It was the Semana Santa week in the South of Spain and the unusual 30 degrees for mid-April. The conditions were perfect to explore the beautiful white villages that are hiding in the mountains of Andalusia.
Everybody knows that the mountain Everest is the highest point on the face of the Earth, and it is definitely on my to do list. But before I save $30K for the group climbing excursion, I decided first to pay a visit to the lowest point on Earth – the Dead Sea.
It is located right in middle of the Middle East and is officially is shared by Palestine, Israel and Jordan. However after taking the Highway 90 from Tel Aviv down to this area and passing by what (according to the map) should be the Palestinian part of this lake, it seemed like it is completely under Israel’s control. Well, but we’ve already known that Israel is not particularly good in sticking with the border lines…
So, we rented a car in Tel Aviv and after less than 2 hours we were crossing by the dessert mountains and palm trees forests. It was midday of Saturday, so the road was empty with only few cars passing by.
One thing that impressed me about this wonder is the perfect, mirror-like reflection of the Dead Sea. Here is the closer look to it:
We spent a night in Ein Bokek, not a town, rather a hotel strip. Do I recommend it? No, not really, hotels here are very expensive and quite old. Also, almost no eating out/going out options available. But again it was the beginning of January.
In the morning, we gave a lift to a couple of hitchhikers, who spent a night on the beach and woke with mosquito bites on their faces (not sure if they slept at all). So, don’t do it either!
Around the Dead Sea
So, the Dead Sea can be fun for some time, but as it is not recommended spending more than 15 minutes in its salty waters, you might get bored quite quickly. But there are a few other things you can do around here.
A very special site for many Israelis and Jews. Masada is remainings of an ancient town, situated on the top of the rock. A heroic legend of Siege of Masada attacks locals to visit this place, for others it is a chance to look over the Dead Sea and the Judean desert from 400 meters up:
Ein Gedi hikes:
Ein Gedi is described as an oasis in the dessert and offers a number of hiking routes situated across the shore of the Dead Sea. We stopped at Wadi David and did an hour long hike to the David’s waterfall and back.
Ein Gedi kibbutz & Botanical garden
The local kibbutz (commune) is situated on the hill overlooking the Dead Sea and mountains. The community here runs a hotel and a famous Botanical garden (in the middle of the dessert!) with plans from all over the world.
and then and here it was a time leave back to Tel Aviv.
At the end of this blog I would like to share a few tips, should you be interested in visiting Palestine. This trip was too short for us to do so, but here is what I learned from my research:
Jericho (the city of Palms) – if you are in the Dead Sea area do not miss out on this town in West Bank. Believed to be one of the oldest villages in the world offers plenty of archaeological and Biblical attractions.
The Dead Sea area is quite badly reachable by the public transport, so to travel around here you will need to rent a car (or hitchhike). But with a car rented in Israel you will not be able to visit West Bank. Here is one of the alternatives for you to rent in Jerusalem.
Note to myself: next time I am around the Dead Sea I want to stay here.
Georgia – a country with a very successful word of mouth marketing campaign… at least in Lithuania.
Every Lithuanian can tell you a few good things about Georgia but only some lucky ones have gone to check if this land of honey is for real. I haven’t had the pleasure to see it myself yet, but I already know that it is a country with the most welcoming people, wine and food there is to die for, and nature… ohhh mountains…
So as soon as Jurgita and Gediminas came back from their Georgia exploration trip I asked them to share their tips & tricks. And this is what they had to say…
In Georgia wine is offered more often than water, including a glass for breakfast on the house. Make sure no to refuse, this could be treated as an insult. When in country, be ready for Georgian hospitality, that will fill your adventurous soul with memorable experiences. And here are 3 things you must do during your trip:
1. Visit Mountains
Georgia is a country of mountains. Forget Batumi, there are nicer beaches and seaside towns in Europe. Our plan was to spend 4 days in Svaneti, flying there from Tbilisi with local airplane. Unlucky us, heavy rain changed the programme, our flight was cancelled. We decided to skip other alternative – a 10 hrs ride by marshrutka to Mestia, and ended up having a closer trip to Kazbegi mountain – 3 hours drive north from Tbilisi. Breath-taking scenery…
Arranging a car was super easy – we just stopped a taxi in Tbilisi and asked the driver to bring us to mountains next day. Short negotiation for a price and deal was done.
Asking your B&B owner for a ride is also a great option, though usually such offer comes even without asking and with additional sightseeing suggestions and glass of local wine (this is supposed to help you make a right decision).
