Over winter break senior Bridget Stack and junior Andrew Lesnett traveled across the country of Israel. While on their trip they experienced new food, explored ancient ruins, and swam in the Dead Sea.
Traveling with the Elfinwild Presbyterian Church, they started their journey with a short one hour flight from Pittsburgh to Newark, NJ, and from there a ten hour flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. The group flew into the Tel Aviv Airport and was “welcomed” into the country with armed men at every gate.
“Tel Aviv airport is said to be one of the safest airports in the world. Multiple TSA agents have to verify your passport. There was even a man who they gave a hard time getting through security because the metal detector went off because he had both hips replaced and didn’t have paperwork to verify. You are also unable to take drinks onto the plane. I had bought a bottle of water once and after I went through security in Tel Aviv, I was unable to bring it on the plane,” Stack said.
A scary moment that occurred during their stay in the Middle East was the faint sound of gun fire a few miles away from their hotel.
“We stayed in Tiberius for the first 3 days of the trip. Where we were staying was about 8-10 miles from where the Israelis and the Syrians were fighting. At times we were able to hear gunshots, which is pretty scary knowing how close you are to a war zone,” Stack said.
The following days began with a 6 a.m. wake-up call followed by a bus call at 7:15 a.m. From here each of their days would be filled with visiting new sights every day. Many ruins throughout the country were visited including famous sights such The West Bank of Israel, The Ruins of Caesarea, and The Dead Sea.
“Caesarea was a town on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea that King Herod the Great originally built. He created one of the most vibrant port towns in all of Israel. The ruins were amazing to see. We saw everything from amphitheaters to hippodromes, and the coolest thing was most of the structures were all originally dated back to over 2000 years ago,” Lesnett said.
After arriving at their sight for the day they would often stop at little coffee shops or local eating places for lunch, then, continue sightseeing until they would head back home, arriving around 5 p.m. Dinner would begin at 6:30 p.m.
“My favorite thing to eat was probably the fresh pita bread with humus, my least favorite thing that I ate there was the Saint Peters Fish. The fish is taken out of the water and cooked; they don’t even take out the bones or shave the scales off,” Stack said.
Bridget, who also went on the Italy trip last summer, was amazed by the differences the two countries had in their architecture, culture, and the history that resonated in each of the places she visited.
“My favorite part of the trip was seeing the different culture(s) and religions. The “West Bank” is a part of Israel where the Palestinians live. There is a wall in most parts separating the two areas, but it was very interesting to see how the two groups interacted, well lack thereof. It was also very fascinating to see all the churches because there is nothing like them here, and they were very different from the ones I saw in Italy. We also visited the Holocaust museum in Israel, which being in the area where most of the Jewish population lives really allows you to feel,” Stack said.
One of the most memorable things Andrew said to have experienced was swimming in the Dead Sea.
What makes this unlike any other body of water is that it is the 5th saltiest place in the world. No fish or any wildlife live in this body of water because of the harsh environment it provides. Because the salt concentration in the water is 33.7% (8.6x saltier that the ocean), it makes it impossible for you to fully emerge yourself under the water.
“The coolest thing that I got to experience was the Dead Sea! It was the coolest thing ever because you really do float, it is impossible to not float in the Dead Sea. You can’t control it, it just happens,” Lesnett said
Both Stack and Lesnett were grateful for this once in a life time experience and will never forget the memories they created during their trip.