Stories From A Day Trip to Israel

garden of gethsemane

I’m sitting on a coach as I watch from the window the heavily armed soldiers walk up and down the length of our bus with mirrored sticks. Checking for explosives. The sun is bleaching through the Perspex window. It’s hot already and the lack of sleep is making my head feel fuzzy.

I’m nervous as I hand over my passport, hoping I’ll get it back, but more excited by the prospect of a new stamp rather than the fear of what to do if it disappeared. I kept staring at the boots. So polished and shiny, the laces twirled up high. He must be hot. I focus on the boots; I don’t want to look somewhere I shouldn’t. No words exchanged, but finally, my passport is back in my hands. Flicking through the pages, I see it. Ink smudged, but it’s there. A new country and a new stamp.

This is the story of the time I went on a day trip to Israel. I swam in the dead sea, walked the stages of the cross and ate hummus in Jerusalem.

What a day.

picture on coach

Why day trips are worth it

I love a good day trip and you know how much I love coach travel. But coach trips have gotten a bit of a bad rep. Synonymous with package holidays and group tours, you can be forgiven for thinking that a coach trip on holiday sounds like a terrible idea. Sweaty seats, early wake-up calls, that dreaded sticker they make your wear. It doesn’t scream independent travel or experienced explorer. But I love it.

I once applied for the Coach Trip programme with my friend Andy. We thought we’d make great TV. I found the application form the other day, and it made me smile. We thought two Brummies could show the world how to really make the most of a European bus tour. Safe to say, we didn’t make the show.

But my love of day trips started long before that. There was time I danced in the aisle of a coach on the Northern Goa bus tour. The time I saw the great Hoover Dam, and the time I went to Gibraltar for a few hours for some pretty average fish and chips.

The only day trips I regret are the ones I don’t take. Let’s not talk about Seville, please.

I still daydream about the early morning wake up that would have led to the smell of oranges. Or the talk of popping to Morocco for a day trip when we stayed in Marbella. Still gutted about that one.

There is something magical about being in one country, travelling to another, and then coming back again in a single day. Day trips crack the lid open on life. They show us anything is possible because in only a day we can see a whole other world. We can leave our homes and come back transformed, all before we’ve even had our tea. We can visit new countries, cross borders and still be back at home to sleep in our bed. Yes, of course, we can do this with flights. But there is something different about doing this on a coach trip. It’s the sensation of travelling the miles. Of watching the view change from the same seat. It’s the tangible nature of time passing.

Back to Israel

The 4 am alarm is spectacular. It’s a holiday within a holiday. As it’s early, I’m given a packed lunch breakfast. It’s cold, as I wait for the coach and the sun to warm up and start the day.  

Rules for swimming in the dead sea

I’m headed to Jerusalem, but the first stop is the Dead Sea.

Swimming in the Dead Sea was weird. You don’t really swim. Instead, I doggy paddle float as I’m desperately trying to avoid touching my eyes with salt covered hands. But it’s more than that. It’s the changing room marquees and hordes of people that make this natural phenomenon turned tourist trap seem staged. But what do I expect the Dead Sea to be like? The most surprising thing was how flat it was. It absorbed sound. It held the light.

The dead sea

We move on. Back on the coach, I can only hope for food soon. The guide talks so much, and I want to sleep.

Looking back now, I wish I could have zoomed in on everything. Really absorbed the world I was seeing. But at least we can still write. We can capture on the page our stories and experiences. We can document our experiences as a way to resurrect memories and stories. We can notice our life at any moment and turn it into a story.

The Dome of the Rock and Western Wall

Visiting Jerusalem

I’m walking through the places people spend their whole life dreaming about visiting. I see things I’ve only read about in books or talked about at school. The room of the Last Supper. The Garden of Gethsemane. The Via Dolorosa. They are real.

The way of the cross. We definitely talked about this in A-Level Religious Studies. I remember Mr Giles moving excitedly around the classroom as we learnt about the stations and their meaning via pictures on a screen.

I feel lost as the guide starts to talk through each stage. I feel like I should remember. I should know. Weaving through the route, I can feel the incline creeping to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The significance of the site is overwhelming, but there is so much history and at times it’s confusing. Yet somehow, I know, I’ll remember this forever.

A Close Up of the Western Wall

I’m scared to touch the wall. But I write a note. Knowing it’s the only thing I can ask for. And, along with a million other visitors each year, I fold my paper and push it into the wall. Through a gap in the mortar. Squishing a part of myself into the history of the world. Hoping the hopes, prayers, and dreams of the papers before, and after mine, are realised. It’s noisy and busy. It’s bustling and intense. It’s peaceful as you listen. Metal detectors and security. Serenity and spirituality. I walk on.

I always remember what the note said.

Stopping for lunch, I’m eating hummus and pitas and drinking mint tea made with real leaves. I’ve just walked around one of the holist cities in the world and I’m thinking what’s for dessert.

One of the most fascinating things to me was the glimpse of the original street, meters below ground. You could see Roman paving slabs. Layers of years and history have been added to this place. Woven into the very fabric of the earth, the years have added height and weight and the city has grown. I’m walking on new versions of an old road.

Old Roman Road

With the tragic circumstances currently at play in parts of Israel, it’s hard to imagine a tourist trip to a war zone. It’s often the other way around. The visits to countries that were ravished with war and still hold wounds, yet the conflict has stopped. The crumbling ruins of the Berlin Wall, the half demolished Polish concentration camps, the holes in the walls of Cambodian buildings. It seems strange that it’s gone the other way here. That despite the conflict, visitors must go.  

The fragility of our world, the reality that we don’t know what’s coming, makes day trips even more special to me. Even the six-hour one-way journey will never seem as long in retrospect. Because what if we can no longer visit these places? What if that was my one and only chance to ever head to Israel, and I missed it for a day at the pool? If you ever get the opportunity to go on a day trip, take it. You’ll regret it if you don’t. And then write about it. Document your life through sharing your stories. Save your memories and adventures to help you notice the way they shaped you, changed you, made you. This visit was over ten years ago, but I can still feel the heat, the tiredness, the power of the place.

via dolorosa sign

Stories From A Backpack is a place that celebrates the process of documenting our life through stories. You don’t have to see yourself as a writer to want to document your life. You can start to save your memories and share your story today.

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