Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Should You Visit Israel?

Should You Visit Israel? | Adelante

I contemplated not telling my parents that I was going to Israel. I knew that my announcement would be met with apprehension, disapproval, and fear. But my tickets were bought, and my heart was set on going. Despite the political climate, no government or parental warnings could stop me.

I've always felt an inexplicable pull towards the Holy Land. Perhaps it's because most of my friends are Jewish, and they've always raved about their visits and Birthright trips. Maybe it's due to my intense fascination with Judaism, despite being raised Christian-ish. Or perhaps I was just tired of my European comfort zone, and felt ready to explore a more exotic corner of the world.

When one of my sorority sisters moved to Tel Aviv, I saw it as my golden opportunity to finally visit Israel. I booked my trip on a whim and started counting down the days.

Jaffa, Tel Aviv | Adelante
Jaffa, Tel Aviv

Upon catching my flight from Spain, I found myself getting detained in the underbelly of Madrid-Barajas airport. As I was strip-searched and interrogated, I couldn't help but thinking, "What the hell have I gotten myself into?"

I was paralyzed with fear and doubt. "If this is happening before I even get to Tel Aviv, what's going to happen once I'm actually there?" My belongings were strewn across counters, my valuables confiscated from my carry-on, and my dignity battered and bare. I asked myself in alarm, "Is this safe? Should I really visit Israel?"

But after spending a week falling head over heels for Israel's culture, cuisine, and people, here is why my answer is an overwhelming yes!

Old City of Jerusalem | Adelante
Old City of Jerusalem

Become immersed in a captivating culture

Israel is an intriguing blend of East meets West. Ancient and modern, cozy yet exotic, its contrasting elements create a colorful amalgam of Israeli culture. The variety of ethnicities, traditions, and religious backgrounds adds to the country's magnetic diversity. From rabbis to hipsters and nightclubs to synagogues, Israel truly offers a taste of everything.

Israel's mesmerizing culture is unlike anything I've ever experienced. Throughout my trip, I was hypnotized by the country's stories, religious ceremonies, language, and culinary traditions. Rich, complex, and stimulating, the thought-provoking culture of Israel is undeniably worth experiencing firsthand.

Western Wall, Jerusalem | Adelante
Western Wall, Jerusalem | Adelante
A spiritual experience at the Western Wall

One of the most memorable experiences from my time in Israel was celebrating my first proper Shabbat. As Judaism's official day of rest, Saturdays in Israel are unusually quiet and calm. Depending on how one practices their religion, observing Shabbat can mean anything from not going to the supermarket to completely avoiding the use of light switches, lotions, or electronic devices.

I took the next 24 hours to fully unplug, detaching myself from the devices I'm normally glued to. On Friday evening I accompanied my Orthodox friend to her synagogue, and afterwards we went to a friend's house for a feast of epic proportions.

The next day was spent singing, playing cards, and having long chats around the dinner table. In a day and age where selfies and Snapchat dominate social gatherings, focusing on genuine human connection for a full 24 hours was a much needed breath of fresh air.

Explore the colorful markets

Markets have always been my favorite places to explore while traveling, but Israeli shuks are especially bursting with life. From Tel Aviv's Carmel Market to Jerusalem's famed Mahane Yehuda, the bustling markets of Israel are a lively feast for the senses.

Serving up fresh Mediterranean delights and an unparalleled array of produce, the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv seduced and consumed me. Hungry for a revitalizing dose of culture shock, I got lost among the maze of stalls peddling fresh seafood, exotic fruits, and aromatic spices.

Carmel Market, Tel Aviv | Adelante
Carmel Market, Tel Aviv | Adelante
Carmel Market, Tel Aviv | Adelante

Experience an enchanting mix of old and new

While Israel's historic sites are dazzling enough to warrant a visit within themselves, what makes the country so unique is its compelling juxtaposition of ancient and modern. From Tel Aviv's sparkling skyscrapers to the Roman ruins of Caesarea, Israel paints a provocative picture of the Middle East's past and present. In the heart of the Holy Land, Jerusalem boasts a fascinating mix of trendy and traditional.

Rather than clashing, these contrasting elements complement each other in an unexpected way. The opposing forces of old and new tell a spellbinding story about Israel's history, rendering the present all the more engaging and complex.

