthodox, they offered me a bible hoping that I would become a better person under God's guidance.
  
Facts that you might want to know about Egypt:

1) Is it safe to go to Egypt now?
If I had to go back soon, I wouldn't, to be completely honest with you. The situation is very unstable and you can see it and feel it pretty much everywhere. 
2) Is it safe, as a girl, to travel alone to Egypt? 
Personally, I couldn't have been happier to be traveling, for once, with a friend of mine (guy, even better). So, no, I wouldn't advise girls to travel alone, especially if moving a lot thru the country. 
3) Is it safe to travel without an organized tour? 
You can, as we did. However, if you go with an agency, you might save yourself some stress due to finding out how to get to a place, where to go and to whom to rely upon. At the same time, our adventures were the best thing of this trip and the memories that I will keep with me for ever. 
4) Is December/January a good period to travel to Egypt?
Yes and No. Meaning that in this period is not too warm and places are not too crowded. However, for swimming,diving, snorkeling, sunbathing, wearing t-shirts and bikini it was a bit cold, especially in the night.
5) Do they try to rip you off? 
Yes, constantly. Always negotiate, at least, half of the price for everything.
6) Is Cairo the best place to buy souvenirs? 
Nope, buy stuff in the local markets of smaller cities. Cairo is expensive and there is very little choice. 
7) Despite all the above, is the country worth visiting once in a lifetime? 
Definitely yes, where else can you see the Pyramids?!?!

Where to stay and where DO NOT! 

Cairo: My Hotel Hostel → Very basic, kind of dirty, especially if you book a room with shared bathroom (which we did not, however they still gave us a room without private bathroom, as there was a "mix-up" in the bookings). In addition, they scammed us with the train tickets, letting us pay 4 times the normal price. Wouldn't stay again nor advise people to go there. The only plus is the location, very central and in front of the metro.

Aswan: Citymax Hotel Aswan → Excellent hotel, central, clean, great view on the Nile, great breakfast. Totally recommended! 

Luxor: Iberotel Luxor → Good old-fashioned hotel, central, great buffet and breakfast.

Hurgada: Desert Rose Resort → Excellent resort, with all inclusive formula as well, food was good as well as the entire structure. Clean, relaxing, with a nice beach and big swimming pools where to relax. Totally recommended! 

Where to eat:

Cairo: Felfela
Aswan: Makka
           

Friday, May 12, 2017

My first step in South America: destination COLOMBIA!

I always knew that if I'd go to South America, I'd never ever wanted to leave that place again. And so it was: point being, I know myself too well. But why South America was such a strong experience and why it gave me such a powerful energy, some of which I am still using up to now, in order to survive to this western world that doesn't suit me at all? Well, the reasons are many, however I'll try to sum them up: 
The people, of course! As soon as I stepped out of the plane in Medellin, risking to miss my connection to Cartagena because of the delay, I was immediately reassured by the check-in attendants, young boy and girl, who told me: "tranquila, tienes tiempo!" with a big smile on their faces. I felt immediately better, managed to catch my plane and even got my backpack delivered, despite 3 layovers and the delay! This is what happens when you do not worry too much about things, in the first place :-) 
People from Carribean
The impressions about people were confirmed during my stay in Cartagena and on the Isla Grande, part of the Islas del Rosario. Not only Colombians, who are extremely nice, but Latinos in general, are some of the nicest people I have ever met. And I think this is also due to the fact that I felt really home, being them so similar to Southern Italians, for their way of approaching, speaking to you, acting among other people, smiling, believing in fatalities, enjoying present life and not worrying too much about "tomorrow". Life will always give you solutions, if you believe so! The food: oh! Food! So similar to what we eat here! Meaning, a lot of fresh fish and vegetables. Too bad we do not have their amazing coconut rice and fried platanos, these really made my stay over there! And the ceviche, made of fresh lobster and shrimps, how delicious was that! There was a fisherman on the island who brought it on a small wooden boat directly to the beach, every day! And you would eat your plate straight into the water, that amazing Caribbean water! I am still dreaming of it! The language, my favorite language in the world! When you go to a place and you speak the language, obviously things are way easier and the contact with locals becomes immediate. But my biggest satisfaction came when they asked me from which part of South America did I come from!?? And not just for the language, but also for the way I look ;-) This is the best compliment one can give me, also because I am and I feel a Latina after all ;-) Plus, every time I go to a Spanish speaking country, I feel that my language skills improve more and more and I simply adore speaking and listening to this language! The music: when I lived in Belgium, one of the first things that I noticed when going out, was the fact that despite the nice music, people wouldn't dance, unless they got drunk. In Naples, as soon as people hear a note, they start moving, and the same happens in South America, where music and dance mean culture. It is very common to get involved in street shows, and music is everywhere, all the time. Even better, on the Isla I lived in a house where the guy managing it was also a DJ, so we basically had great music at all times, day, evening and night! He was also playing at parties we organized on the beach surrounded by a mangroves wood, these parties gathered people - not so many, as the island at that time was not so full - from all over the world and this, together with the music, is one of the best memories I have of this trip. 

