The Best of 2020

It is the last week of a year that many will remember. Looking back, for me the highlights have been vibrant and in sharp focus, whereas the low points have already faded into a hazy grey sludge. Maybe that is the gift of the year: a greater appreciation for the outdoors, the company of others and good health.

Israel and Palestine are highly concentrated places with a huge amount of flavour and diversity packed into a small land mass. Travelling for half an hour in any direction can make you feel like you have come to another country and that (along with fantastic weather!) has made it a pretty great place to be locked into.

The rolling in and out of lockdowns which have ranged from an extreme 100m limit from our houses to full access across Israel and Palestine, has caused us to squeeze the most out of our freedom when it has come. The result has been some fantastic memories and experiences. So here is my 2020 review of the best visits, hikes and experiences.

Nahal Tamar

Top Experiences

Despite the lockdowns, we have managed to have some very special experiences this year which were all the better for our renewed appreciation of being able to spend time outdoors in the company of others.

  • On a Wednesday night in August, we were invited to watch a shooting star spectacle from the caravanserai at Nabi Musa and to stay overnight there. As darkness fell, the night sky began the show and stars shot intermittently across the sky like fireworks. We were stunned into silence and lay in the Judean Desert marvelling at the universe. Many slept under the stars that night as the night temperatures were still stifling indoors. We rose at first light and enjoyed watching the sun move across the desert landscape as it rose from its weak pink beginnings to a full golden glow. The experience was a real privilege and a night to remember.     
  • Nabi Musa was also the setting for my birthday BBQ in June this year (and our Christmas BBQ a few days ago!). It has become a spot we hold in high regard for special occasions. The views are stunning looking across to Jericho, the Dead Sea and of the monastery itself. We had gathered a small group of friends and we all felt the giddiness of coming out of lockdown. The kids roamed around happily scratching for treasure and as darkness fell we realised it was a full moon night. The silver light of the moon gave things a magical glow and we spotted the silhouette of a desert fox not far from us.   
  • The Old City is another magical place where every trip leads to new discoveries. Without the usual tourists we have been able to amble at leisure and enjoy this fascinating place again and again during 2020. On Christmas Eve we wandered into the Christian Quarter and towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Up some steps and through a little passageway we found ourselves looking down on a section of the Church from a new view. We then found two ancient little churches which connected on to the Sepulchre’s courtyard. The ancient wooden door of the Sepulchre was open and we stepped inside to light a candle. A visit here is always calming and restorative and feels like it holds some of the essence and truth of Jerusalem.      
Nabi Musa in August
Nabi Musa at Dawn

Top 3 Hikes

There is nothing better than spending a day outdoors in the breathtaking countryside. The scenery is stunning, the wildlife abundant and there are many trails and walks interesting enough to captivate even the most demanding kids. 

  • We had heard that Wadi Qelt was a stunner, but it is a long hike and the weather was always too hot or the lockdown too restrictive to take it on before. Yesterday we completed a 9km section with a few families and a gaggle of children and it was nothing short of perfect. We started at the old Ottoman House and followed the aqueduct along to St George’s Monastery. As we clung to the steep cliffs, we admired the goats traversing the steep canyons with ease. St George’s monastery then emerged like a mirage coming out of the rocks and the walk ended with a steep clamber up to the waiting Bedouin, keen to pedal a fresh juice on us thirsty travellers. At only a 30 minute drive from Jerusalem this hike packs a punch on accessibility, adventure and natural beauty.   
  • Our Dutch adventurer friends organised a day out called Ladders and Shakshuka at the end of November and it delivered on both fronts! We drove down to the far corner of the Dead Sea until we came to Nahal Tamar (about 1.45hrs from Jerusalem) and then it was straight up a very high ladder to start-off a hike that was fun and exhilarating from the get-go. The kids absolutely loved the ladders and there were plenty of them leading up the steep cliffs to keep them entertained. There was also a lot of scrambling around on other rocks and the mystic of the pink lizard to keep our eyes peeled for (it eluded us this time). The hike was followed by a fire where we cooked shakshuka and sat contentedly until the sun went down. It was both memorable and blissful!
  • The ladders were alluring, and we then sought out Wadi Og which is also only a 30 minute drive from Jerusalem down the Dead Sea road. The beauty with Wadi Og is that the hike is only 1.5-2 hours even with short legs so you can lounge till lunchtime and still fit it in before dark. We were so pleased with our first venture here that we decided to return…on Christmas Day! The ladders were a bit busier this time but if was still a super cool place to spend Christmas, if we couldn’t be with our family in the UK this year.   
Approaching St George’s monastery
Wadi Qelt
Wadi Og
Sheep and goats at Wadi Og

