This is the real thing. From the holy grounds of Jerusalem, the city of the great Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths, to the militant streets of Gaza, the land on which you stand is alive with a past and present pregnant with faith, principles, and politics. The promised land for some, desired by many, and contested for centuries, Israel is a small country; you can reach any city in less than a day on public transportation. Jerusalem to Eilat takes a mere five hours by bus and the cities cannot be any more different. The former, one of the oldest cities in the world is remarkably well-preserved despite its conflicted past and is home to both devotees and relics of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Jerusalem bustles with open air markets, religious sites, and museums. The latter, on the other hand, is a popular port and resort town, littered with beaches and tourists of the lesser reverent variety. Ditch the Red Sea, though, for the Dead Sea, the Mediterranean, or the Sea of Galilee. Take a healthful soak in the hyper-saline dead sea, one of the oldest health resorts from the reign of King Herod the Great, and feel its climate, waters, and mud soothe your ailments away. Hike in the hills or relax on the beaches of Galilee, or roll up your sleeves and take a step back in time by volunteering at one of the many nearby kibbutzim. Nearby is Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, full of churches, synagogues, and mosques. Take a stroll through its Old City, sample the delicious goat cheese, hummus, sabra, and olives in the day, make a late night hummus run for a delicious post-dinner snack. The cities can vary drastically, but each is a part of the vibrant, confused, and struggling country that is Israel. The tension and violence of Gaza seems like a faraway dream fewer than fifty miles up north in Tel-Aviv, where the proliferation of nightclubs, restaurants, and bathing suits conjure an atmosphere of metropolitan fa-la-la (think Barcelona of the Middle East). It is these differences that flavor Israel, a nation built and centered on its past, present, and future. Its history, faiths, divisions, and beauty are all real and pulsing ever so closely.