Mangroves Wood on the Isla Grande
The nature: you see trees, colors of the sea, animals and landscapes that you have never seen before. The nature over there is so majestic, human beings have to adapt to it and live according to it, not the other way around. 

Trees on Isla Grande


The colors: not just the ones of the nature, but also the ones of the cities, at least, of Cartagena. All houses are nicely painted, with such strong colors that make you happy just by looking at them, they give you an immediate shoot of "alegria", and that doesn't leave you for the entire time you're there. 


Me and my selfie-stick in Cartagena
Steeets of Cartagena 

Fruit seller in Cartagena
The superstitions, the traditions and the faith: South Americans have so many amulets, so many superstitions linked to traditions and faith that I really felt like I was back in Naples, one of the cities with the most superstitious people in the world ;-) I bought myself a "horseshoe" with a holy cross linked to it and a prayer included in the package, in order to protect my home and my beloved ones. 
I also bought myself and my dear ones a dream-catcher, there is one in almost every South-american house. The legend wants that the bad dreams stay caught in the net and the good ones pass thru the air, get out of the house, and become true. I like this story!
Last but not least, during this trip I discovered the Palo Santo, a mystical tree that only grows in South America and that it's used for all purposes, by burning it. It can be an incense, but it is mainly used to get rid of negative energies and clear the air. I bought a bag of it in the market in Cartagena and I light it up all the time now that I am back home, the smell of it is just so nice!
The art-craft: I couldn't resist, and in Cartagena I bought myself sandals, bags, paintings, stuff for the house, a hand-painted original Panama hat etc...the colors of the city are reflected in everything they produce, and I decided that my house and myself deserved a tropical touch! 

Artesania en Cartagena

               
        

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Born again: Traveling Solo to Israel, Jordan and the Amazing Middle East

December 28th, 2016 - the panic phase. 

Tomorrow afternoon I have my flight to Tel Aviv, departing from Rome. It is 6 pm and I am still in Naples, in the comfortable warmth of my parents' house, wondering if I should leave alone for this trip. In the bottom of my heart, I know it will be great and I know I will love it, but still something is happening to me, something that never happened to me before: I am SCARED. I am scared of traveling alone to the Middle-East, landing in Tel Aviv, only 8 hours drive from Aleppo, where the worse is happening to human beings. I am scared of going to Jordan, where there has been a terrorist attack last week, in one of the most important touristic sites of the country. I am scared of having to stay in Istanbul waiting for my connection. I get scared if I only look at that geographical area on the map. And speaking to my friends, family and colleagues is not helping me, as each one of them has a different view on the world and what risks - and happiness - mean. Foreign Affairs Ministry websites are not helping either, describing threats everywhere. But what is the alternative? Buying another ticket and go to my friends of a lifetime in Brussels? Of course, I would have a place to stay over there. Staying in Naples with friends that I don't get to see that often? None of these options appeal to me, plus I am in a healing process, once again. My trust has been abused, once again. And I need to remove from my life a toxic person that has been very dear to me, once again. I know myself and the solution, right now, is to immerse myself into another world to see, smell and feel what I have never seen, smelled or felt ever before. I am in contact with a guy who lives in Tel Aviv, from the UK, I guess, Sam, contacted over Facebook. He's been very kind to me, reassuring me all the time about how quiet the situation is over there and about how much I'll love Tel Aviv. Also, the pictures on the Facebook page I follow look really cool! So off I go, in my car, to Rome. Saying goodbye to my super worried parents that must be wondering where have they gone wrong - or right - to deserve a daughter like me 😉
I arrive in Rome pretty late and pretty tired, quickly pack my backpack, and go to bed: tomorrow I have a long day ahead.

December 29th, 2016 - the brave phase, Middle-East, here I come.

