“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” – Anthony Bourdain
The famous American chef says it all! I just returned back to Israel from my 10-day trip traveling around Europe. Due to Passover, my spring break is about three and a half weeks long. All of this free time allotted for the perfect opportunity to travel, see new cultures, meet new people, eat new food, and learn about the history of each new place.
As I sit here reflecting on my trip, I could not be more pleased with my decision to study abroad in Israel. My trip actually really put this entire semester in perspective. I constantly struggle with and am sometimes very frustrated with American Jewry. Jewish life in Israel just comes naturally and that is something I love about this semester and want to cherish and appreciate for the remainder of my time here. However, it was very refreshing to see other countries in Europe. I am so fortunate that I traveled with an incredible group of friends and have the absolute most wonderful and amazing parents who supported my trip.
In each country we saw the typical tourist sites, including anything and everything Jewish that the country had to offer. We saw different Jewish communities, visited the ghettos, and also the synagogues. Some of the countries have more active Jews than others, and so many of them are now in Israel. It was almost as if I was tracing back the history of the people who have helped make Israel what it is today. Upon landing in Israel, I could not have been happier to be back in my new home and begin preparing for Pesach, one of my favorite holidays.
It is impossible for me to fully describe my adventures that took place during the past 10 days. We saw and did so much each day and I am even still trying to recap the entire trip. I will try to provide a brief description of the places I went and some of my highlights.
We left on a Friday morning to go to Paris. We had a short layover in Greece and landed in Paris at around 11am. Approximately 10 minutes after landing, I had a Starbucks beverage in my hand and was a VERY happy camper. It has been so long that I thought the cups in Europe were bigger than America. I asked the barista and they are the standard size- I guess cups in Israel are just smaller. Anyways, we headed to our hostel, checked in, and quickly learned the subway system. We went to the Arc de Triumph, walked up and down Champs- Elysees, climbed to the top of the Arc de Triumph for a fabulous view of the city, and then hopped on a bike (with a driver) and headed over to the Eiffel Tower. Our driver was even so kind to take some photographs of us in front of the Eiffel Tower.
The following day we headed to the Louvre to visit the Mona Lisa (semi disappointing, but hey, I saw Mona) and see a bunch of other art. The museum was MASSIVE and easily could have taken all day. We all split up to go see each exhibit that interested us the most. I went to go check out the Islamic art section, as I was a little homesick from Israel and thought that art would remind me of the Middle East (and it sure did). For the rest of the day we walked around, saw some bridges and the Notre Dame. My friends’ French friend met us up for dinner and since France doesn’t really cater to Kosher/vegetarian or even normal food (sorry, I guess I just don’t appreciate French culture…except the French know how to make great crepes), we ended up at a Japanese place. Little did I know that Paris had good sushi (didn’t compare to the excellence that is Israeli sushi though).
Our time in Paris was quick but in my opinion the perfect amount of time. Our next stop was Amsterdam!!! After arriving in the Paris airport, I got in a little fight with the baggage man because apparently my carry on bag was too big, so I’m now 30 euro poorer and never flying airfrance again. No worries though, upon arriving in Amsterdam, a Starbucks was located right outside of my gate, so all issues were shortly resolved.
We picked up our “I am Amsterdam” cards that provided us with free entrance to a ton of museums, a free canal tour, and free public transportation. After checking into our beautiful hostel, we basically flew to one of my favorite sites of the entire trip: the Anne Frank House. Before I entered the museum, I was greeted my two of my camp friends who made a special trip just to say hello. It was such a special moment and it was so great to see them if only for a few minutes. After I said my hellos and goodbyes, I started my journey into the museum that shared a very special story.
Before I describe what I saw, I want to mention that I have studied about the Holocaust in college, visited Holocaust museums all over the US and Israel, as well as visited the camps in Poland. However, I have never been to a museum that showcases such a personal and well-known story. I had to take a second before continuing through the museum to realize where I was and what an incredible experience I was about to have as I retraced the steps of the Frank family.
The house that we visited was where Anne and her family hid during the war. The museum was filled with quotes from the diary all over the walls in each room, and showcased artifacts and letters that were saved after the Holocaust. The quotes that were selected matched each room so perfectly. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, requested that the furniture be taken out before the house became a museum, but the house was filled with other information. I applaud the designers of the museum for showcasing an extremely special and personal story in a beautiful fashion.
After the meaningful tour, we debriefed, critiqued, and complimented the museum and then we went on our free canal tour of the beautiful city of Amsterdam before heading to dinner.
The next day in Amsterdam was jammed packed as we were leaving that same day for Italy. We did the Van Gough Museum (I was very disappointed as all my favorite Van Gough paintings were on loan), the Jewish Museum, and the Botanical gardens.
The Jewish Museum was in a former synagogue in Amsterdam and even had a children’s museum attached. Since I was traveling with a group filled with Jewish Studies/ Education people, we obviously also went into the children’s museum and it was SO INCREDIBLE. Since I have been studying Jewish education this semester, I was able to look at the museum through a different lens and thought it was something very unique. Never have I been in a museum that is solely focused on teaching children about Judaism in such a fabulous manner.
