Israel and Italy
When travelling to Europe from Canada, I love to combine at least a couple destinations into one trip – once arriving to the continent after making the long-haul flight, there seem to be an endless variety of accessible countries just a hop, skip and a jump away. This spring, I was lucky enough to go on a two-week family vacation to Italy and decided to top my holiday off with a weeklong stretch in Israel for a close friend’s wedding (the bustling Israeli city of Tel Aviv is a short direct flight from Italy’s capital, Rome). After spending time in these two wonderfully diverse countries, I left with plenty of helpful travel recommendations for both.
Italy is one of the most historic, romantic and visited European destinations, with a friendly and gregarious culture, countless points of interest and a cuisine that is arguably unparalleled. Our Italy trip began in the unforgettable city of Rome and finished off with a breathtaking week on the picturesque Amalfi Coast – both being absolutely must-visit regions of the country. As we travelled here as a family of seven with young adults and couples, we sought out Airbnb accommodation for the affordability, and quickly found tons of clean, centrally located options in historic and architecturally stunning buildings.
When in Rome, we opted to do as the Romans do, and between plates of Bucatini Carbonara and glasses of localFrascatiwine, made sure to check out the mindboggling variety of ancient sights. One of the highlights of our holiday was a private Colosseum and Forum tour with a well-regarded company called‘The Roman Guy’–it not only allowed our group to skip the line (which is always huge, no matter what time of year), but also enabled us to enter the restricted Arena Floor of the Colosseum through a separate entrance. Our guide, Francesca, was engaging, thoughtful and fun; her passionate storytelling (laden with plenty of hand gestures, a typical Italian custom) painted a picture so clear of the gladiators and emperors of Ancient Rome that we felt like we had gone back in time.
With such high tourism numbers, it was simple to get around the country and very safe at night, with majority of Italians able to speak at least a bit of English and happy to help out visitors. As we wanted to stop at various towns along the way from Rome to Amalfi to try out delicious regional dishes and experience some of the local lifestyle, we opted to rent a car – although the more aggressive Italian driving style can be daunting, a couple days of practice made perfect. The most memorable detour of our road trip was a visit to the ruins of Pompeii, one of the world’s most mesmerising archaeological experiences where we again booked a very worthwhile private tour. Once we arrived in Amalfi, our family enjoyed a laidback coastal vacation filled with fresh seafood and sunshine – our only regret was that we didn’t stay longer!
After two weeks in Italy, my partner and I said goodbye to the rest of our group and flew to Tel Aviv for a wedding. As a first-time visitor to Israel, the beauty of the country and the friendly culture of its people blew me away. An arid Middle Eastern nation situated on the shimmering blues of the Mediterranean Sea, Israel is an ancient region of the world regarded by Jews, Muslims and Christians as the biblical Holy Land. Travelling as a Canadian couple, I was pleased to find that we did not require a visa to enter Israel for tourism, and the border process was relatively smooth. Although the country is known for ongoing conflicts and with that comes a heightened level of security, Israel’s lively major metropolis, Tel Aviv, felt warm, welcoming and safe; I was surprised to see how remarkably young the population was, with a significant portion of residents aged just 29 and under.
Aside from some of the world’s best beaches and a booming nightlife scene, a major highlight of Israel was taking a day trip to Jerusalem’s historic Old City, which can be straightforwardly accessed by bus from Tel Aviv’s central terminal. Looking back, I wish I’d spent at least 48 hours here – there is just too much to see in only one day. When in Jerusalem, ‘Machneyuda’ is a must-visit: renowned as the best restaurant in the entire country by food critics, celebrity chefs and locals alike, it offered a truly unique dining experience filled with loud music, singing, dancing and the freshest of local ingredients prepared in fun and innovative ways behind a mesmerizing open kitchen (insider tip: request a seat at the bar for the best view!)Tasting our way through Israel’s multicultural food scene opened our minds and palates as we discovered some of our favourite new dishes, ranging from Shakshuka(baked eggs in a tangy, spicy tomato sauce) to Sabich(an open-faced Israeli breakfast sandwich stuffed with fried eggplant, tahini, salad and more).
We luckily did not run into any major health issues during our Israel trip, but more than once did need to pick up a few essentials at the drug store. To our relief, we noticed that many establishments were open 24/7 and equipped with pharmacists that spoke near-perfect English and could easily translate the Hebrew labels. To top off an already positive travel experience, getting around during our stay could not have been easier – Tel Aviv was incredibly walkable, and when we wished to venture outside of the centre, electric bikes and scooters were readily available to rent at every street corner. After a week spent in this beautiful country, my partner and I can’t wait to visit again; next time, we will be sure to go for a swim in The Dead Sea and maybe even take a day trip to the neighbouring country of Jordan.
The awe-inspiring vista from our Airbnb on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
Looking down at Rome’s Piazza del Popolo from the viewpoint of the Villa Borghese Gardens.
A view of Jerusalem’s Old City from the top of the historic Hurva Synagogue.
A Tel Aviv cityscape seen from one of the many nearby beaches.
Article by – Christina Pears
Photos by – Christina Pears