I wake up quite relaxed, and get to the airport. At the check-in desk the guy from the airline asks me: "so, are you going to Tel Aviv together with Mr. Rossi?" I look at him puzzled, then I look at a guy that was standing before me in the line and that just moved aside, he's Mr. Rossi, and he's also going to Tel Aviv. Even if we are not going together, I already feel reassured about the fact that I am not the only crazy one around. In the plane, I sit next to a Jewish guy from Rome, he studied in Tel Aviv at university and his girlfriend is still studying over there, so he goes back once a month to visit her and, of course, they're spending NYE together in TLV. We speak a lot about the country, the city, life there, religion, food, he gives me endless tips on where to eat the best humus, the best falafel, where to go out, what to see, how to move around etc...I am still sitting in the plane and I'm already excited 😊 We arrive in Israel around 10 pm, the passport control is not as bad as I had heard it would be - they only ask me if I speak Hebrew, due to my name which apparently, beside being Greek and Italian, is also Jewish. Well, they also want to know why Israel, where am I staying, why I travel alone, what will I visit and the name of my dad?!? Anyways, within 10 minutes I am sharing a cab with Mr. Rossi and a Japanese guy, we drop them off at their hostel and proceed to the Florentine Hostel in the old city of Yafo. The old city, at night, is creepy. I check-in and I realize that I am starving, so off I go to the narrow streets hoping to find something comestible. I come back to the hostel with a so called "pizza" from PizzaHut, sit next to the Mexican guy who runs the place over night and try to understand why he moved to Tel Aviv from Mexico. He's just in love with the country and the city. I am so thankful I booked a private room, this hostel is definitely a party hostel and I feel I don't have the age anymore to party all night, especially after such a long trip.

The best falafel EVER

December 30th, 2016 - I do have a guardian angel.    

I wake up to a super sunny day, have breakfast on the super sunny terrace of my hostel and decide to visit Yafo, meaning wandering around the old city and its flea markets. But before that, I need to make sure to book my room for tomorrow night - I have decided to spend NYE in Tel Aviv. I go to the Reception and Elay, one of the guys running the hostel, tells me that, OBVIOUSLY, they are fully booked for tomorrow night. He gives me the list of hostels in Tel Aviv, I quickly run thru them all only to realize that everything is sold out. Okay, I seem to have a small issue. I go back to Elay, asking him if, in case, I could sleep on the sofa in the kitchen of the hostel - anyways, I plan to go out, so hopefully I will not need to spend too many hours on that couch. He tells me that, of course, I can crush there. He also tells me that his roommates are leaving Tel Aviv for NYE, and eventually I could stay at his place, in one of their rooms. "Gaia, don't worry, I am not leaving you sleeping on the street on NYE". I already love this guy. So, problem solved, off I go to Yafo. I arrive at the Jaffa Clock Tower around 2 pm and discover that there is a Free Walking Tour to which I can take part. The tour lasts 2 hours, our guide is an Israeli girl, super knowledgeable about her country and its history, everything is very interesting and it's a pleasure to leave her a nice tip. Once the tour's off, I am walking by myself in a square of the old city, when an Italian couple approaches me telling me that they saw me on the plane from Istanbul to Tel Aviv and also they were part of the walking tour. We go get a coffee together and I tell them about my desperate situation for tomorrow night, I am homeless! They look at me, they look at each other and they tell me: "But Gaia, we have rented a super nice apartment in the center of Tel Aviv, we have a spare couch and you can sleep there tomorrow night, no problem at all. In this way, we can go out and party all together". I am already in love with them too. And with my guardian angel, of course. We spend the afternoon together "visiting" some bars in the center of Tel Aviv, we exchange phone numbers and I go back to my hostel in Yafo. That evening, the guys at the hostel are going out to a club, Lima Lima. Off I go with them. I spend all night speaking to a 22 years old guy, half from Nicaragua, half American, born and raised in Texas, Jewish and gay - the cherry on the cake, as he tells me laughing :-) We speak about that feeling of not belonging to anywhere and belonging to everywhere, about religion, Trump, families, studies, work, car accidents, being hetero, being gay and the difficulties linked to any side of the story, his coming out, my relationships etc...it's crazy how you can open up to a stranger, but my God this kid is a bright star and he'll go long way in life. This is the best memory that I have of that night out, apart from the amazing sandwich that we ate at 4 am on the way back home.

View on TLV from Yafo
December 31st, 2016 -  Celebrating NYE all day long, unexpectedly.   

