With its crystal clear, turquoise waters, picturesque Cypriot villages and mouth-watering cuisine, this little island in the Mediterranean charms you and leaves you longing to come back. There’s so much to be said about Cyprus, it had a very complicated history, with Ottoman and British…
Floating in the Dead Sea was always one of my bucketlist items, so of course I had to check it off the list while I was in Israel. Even though I only stayed for a few days, I made time for this trip and it was totally worth it – that feeling is surely one of a kind!
I initially tried to see whether I could go by public transportation, but it seemed all too complicated so I went ahead and booked a tour with Abraham Tours. Because the actual stop at the Dead Sea isn’t very long, as you can’t really stay in the water for more than 15-20 minutes, other stops are also included in these tours. I chose the one that included a visit to Masada and Ein Gedi as well.
The ruins of Masada
We left Tel Aviv bright and early, around 6:30 am and headed for Jerusalem to pick up more people from there. I got to see a bit of Jerusalem from the bus and it indeed seemed very beautiful, I wish I would’ve had time to visit it as well.
On the way to our first stop, Masada Fortress, we passed through the Judean Desert and saw the Bedouins’ settlements – a bit of an eyesore to be honest. Our driver explained that these settlements are quite problematic as they’re not recognised therefore creating land ownership disputes, as well as facing issues such as high unemployment rates, poverty and crime. Most of them are also not connected to water or electricity, so living conditions are pretty rough.
On to more positive things, we arrived to Masada around 9 am and we were given about an hour and a half to visit the site. The entrance was 74 NIS and it included the cable car ride. There is also the option to hike up, but it takes about 45 minutes one way, so there was no time for that.
Masada is one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel, situated on top of an isolated rock, offering stunning views over the surrounding desert and the Dead Sea, all the way to the Moabite mountains in Jordan.
Initially built by King Herod himself between 37 and 31 BC, the fortress has a long history, but it’s mostly known as being the site of on of the greatest tales of Jewish heroism. It is said that during the First Roman-Jewish War, while under siege by the Roman army, the group of Jewish rebels occupying the fortress at that time preferred to kill themselves rather than surrender to the Romans. However, it seems that those very same rebels had previously raided nearby Jewish villages, killing around 700 women and children. So where they really the heroes they’re now portrayed as? Debatable, to say the least.
The ruins weren’t all that impressive, though some parts were pretty well preserved, considering they’re just a bit over 2000 years old. The view however was impressive, with the desert mountains on one side and the Dead Sea on the other. It looks a bit like the surface of the Moon, doesn’t it?
Ein Gedi oasis
After our visit to Masada, we headed to our next destination: Ein Gedi – an oasis and nature reserve in the desert. And a favourite tourist attraction, as we were soon to find out. Hordes of American, Brazilian and Chinese tourists, with their selfie sticks and iPads, where jostling each other in desperate attempts to get a selfie with one of the springs of the oasis.
Apart from several springs and natural pools, the park hosts many species of plants, birds and animals, such as the Nubian Ibex and the rock hyrax (sooo cute, by the way!). I was lucky enough to see both of them, though I didn’t manage to take a picture of the goats as I had to flee from a group of Americans coming my way.
The reserve is pretty big, spreading over 14 square kilometres, so in the hour and a half I spent here I only managed to see very little of it. There are apparently nine different hiking trails ( I only managed to do about a third of one of them), so I should imagine the rest of the park is just as beautiful and definitely worth visiting if you have the time.
Floating in the Dead Sea
As we left Ein Gedi and headed for the final stop of our tour, our driver stopped at one of the viewpoints and told us a bit about the problems the Dead Sea is facing. Unfortunately, the sea is drying out – if you look at the pictures below you can see how the water level gradually decreased. There are multiple factors that contribute to this, such as the lack of precipitations in the area as well as the exploitation for the salt and cosmetic industries.
Another interesting thing I learned is that there are lots of sinkholes along the shore of the sea, some massive, swallowing entire buildings or road sections. It was a bit sad to know that such a beautiful place might disappear entirely in about 20 years, but on the bright side at least I was lucky enough to get to see it.
