Travel is as much a physical journey as one of discovery. It can be a walk around the block or a trek to a remote mountain village. It is not about the distance but the frame of mind.
Touring with a large group might be hassle free but at the cost of flexibility. A trip does not progress organically but is often fully planned in advanced. In addition, cocooned within a crowd of tourists and shuttled from one place to another it can be more difficult to access regional culture. Interactions are often done through a mediator- the tour guide- which can blunt the experience.
While self-guided trips are more spontaneous, not everyone embraces last minute itinerary changes or the stress of the unexpected. For others, lost is just part of the journey, not a mistake*. To honestly understand another culture, one must be immersed in it and not a spectator.
The optimal way to explore, in my opinion, is a combination of local expertise with the freedom of independent travel.
Today this is possible. Two Jerusalemites, Michael Weiss and Reuven Pilo have gotten together to create an ingenious way to explore Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s biggest outdoor market. Their idea, Shuk Bites, is a bit like a multiuse bus ticket except it takes you straight to the heart of Mahane, and doesn’t drop you off bewildered at the entrance.
The ticket contains 10 vouchers and highlights the best the market has to offer. Freshly baked bourekas, cool mint-lemonade, tangy pickles and olives, halva studded with pistachios and a myriad of gourmet cheeses are just a few of the flavors waiting to be discovered. The tour includes directions to all the shops and a suggested itinerary. However, the route and the duration is entirely up to the ticket holder- whether it’s one day or many.
In this way, a visitor experiences the market in its most natural way, connecting directly with the shop owners. Of course it’s possible to find all the places on your own but the ticket is like a local friend, with stories and a wealth of knowledge, making the visit a much more meaningful and interactive experience.
For more information about the Shuk Bite ticket and a virtual tour of the market visit the colorful Machne website. Katherine Martinelli has written an interesting overview of Shuk Bites as well. Currently self-guided tours are available for Jerusalem’s Old City and Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv.
The visit to Machne Yehuda was planned and hosted by Marom communication although it was Harry Rubenstein who first told me about Shuk Bites last winter.
- Here is my little anecdote of independent travel: When I missed a turn off on a road trip in The Republic of Macedonia, we suddenly found ourselves in the heart of wine country. After hours cooped up in the car, the complaints erupted, “Why didn’t you see this on the map?” and “where are we going to find a place to sleep in this middle of nowhere” But yonder, perched on a hill amid rolling vineyards beckoned a beautiful chateau. And it had vacancy. What was a disadvantage-my less than stellar navigation skills- brought us to exactly the right place, even if we didn’t know it until we arrived.