I wake up almost for lunch time, and I decide to have breakfast before checking out from the hostel. While on the terrace drinking my coffee, my eyes meet the ones of a 2 meters tall, bold, kind of mysterious guy. And, as he knew me before, he asks: "Do you like fish?" "Me? Fish? Of course I do, I come from Naples, we live on fish!" "Would you like to have lunch with me? I love Naples, I've been there many times!" And off we go, to the beach first and then to a quite fancy restaurant on the harbor of Yafo. We get a seaside table, it's raining outside but we don't care as we are having a nice time, speaking about life and the universe and everything and eating the best NYE meal I could wish for: delicious humus, Greek salad, sea-bass fish baked in the oven with vegetables and potatoes, nice white wine, dessert, - almost as good as Italian - coffee. The afternoon is perfect, even if after more than 4 hours speaking to the guy he becomes more and more mysterious to me. His job(S) is not totally clear, he just tells me that he's very "creative" and I need to be too if I want to work little and make money; events from his past keep on changing, his nationality is somewhere between Russian, Latvian, German, Swiss, Israeli. He is divorced and has a kid. He's Jewish and came back to Israel to become a good Jewish. Honestly, I don't care about truth and lies in the conversation, I like spending time with this guy, and we're having a good time. Later in the afternoon, we pick up my backpack at the hostel and go to the center to meet the Italian couple where I am supposed to sleep tonight. We meet with them, have a couple of drinks, go for dinner, celebrate 12 o'clock in the cab, get a bottle of champagne into another bar and while we are all about to go partying somewhere else, the girl tells me that they are not coming, as they just broke-up and she's booked a ticket to go back to Italy tomorrow morning!!!! WHAT????? Fortunately, I can still sleep at their place, she tells me to call once I'll be home and she'll open the door. Me and my giant friend go off in the busy streets of Tel Aviv, and, while we are walking on one of the main streets, I hear good music coming from a house. "Let's see if we can get inside!" I say. 5 minutes later I'm in the garden of this house making cocktails for everyone, there is a DJ playing and the situation is exactly what I was looking for. We casually meet Elay, the guy from the hostel, who's happy I found a place to stay for the night - he even sent me a message earlier in the evening to make sure I knew where to sleep, such a sweetheart. We keep on dancing and having conversations with a group of local guys, we speak about their military service, the perfect English that they all speak, about Europe, travels etc...I come home at 8am, wishing goodnight to my new giant friend who's been an excellent company for this NYE, and by the the time I get into the house I have to say goodbye to my new girl-friend, who's leaving to the airport straight away 😢          

Real Humus
January 1st, 2017 - recovery. 

I wake up fresh like a rose - when I travel alone and hang out with people I don't know I do not drink, I just act like I am - and in front of me I have the poor guy (with whom I will share most of my trip from now on) totally depressed because he was dumped on NYE, by his beloved girlfriend, during what was supposed to be their "romantic trip" to the Middle-East. For me, the year couldn't have started in a better way: I was blossoming again, I had such a nice day and night on the 31st, totally unexpected, and I feel just happy, that happiness that I hadn't felt in long time. Unfortunately, he can't say the same, so we decide to get ready and go out to explore the city a bit more. We go eating out at the Carmel Market, have a coffee on the beach looking at the sunset and later in the evening I check-in into my new hostel (I have found a bed, finally).

January 2nd-3rd, 2017 - JORDAN.  

Petra - Jordan
On January 2nd I wake up super early and leave to Jordan. I have booked myself into a tour back in TLV and I am so glad I did so. First of all, going by myself from Israel to Jordan would have been much more expensive than what I paid with this tour (around 330 EURO + the VISA at the border). In fact, going by yourself means paying more because car rental is ridiculously expensive, plus you risk of getting lost at least once, therefore taking more time to get to your destination and getting there tired, because of all the driving involved. For sure, I would have had more troubles in crossing the border, and probably ended up sleeping in one of these commercial hotels out of Petra, as there are plenty in this world. Instead, I had the pleasure to travel with an amazing group of people, we ate the best meals we could wish for, we visited Jerash and Amman the first day, and Petra the second day. We had an amazing guide, Ayman, who I can't thank enough, especially for all the sweets and cookies he offered us during this trip. We slept in Bedouins' tents in the middle of the desert, bloody cold but totally worth it. We drank chai around the fire till late at night, and I have never seen so many stars in my entire life. Totally worth it, but still, bloody cold, cold as I had never experienced before. I don't have any words that can describe how amazing Petra is, really you need to go there and experience this place with your own senses. You wont be disappointed. After all, it is one of the new 7 wonders of the world 😊

Bedouins in Petra - Jordan
Jerash - Jordan

Jerash - Jordan
Jerash- Jordan

Petra - Jordan

Petra - Jordan

Petra - Jordan

Desert - Jordan
January 4th, 2017 - Jerusalem.      

