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Ω2

Israel (former Palestine): The epilogue

   After our scary experience at the Israeli border, we entered again this country to explore its northern part. We rode the picturesque mountainous route around Mt Gilboa to calm down and release the stress created by the Israeli soldiers. We were hosted by a young Israeli couple in the little town of Kfar Tavor. Gal was telling us stories about her army service! It is weird listening to army stories from women but it is happening all the time in Israel…

The Basilica of Transfiguration on Mt Tabor

The Basilica of Transfiguration on Mt Tabor

   When kids are young in Israel, their parents tell them by the time they will be adults the wars will stop and conscription will not exist anymore. Unfortunately, these kids always get older and the wars never stop. The truth is the opposite: Israel is one of the very few countries, along with paranoid North Korea and Eritrea, which enforces conscription to both males and females. Males serve almost three years and females serve about two years, depending on their department. It is still one of the longest compulsory military services in the world. People who refuse to serve Israel’s army, for conscientious reasons, are punished hard, usually by imprisonment.

Graffiti in Nazareth

Graffiti in Nazareth

   We visited Nazareth and the place where it is believed Angel Gabriel appeared to Virgin Mary and announced that she was pregnant with the Son of God. Today Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel. Palestinians who did not flee the 1948 Arab-Israeli War found refuge there and they eventually became Israeli citizens. That is why nowadays the majority of Nazareth’s population is Arab. 31% of them are Christians, while the remaining are Muslims.

According to Greek Orthodox beliefs, the Annunciation of Virgin Mary happened while she was fetching water, not while she was at home, as other Christian denominations believe. This spot marks Mary's Spring.

According to Greek Orthodox beliefs, the Annunciation of Virgin Mary happened while she was fetching water, not while she was at home, as other Christian denominations believe. This spot marks Mary’s Spring.

   We rode to the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus Christ was preaching. We visited the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, where it is believed that Jesus laid the five loaves and two fish that multiplied to feed 5,000 people. We were surprised to see construction work around the church and photos showing everything burnt down. In June 2015 the church was attacked by some Jewish extremists who set it on fire and left a Hebrew graffiti that reads: “the false gods will be eliminated”. Israeli officials have labelled the attack as “terrorism”. Five young, Israeli Jews, part of an ultra-nationalist organization, were arrested and their trial is still ongoing.

   This is a typical “price tag” attack. The last decade this kind of attacks is becoming more and more common. They are usually done by Jewish fundamentalist settler youths, aimed mostly at the Palestinian population but also at any non-Jew or even at Jews who act against the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. They claim to “exact a price from local Palestinians or from the Israeli security forces for any action taken against their settlement enterprise”.

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Galilee was burnt down during the

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Galilee was burnt down during the “price tag” attack of Jewish extremists…

   We travelled further north to Golan Heights. Internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967. Israel demolished over one hundred Syrian villages there and the land was given to Israeli settlers. It is a beautiful area on the cool mountains, dotted with some medieval castles and resorts for Israelis who want a taste of Switzerland in “their own” country.

Internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967.

Internationally recognized as Syrian territory, the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel since 1967.

   We were right next to the troubled lands of Syria… We could not go there, of course, due to the war. We set camp in the thick oak forest. It was already dark when we collected some firewood and we carefully lit a fire to cook, since my stove was not working anymore. Every once in a while we could hear animals walking on the fallen leaves. Stella was scared. When she turned her torch that way, she saw a harmless rodent running away. I was trying to calm her down when we heard loud steps from several animals coming towards us! We stood up and we tried to look around with our torches but we couldn’t see anything. The light from the fire was making us blind. The animals stopped but we heard wild boars roaring really close to us, although we couldn’t see them. I got some jars that we had on the ground and I started hitting them to make noise. Happily, that was it… The animals left us alone and after several quiet minutes, Stella was calm again.

We were cooking on fire when we heard wild boars approaching us!

We were cooking on fire when we heard wild boars approaching us!

   The next day we were riding through some minor roads along the Lebanese border. Lebanon, of course, is another country which is often in war with Israel. Stella had to fly back to Greece, so I explored the north coast of Israel by myself. I visited Caesarea and some other picturesque towns but what I liked most was the Old Town of Akko (Acre). Akko passed, amongst others, from Alexander to the Romans, the Arabs and the Crusaders, who made it their main port in Palestine. St Francis of Assisi and Marco Polo had visited Akko too. Today it’s interesting walking in the labyrinth between the walls of the fortified Old Akko. Old mosques built out of stones are everywhere. The amazing views to the Mediterranean are only adding to the charm!

Old Akko is mesmerizing with its narrow, cobbled streets and its old mosques built out of stones.

Old Akko is mesmerizing with its narrow, cobbled streets and its old mosques built out of stones.

   Tsfat was another picturesque town I visited. It is the center of Jewish mysticism. During the 15th and 16th centuries many mystics migrated there to avoid the persecution in Spain. Today medieval synagogues are full of Orthodox Jews in black and religious tourists.

Tsfat became a center of Jewish mysticism when Jews migrated there from Spain and now it is full of interesting, medieval synagogues.

Tsfat became a center of Jewish mysticism when Jews migrated there from Spain and now it is full of interesting, medieval synagogues.

   Haifa had to be my last stop during “mad about Africa”. I could not travel anywhere else around Israel because of the wars. I had to ship my motorcycle from Haifa to Greece, while I would fly there. After three years on the road and 96,000 km (59,653 miles) in 39 countries, this extraordinaire adventure was coming to an end… I decided to spend my last night outdoors in Rosh HaNikra, the northernmost coast of Israel. I was just laying down on the beach and I was watching the 37th and last full-moon I saw during “mad about Africa”. The waters of the Mediterranean were pitch-black. I was thinking that somewhere there, to the west, was Greece.

   That full-moon happened to coincide with the summer solstice. That’s a very rare phenomenon which occurs only every 70 years or so! What a unique way for the full-moon to bid me farewell… I was feeling we had an appointment that night. Maybe it wanted to see me one last time as a nomad, lit by its silver moonlight, to bid me farewell and to tell me that everything is going to be all right. We arranged our next appointment in another continent…

After 3 years on the road and 96,000 km (59,653 miles) in 39 countries, "mad about Africa" came to an end... I had to ship my motorcycle to Greece, while I would fly there.

After 3 years on the road and 96,000 km (59,653 miles) in 39 countries, “mad about Africa” came to an end… I had to ship my motorcycle to Greece, while I would fly there.

You can check out the map with more photos and reports at: Live Trip Traveller

 

   P.S.: I can only say a huge “thanks” to all those thousands of wonderful people I met on the road and to all of you who were following and supporting my expedition. Don’t underestimate your involvement in this… You always give me strength to travel one step further!

I also want to thank the companies that stood by me on this mission:
Motoraid
REV’IT!
3P Racing
ELPA
eXTra Products
PlanetSim
Baja Designs
Travel Bookstore
NRG
Sena
Motomax
Flipped Horizons
Xasou.gr
Oikonomiki Makedonias
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Cobrra
Atlas Panniers
Fifth Element
ANEK
Bike Gear

 

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