2. Taste local food
Eating all-up can be tough challenge – portions are huge, dishes are heavy in sauces. Wine or local spirit drink ča-ča is definitely good for digestion. Food is rich in meat (lamb, beef especially), baked vegetables, pastries. Chachapuri with cheese is very filling for lunch, ‘ponchiki’ (cream-filled pastry) is great for afternoon dessert.
3. Visit Tbilisi
Tbilisi is a remarkable example how new is blending into old. The city is soaking in western culture, Dunkin’ Donuts being top trendy place for fashionistas and hipsters (despite the fact that quality service is still far away from the western standards). For sightseeing we took super fun free tour with Anna, who showed us nooks and crannies, shared so many stories, insightful comments and funny observations about Georgians.
*Btw, we believe free tours with locals are the best way to explore city! If you are interested, check free London Grafitti tour.
Religion plays an important role in local lives. Whenever a Georgian sees a church, he crosses himself three times. Even when driving a narrow mountain road. Anna told us, that young generation are also strictly into religion. She witnessed a group of young girls, dancing in an open-roof bus when driving around the city and promoting event. Suddenly, when seeing the church, all girls stopped dancing, crossed themselves, and then continued dancing like nothing happened.
Georgia is so vivid in colours, tastes, nature, sounds. Lured us so much that we are planning a comeback, hopefully this time rain will not stop us to go to Svaneti mountains.
- Free Tbilisi tour with Anna
- To eat in Tbilisi: g.Vino, Funicular – best ‘ponchiki’; cream-filled pastry; Machakhela – eat with locals.
If you’re planning a road trip through California then the 101 is your route. It takes longer than a faster alternative – Interstate 5, but having tried both, it’s so much worth the time. Every stop you make – it’s a new scenery, from little towns, to beautiful long Californian beaches to walks though the forests and dunes. It’s a constant change of altitude, green and blue shades but … it’s California…sun stays up in the sky wherever you go (well not around San Francisco – but they told us the heavy rain weekend was bad luck… yeah right…).
The 101 is 2222.97 km long and connects US West’s the south and north through four different states.We (mostly me to all fairness) drove from San Diego to San Francisco and this is how it went:
And if you put it all in about 40 seconds you get something like this:
After 3 days in crazy Mexico City, we decided to get away from the crowds and to dive into the little pueblos around the capital. Tepotztlan, Acapulco (not a pueblo!) and Taxco are only a hand-reach away (in Mexican sizes) from DF and are an often escape destinations for the wealthy DFians.
I. Tepoztlán: green mountains & Temazcal
This pueblo magico is just an hour away from the busy DF streets. Many come here to enjoy the nature and pleasures of Temazcal – an ancient Maya sweat house. But before you go into the hands of a local shaman:
Enjoy the cuisine from the local market:
Then work it out by climbing up to El Tepozteco pyramide
And then lock yourself out in the surroundings of the mountains and when the sun goes down follow a well deserved (mystical) Temazcal…
II. The 60’s shine in Acapulco
Acapulco is the closest beach escape for chilangos. Just 4 hours on the toll road and you are on the Pacific coast. Once a n°1 destination for the Hollywood stars, now Acapulco is a hub of the local tourism. Recent hurricanes and instabilities in the area has washed off its 60s glitter but the footprints of once the capital of tourism are still here.
Playa Caletilla in the morning and in the afternoon:
A try to find a virgin spot on the Pacific:
However the Pacific Ocean was not so Pacific that day at Pie de la Cuesta:
Other than that it was just a regular day in the city that have seen it all:
III. The silvery Taxco
This little beautiful Pueblo Mágico is spread around the hills – just 3 hours drive from DF. We came here for a quick stop, but after the first glimpse, stayed for as long as we could.
Known for its old days silver resources today the city reflects the past via stunningly beautiful architecture thus becoming a trendy escape for DFians and other random passers like us.
On top of all the architectural surprises around every corner, here you will also find street vendors offering beautiful hand made pieces, never seen anywhere else before or after. However, the density of the local plata shops have made me not too keen in buying the silver here…
After the sun goes down Taxco offers a wide list of restaurants and bars, but stays pretty calm and locky. This is how we found MeZcalería Xoco a recently open house of Mezcal and an artesania in one with a very nice owner. Here I finally got my Agave shaped silver earnings. If you happen to pass by send my warmest greetings.