On the way back from Petra, I ask the bus driver to drop me off in Jerusalem instead of TLV, as I am planning to spend there the next couple of days. Jerusalem is the Holy City to both Jewish people and Muslims, and it's crazy how many different neighborhoods you can have in the same city. And you see and feel the differences, you really do. You can have a Synagogue and a Mosque sharing the same wall, on one side you are in the Jewish area, on the other side you're in the Muslim side of the city, hearing the call to the prayer, which I always loved for its peaceful sound. Apart from visiting holy places of which I have heard about for my entire life - the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Temple Mount etc..- I think that what impressed me the most in Jerusalem is the quantity of army that goes around the city. Basically, in Israel both men (3 years) and women (2 years) have a mandatory military service. They start at the age of 18, so it is pretty common to see, in the middle of the streets and in public places, what look like kids, with big automatic machine guns upon their shoulders. At the beginning, this was a bit scary if not disturbing, and speaking to other foreigners I realized that we all shared the same feelings. After a couple of days, as it always happens, you almost get used to it and you start not noticing anymore. In Jerusalem, be also prepared to a lot of check-points, especially on the way to the main sites, bus stations and big city malls. A thing that I loved to witness in Jerusalem, is the Friday prayer under the Wailing Wall, at the start of the Shabbat. I advise you to go there around sunset, it's very touching, especially the way a prayer can become a song of joy and put people one under another's arms, in a big, festive hug. If you go to Israel, for sure Jerusalem is not to be missed, for its energy, its history, its meaning, its contradictions and what it represents for so many people of different believes and origins.
Even if Jerusalem is not as much of a party city as Tel Aviv, you can still find some clubs (Video Pub, in the city center - I went there with some friends that I met on the way, was nice and kind of crowded for a Wednesday night anyways) and places to party - I loved the Mahane Yehuda Market , this market is always open in the evening, full of young people, good music and great food.


Friday prayer @ the Wailing Wall

Symbols

Temple Mount

Praying

Western Wall
January 5th, 2017 - The Dead Sea. Dead Indeed.  

Me and my Italian friend decide to experience the Dead Sea: after all, everyone we met so far has told us that this is something not to be missed. We take the bus at 11 am from the central bus station in Jerusalem and after 2 hours drive we end up in what is one of the most UGLY places I have ever seen in my life. The beach is called Ein Bokek. First of all, there is nothing in the area, apart from big tower hotels and shopping malls full of Russian tourists. You can see dozens of people in white bathrobes leaving their luxurious hotels all together to go and bath into the Dead Sea. The area of the Dead Sea is 400 meters below the sea level; maybe because of this, maybe because it's a grey day, but the weather in this part of the world is completely odd. The air is totally still, nothing moves, it's like you're in a bubble. I arrived with my jacket and my scarf on and I was okay. Then I wore my bikini and went into the water and I was okay too. Basically, either with layers of clothes or almost naked, you'd be okay, in any cases. Weird, right? Then the best part comes: the beach is made of red sand that will stain your feet, you'll get into the water passing a layer of mud - good for the skin - and then you'll get painful, huge stones of salt under your feet, so you need to be extra careful while walking. Then the floating part. If you're with your back into the water, the floating is not that evident, it's not like you can sit on water. But: if you turn belly down and try to swim, you'll quickly realize it's kind of impossible, as your legs keep on going up in the air. Quite funny. While "bathing" you need to be extra careful not to let water getting into your eyes, otherwise you'll be blind for some minutes and it'll be very painful. Also, because of all the metals that the Dead Sea contains, the water is very bitter instead of salty - strange, right? - and if you drink it you might be seriously ill. I tried a drop, I was too curious. Overall, I would not recommend the Dead Sea, but there are people that spend there entire holidays, so like everything in life, also this may be something to experience by yourself.

Dead Sea - Israel
January 6th, 2017 - Palestine, Bethlehem.       

