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)!