The High Level Itinerary
INTRODUCTION & TRIP OVERVIEW
Israel is a very small Nation - smaller than we may think. The entire part of our travels through Israel, as shown in the animated itinerary above, can easily be driven in 12 hours or less.
Prior to our leaving on the trip several people asked were we concerned about traveling there due to the terrorism risks in the Middle East. I always replied, without knowing what I was talking about, that it was probably like someone in Europe concerned about traveling to America because of news reports about criminal and violent activity in Chicago. Fortunately, I was correct. Nary a single issue or even a feeling for our safety ever was present.
Of the people we met in Israel, and there were many, there seemed to be almost an equal mix of Jewish and Arab people we ran into. We found this a little strange as about 75 % of the population are Jewish, 20 % are Arab and/or Muslim, and around 5 % Christian & others.
Most people in both Israel & Jordan speak enough English that we had no real issues with language. Unless a woman was wearing a headscarf or the like, we couldn't really tell the difference between a Jew and an Arab. So, I was continually mixing up my "Lo" and my "La". "Lo" meaning NO in Hebrew and "La" meaning NO in Arabic.
In Jordan, of course, everyone is Muslim. Everywhere we encountered people nobody seemed to give a rats potuti what religion someone else was (or is). I am pretty sure that's because we were tourists. But, again, everyone, everywhere was pleasant and friendly.
We were lucky enough to travel to most of Israel and the Southern part of Jordan. As mentioned, the part of Jordan we visited was all Muslim; the middle part of Israel was a 50-50 split between Jewish and Muslim; the North of Israel seemed mostly Muslim, and the Southern part of Israel seemed mostly Jewish.
We were fortunate to be able to get wet in one way or another in the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and the Red Sea. At times we were within a stones' throw from Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, The Gaza Strip, Egypt and, of course, Jordan.
We've all heard in the news about "The West Bank". Although completely surrounded by, and an actual part of Israel, in order to travel into or through the West Bank, one must pass through military checkpoints. We avoided doing so.
Via pre-trip research on the use of GPS in Israel we learned that auto GPS maps will try and lead you into the West Bank at every opportunity. We thought this a bid odd; but, it's a fact - at least with TomTom. For example, when traveling South down route 90 (the Eastern most part of Israel) heading to the Dead Sea the GPS kept telling us to take this exit or that exit - all leading to the West Bank. We just stayed on route 90 and all was fine.
Almost all major signs, including road signs, are presented in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
Except in Tel Aviv around the port area there was no litter nor trash to be found anywhere. This goes for Israel & Jordan alike. Cleanliness seems to be a virtue there.
As to hotel accommodations we followed our normal rule: we'll try anything once and, if we like it, maybe twice or more. So, for some reason were elected to try our hand at hostels for a few nights. I guess the word interesting comes to mind. We stayed at 4 different hostels. Each had its own distinct personality.
We stayed in hostels in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Nazareth. Hostels there have varying levels of "hospitality". The rooms run from 12 person rooms to 6 person rooms to 4 person rooms to private rooms with bath. We, of course, elected this latter accommodation. A private bath is a MUST for us when at all possible. The accommodations were adequate, free breakfast was always included, you could cook anything you wanted any time day or night but you had to do your own dishes, each had a large communal area for gathering, they usually had entertainment nightly, and, a pool table and a foosball table seem to be required at each. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
A nice feature was that free travel was available between hostels. For example, you could stay at the one in Tel Aviv, get free travel to the one in Jerusalem, then go free to Nazareth and back and forth at will. This seemed like a great feature if one was to travel on a budget. In addition, there were available day tours sponsored by the hostels to all the things to see in the area - not free - but very reasonable. So, no car or alternate transportation was necessary.
Another nice feature of hostels is that they offer classes in all kinds of things. For example, we took a class (short) in Hebrew. Also offered are classes in yoga, Israeli cooking and a wide variety of things of interest. The hostels are sort of like Facebook: people under 35 and over 60 seem to be the clientele of choice. The hostel in Tel Aviv was the only one where I was the "oldest guy at the bar". The rest had a heavy mix of young and old.
