Israel is a land full of contradictions, as both the birthplace of the world’s three major religions and the first country in the entire Middle East to legalise gay marriage. It’s part desert, part war-zone, part perpetual pride parade.
So here are a few things to expect should you decide to take a gay trip with a difference this year:
1. There’s more than just Tel Aviv
When people think of Israel, they think of the capital city, Tel Aviv. And while it may be the home of one of the world’s greatest and gayest pride celebrations, there is so much more to Israel than Tel Aviv.
As the birthplace of human civilisation, the history of the country is staggering. I swear our tour guide very rarely began a story that didn’t start 2,000 years ago. At least. Much of the ancient structures are still there, allowing you to experience what life was like before Jesus.
Locations like Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and Galilee, should definitely be included on any history buff’s itinerary.
2. It’s VERY gay-friendly
Despite its profoundly religious background, Israel is THE most progressive and gay-friendly country in the entire region. Having accepted gay marriage long before the UK did, that’s made even more impressive by the fact that the region and the country are so deeply religious.
LGBT-friendly bars and clubs are everywhere in Tel Aviv, and there are plenty of LGBT tours that operate all year round for those wanting to see the sights with some fellow gays.
3. It’s hot… in a good way
In some of the mountainous areas, the winter months can see snow while the rest of the country is wearing shorts. We were hiking up mountains in shorts and floating in the Dead Sea in November, and it was GLORIOUS!
4. It’s not cheap … not in a good way
Despite the thrift market feel of some of Tel Aviv’s best shopping districts, the city and the country as a whole, are not cheap. So don’t go out expecting a bargain-basement break when you visit.
5. Religion is EVERYWHERE
Seeing as Jerusalem was where all three of the major religions were started, it’s not surprising that religion is deeply ingrained in Israel’s society to this day. It was fascinating (if not a little creepy) to be the only atheist in a city where Jesus himself hung out; seeing the tomb where he was supposedly buried, and the countless churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples crammed into this tiny little patch of land.
6. You’ll eat a lot of hummus
Every region in Israel claims to be the inventors of hummus, and that they make the best hummus in the world. So be expected to eat a lot of it. From luxury hotels to tiny street cafés, there’s plenty of variations to try, paired with endless servings of freshly baked pita. Indulge! It’s only chickpeas!
7. They will talk about the war… and it will be awkward
When you tell your mum you’re going to Israel, she will invariably tell you to be careful. And with so much talk about the many wars that have taken place in this tiny stretch of land over the millennia, I can understand why. It took us five days of history lessons before we could finally grasp the intensely complicated history behind the civil unrest that is still taking place. However, there were times during our tour when we were a few scant kilometres from the action, and we never heard a thing.
There are signs and novelty t-shirts making jokes about Palestine, but in my experience, it’s probably best not to joke about it too loudly if you’re not a local.
8. Security is STRICT
I like to think I’m fairly well-travelled, and I have NEVER experienced anything like the check-in procedures when visiting Israel. I spent easily half an hour explaining every detail about my trip and my travel history to the woman at customs, all before I’d even checked my back. (It probably didn’t help that I grew up in the Middle East and have a load of Arabic stamps in my passport).
I arrived 3 hours early, and I certainly needed that much time. They will ask lots of questions, they may take your passport and make you wait for ages, but they’re doing that so that they can keep their country safe. Do you blame them?