|The Dead Sea|
What was the best part of visiting the Dead Sea? It was the Dead Sea itself and Masada. The rest was… so surreal, so weird, so warped, so man-made, so Disney in Times Square, so Lucy in the Sky, so …. I don’t know what!
Lets take a step back. I visited Israel for my first time in February. Jamison of Points Summary visited only a few weeks earlier, with Angelina of Just a Points Traveler. We visited many of the same places and stayed at many of the same hotels. Coincidence? Not at all. We all chose to go to Israel because of a special El Al airfare, which has come to be known as the “glitch” fare. We all chose to stay at the Le Meridien at the Dead Sea, a Starwood property, which charged only 2000 or 3000 points per night, depending on the night of the week, and the Park Plaza Orchid Hotel, a Club Carlson hotel, also on points. We got a lot of valuable planning advice and tips on Israel from fellow bloggers Very Good Points and Deals We Like.
The first two days of the trip, we were in Jerusalem. To say that we loved Jerusalem is an understatement. Jerusalem resonated throughout us. I will share more in another post. The Dead Sea is about two hours from Jerusalem. We did not get an early start on the trip to Dead Sea because we went to Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum) first, and then began our trip in the afternoon.
Throughout Israel, street and traffic signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The drive brought us through the area known as the West Bank. Many of the towns were Palestinian towns, as evidenced by the many mosques we saw. We were hungry but afraid to actually exit the highway and enter the towns, not because we were “afraid,” but because we didn’t know the rules on entry into such towns especially with a rental car.
On the drive, I noticed the vastness of the desert. I’ve been in places that are technically desert, but this was the real thing. We saw lots of camels, and sheep. As we got closer and closer, the downhills steeper and steeper, the posted signs showing how many hundreds of meters below sea level we were. And then we were at -400 meters and the oasis otherwise known as the Dead Sea emerged. It was a relatively small area of over sized hotels. The structures themselves were a bit garish, but the area did not feel elite or fancy. It felt strange. I recognized the chain names of many of the hotels as well as the McDonald’s sign in the middle of it all. I remembered the first time I went to Las Vegas, pulling into town on a Greyhound bus at 5 a.m. (can you believe I went cross-country on a Greyhound bus in college?), and opening my eyes to the shock of the Vegas neon lights. Well, the Dead Sea area evoked that same sense in me.
|The Dead Sea at Twilight|
The Le Meridien hotel was basically a nice hotel, and yet, something was off. It was as if everyone was silently whispering Fuck You to you all at once. The front desk associate was standoffish, to say the least, and essentially said you get nothing, no breakfast or otherwise, because you are here on points. I wondered if someone had painted a big P on my forehead when I wasn’t looking. I warned Won’t Run For Miles in advance not to expect the best treatment, and I was kicking him, warning him not to get upset, as we stood at the front desk. They offered us a choice of free wi-fi, a drink or 250 SPG points as our amenity. We took the wi-fi only to find out that the wi-fi was not working in the hotel, so we took drink coupons which we used later that evening.
The room was alright. The bathroom was nice. Won’t Run was tired, but I would have none of that. It was 6pm, and dusk, and I said ‘GET YOUR SWIMSUIT ON NOW.’ Once again I’m the madwoman in this relationship. He obeyed, and we walked to the sea. It was desolate. there was no one there – and we hesitated. Did we really want to go in the water? But, how could we not – we were at the DEAD SEA!? I went in, and then leaned back and floated. Wow, this was such a cool experience. I giggled. Won’t Run laughed – he thought I was faking the float – that perhaps I’d propped myself up against something – I couldn’t really be floating like that, could I? So, he came in the water, and experienced this for himself. He yelped in laughter. After about 5 minutes, we headed back into the hotel. Perhaps the nicest part of the hotel was the pool. It was large, and the water was hot, and was filled with water with “Dead Sea” conditions – i.e., you could float there too. It was crowded, and I think I heard more Russian than Hebrew being spoken.
|I really liked this sign|
I’d heard that the hotel restaurant was overpriced and not that good, so we went in search of someplace to eat. We found no restaurants to speak of. A little tourist building housed a McDonald’s, some stores selling overpriced trinkets and Dead Sea Products and an Aroma cafe (There are no Starbucks in Israel – Aroma is as close as you can get). There was free wi-fi here so we took about a half hour to check in here and there. We ordered some sandwiches from Aroma and brought them back to the hotel. We stopped off for a drink at the bar with our coupons, and then ate dinner in the room.
|A scotch walks up to a bloody mary and says…|
The next day we were up fairly early and checked out. We stopped by Aroma for a strong espresso (and a dose of wi-fi), and we were on our way to Masada. Won’t Run wanted to take the cable car up, but I insisted on hiking up to the top. If looks could kill, I would’ve been dead right there and then. By about halfway up, as it got steeper and steeper, we both thought we were going to have heart attacks, and kept taking mini-breaks to wait for our hearts to stop pounding. I tried to make jokes, but by this time, Won’t Run was really ready to murder me. I held on for dear life and continued to climb. Of course, once we got to the top of Masada, we were able to boast that we climbed Masada!
|We’d been climbing for at least a half hour, and still the cables were far off|
|Smile for the Camera!|
When I was a child, my parents took me to a special Masada exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City. I always remembered it, and sometimes think that my love of Anthropology (my college major) stemmed from this one exhibit. And here I was, seeing it for real so many years later. We listened to the audio tour as we moved from one structure to another. It is a worthwhile visit – amazing to imagine how a city could be built so high upon a mountain in a desert and how, in the end, a small group of rebels could hold out against the Romans for so long.
|Crow above Masada CAW!!|
|Another crow, or the same crow?|
We took the cable car down. And then we were on our way to Tel Aviv.