Saline Solution

DeadSea (1 of 13)The Dead Sea is striking to behold, with its saline aquamarine glow, but uncomfortable to actually experience. You’ve seen the pictures of people smiling as they page through newspapers while floating in the unusually buoyant waters, and I can tell you with certainty that these people did not have any open wounds on their bodies, not one single papercut. If they did, they would not be smiling at all, just as I found it difficult to do so with a freshly popped blister on my hand under the surface. The salt along the shores is also unpleasant to walk on, reminiscent of how I imagine hot coals to feel on bare feet, and the water leaves a sticky salt residue once you’ve swum in it. But back outside of the sea (technically lake), the 360-degree views are incredible – mountains on both the Israel and Jordan sides, looking, in the haze of the desert sky, more like paintings on a theatrical backdrop. And when I looked at my blister the next morning, I found that it had all but healed.
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City on a Hill

Masada (1 of 19)
It always surprises me when ancient cities – or any places that are best known for their historic value – double as spectacular natural attractions. In Turkey, I hadn’t realized that Pamukkale, known for its unusual geology, with its dozens of undulating travertine terraces, had also been home to an ancient city, Hierapolis. It had simply never dawned on me that ancient urban dwellers might have cared about the scenery just as much as we do today. I was again struck when visiting Masada, the former Jewish fortification on a mesa in Israel’s Judaean desert. The site is best known for the war that centered around it, which culminated in a siege by the Romans and the suicide of all the resident Jews, who chose death on their own terms over assimilation. The city’s Roman baths, as well as its synagogue, have been restored, and people today come to hear the story and to see these and the battle ramparts. But amid all the sorrow, a cheerful note – many cheerful notes – come from the trilling Tristram’s starlings, a particularly lively and squeaky (as it were) species of bird that is native to the region. And countering all the bleakness and gloom are utterly magnificent views that stretch across miles of caramel-colored stone, directly towards a radiant Dead Sea.
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