Top 3 Places Stayed

A night away is a mini-holiday in my books and we have been lucky enough to stay in some lovely spots this year which have all combined interesting buildings, with great food and hospitality.

  • We always knew that Battir was a special Palestinian village, but it was only when we stayed at the Dar Abu Hassan Guest House that we got to really know the place. The guest house is small but has been beautifully restored to offer comfortable rooms and great food. A massive Palestinian breakfast is included, and it is worth paying more for dinner to be included. We have recently discovered rock-climbing in Battir and this is giving us a good reason to return regularly.  Lunch or dinner at the Terraces café is also a treat at any time.
  • The Mosaic Guest House in Nisf Jubeil is a highlight that we carried over from last year and we have loved returning again this year. The cave room is atmospheric and they also do excellent home-cooked dinners and breakfasts. The nearby ceramics workshop is another great reason to visit for some of the best Palestinian hand-painted ceramics around. A stay here involves complete immersion and relaxation in a quiet and beautiful corner of Palestine along with the chance to visit the hustle and bustle of Nablus. It is a contrast that ticks all the boxes.   
  • We only had one night in the Negev, but we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Succah in the Desert. The succahs (structures I guess, some like a yurt, others more permanent) were comfortable and there was a real return to nature here with a fantastic night sky to admire and the stunning scenery of Makhtesh Ramon nearby. They do a creative vegetarian dinner and breakfast. I had hoped to return this week, but lockdown has put the brakes on that. 
Dar Abu Hassan in Battir
Breakfast in Nisf Jubeil
Succah in the Desert

A few other (random) awards to things that have made 2020 special

Best product –I am obsessed with Jebrini tahini anda visit to the small and understated shop that houses the factory earlier this year, started a love affair with this silky condiment. No other brand compares. You just need it in your life. A misunderstanding amongst six year olds which resulted in a new pot of tahini being poured out in the school playground was nothing short of a tragedy.

Best takeaways – This award goes to my dear friend Thiru who has lifted the spirits of many of us across Jerusalem with her exquisitely spiced Sri-Lankan meals. In the darkest days of lockdown, a curry from Thiru was always a treat to behold.

View of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

And that concludes the year! I am very aware that we are extremely lucky to be able to travel across Israel and Palestine and to enjoy it. For many people here, COVID has delivered a layer of challenge on top of already very difficult circumstances. Palestine continues to be eaten up small piece at a time by Israeli settlers and aggressive infrastructure projects which are clawing away at the land. Gaza is a full-scale humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses are a daily occurrence. As the year ends, the politics are no better and the prospect of peace is no closer.

Hope is no longer enough but it is all we have. So, I end on the hope for a brighter 2021 in this corner of the world.  

3 thoughts on “The Best of 2020

  1. 2020 has been difficult for everyone and we have to look to different sources for entertainment and diversion. Starting yet another week working from home has been considerably improved by those emails notifying me of another KLeG blog post. Entertaining, informative and evocative they give me just a little time to pause, escape and reflect, and think that perhaps things aren’t quite so bad in the world. Thanks Kirsty x

    Liked by 1 person

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