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Thank you - one and all! + trip report

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Kuala Lumpur...
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Thank you - one and all! + trip report

This is an overdue big THANK YOU to all the TripAdvisor experts at this forum for all your contributions and suggestions which helped immensely while planning my trip to Israel. I’d particularly like to thank Debi_Zyx for her input on my itinerary and the wealth of information which she imparted, as well as behrens1 and Labatt for sharing their detailed travel journal/planner with me.

Going to Israel has been a dream of my mom’s for many years. Despite being forbidden from travelling to Israel, we were not deterred and were rewarded by the land and her people for our persistence. My mom and I were in Israel from Sept 12-27 and thanks to all your travel hints, our trip went without a hitch – even though we had to plan around two major Jewish festivals: Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

We spent 8 days in Jerusalem (still not enough, despite our jam-packed itinerary) with a daytrip to Bethlehem and Hebron and the rest, exploring the Galilee/Golan area. [I'll be happy to share my itinerary with anyone who'd like to have a look]

Before we went, I had read scary reports and someone had told me about how he'd been stripped searched and interrogated for 4 hours. Well, all our concerns with the security personnel were unfounded – on the contrary, we found those whom we encountered to be extremely polite and professional in the execution of their duties. In all our years of travel, we’ve never felt so safe as we did in Israel – which is almost hard to believe given how frequently Israel makes the headlines (of course, isolated incidents tend to be magnified hundredfold in the media). When we were on our own in the Muslim Quarter, we felt very safe, knowing that there were always military and police personnel nearby and we were also glad to have had an armed escort through the Silwan area after our visit to Ir David. (Thankfully, our visit was before the rioting which ensued later).

I’d like to thank VisitIsrael and TimberLady for respectively posting such explicit directions to Oskar Schindler’s grave and the number for the caretaker (it works!!). Many thanks too, to those of you who posted the tip on not parking directly outside the Church of the Primacy of Peter. The parking lot which is a few meters away, is not immediately visible as it is around a bend. I’d assumed that on the first day of Sukkot, the traffic cops would be fewer but they did make their rounds that day – thanks to your advice, we didn’t pick up any tickets.

Had Debi_Zyx not stressed that renting a car was obligatory in the north, our trip would have been impossible to execute. We rented a car from Eldan and drove over 900km in 6 days! With their well-positioned bilingual/trilingual signs, Israeli highways are very easy to navigate and are excellent to drive on – drivers from Commonwealth countries should not to be intimidated by having to drive on the other side in Israel. I wish I had at least committed to memory some basic Hebrew directions but fortunately, we encountered many kind people who helped us even though it meant them struggling with English or using physical gestures to communicate.

We visited about 8 national parks and archaeological sites. What particularly impressed us was the care that is taken in maintaining these sites as well as the thought that goes into facilitating visits for tourists (excellent signage, water coolers, lighting in tunnels, handrails at steep areas, etc). We also visited the Western Wall tunnels and enjoyed our guide’s presentation of the historical, spiritual and archaeological context of the Tunnels and the Kotel, which were amplified by a video and illuminated Second Temple model.

The trip was particularly meaningful for my Christian mom, to walk in the places where Jesus had been and also learn more about the Hebraic traditions. Museums such as the Bible Lands Museum were fantastic with excellent exhibits - we'd love to revisit that one.

It also was immensely educational for me to meet the Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) and Israelis to find out their views on the conflict. We considered ourselves fortunate to have been able to access many sites, some of which have restricted access for either the Palestinians or Israelis.

The one thing we did not appreciate on this trip was our chance meeting with an Arab-Christian guide who bombarded us with his anti-Jewish sentiments and distorted “facts” about the Holocaust – we thought it appalling that someone like him would be poisoning the minds of tourists to the Holy Land, with no room for discussion. (And no, I don’t know if he’s a licenced guide because we avoided him like the plague after the initial encounter.)

Apart from visiting the sacred sites (Jewish, Christian and Muslim), we visited a winery, an apiary and lots of Greco-Roman/Byzantine sites so I got my fill of archaeological sites and mosaics as well. All in all, much better than going on a packaged tour as we got to see and do lots more and at our own pace. It was good that way as it gave my mom to soak up the atmosphere of the sites, meditate on the word of God in situ and contemplate its significance in places like the Garden Tomb and the church at Tabgha.

It’s the first time that we’ve traveled to a place and had so many questions. And we’ve learned a quite a bit, thanks to Debi_Zyx and her family. But I still have one question, albeit a trivial one: from this forum, I’d read about the stray cats here and saw many, many cats at dumpsters. But I didn’t see ANY stray dogs? Do people take ALL stray dogs in or are they rounded up to the pound?

Well, at any rate, thank you all – TripAdvisor experts as well as those who allowed me to benefit from their own travel experiences – I appreciated your swift replies to my questions and all the very helpful advice you gave me – it made a huge difference to the experience we had in Israel.

P.S. A major highlight of our trip was visiting Debi_Zyx’s gorgeous, amazing house with its ingenious storage panels. It was a huge honor to be invited to her home and we loved every facet of it (and the opportunity to meet her lovely family, too)!

Cincinnati, Ohio
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1. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

What a lovely trip it sounds like you had! I and everyone on this forum are so happy that we could be of help.

And, yes, you found out just how remarkable a person Debi is. Extraordinary. We're all blessed by her presence, help, and friendship.

Welcome home, and thanks again for sharing!