How did the hostel experience work out for us? It was a neat one-time adventure kind of thing. After the hostels we stayed at our normal 4-5 star places. Well, except when we spent the night in the desert at a Bedouin camp.
Below is a small subset of the 1,200+ pictures we took. At the end of this offering is a link to a few videos we took.
PLACES WE VISITED
First up, our arrival was in Tel Aviv, Israel. There really wasn't too much of interest for us there. But, we did see some neat stuff.
I should add that Tel Aviv is not the best place to encounter one's first experience in Israel. We saw trash lying around, litter all over the place, and it was especially bad in the port area. The rest of Israel was exactly the opposite - spotless - as I mentioned above.
There is, of course, Tel Aviv's beach. Now, we live on the beach. So, was this a big deal for us? NO! But, the beach was heavily used by the locals and other tourists and was very neatly kept.
We visited the port there and had some lunch.
One last shot in Tel Aviv.
We now hit the "Holy City", Jerusalem, home to the 3 main religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
The next few pictures were taken at the Israeli Museum.
The next picture was taken at the Shrine of the Book - Now home to the Dead Sea Scrolls. No pictures were allowed inside. The only things on display were replicas except for a very few original, very small fragments. Later, there are pictures of the caves at Qumran where the scrolls were found.
We visit the Western Wall - left standing from the Second Temple - and the Dome of the Rock.
Now, we're at the Dome of the Rock.
We, of course, visited Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Much too horrific a remembrance to codify - other than WE SHOULD NEVER FORGET!
Now, we head up to the Mount of Olives.
The Mount of Olives is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments.
The New Testament offers that from this mount Jesus ascended into heaven.
The "Mount" is actually a hill overlooking the City of Jerusalem.
At the crest of the Mount is a church, "Pater Noster", built by Emperor Constantine.
Within the walls of this church are plaques with the "Lord's Prayer", or the "Our Father" (i.e., Pater Noster), offered in over 100 languages.
As we were taking all this in, we ran across a language foreign to my knowledge base but very familiar in its name, the Moore language - also called the Mossi language. Unbeknownst to me, this language is spoken by over 5,000,000 people in the Niger-Congo regions of Africa.
Somewhat down the side of the Mount is the Garden of Gethsemane where the New Testamant offers as the place where Judas betrayed Jesus.
Also, on the Mount is the the Silwan necropolis, attributed to the ancient Judean kingdom. The Mount has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves, making it central in the tradition of Jewish cemeteries.
Below are pictures of the Garden of Gethsemane, the Jewsish cemetery, views of Jerusalem from the Mount, and me with the plaque showing the Moore language version of the Lord's Prayer.
Within Jerusalem there is very limited archeology being done. What they are doing is sifting through the rubble piles from previous destructions seeking evidence from the First Temple period. They have found artifacts from the period in question but not any definitive evidence of the Temple itself.
We can't leave Jerusalem without some pics of Cyndy's favorite little cafe, Tala. She swears this place has the very best falafel in the whole wide world.
We now are ready to leave Jerusalem and depart for parts North. At this point we rent a car for the remainder of our visit.
Below are pictures of our ventures north. It appeared that almost everyone in the Northern part was Muslim.
First, we stop at Caesarea.
Haifa: A saying goes that Tel Aviv plays, Jerusalem prays, and Haifa works. Haifa is known as the city that refuses to hate - They simply agree to disagree.
The only thing worth seeing in Haifa were the Baha'i Gardens; and that's all we took in. Fortunately the tour of the gardens was closed when we arrived. The way the tour works is that there are 950 steps down and you have to find your own way back up the very steep hill. Even were the gardens open I still would have given it a "pass".
On our trip we made heavy use of our GPS with the newest road map of Israel loaded. In Nazareth not the GPS nor Google Maps nor hard copy maps were worth a hoot.
Most of the streets are only numbered - nothing else. And these street numbers follow no discernable pattern. They are random. And less we forget, NO STREET SIGNS.
It took us forever to find our hotel/hostel. AND, there is no parking anywhere near anything.
