It took six months but we finally made it over to Israel (pics on flickr) to visit our counterparts in Outbrain’s Israeli office. Meeting them was wonderful and something that we probably should not have waited so long to do.

I can say the same about visiting the country. My impression of places that have such a large history of religious and cultural conflict is that they will be run-down, difficult, and oppressive. I found Israel to be anything but. Security was present, but not obtrusive. Family is important, but for the average Israeli, overt religion seemed less so. Walking around Tel Aviv was not much different than strolling through a secular western-european country.

Since this was the first time for three of us, we decided to visit the country a few days early and do some sightseeing. Our first trip was into the Dead Sea area to visit Masada, a large fortress created by King Herod, and look at the Dead Sea. Masada was the site of a siege during the First Jewish-Roman war. Built on a large plateau with ample cisterns and food stores, it took the Romans months of building a ramp to the gates to break the siege and enter the fortress. We opted to use the cable car instead.

Northern Castle of Masda

After finishing Masada, we swung by the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on Earth at 1,388 ft below sea level. By the time we arrived, we were exhausted and hot. Touching the Dead Sea and feeling it’s slimy oiliness killed any further desire to enter the water. Feeling disgusting for the entirety of the 2hr car ride back was not on anyone’s agenda.

Dead Sea

The following day was a short excursion to Akko, which was an old Roman town that is now predominantly Muslim. There is a pretty stark contrast between the streets of Tel Aviv and the older towns. Akko did provide a great vantage point to enjoy the Mediterranean.

Sunday meant the start of the work week, but our hosts insisted that we take a tour of Jerusalem. Our tour took us through the Old City and the Holocaust museum, the latter of which I could have done without. The Old City was fascinating even with my limited biblical knowledge. Seeing how closely clustered the Jews, Christians and Muslims are brings the conflict in the region into sharp relief.

Jerusalem marked the end of the touristing. The rest of the week was filled with business of meetings and working. It was almost as fun as seeing the sites, but not as conducive to pictures.

These are just the highlights, there are many more images of the trip.