Douglas Duckett

Vacationing in San Diego, CA

Haifa, Israel
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2. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

Thank you for sharing your experience with us!!

I loved your report.

NYC/Israel
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3. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

Thank you for your report. I didn't realize you were forbidden to travel to Israel. I am glad you were able to follow your dream. Your comments re: security and media exaggeration are priceless. Please stick out and respond when people are concerned.

Concerning the Christian Arab guide. Did you hire him or did he "pick" you up someplace. Was he connected to a site? --It is disheartening to hear that someone who is a guide is speaking such.

Israel
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4. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful trip with us. It is great to know you and your mother had such a wonderful, exciting and spiritual visit in Israel.

Your comments are very helpful and will go a long way to reassure all those who are still concerned about coming to Israel.

We're glad to have been able to help you plan your trip - your kind words are most welcome and we (I'm sure I speak for all of us) get much pleasure out of helping people come to Israel and making the most of their time here.

Come back and visit us again.

Kuala Lumpur...
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5. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

Indeed Labatt, I couldn’t have said it better. We’ve been so incredibly blessed to know Debi. She is absolutely wonderful! By the way, I tried to schedule my mom to join the worship boat as per your recommendation but it only goes one way! How do people get back to their cars after the boat leaves them at X location?

Rdglady: I will certainly be happy to mention our positive experiences with security, given the opportunity (please message me if I miss any). Because we had such a smooth run, my mom thinks that I “scared myself” and worried her unnecessarily but I believe in trying to be prepared for any eventuality.

I won't go into detail here but our experience at the airport gave us great peace of mind flying out from Ben Gurion Airport. If these kinds of thorough checks were to be conducted throughout all airports worldwide, air travel around the world would be a lot safer. Israelis should be extremely proud of their people who are involved in security services – we sure appreciated their high level of professionalism.

Re Arab-Christian guide – Noooo, we did not hire him!! I would have gone into an epileptic fit had we been stuck with a guide like him! Had I been given the budget for a guide, I would have approached Oreets or another guide from this forum, rather than go with an "unknown".

We ran into this Arab-Christian guide at Nazareth - he and his group of English visitors were staying at the same place. He asked where we were from and kept insisting that we should have joined a tour group just because others from our country have done so (*rolls eyes*). Then, when we said that tour groups originating from our country wouldn’t have included sites such Yad Vashem, he began saying the nastiest things about it. We’re obviously not Jewish but we were so offended by his anti-Jewish sentiments and distortion of history that we walked off. If there is a suitable avenue where I can make a complaint, please let me know - such a biased person should not be allowed to guide visitors.

Oreets: I found this forum to be been an invaluable source of information and the sometimes-heated exchanges of comments/discussions served as a great primer on what to expect when visiting Israel. I am grateful to all of you who contribute here and willingly share your knowledge towards helping out potential visitors, as it greatly helps with the planning and decision making. I’d love to return to Israel but getting the visa is painful – however, we’ll be sure to tell our compatriots that it can be done and that they shouldn’t let anything deter them from visiting Israel.

Edited: 15 October 2010, 01:02
Cincinnati, Ohio
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6. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

Momokau, are you sure it was I who talked about the worship boat? I ask because I've never been on one, so it doesn't sound like something I would give advice on. But there are ones that return to the same place -- indeed, I don't know how the type you describe would work. Kathy4HIM, a poster on this site, knows far more than I do on this.

The guide you describe sounds appalling and unbelievably offensive. I have encountered one Jewish Israeli licensed guide, sometimes recommended on here, who spouted bias and bile against Islam, similarly without invitation. It goes to show that, contrary to what is sometimes said on here, having a license is not a guarantee of professionalism. You always need to ask questions of a guide to ensure compatability --- and to ensure that you don't have to endure someone else's hate on a tour.

Douglas Duckett

Kuala Lumpur...
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62 posts
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7. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

Sorry Labatt! I got it confused.Yeah, it was in one of the many threads and it was mentioned by Kathy4Him.

Yes, licensing a guide doesn't necessarily eliminate personal bias which might color the tour. I believe we all have our own take on issues but what I can't accept is distortion of historical fact to support bigotry and allowing absolutely no room for discussion. I felt very bad for the group of older English pilgrims that this man was leading around because I'd previously been stuck in a similar situation on my daytrip to the West Bank.

Cincinnati, Ohio
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8. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

VERY well said. I truly cannot STAND a guide foisting his or her political views on me. I can think for myself. If I want political views, I'll ask for them. But otherwise, I feel so strongly about having them pushed on me that I would fire a guide mid-tour if that kind of behavior started.

That's why I always try to warn folks on here if a tour has an obvious political bent -- left or right, Israeli nationalist or Palestinian nationalist. People can then choose for themselves, but they deserve full disclosure to make an informed decision.

Propaganda masquerading at tour guiding -- GRRRRRRRR!

Douglas Duckett

Jerusalem, Israel
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9. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

Hi momokau - thank you for the trip report, and for your kind comments. I really enjoyed meeting your mother, and meeting up with you again after our evening together in KL. I hope you'll manage to get back here again one day.

Kuala Lumpur...
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10. Re: Thank you - one and all! + trip report

Thanks again Debi_Zyx - you made a huge difference to our visit to Israel. It was lovely to see you and your husband again, as well as meet your mother and have you meet mine.

Given another opportunity, we would certainly like return to Jerusalem. :-)