The beach that is open to the public is a lot smaller and nowhere near as pretty as the ones I saw from the viewpoint, but then again it didn’t have any sinkholes in it so I guess that’ll have to do. On the beach there were signs everywhere telling you that you shouldn’t stay more than 20 minutes in the water and that you need to shower immediately after getting out. There were also signs explaining how to float, which I found a bit funny.
The feeling itself is so weird, it’s nothing like in the other seas, you literally feel weightless. The water is 10 times saltier than any other sea and trust me, you do not want to stay in it more than 20 minutes. I lasted for about 15 minutes before parts of my body started burning slightly, so I decided to get out. I couldn’t resist a face mask with the Dead Sea mud and let me tell you, my face was as soft as a baby’s bum when I left there.
Walking in and out of the beach area you will pass through the Ahava shop, a cosmetic company that manufactures skin care products made of the Dead Sea mud and mineral-compounds. A quick stop in the shop and you can take your soft as a baby’s bum face home with you (your knees might get soft as well seeing their prices, but that’s a different story).
The Dead Sea really is a unique place and I’m so happy I got to see it and experience it. I highly recommend this trip, it’s something everyone should do in their lifetime!
Vibrant nightlife, incredible food, UNESCO recognised architecture, sandy Mediterranean beaches and some of the most friendly people in the world – you can find it all and much more in Tel Aviv. Though a bit sceptic at first, as I’ve never travelled outside of Europe…
Venice – one of the most famous attractions of Italy and perhaps even Europe. We all know about it, read about it, seen pictures of it and probably half of the population of the planet has already visited it. Except for me. Yup, I lived…
One of my resolutions for this year was to become a full time traveller. It’s something I always dreamed of and this year I felt it’s finally time to do it. But when I started planning, I realized I had a problem: accommodation, especially in countries such as England, was insanely expensive and there was no way I could afford it, especially as I wanted to stay for longer periods of time in each place.
After busting my brains for a few weeks, the solution came to me in the form of a website: workaway.info. This is a website that connects travellers with hosts all around the world. The travellers offer a few hours of work per day, in exchange for food, accommodation and a complete immersion in the respective country’s culture. There is a yearly membership fee (about 30 USD if I remember correctly) and you have access to thousands of hosts all across the globe. The work required is very varied, from baby-sitting, to dog-sitting, to gardening, farming, building etc.
Both travellers and hosts have reviews and you can contact the people who left the reviews in private if you want to find out more (which I now realize it’s quite advisable, as some people will leave a good review even if they’ve had a not so good experience).
This is a perfect opportunity for people who want to be more than just tourists, people who are interested in seeing the real, day to day life in a country, people who want to create memories to last them a lifetime.
Fun with kids in Italy
I had my first workaway experience in April this year, when I spent two weeks with a lovely family with two kids in Bari, Italy. My responsibilities included watching the kids (a 7 years old girl and an 11 years old boy) for 4-5 hrs a day, doing some light housework and sometimes walking the dog. I was lucky to have this as a first experience, as my Italian family treated me super nice and really understood the whole idea of ‘workaway’ and it being a cultural exchange more than anything else.
I felt a part of the family while I was with them, they cooked delicious Italian food every day, we sat down together for lunch and dinner, we went paddleboarding, we went to the beach and they even took me with them to a family gathering, where uncle Nat cooked the most insane spaghetti Bolognese I ever had (and where I may have had a little bit too much Sicilian wine).
The kids were sometimes a bit tiring, especially as I’m not really a big fan of kids, but somehow the fun times we had together managed to balance out the times when they would drive me insane.:)) The parents were very open-minded, well-educated people and made me feel welcomed and at home at all times. I was with the kids in the afternoons, so I had the mornings and evenings to myself. As a bonus, they lived 5 minutes away from the beach, so you can imagine I took advantage of that.
It was a beautiful experience, I got to see the real Italian spirit, with its good and its bad, its drama and its fierce passion, its fiery temperament and its warm hospitality – all of it making me fall hopelessly in love with Italy (ok, the food also had a major part in that).
