We made it to Israel in time for Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day). What a roller-coaster of emotions...
We attended the official ceremony held on Mount Herzl, a cemetery used for national figures and fallen soldiers. Itzik, my cousin's husband (and one of the nicest guys I've ever met) has an uncle buried here. The cemetery was full of people; every grave surrounded by family members. So many lives are affected...The sirens go off at 11am across the country and everything stops. People stop walking, traffic stops and people get out to stand and commemorate those who died fighting for this country and civilians who died in acts of terror. I was blown away that so many Jews can remain silent for two minutes straight...sorry, I had to throw in a joke.
Following the ceremony Itzik invited us to his grandfather's house for real, homemade falafel, a family tradition on this day. These were the BEST falafel I've ever had! The mood of the morning had started to lift. The same evening marked the start of Yom Ha'atzmaut. We went to a large celebration with fireworks, dancers, singers and a live performance by Rita, a hugely famous singer in Israel. It was truly special to celebrate the day that Jews had a country to call home.
We also managed to do some typical touristy things here. We went to the Dead Sea where we soaked in thermal pools, covered ourselves with mud and floated around in the Dead Sea.
We also made it to Jerusalem...Yerushalayem shel zahav...I love the old city because it is always full of surprises. Gadi and I have each been here many times and thought we've seen it all and yet we explored places we've never been. This is the magic of Jerusalem.
I now finally know what The Clash were singing about - a Kasbah is a fortress and Morocco is full of them.
We started our Morocco adventure when we arrived in Marrakech, an imperial city. We walked in the main square of the Medina (old city) and we were greeted by snake charmers, acrobats, fortune tellers and peddlers of all kinds. We also were greeted by very helpful young kids that don't want to do anything but help you find your hotel and take you money afterwards. I gave some but apparently I was a "crazy man" for not giving him enough of a tip...
The Medina is really crazy with lots of people, souks (street markets), donkeys and motorcycles and it almost impossible to find anything. We got lost many times but it was wonderful! We even made it to the Mellah which is the old Jewish quarter of the old city. The Jewish cementery seems to be super old with tombs that don't even have names attached to it.
We decided to take a 3 day tour to the Sahara desert. The tour consisted mostly in driving through windy roads across the Morocco's mountains in a little van. We stopped in a Kasbah where the movies Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator were filmed. Appartently Morocco is booming with the film industry. Many movies are filmed here such as The Mummy, Sahara, etc. And you can find entire replicas of Mecca and Jerusalem on the road.
The second night of our tour was spent sleeping in the Sahara desert. We took a sunset camel ride guided by Berber men dressed in their traditional desert clothes. At our campsite, we climbed the sand dune only to miss the sunset. Our calves were burning! We spent the night drinking Berber whiskey (actually a tea), eating, singing and drumming to the beats of the desert. The tour ended the following morning with the final camel ride back to the van and a very long drive back to Marrakech (12 hours of it).
We spent a final night in Marrakech before taking another long train ride to Fez, another of the imperial cities. Fez seems to be a calmer city that Marrakech and it has it on charm. People seem to be friendlier and the artisans are truly authentic. We had the time to explore the city and we ran into old friends of our Sahara tour. One recommendation, don't take pictures of the Royal Palace. The guards don't seem to like it and made me erase the picture from my camera.
We will go now hunt for a place to eat and decide where to go next. Our plan is to make our way north and then on to the south of Spain until Madrid. We want to make it to Israel before the 28 of April for Yom Ha'atzmaut.