In early February I got this crazy message from a PR firm that represents the Israel Ministry of Tourism asking if I’d like to travel to Israel to run and write about the Jerusalem Marathon. After about 3 minutes of thinking, I wrote right back and said yes! In short, the trip was like a dream, and in fact, I’m still in the clouds over it all. One thing is very clear to me now after the action packed 6 day tour of Israel, I can’t put this all in one post. The trip was incredibly special to me, and for many reasons. It was so much more than a race and some historical sights to see. Instead of trying to cram all the magic of this trip into one massive post, I’ve decided to break them into the areas that were the most special to me in a 3 part series. Here’s what you have to look forward to:
- Part I: The People, The Places, The Food
- Part II: The Jerusalem Marathon Race Summary
- Part III: The Non-Political, Non-Religious, Non-Historical Things I Learned
Today, we start with the the people, places and the food!
Traveling Israel: First up, the PEOPLE!
To be very clear, this won’t be about the people of Israel, as we moved like the speed of light through the cities and sites we visited, and short of our guide, Ori (who I’ll get to) we didn’t spend a lot of time getting to know the people of Israel. And this is probably a huge loss and something I’ll save for a return trip. This post is about my travel mates, the fine folks that were selected along with me to cover the marathon. We had bloggers and reporters, runners and non-runners, men and women, younger and older. The only thing we really had in common was that we all said “YES” with only a moments notice and jumped on a plane to fly to the other side of the globe to take advantage of this experience.
Everybody was interesting, fun, good spirited with at the very least, carried underlying sense of adventure. Most of the sites we saw are preserved historic sites. Static. They are frozen snapshots of history, some up to 4000 years old and will likely remain in their current condition for years to come. For me, it’s the people who are dynamic, and they (along with your own attitude) are the ones who shape you’re true travel experiences.
Let me briefly introduce me to my travel mates, one at a time, in no particular order:
- Lorraine: Is a blogger from Atlanta who writes at Ask Wifey and for other publications. She ran the half marathon and you can learn more about her at Twitter, YouTube, Facebook.
- Patrice: A journalist from Quebec who writes for Kmag. He ran the half marathon (quite fast!) and you can learn more about his publication on Facebook.
- Christy: Is from Texas and is the creator and founder of the Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans, a community to help women find support, motivation and strategies to lose weight. She ran the 5K and you can learn more about her on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook.
- Beth: Is from Colorado and is the hilarious, blunt and honest blogger behind Shut Up + Run and also a freelance writer for Run Haven. She was the only other gal who ran the full 26.2 (and I hope that’s not the only race we ever run together, we simply had too much fun) and you can learn more about her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.
- Heather: Lives in Monterey, CA and blogs at Dietitian on the Run, which also means she’s an RD. She’s a speedy little marathoner who choose to run the half marathon because she just got married (like literally 2 days before the trip started) and had another race the following weekend. I have a feeling we’ll race together again in the future. You can learn more about her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.
- Lee and Ginger: Are from Savannah, Lee is a writer for Brew, Drink, Run (awesome right?) and Ginger is his lovely wife. In addition to the tour and running the 10K and 5K, they spent some time checking out the Israeli microbrew scene. You can learn more about Brew, Drink, Run on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
- Dax: Is a local San Diego ultra/adventure runner who blogs at Dirty Running and is also a social media professional. We actually have mutual friends (of course right? San Diego is really such a small town) yet we had never met until this trip. He also joined us for the full marathon. You can read more about his adventures on Google + and Facebook.
- Adam: Is from Colorado and seems to be a little bit like superman. I’m not quite sure how he does it, but he’s a practicing attorney, ultra/adventure racer, freelance writer for Run Haven and sponsored athlete who does trips like this all the time. He blazed through the full marathon like it was a little jog. You can read his review of the marathon and trip here.
- Stephen: Is from Oregon and was a photographer for Youth Runner Magazine. While he didn’t officially run in the race, no doubt, he got in at least a 10K moving around to shoot pictures of the entire event. You can learn more about his publication on Twitter and Facebook.
- Sonja and Sven: Are brother and sister and she lives Wisconsin and he is a weather man on KARE 11 out of Minneapolis. They both ran the half marathon and you can learn more about Sven on Twitter and Facebook.
- Kim and Dean: Kim is a freelance writer in the aviation industry who joined us on day one to cover the entire trip and also run the half marathon. Dean, her husband joined us Thursday and ran the full marathon as a training race for his ultra marathon the following weekend. Crazy. You can learn more them here and Kim’s writing here.
- Sharon: Lives in Florida and is the mommy blogger behind Mommy Runs It. This was her first international adventure and it was so cool of her to take that leap of faith. She ran the half marathon and you can learn more about her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.
- Suzanne: Is a Toronto based journalist who writes for various publications. You can learn more about her and her writing here.