Doggie love in the UK
The second time I ‘workwayed’ was very different to my first experience, but still equally pleasant (if not more actually, as I only had to deal with dogs here :D). I stayed for a month with a lovely lady in Bournemouth, UK, where I had to walk and spend time with her two doggies and do some housework, like vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen etc. The daily tasks required around 2-3 hours of my time, in the morning, though sometimes it took longer because I would spend hours in the park, just so I can hang around the other dog people and hear them speak English (yes, I’m weird like that, don’t mind me).
Again, I felt like home, I had my own room in a beautiful Victorian house just across the park, Sue was very hospitable and made sure I had everything I needed. She was very busy with work so we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, but she did take me out a few times and was always available to help me with any info I needed. Before I left she organized a little buffet dinner as a goodbye party for me.
It was really hard to leave this place as I had gotten very attached to the dogs and everyone I met during my stay. That’s the thing with workaway – you leave bits of your soul in every place you stay.
Slaves wanted in Portugal
Unfortunately, my third experience was not a very pleasant one, but I’ll try not to get discouraged and see what is the lesson to be learned here. Now, I want to try not to use very strong language and not to be very judgmental, but I have to say this: don’t choose hosts from countries that were once slave drivers! I know it’s very politically incorrect of me to say this, but the saying ‘old habits die hard’ really seems to have some truth in it.
So, here’s how it went: I decided from England I want to go to Portugal, so I started looking for hosts. I found this lady who seemed very nice, she had some apartments that she rented to tourists and needed help with that. Her profile stated that she needs light help around the house, help with the tourists and double-checking the rooms before tourists come. The accommodation was supposed to be in an annex to the main building, no further details. Her reviews were good and she seemed nice, so I decided to go.
I got there only to discover that food was not even included (she told me I can go buy my own food, as it’s not really that expensive in Portugal – uhm, you go buy it for me then!), the light work around the house meant sweeping leaves on her 12389323 square feet property and double checking the rooms meant scrubbing the bathroom floors. On top of that, I was offered the mouldy engine room underneath the pool as accommodation, with no bathroom and no wi-fi access. The only positive thing about this was that I had a pool with an awesome view all to myself.
At first I thought that maybe I was being too sensitive, maybe I’m overreacting, so I really tried to make the best of it, but after three days of suffocating in the mouldy room I decided enough is enough, so I left. It was pretty clear the lady just wanted free labour and had zero interest in the cultural exchange workaway is supposed to be about.
After this, I wanted to give Portugal another chance, so I found a hostel where I was supposed to work for a few hours in exchange for accommodation, but the experience was equally unpleasant. Therefore, as a future reference both for myself and other people considering doing this, when going to countries that basically invented slavery, double, triple-check your host, ask a million questions and make sure you both have the same idea on what workaway is supposed to be about.
What to ask your host
After these 3 experiences I am now much better prepared for future workaway stays and hopefully I will know better when it comes to choosing my hosts. In order to help me, as well as anyone else reading this with future trips, I put together a set of questions that I think every traveller should ask the host to ensure the experience is satisfying for both.
- How many hours will I work for daily? Mornings or evenings? Are weekends free?
- What exactly are the chores that need to be done (ask for specific examples)?
- Is food included? If yes, will there be cooked food or will I have to cook myself? If no, is there a food allowance included?
- Ask for pictures of the room you’ll be staying in. Does it have a complete bathroom next to it, is it noisy, does it have a window, is there mould, is there proper heating in the winter, is there wi-fi access in the room?
- Is there a curfew?
- Do I have access to a kitchen?
- Will I be spending time with the host and their family?
So basically just get very clear about everything and make sure you’re on the same page with your host. Otherwise, it’s just like playing the lottery: you may win, or you may end up very disappointed.
Would I do it again?
I don’t want to allow this one unpleasant experience ruin the other two beautiful ones I had, so I’ll definitely do this again, just this time picking my hosts more carefully. Workaway is the perfect opportunity to both travel on a budget and experience the countries you visit more like a local, rather than a tourist, and it’s definitely something that changes you forever!
Growing up as a single child, I was fortunate enough to always have my own room and plenty of privacy. This also influenced the choices I made when planning a trip – I was horrified by the idea of even sharing a bathroom with other…