The hotel was actually a very old building that looked like some 1,000 year old manor home for a very wealthy person. The owner said it had been in his family for around 200 years.
We met our driver/guide in the center of Nazareth at "Mary's Well" where tradition offers that this is where Mary learned from the Angel Gabriel that she would bear a son, Jesus. Note: Today there is no actual well, of course. The spot is marked by a large tree next to a moderately sized monument, both surrounded by a paved area.
We visited Capernaum (St Peters house and site of the loaves & fishes miracle), Mount of Beatitudes (gorgeous gardens and views) where tradition holds that the Sermon on the Mount happened, Banias Reserve with waterfalls to which we hiked, Mas’ada (Druze village where we had lunch) - not to be confused with "the" Masada, Odem winery (top boutique winery in Israel for 3 years running), Mount Bental (looks out over Syria and Lebanon), and a Sea of Galilee beach (water was warm!).
At Mount Bental we were 60 km (around 40 miles) from Damascus. It is the location where 1,500 attacking Arab tanks were defeated by 160 Jewish tanks. The Golan Heights border is currently the most peaceful. The below pictures were taken from Mt. Bental.
The Odem Winery is run in a kibbutz. There were 14 original families, now 50 families (some Druze). The winery is kosher and was established to provide young people an enticement of a good job so they stay rather than move away.
As an aside, the Druze are interesting people. They are largely Syrian descent and have permission to visit their families in Syria without the normal travel restrictions. Although the Druze recognize all three monotheistic religions, they believe that rituals and ceremonies have caused Jews, Christians, and Muslims to turn aside from "pure faith". They argue that individuals who believe that God will forgive them if they fast and pray, will commit transgressions in the expectation of being forgiven - and then repeat their sins. The religion has eliminated ritual and ceremony; it is closed to converts since there is element of reincarnation.
We leave Nazareth and head for the Dead Sea. At 424 feet below sea level the Dead Sea was rather warm. We were planning to stop at Ein Gedi so Cyndy could cover herself in mud and float in the Dead Sea there. However, first, we stopped at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
Today one can't go up to the caves as more searching is going on to see if more scrolls may be found. And, from the number of caves we saw, such looking could take quite a long time.
Continuing on to Ein Gedi we looked for the sign(s) to the Ein Gedi Beach Park. As one might guess we saw none. So, we stopped and asked. The beach park had closed about a year ago due to massive sink holes that cropped up. On to plan "B".
We continued further down highway 90 to Ein Bokek where our hotel was located. This hotel is definitely not a hostel - first class all the way. It is also on the Dead Sea so we did our floating at the beach in front of the hotel.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Dead Sea beach.
While in Ein Bokek we stayed at the "David" hotel shown in the picture below. I would rate this hotel as 4+ star. 5 star hotels, in our experience, charge you for every single thing other than the room a la carte - like $40 a night for WiFi. That's why we try and avoid 5 star hotels. The David had all "extras" free - evrything else was 5 star.
Anyway, we arrive at the David and check in. We inquired about how to get to the beach. They responded with the fact that they have a shuttle bus that would take us to a semi-private beach they owned directly on the Dead Sea. It ran every 20 minutes. They also directed us to the pool area where they offered beach towels to use. Sounded perfect to us.
Now, the David is a huge hotel. And it has a walkway that surrounds the hotel. (Note: A failure to do proper recon is a recipe for stupidity!)
So, we change into bathing suits, get our towels, and head to the spot for the shuttle pick-up. The bus had just left, so we had about 20 minutes to wait. No big deal, right? After about 15 minutes the bus shows up. We climb aboard with about 4 other people.
The bus departs. The driver drives through the parking lot to the other side of the hotel and stops. This is right next to the walkway that surrounds the hotel - maybe a 5 minute walk from the hotel entrance. This where we are supposed to get off. The beach is about 400 yards in front of us. THAT was the shuttle to the beach.
"Stupid are us" is how we felt. Gave us a chuckle or two, for sure.
The Dead Sea was wonderful. Now we backtrack about 15 minutes to go to Masada.