Our time in Amsterdam was super quick, but we definitely saw the city and did as much as we could do. We headed to the airport in the afternoon to fly to our next destination: Venice, Italy.
We landed in Venice and headed to our hostel that was located off of the actual Island. We checked in and learned that on Monday nights the city of Venice is literally dead. There was one pub open that we went to for some small snacks. The owner felt so bad that he couldn’t cook us a meal because the kitchen was closed, but he provided us with some small and delicious snacks.
We woke up early the next day since we only had one day in Venice. We headed to the train station to go to the Island, but someone gave us wrong directions so we ended up asking a nice man to tell us how to get to the train station. He was actually going there so he told us to follow him. Instead of just dropping us off at the entrance, he helped us buy the train tickets and showed us the platform, and then sat with us until we got off the train. He was from Pakistan and is studying at the university in Venice. As he said his goodbyes he said, “I don’t know if I will see you again on this mother Earth, but enjoy and good luck”.
We did a gondala ride in Venice, walked around, and then toured the Jewish ghetto. We saw three gorgeous synagogues that are built above apartment complexes. There is no way to know these are synagogues, but each one is very quaint and only used for one holiday each year. We learned where the Jews hid all the items during the Holocaust and how they were preserved. We finished our day in Venice by eating at a local kosher restaurant and purchased some Venetian Murano Judaica glass items. I should also share that I fell in love with the work of a local artist who moved from Israel to Italy. I met her husband and she has a piece of work that shows a bunch of Synagogues around Europe. I have now visited and toured almost all of them and am adding the poster to my wish list. If anyone misses me a lot and wants to buy me something, get me that (cough, cough, Dad).
Next up was Florence. One of my friends from USY on Wheels in 2009 met us at the train station and took us to a delicious local Italian restaurant for some pizza. I haven’t seen my friend since December of 2009 and it was so nice of him to meet us and show us a little of Florence. I really am so lucky to have met such incredible people during my summer programs with Ramah and USY. Who would have thought I would go to Europe for 10 days and reunite with all these people?
After stuffing ourselves with delicious pizza, we woke up early to go see Michelangelo’s David and a lot of Jesus artwork at the Accademia. It was great to see David, but I thought that overall the museum was very overrated (and expensive). We did what we needed to do and then headed to the Duomo where we climbed 463 steps to have an incredible view of the city. Following our long climb up and down (it really wasn’t that bad), we headed over to the Ponte Vecchio and did some people watching, and of course had some gelato. We also stopped in the leather market and visited a store that a friend of mine and also a friend of one of the girls I was traveling with recommended. We walked in just to say hey and the owner pulled up both of our friends on facebook…it was hilarious.
The next day we went to the Great Synagogue of Florence and let me tell you, the word “great” doesn’t do it justice. No photographs were allowed inside, but it was probably one of the most beautiful synagogues I have ever seen. There was a museum on top, but unlike Amstedam the synagogue is still active (they asked if we would be there for Pesach). And unlike Venice, it kinda- sorta looks like a Synagogue, but in my opinion it looks more like a Mosque.
We ended up meeting up with some friends from Indiana who are studying in Florence before heading to Rome. We were in Rome for three nights and by this time of the trip we were all exhausted. Because we knew that there was so much history in Rome, we signed up for an “Ancity City Tour of Rome” through a Jewish perspective. We met our guide at the synagogue in Rome (which was also spectacular) and he took us all around Rome leading us to the Coliseum.
Our guide told us the history at each site and then added Jewish context. I learned that Jews were forbidden to go watch the fights in the Coliseum unless a Jew was fighting so they could try and save his life. Our guide gave us an incredible speech about the Arch of Titus and explained both Roman and Jewish history to us in the three hours. We also learned where Versace lives..how cool!
My European trip was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so fortunate I was able to see so many new places. It is now Passover and it is hard to believe that THIS year I am in Jerusalem. Of course I am missing the wonderful seder that I grew up with in Sarasota, but If I can’t be in Israel next year, let us all hope I can be at home with my family!
I attended my first Hebrew seder (no worries there was english translation, but I did read my part in Hebrew) with my best friend’s cousin and it was quite the experience. The chag didn’t start until around 8pm so the seder went until the wee hours of the morning. Overall it was a great experience with lots of yummy food.
I still have another 8 days before my classes resume, so I need to catch up on some sleep, homework, and do some more traveling around Israel. Time is flying and I only have about 6 more weeks left. I’m making my final bucket list of things to do in Israel and figuring out the best ways for me to soak in absolutely everything. After seeing new cities, Jerusalem is so very unique and a city that cannot be taken for advantage. I wish everyone celebrating a great Pesach and hope all is well with each of you! If you made it this far in this post, I give you lots of credit! Thanks for sticking around! Lots of love and until next time…xoxo.