Tel Aviv, Israel | Adelante
Cityscapes of Tel Aviv
Caesarea, Israel | Adelante
Ancient ruins in Caesarea

Savor fresh Mediterranean cuisine

The fresh and flavorful gastronomy of Israel effortlessly enraptured my tastebuds. A haven for the health-conscious, the culinary melting pot of Israeli fare is one of the world's finest. Refreshing Mediterranean dishes with a Middle Eastern flair dominate the cuisine, enriched by the presence of fresh vegetables, savory olives, chickpeas, and exotic spices.

Every time I taste parsley, I'm transported back to my first day in Tel Aviv, when I euphorically devoured a colorful Israeli salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. I frequently daydream about the creamy hummus, crispy falafel, and comforting shakshuka I savored, and I still shamelessly order my fix of Bamba online.

Israeli breakfast | Adelante
A traditional Israeli breakfast
Carmel Market, Tel Aviv | Adelante
Tel Aviv's Carmel Market
Israeli Cuisine | Adelante
Freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and gluten-free falafel

Get a taste of hummus heaven

If foods were soulmates, then hummus would be mine. Though I've spent the greater portion of my adulthood devouring hummus stateside, the stuff here doesn't even compare to the creamy perfection of true Israeli hummus.

My wildest hummus dreams came true at Ben Sira, a hole in the wall hummusiya in Jerusalem. This no-frills, unpretentious hummus joint takes chickpeas and turns them into edible works of art. Served with the traditional fixings, you can enjoy your hummus with a fluffy pita or fresh slices of onion. (While I love sinking my teeth into a slice of onion slathered with hummus, I also snuck in my own gluten-free pita for an extra Celiac-friendly treat!)

Hummus at Ben Sira, Jerusalem | Adelante
Hummus at Ben Sira, Jerusalem

Float on the Dead Sea

While Israel's variety of beaches is nothing short of sublime, nothing quite compares to bobbing like a cork on the Dead Sea. Just a short drive from Masada's commanding ruins lies the resort town of Ein Bokek, the perfect retreat for a lazy day along the Dead Sea.

More than 400 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Due to the unusually high concentrations of salt, effortlessly floating in the water makes for a relaxing, otherworldly experience. Local vendors sell the sea's famed mineral mud to lather on before taking a dip.

Dead Sea, Israel | Adelante
Dead Sea, Israel | Adelante

Challenge yourself

If you go with an open mind, you're much more likely to leave enchanted. Rather than letting the media bombard you, form your own opinions. Be mindful, ask questions, and listen, but don't let the political climate define your experience (or keep you from going in the first place). Don't be afraid to be curious, but strive to refrain from judgement. Establish your views after seeing and experiencing it for yourself.

Old City of Jerusalem | Adelante

Grappling with the ups and downs of spirituality, politics, extreme sensory overload, and adrenaline rushes stretched my mind in countless ways, but in the end, I fell irreversibly in love with Israel. The food, culture, religion, people, and the country's overwhelming complexities left me captivated and positively seduced.



Have you visited Israel?
If not, would you ever consider going?



Please note that this post is not a political commentary. Please keep all comments respectful and appropriate.


Monday, February 6, 2017

16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016 | Adelante

Happy New Year! I apologize for my recent absence, for these past few months have been an absolute whirlwind. While I acknowledge that this post is terribly overdue, 2016 was too epic not to pay tribute to!

This past year had its fair share of low moments, including getting detainedbreaking up with Madrid, and working through the hardships of repatriating. But 2016 also brought me to 12 countries and over 35 cities, gave me a sweet ending to my memorable chapter abroad, and brought me back to the beloved Pacific Northwest.

Between the legendary adventures and unfathomable challenges, it was truly one hell of a year. To celebrate this year of extremes, here's a look back at my 16 favorite travel memories of 2016.


1. Skydiving in the Swiss Alps

Skydiving in Switzerland | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

My first adventure of the year was a solo trip to go skydiving in Interlaken, Switzerland. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, skydiving out of a helicopter in the Swiss Alps was by far the most memorable thing I've ever done abroad.

As I experienced an unparalleled adrenaline rush while surrounded by the most striking scenery, I was filled with an incomprehensible amount of joy. My exhilaration was positively surreal. After the free fall, I was buzzing with euphoria and couldn't stop smiling for weeks.

