We’re less than 2 weeks away from our (early) summer vacation, which reminded me that I’ve yet to post photos from last year’s trip to Israel and Austria.  Where does the time go?  I didn’t really know what to expect in Israel, especially since I’m not a particularly religious person, but I’m so glad we went.  I may not have had a spiritual experience, but the people and the liveliness of the country won me over.

Masada panorama

We arrived in Jerusalem on a Friday afternoon, rushed to get some groceries before Shabbat, and then crashed because we needed to get up around 3 a.m. to make the hour and a half drive to Masada and then hike up the mountain so we could be at the summit by sunrise.  It was surreal driving through the desert in the dark–there was a giant, bright full moon but that didn’t help me get an idea of the landscape around us.  When we arrived at Masada, there were maybe 20 other people waiting to start out on the trail and once we were allowed in, we headed off into the darkness.  It took us about 45 minutes to hike up the switchbacks to the top and we even had a few minutes to settle in before the sun made its appearance.  Seeing the sun rise over the Dead Sea and the desert below was truly an experience I will never forget–definitely worth the crazy early start!

Masada sunrise
Masada looking down

After we took in the sunrise, we walked around the ruins of the fortress and palaces Herod the Great built between 37 and 31 BCE that were destroyed by the Roman army in 73 CE.  It was amazing to see so much standing after such a long period of time.

Masada walls
Masada Israel flag

Soon the sun was out in full force and we headed back down the mountain and drove to Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.  It was great to finally see the area we had driven through earlier that morning–the desert was really unlike anything I had ever seen.  And there were lots of warnings about sink holes!

sink hole sign

Ein Gedi is a beautiful park full of ibexes and these little guys, hyraxes, who somehow manage to balance themselves on the narrowest branches and spend their days sprawled out on rocks sunning themselves.  The park also has several waterfalls and we took advantage by jumping in under one to cool off.

Ein Gedi hyrax
Ein Gedi waterfall
Dead Sea

Afterwards we stopped at Neve Midbar beach along the Dead Sea.  I was really curious to see what floating in the Dead Sea would be like and at first it was really strange.  The mud underneath the water was slippery and slimy and the water was so highly concentrated with salt that it felt like it was eating away at my skin at first.  It took me awhile, but eventually I was able to fully relax and enjoy the once in a lifetime experience.

Dead Sea floating
Dead Sea beach