Although it's Friday, and Shabbat will start around 3 pm this afternoon, Palestinian buses from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and back are running all day long - obviously. We (me and my Italian friend, who in the meanwhile seems to get better after his breakup on NYE) walk until the Damascus Gate, from where the bus is supposed to leave and catch the first one available. On the bus, I feel like home: full of people, many standing. Noise, laughs, big bags everywhere, families traveling all together, kids sitting on mothers' laps. We get to Bethlehem and we realize that today is a kind of special day: January 6th, Epiphany for Christians, Christmas for Orthodox. Bethlehem is full of police, and after queuing for a while, we manage to get into the Nativity Church, too busy to see anything inside, anyways. We get out and walk around the city, it's a beautiful sunny day and I really like this place. It's alive, full of colors, markets, narrow streets, it's a melting-pot of people, both locals and visitors. In the main square, the Nativity Church stands opposite to the main Mosque. To me, it's more like they stand together and complete each other, making that square a meeting point for people from all over the world. We hire a cab to go see Bansky graffiti, scattered all over the city and on the West Bank Wall. This wall is one of the saddest things that I have ever seen in my life, world should have no walls nor barriers. In the afternoon, we get back to Jerusalem, have lunch and go to the Friday prayer at the Western Wall. Although Shabbat started, we could find some restaurants to have dinner, non Kosher restaurants, expensive but good - and kind of Western. Later that evening, I manage to find a shared cab that brings me back to TLV.

Bansky

West Bank Wall

"Hate cannot drive out hate, only 💚 can"


Bethlehem

Bethlehem

January 7th, 2017 - Back to my first love, TLV.

I wake up in sunny TLV, my giant friend, with whom I had spent NYE, picks-me-up at the hostel and we head to the beach. It's windy but so so nice. We have breakfast and we wait for Alessia, an Italian girl who I had met in Jerusalem, also traveling alone. She would arrive in TLV today. Once she joins us, the 2 of us leave for lunch, we spend the afternoon together and that evening, around 12 am, I get a cab to the airport. My flight is at 5 am and it makes no sense to me to get a room for the night. After endless questions on my passport, the stamps I have on it, the reasons why I came to Israel, why did I go to Jordan, my bag etc...I manage to get into the airport. I am kind of sad to leave this country.

Surfing in TLV

January 8th, 2017 - Back to real life.



There is a snow storm in Istanbul. Fortunately, my flight is not cancelled but only delayed. I land in Rome, switch-on my phone and start receiving messages from friends and family: are you okay? Where are you? There has been a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. Right where I was a couple of days before.



Tips, advises, impressions  

- Generally speaking, I felt always safe during this trip, both in Israel and Jordan. I was trying to live like a local, taking local buses, trams, going to markets, stations, busy places etc...This is the only way of exploring the country and get a small taste of it.
- When you arrive at the airport in Tel Aviv, they do not stamp your passport. The VISA is given on a separate piece of paper that you'll have to keep with you. On the land border with Jordan same thing, your passport gets stamped by Jordan authorities, not by Israel.
- When I could, I would leave the passport locked in a safe at the hostel and walk with a copy of it.
- Overall, I met very friendly people in both countries and in all cities I visited, everyone speaks very good English, so it's quite easy to find your way.
- Traveling is easy, all places are very well connected by bus.
- If you'd like to go to Petra and you have little time, I advise you to book with AbrahamTour. All bookings can be done on-line and their service is top.
- I only booked the first 2 nights at the Florentine Hostel in TLV - this is a cheap, party hostel and if that's what you're looking for, then you're in the right place. The guys running the hostel are lovely.
- For the rest of my stay, and depending on my itinerary, I booked myself day by day into the Abraham Hostel, both in TLV and Jerusalem. This is the best hostel chain I have ever been to. Clean, quiet, great shared areas, roof top bar, indoor bar, excellent breakfast included, friendly and professional staff, big beds, big dorms, right guests, meaning not just young people looking for partying but travelers. Totally recommended, you can easily book on-line and pay on the arrival. If you're staying there, you'll get discount on the tours.

Abraham Hostel - Jerusalem

Abraham Hostel - TLV

- During Shabbat everything will be closed, shops, markets etc..and public transports do not run, especially in Jerusalem. However, there are alternative transportation means, i.e. collective cabs, in all cities. You'll find places to eat easily, and in TLV you feel it less.
- This is an expensive trip, at least it was for my standard, so be prepared 😎  
- On the way back, be at the airport 3 hours in advance. Security checks take long when you leave the country.
- If you dream of visiting this part of the world, just go. It's amazing. Even solo, you'll meet great people along the way.