Skydiving in Switzerland | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

2. Venturing through Petra

Petra, Jordan | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

While planning my spring break trip to Israel, I knew I couldn't travel all the way to the Middle East without fulfilling my dream of visiting Petra, Jordan. Ultimately, spending a day channeling my inner Indiana Jones was one of my all-time favorite adventures. I'm eager to get back to Jordan someday to explore more of what this amazing place has to offer!

Petra, Jordan | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

3. Experiencing Tel Aviv like a local

Tel Aviv, Israel | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

When one of my sorority sisters moved to Tel Aviv, I saw it as my golden opportunity to finally visit Israel. Between exploring local markets, attending a local synagogue, and observing my first proper Shabbat, I got to go deeper than the traditional tourist experience. 

I felt overwhelmingly grateful to have a local guide show me Tel Aviv's authentic charisma. By the end of my trip, I had my heart set on finding a way to move there someday. (On that note, does anyone know how a shiksa can get a job in Israel?!)

4. Being blown away by Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

Jerusalem is easily the most captivating city I've ever been to. Visiting "the most contested piece of land in history" was an emotion-filled day, and required quite a bit of processing afterwards.

Tensions were high, but the spirit of the city was full of life. Jerusalem took my breath away in countless ways, but absorbing its character was an experience I'll never forget.

5. Floating on the Dead Sea

Dead Sea, Israel | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

While Israel's variety of beaches is nothing short of sublime, nothing quite compares to floating like a cork on the Dead Sea. After visiting Masada's commanding ruins, we ventured to the resort town of Ein Bokek for a lazy afternoon along the Dead Sea.

More than 400 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Due to the unusually high concentrations of salt, effortlessly floating in the water makes for a relaxing, otherworldly experience. (Just don't get the salt water in your eyes!)

6. Eating my way through Asturias

Asturias, Spain | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016
The colorful fishing village of Cudillero

Nestled along the rugged coast of the Bay of Biscay, Asturias is truly Spain's best kept secret. Time and time again, Asturias seduces me and reminds me of the incredible diversity that is to be found within Spain.

And the food... oh, the food! From fresh seafood to rich fabada, Asturias is a culinary mecca. As I ate my way through Oviedo and Cudillero, I probably consumed a year's worth of calories. Spicy chorizo a la sidra, tangy Cabrales cheese, hearty and comforting cachopo, creamy arroz con leche... the list goes on. Washed down with a crisp glass of hard Asturian cider, and my taste buds were in a complete state of euphoria.

7. Soaking up Seville

Seville, Spain | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

As the first place in Spain to capture my heart, I felt inclined to bid Seville adieu before leaving the country. Though I've visited countless times, I just can't get enough of its southern charm.

I had less than 24 hours to revisit my favorite places, and I even squeezed in a tapas crawl with Devour Seville Food Tours. While my quick farewell trip wasn't nearly long enough, I know in my heart that I'll be back.

8. Returning to Cádiz

Cádiz, Spain | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

For the first time since studying abroad in 2010, I finally made my return to Cádiz. Though the city hasn't changed much in six years, I felt like a completely different person. (Can you believe that back then, I actually hated living in Spain?! Blasphemy!)

While revisiting old haunts felt entirely bittersweet, I had an incredible time giving the city the second chance it deserves. After this visit, I felt like things have finally come full circle.

9. Stopping in Stockholm with my BFF

Stockholm, Sweden | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016
Spotted in my natural habitat

We came, we ate, we conquered. After a marvelous week of hosting my best friend in Madrid, we took off to Stockholm for a weekend. Scandinavia never fails to enamor me, and Sweden is certainly no exception. From the pristine waterfront views to the colorful architecture, Stockholm had me swooning. 

10. Coming home to Paris for a weekend

Paris, France | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

As Gertrude Stein ever so wisely proclaimed, "America is my country, and Paris is my home town." Paris was the first city I ever truly fell in love with, and despite countless visits and a magical study abroad stint, my intense love affair has yet to subside.

I knew I had to visit one more time before moving across the pond, so I spent a long weekend getting lost, catching up with old friends, and devouring as many Ladurée macarons as possible. It was even more perfect than I had imagined.

11. Exploring the Dalmatian Coast with my mom

Dubrovnik, Croatia | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016
The sun-drenched coast of Dubrovnik

My European farewell tour concluded with an unforgettable trip through Croatia with my mom. We started off in Zagreb, venturing into Zagorje to visit Trakošćan Castle and Varaždin. We stopped in Plitvice Lakes National Park on our way to Split, where we sunned ourselves until hopping a ferry to Hvar. After a heavenly island escape, we ended our trip in the enchanting city of Dubrovnik.

