The tiny Mediterranean country of Israel keeps popping up in the daily Covid news right now as pioneers of the vaccine rollout during a national lockdown. The borders are closed and there’s hardly anyone on the streets. Except me.
It wasn’t my intention to travel during the pandemic. My job sent me to Tel Aviv, Israel to work on a project for a few months.
Having never been to Israel, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to visit and see the sights with my job footing the bill. I am glad that my job demanded that I spend several weeks in the beachside city of Tel Aviv because it took that long just to see some of the main tourist destinations like the ancient port of Jaffa.
Israel, like most countries, is in a constant state of flux, trying to figure out the best formula for dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. Not only were there changes from week to week, but changes nearly daily.
In the evening the Knesset would vote on a regulation and the next day there would protests and objections, and the following day the Knesset would rule that the decision was illegal and another would be made.
Regardless, I prefer to look at the positive aspects of my tourism, so why dwell on things outside one’s control?
I was in Tel Aviv, a vibrant city usually compared with great European cities than their regional counterparts. I was able to enjoy the wonderful Mediterranean beaches and parks – just a few of the things still open.
Closed were the famous eclectic restaurants that fuse Middle Eastern cuisine with global modernity. Closed were the trendy cafes and clubs in Tel Aviv, and the only positive result of this is the money I saved. Instead, I got to eat like a local, not like a tourist. Schwarma sandwich, felafel, and schnitzel, the fried chunk of chicken jammed in a pita with hummus, salad, tahini sauce, and more.
I travelled to old Jerusalem and walked through the narrow ancient cobbled streets along the sides of which merchants sell their trinkets. I was able to do this without bumping into anyone.
The streets are nearly empty and the shop owners and vendors greet you as if you were a long lost relative.
I went to the Wailing Wall (also known as the Western Wall), where there were no lines. You would think if you were going to pray for the end of the pandemic, here is where the crowds would be, so I suppose that after nine months of the pandemic, people sought alternatives, such as staying at home.
I visited the Caesarium an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv on the via Highwaywy 2/Kvish HaHof, a 2000-year-old beautiful Roman city and stood in the centre of the ancient amphitheatre before empty seats. I walked all around, visiting every site on the map, without ever running into another person. The only line I experienced was two couples in front of me getting an ice cream, the only shop open.
On vacation in exotic locales, people feel pressured to spend a lot of time visiting museums and learning about the history that they quickly forget, unless it pops up in a Jeopardy question.
Nothing to worry about during a pandemic. I travelled to the ancient port and fortress of Akko. No crowds, easy to walk around, but the Crusaders‘tunnels and museums were closed, enabling me to save lots of time and see more of the city and the Turkish bazaar.
There is no photobombing during a pandemic
You don’t have to worry about traffic jams or big tour buses, either. I went to Masada National Park, and there was one tour bus, filled with local kids on a field trip. I walked around the ancient ruins, without anyone standing around them to ruin the photos I took. There is no photobombing during a pandemic.
With fewer people at these otherwise typically crowded tourist attractions, you don’t have to worry about encountering pickpockets or other thieves. Apparently, even criminals care about their health and stay at home.
Let’s be blunt. Some people are intimidated by really good looking men and women, some are put off by unpleasant facial features, but a medical crisis is the great equalizer.
With a mask on, all are on an equal footing. Aside from that, when you travel and meet people during a pandemic, gone are the awkward cheek kissing, hugs, and sweaty handshakes that people endure to be friendly.
Tourism during a pandemic is not for everyone, nor is adventure travel. Making the best of a situation and maintaining a positive outlook is more important when travelling than missing that ultra-expensive sushi dish or that famous statue you wait hours in line to see from 20 yards away.
I am glad I was able to experience Israel without the pressures typical of tourism and more like a local. Now I can’t wait for the pandemic to end so I can go back and see what I missed.