04 Mar Matt & Miriam’s 6 Gems of the Middle East
Written by Miriam Fisher and Matt Walsh, 2014 Middle East Program Leaders.
6. Coffee Shop Culture in Nablus
Considered the cultural capital of the West Bank, Nablus is its 2nd largest city. It’s a great place to enjoy a favorite past time of many Palestinians: nargileh, or the water pipe (you might know it as hookah or sheesha!). There are tons of these coffee shops concentrated in the downtown area, the Rafedia area, and the Old City. The coffee shops range from hole in the wall joints where old school Palestinian men have met for hundreds of years to smoke to brand new bustling spots near An Najah University. These are great places to meet people. So grab a spot in the patio, order up a nargileh and watch the world go by!
5. Mount of Olives Sunset Overlooking Jerusalem
Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, east of the Old City, played a key role in the final moments of Jesus’ life and is thus a central place for Christian pilgrims. It also affords amazing views of the Temple Mount and is home to a Jewish cemetery which dates back at least 3,000 years. Needless to say, this amazing location is crawling with pilgrims and tourists during the day. But when the tourists pack up and get back on their buses, the Mount can be an incredibly peaceful place to linger. Get up there in the early evening for a beautiful look at the sun setting over Jerusalem with the glorious golden light reflecting off of the Dome of the Rock Mosque. It can be a truly inspiring and spiritual experience watching the sun set with the background noise of Hebrew prayers in the cemetery and church bells ringing throughout the entire city.
4. Wadi Qelt
Along the road between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea is a valley called Wadi Qelt. Desert cliffs overlook the ruins of ancient aqueducts and the 3rd century Saint George’s Monastery. There are some beautiful and relatively easy hikes and walks on trails through the valley. The most spectacular one takes you through rock and rubble, a seemingly parched landscape twisting through the canyon that culminates in the appearance of lush greenery and an inviting series of springs, pools, and waterfalls. Perfect for a dip on a brutal summer day!
3. The Negev Desert
There’s something enchanting about this expansive sandbox. Maybe it’s that dry tickle in your throat that just won’t go away, the yellow road signs warning that hitting a wandering camel could result in instant death, or that dizzy feeling you get after a few hours too long in the sun! All kidding aside though, it’s pretty incredible and one of the most unique landscapes we’ve ever seen. You can walk inside steep rock canyons, or get a view from a high point of the strange, lunar landscape. Even better than the daytime views are the Negev nights. You can pretty much count on not needing a tent here, and sleeping under these stars will blow your mind. You might never want to sleep under cover again!
2. Abu Jamil’s Classic Hummus Shop!
Abu Jamil ran a shop down the street from Miriam’s apartment. You can show up with a few friends, and within minutes your table will be covered in two types of hummus, salads galore, pickled everything, chips, skewers of meat, and a stack of warm pita bread. Miriam’s favorite part is that this is both a fast food joint and a sit down restaurant. If you are too lazy to cook and just wanna eat, that can happen. But if you are in the mood for a long lingering meal, Jamil will keep the lemonade flowing and let you sit on his patio for as long as you like.
1. Ein HaNatziv
Who needs a pool? This is our favorite freshwater swimming spot. It’s a natural spring in the Gilboa region, accessible by a little dirt path that winds down to the water. Some picnickers you pass on the way will probably offer you some watermelon. The pool is complete with a rope and a dilapidated but still standing diving board (That’s Miriam in the picture doing her best Tarzan yell!) When you’re not practicing your backflip, you can chill out on the floating foam mattresses. What’s not to love?