While Croatia abounds with dreamy escapes and enthralling adventures, there's nothing quite like the dramatic beauty of the Dalmatian Coast. Each place we visited effortlessly seduced us. While I'll always cherish my memories from this trip, a part of me will always dream of going back.

Split, Croatia | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016
Split's seaside promenade, the Riva

12. Dining in a family olive grove in Hvar

Hvar, Croatia | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

One of the most memorable parts of our journey through Croatia was escaping Hvar's Old Town for a home-cooked dinner in a family-owned olive grove, surrounded by striking views of the Stari Grad Plain. Our gracious hosts prepared an authentic Dalmatian feast for us, complete with homemade cheese, tapenades, wine, and freshly caught sea bass.

As the sun lazily sank into the rolling hills below us, we chatted with the family about their olive grove, their families, and Croatia's tumultuous history. Amid the hordes of tourists abounding in Croatia, genuinely connecting with locals was a refreshing change of pace. 

13. Checking Plitvice Lakes off my bucket list

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

Though it looks like a scene from a wooded fairytale, Croatia's resplendent Plitvice Lakes National Park is anything but a figment of the imagination. Sixteen cascading lakes beget a series of majestic waterfalls, highlighted by pools of clear jewel-tone water. A most impressive feat of nature, Plitvice Lakes is the ultimate bucket list-worthy adventure.

14. Snorkeling in Iceland's Silfra fissure

Silfra Fissure, Iceland | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

Located in Thingvellir National Park, the Silfra fissure is where two continents rip apart. Thanks to Arctic Adventures, I was able to snorkel between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This crack between the continents is filled with glacier water clear enough to see down to 100 meters!

The water gets its pristine qualities from being filtered through underground lava for 30-100 years. Due to its extreme visibility, the Silfra fissure is widely regarded as one of the best dive sites in the world.

Silfra Fissure, Iceland | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016
The Silfra fissure is the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two tectonic plates

15. Jet setting to Los Angeles for birthday celebrations galore

Los Angeles | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016
Posing with the LACMA lights

Since my best friend Meghan lives in downtown Los Angeles (and Seattle constantly deprives me of Vitamin D), I find myself taking frequent trips down to LA. I booked a spontaneous trip for my birthday in July, and followed up with a trip in December for my BFF's 30th birthday. 

Though I have no intention of moving to California anytime soon, I could certainly see myself living in Los Angeles someday. Between the sunshine, bustling city vibes, and the wonderful friends that live there, I can't stop buying tickets to visit. (Thank goodness for Alaska Airlines miles!)

Los Angeles | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

16. Taking an impulsive solo trip to Puerto Rico

Vieques, Puerto Rico | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016

When I spontaneously booked my ticket to Puerto Rico two weeks before leaving, I had no idea what to expect. As it turns out, it was my favorite solo trip I've ever taken.

Between the stunning scenery, vibrant culture, mouthwatering cuisine, and incredible people I met, I fell more and more in love with this island as each day passed. Exploring Puerto Rico brought me back to life, and ultimately gave me the energy I needed to start the new year with a sense of purpose.

Vieques, Puerto Rico | 16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016
A snorkeling trip to Vieques, Puerto Rico

WHAT'S IN STORE FOR 2017?

While 2016 will be a tough year to beat, 2017 is already shaping up to be quite memorable. I rang in the new year on the road, I started taking Portuguese classes, and I just moved into a new apartment near downtown Seattle!

For my spring break in April, I'll be heading to Hanoi, Vietnam to visit one of my best friends that I taught English with in Madrid. It'll be my first time in Southeast Asia, and I couldn't be more excited to explore a new corner of the world. On my way home, I plan on taking advantage of an extended layover in Seoul, South Korea.

Given my newfound love for the Caribbean, I'm also in the midst of planning a potential trip to Cuba in July. I need more sunshine, palm trees, and a rum cocktail in hand, por favor!

As you can see, I have a terribly long backlog of blog posts to crank out. I can't wait to share more photos and stories from the past year's adventures, so stay tuned!

16 Favorite Travel Memories of 2016 | Adelante
Cheers, 2016!


What were your favorite travel memories of 2016?
Do you have any exciting travel plans for 2017?