- Ori: Was our guide who lives in Israel. In his prior life, he was a political spokesperson but is a storyteller at heart. His wife encouraged him to follow his passion and to become a professional tour guide so he could share his knowledge and stories with people from all around the world. He was a little like “dad” on this trip – slapping us in line when we meandered off and worked like a horse to keep us on schedule. He truly did his best to make sure we got the most out of our adventure. At the time it felt rigorous, but in hindsight, I’ll be grateful he was able to pack so much information, sights and experiences into our short time in Israel. If you’re planning to tour Israel, you can learn more about him and his services on Trip Advisor.
While that is a lot of info and a lot of links, it’s likely one or more of these fine folks may come up in a future story and they were all so special and unique. Each one added his/her own bit of spark and value to this experience. Many of these people I will miss seeing on a regular basis and truly hope to reunite with on another adventure in the future. It never ceases to amaze me how people can come into your life that is already full, and make it even more awesome. Strangers can be come friends so quickly. I really think we were fortunate to have had this time together and I will be forever grateful for that.
Traveling Israel: Now let’s talk about the PLACES!
When you have 4000 years of history to cover in an area the size of New Jersey, you can imagine there is a lot to see and even more stories to be told. I don’t know how much time you would need to really let it all sink in, but the Israel Tourism Board sure did a good job making sure we got the most of six-day adventure.
I can’t include all the details because it may end up being a little bit like a game of telephone and I’d hate to misstate any of the zillion facts I learned this week. But what I can do is show you some pretty darn awesome pictures and tell you where they were taken. We had 4 days in Jerusalem, one day at Masada and the Dead Sea and one day in Tel Aviv where we toured ancient Jaffa. I took hundreds of photos and here is the best of the best.
Drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
They are building a high speed train to connect the two cities that is projected to be ready in 3-4 years. They are building these columns and the track out of thin air. I’m not sure if it’s because my brother works in concrete, but I found this process fascinating!
Some Jerusalem Sites
Jerusalem is rich in history and you can feel it throughout the city. It’s heavy and it feels serious. After the marathon, so much pressure was released at the same time we headed to soak our worries away in the Dead Sea and to explore Masada. This was such a fun day!
Our final day was in spent in Tel Aviv and it has such a super funky and cool vibe. Ancient Jaffa is full of joy and has a lighter, almost humorous feel to it with the art and sculptures spread throughout the city. I do wish we had more time to explore Tel Aviv and it is a city I can definitely see myself coming back to.
Traveling Israel: And Finally — onto the FOOD!
This trip was about the race, the sites and oh my, the food was outstanding! Our guide had said that breakfasts were medium, lunches were the heaviest and dinners were the lightest. But it became clear to me after a day or two that no meal was actually “light.” As a part of the tour, most of our meals were planned out for us and paid for. Not often did we have to order anything at all or even see a menu. As Ori stated, we were taken only to “Israel’s finest restaurants” and the food was incredible.
Most meals were almost tapas style with nearly a dozen small plates that would just keep appearing. We never knew how much to expect, so I often ate too much. It’s actually one of the things I learned on this trip, I eat more than the average bear. Anyhow, the food was fantastic! Small plates of eggplant, cabbage, hummus, cucumber salads, pita would flow and would be followed with some sort of main dish of chicken, shrimp, lamb, beef or salmon. One night at Vicky Christina’s in Tel Aviv we had a paella that was divine. And of course finished with a selection of sweet treats. All meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner featured sweet treats.
The streets are full of these outstanding fruit stands that make fresh squeezed juice that is amazing. The guys would just take 3-4 pomegranates, chop them in half and crush them. I was amazed at how much juice came out of those fruits! I really wish I could have packed one of those presses in my suitcase to replicate it at home. It really didn’t taste anything like the Pom Juice we buy at the market.
Of the few meals we had on our own, we found falafel sandwiches and wraps that were ridiculous!
Breakfasts were more savory than I could handle for the most part. Lot’s of salad and vegetables, meats and cheeses. So I ate pretty carb heavy breakfasts and of course, two chocolate croissants the day after the marathon. I definitely ate back every calorie I burned walking and running around Israel.
Wine, wine, wine. With lunch, dinner and in between. This is the only race, in my history of now 13 marathons that I drank wine all the way up until lunch time the day before the race.
The only pasta dish I had was the day before the marathon for lunch and it was huge and I ate it early, which was great. The expo dinner was a little late for me (7pm) and not that yummy, so I was glad I had filled up heavy at lunch.
I know this was a lot of info, but it’s still only a tiny slice and fraction of what I had the chance to live my week in Israel. These are people, places and food I will never forget. Up next…a summary of the Jerusalem Marathon and a quick post of the things I learned!
Have you been to Israel, what did I miss? Is it on your bucket list? Do you have a favorite travel buddy? Regardless of where you want to go, dust off those ambitions and make a plan to get there. It’s so worth the effort.
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*Disclosure: My trip was funded by the Israeli Tourism Board. All opinions are of course my own.