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Israel

Not what you'd expect

Story by Jonathan Howell March 10th, 2016

we made it

After a long day of traveling from Seattle to JFK airport and then on to Tel Aviv we’d finally made it! We got in around 5pm and had dinner plans with the Microsoft ILDC team soon to be our newly found friends and thankfully amazing tour guides. At dinner we ate a multitude of entrees from herring to hummus and even some eggplant. I must admit some of it was not quite my taste, but I did however indulge in the hummus maybe a little too much? Who knows, but it was delicious!
Below are some photos from the next morning from our hotel, the Ritz Carlton Herzliya. I must say, we had quite the five star treatment while in Israel and breakfast was a staple in our morning routine as the food was absolutely amazing. The purple fruit you see on the right is actually dragonfruit I had never tried it before and came across it and had to give it go, it was bit seedy and somewhat bland but still good.

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the dead sea

This was a day I will remember for the rest of my life. We left Tel Aviv around 3:45am and embarked on our two hour drive to the lowest geographical location on the planet, The Dead Sea. We arrived at the top of our destination about twenty minutes prior to sunrise. We then began to hike down to the bottom with our picnic supplies, towels, and water bottles. As the sun came up behind the hills of Jordan it lit up the clay-like formations just to left us somewhat resembling The Grand Canyon, yet even more beautiful.

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Now that the sun had risen over the mountains, a few of us started to change into our bathing suits to float around in the sea and enjoy water. The Dead Sea is filled with salt and all sorts of other minerals that make both the water and the mud great for your skin. So after some “exfoliating” in the mud and a bit of floating around it was time to have some breakfast that was prepared right on the beach by our friends Pazit and Adam.

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We sat around and shared stories and life experiences that each of us had ranging from things as extreme as guided missile strikes in Serbia to traveling around in China some of which was rather crazy to hear. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about the people I was with that day and how humble, cultured, and intelligent they were. My friend Ben and I looked at each other later that night over a drink and couldn’t help but to agree on how amazing that moment in time actually was and how it’s something we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives.

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the holy land

Growing up as a kid, I attended Catholic school and I was at church almost every Friday and Sunday. I was also an altar boy for quite a few years as well. That said, traveling to The Holy Land was something I heard and read about as a kid… Never in a million years did I think I would actually visit the Old City of Jerusalem. What an experience that was, not to mention we stopped here on the way back from the Dead Sea so the day was already filled with adventure! The Western Wall was incredible, many Jewish people both men, women, and children took part in praying to the wall that was constructed of limestone around 19 BC.

The Western Wall is shown here in the picture below, just underneath the Dome of Rock (the gold roof) a shrine located on Temple Mount; one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture built between 688-692.

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Walking the streets in the Old City was a slightly uneasy, as there were a few stabbings that have gone on here recently. Putting that tid bit aside, it was rather surreal walking through and looking at what some of these people had for sale. The alleyways throughout the market of the Old City were pretty amazing as well.

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tel aviv market

Overwhelmingly crowded in some areas and full of life, the market in Tel Aviv was non-stop. People were loud, dogs and cats were weaving in out of the hectic foot traffic in the narrow streets of the market. We visited the market the day before Shabbat so many people were buying food to prepare the night before.

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There were bagels the size of your face, spices by the pound, and enough candy to give a person diabetes. Not to mention the furry the little friends running and sometimes sleeping on the streets of the market.

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After walking for quite awhile our friends Pazit, Gatit, Ben, and Adam took us to rad little spot just a block or two off the main strip where we enjoyed a few beers and talked about life, work, and everything in between.

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The streets

The culture in Tel Aviv is like none other. There’s live music on almost every corner, artists painting in the streets and some people just relaxing and taking in the sites in the middle of all the hustle and bustle.

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I can’t say enough about my time in Israel, I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to have traveled to this part of the world and to have met and spent time with some unforgettable people. I am forever grateful.

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Footnote: I would like to thank Microsoft for an amazing experience to be able to work and interact with incredibly smart people from all around the world.
Israel