First Timer: Israel

welp, i’m back from a week in Israel and i’ve put together a list of some helpful hints if you’ve never been. most are related to driving since that’s where i think we encountered most of the hassle. as always, if you have any corrections or additions, please feel free to comment!

  • i have some earlier posts on getting a SIM card and how to work parking meters in Jerusalem.
  • if you’re considering driving:
    • we had a car all week and while it was really helpful getting around the country, within cities it’s another matter. Jerusalem wasn’t bad since there’s parking around all the major sights and garages are easily identifiable. in Tel Aviv, though, ugh, what a mess. Jerusalem had plentiful parking meters and trilingual signs, but in Tel Aviv street parking was really hard to come by and there are no meters and all the signs we saw were in Hebrew only. i read somewhere you have to buy parking cards from kiosks? here’s an older PDF from the city government that may help. note that it is also possible to pay for parking via your phone/an app, but we didn’t try. when in doubt, garages with automated machines are your safest bet — you’re much less likely to get ripped off (or get a parking ticket).
    • get the smallest car that is practical for your situation and practice your parallel parking.
    • in terms of parking on the street, note that street signs come before the spaces they apply to.

      The handicap parking spot is BEHIND the sign in the distance; the spot in front of the wheelchair sign is actually the regular one.

      The handicap parking spot is PAST the wheelchair sign in the distance (in the painted rectangle); the spot in front of the wheelchair sign is the one that the sign in the foreground applies to. Thanks to a random stranger who pointed out we were parking in a loading/unloading zone — we parked in front of the foreground sign thinking it applied to us. Nope. The one that did (the delivery zone one) was behind us.

    • gas is really expensive. did i mention get a small car?
    • if you’re using a credit card for gas, it seems like it can only be authorized up to ₪200 (about $57), which is probably not enough to fill up your tank. we ran into this at all three of the gas stations we used. you may be able to get them to run it twice or just use two different cards; we just filled up to 3/4 of a tank.
    • if you’re returning your car at TLV and coming into the airport via Highway 1, there’s a gas station beyond the rental car return turnoff. continue driving with the UPS building on your right and you’ll see it at the next roundabout. note the people there were there were kind of shady. they overfilled our tank by several pumps (like 8) and then demanded ₪2 as a service fee. but, beggars can’t be choosers — we needed gas.
    • speaking of rental cars, i thought we got such a great deal at like $73 for the entire week. but when we got there we were told we had to purchase third party insurance which was another $20/day or something. ridiculous! i probably should have questioned them on that (since i said our credit card covers it), but i’m not sure why i didn’t.
    • we had no problem driving to Bethlehem in the West Bank; just be prepared to let guards open your trunk at the checkpoints. all the other checkpoints in the country we were just waved through.
  • Israel is pretty pricey — not just in terms of gas — i’d say about 25-40% more than what i’m used to at home (perhaps almost at the point of Norway levels). for example, a 1.5L bottle of Coke Zero (my drink of choice) was around ₪7-₪8 (over $2) at multiple grocery stores in multiple cities. and one of my standard measures of cost, a combo meal at McDonald’s (in this case, a kebab McWrap), was around ₪43, or about $12. you definitely get a better deal at hummus places, but you can only have so much hummus, and…
  • this is probably one of the most obvious things, but it snuck up on us (mostly because we forgot what day it was): most places close on Shabbat, and that closure starts Friday afternoons. the market across the street from where we stayed in Afula closed at 4 PM (so we had to have McD’s for dinner one night). in larger cities you will probably have more luck — everything we wanted to do in Tel Aviv (Jaffa, Bauhaus Center, restaurants, etc.) was open on Saturdays.

again, any more tips or any corrections, feel free to share below!

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