Masada is a massive place. This is the spot where the Jews held out against the Romans for 3 years. If you've seen the movie "The Dove Keepers" you know it is about Masada. In one of the pictures below the remains of a dove keeper's tower is shown.
After seeing Masada we head down to Eilat on the Red Sea. From Eilat we take a private tour of the Wadi Rum and Petra in Jordan.
The word "wadi" in Arabic means valley. There are wadis all over the place.
People may view Tel Aviv as a party town; but, Eilat is way ahead. The town is small but entertainment abounds.
Going into Jordan.
We've all seen movies (or remember) where, during the cold war, people were exchanged between East Berlin and West Berlin. You know, both parties walk in opposite directions at the same time while guards with automatic weapons oversee the exchange.
Well, that's exactly how one crosses the border between Israel and Jordan. Once you pass the security check on either side you walk about 100 yards through a "no man's land" until you get to the opposite checkpoint. There are guards at both ends with automatic weapons - and they look like they have no sense of humor. It was COOL!
Next is The Wadi Rum
They can call it a valley all they want; it's really a whole bunch of desert (278 square miles) with huge hills (or, mountains as they call them).
The movie "The Martian" was partially filmed there - and with good reason. It looks like an alien world. I LOVED IT!
The entire visit in Jordan was one of trust. You'll understand in a bit what I mean.
First, once you have crossed the border you wait for someone - who you don't know, not even their correct name - to meet you.
In a bit this guy comes over, asks our names, and say he's our driver and to come with him. We get into his fully loaded Hyundai - he even had a WiFi hotspot in his car. We drive into the middle of nowhere for about an hour and we meet our guide - we have no clue there would be multiple "transporters".
Anyway, our guide drives a 1980s model totally junk Toyota 4x4 pickup. So, we get into his car - if you can call it that - and drive about another hour into even more God forsaken desert. We learn our guide's name is Abraham - not the Jewish kind, the Muslim kind. Super nice guy, by the way. Not too great with English; but, it was better than our Arabic by a long shot.
A short aside on Abraham:
Abraham lives in the desert in the Wadi Rum. He and is family have always lived in the same small village founded by his great-great-great (keep going) grandfather some 300 years ago when the family's patriarch (i.e. the grandfather of old) emigrated from Egypt. Abraham, and most of whom we met in the desert, consider themselves as belonging to a "tribe". Abraham's tribe has always remained in this same small village. And, they love their life the way it is. Talk about not getting out much!!! But, hey, if you're happy, .....!
We are now off on our Wadi Rum Tour. AWESOME!!!!!!! No, really. It was awesome. Here are some pictures.
Now, we keep driving through the desert for about 3 hours. He really does need a 4x4. The sand is powder fine and gets all over and into EVERYTHING. His truck, even being a 4x4, is slipping all over the place. So, we stop in the middle of REALLY nowhere for lunch.
He parks the truck and spreads out this huge blanket (where it's been is anyone's guess) under this really large overhanging rock. Everywhere we've been with him so far can be seen rocks that have sheared off cliffs and tumbled to the ground - really BIG rocks. Now, we are eating under a super big overhang. He's telling us about the earthquakes that have caused the rocks to fall. Delightful!
He makes a fire, makes us all some tea, and we eat. The tea was excellent, by the way.
Once we're done with lunch we head out again for more of the same.
After a while everything is just ROCKS - Red Rocks and for the most part Red Sand.
So, after a bit Abraham offers us the chance to hike through a canyon. Well, this is the kind of stuff I love. He pulls up to this spot and tells us that all we have to do is follow the trail he is pointing to and he'll meet us on the other side of the "mountain" - really just 2 super big hills that have met to form a sort of canyon.
What does he mean "He'll meet us on the other side"? He tells us that it's not too difficult and should take no more than 15 or 20 minutes. He motions with 2 of his fingers that there will be a "little" climbing involved and to have fun. Off he drives, he does.
And, off we start hiking, we do. Well, about 25 minutes into the "hike" we find this rockslide of boulders, large ones, that looks to be about 20 feet high. Cyndy wants to turn around and go back. Go back to what? The guy is on the "other side".
So, I tell Cyndy that I'll climb up the fallen bolders and see if there's actually some sort of trail over the rocks. She is now fully convinced that I have lost what little mind I have left.
After we climbed over the rock slide and after about another 1/2 hour we arrived at "the other side". And, sure enough, there was our guide waiting for us.
Now, our tour was about over - 6 hours in the desert at 100+ degrees. Loved it! We head off to our overnight Bedouin camp to sleep.
What to expect from this camp?
This camp is truly set up for the non-Bedouin. Hot showers, electricity from solar power, "regular" bathrooms, and beds that probably no more than 14,000 people have slept in. What more could one ask?
The beds were very comfortable and sleep was good.
I've kind of made it sound as if we were the only people out in the desert. We were not. Other private tours were about, although very scant.
In the Bedouin camp there were also 3 people from France and one from Germany. These people were afforded trucks along the same vintage and shape as ours.
After breakfast Abraham took us to meet yet another driver of whom we had no clue. This new acquaintance was to take us to Petra - one of the main reasons I wanted to go on this trip.
The drive to Petra was about 1.5 hours. I couldn't wait.
Below are pictures from Petra. Like many things, the pictures in no way convey the wonderment of a place such as Petra. Note: In the video section - at the end of this - is a link to an interactive look at Petra. It's probably the best look at the place without actually going there.
But first, a little trivia on Petra. What is called "The Treasury", but is not, was originally described as lying at the end of a "SIQ" (pronounced "seek") - or, canyon in Arabic. In fact, the Treasury, found at the end of a long walk (seen below), does not lie at the end of a canyon. The person who originally named the pathway a "SIQ" must not have been too great with Arabic.
The narrow pathway was formed by some type of geological happening, probably a large earthquake. The walls on either side of the pathway were formed when the original rock actually split in half and separated by three or four yards. The name given should have been "SHIQ" (pronounced "sheek"), or crack. If one looks closely, one can see that the two sides actually would fit together nicely - sort of like South America would fit nicely next to Africa.
We arrive at the main part of Petra.
First, Petra was built by the Nabateans, an Aramaic culture. They prospered from around 300 B.C. to approximately 100 A.D. They were traders of the highest order.
Our newest driver parks his car close to the entrance to Petra. We wait for our newest guide, Sammi. Sammi finally gets there. He is first rate - I mean really first rate. His English was American and flawless.
As I am carrying a backpack due to our "desert adventure", I in no way want to lug that thing throughout Petra. Sammi tells me that I can leave it with "Jeff" who runs a book store; it will be safe with "Jeff". As there was nothing I couldn't live without in the backpack, Sammi left it with "Jeff" of the book store "fame".
From the main entrance to Petra to the actual site is about a one mile walk. The walk is awesome, the split in the rock that forms the path along which you walk is absolutely beautiful.
Sammi is the most knowledgeable guide we've ever had. Lots of info - and good info at that! Sammi is highly educated and smart as a whip.
The Petra site is massive. The main part of Petra extends about another mile's walk past the end of the path leading to the Treasury. It's a whole city on a large scale. It is estimated that most of it is still buried under the sand. Jordan, it seems, can not afford to excavate the rest - as yet.
Time to leave Petra & Jordan and head back to Eilat.
But, before leaving, this might be of interest.
Cyndy, I, and Sammi are at the furthest point in Petra one can get. Sammi tells us that this is the part of the tour which is our "free time" - we knew we would have some. He tells us he's leaving and we should follow the trail back to the entrance - this is not difficult or tricky; there's only one way a person can go. When we get out of the entire complex we can pick up my backpack from "Jeff" at the book store and a driver will be there to take us back to the border.
Well, I don't know "Jeff"; I only know that there's a "Jeff's Book Store" just before the entrance. I don't know the driver's name or how to contact him. Sammi tells us not to worry the driver will be there. RIGHT!
So, Sammi departs. We stroll through Petra back to the main entrance. We're a bit hungry, so we stop at a "cafe" there and order some lunch. While Cyndy was ordering lunch I walk about two stores down to "Jeff's". Sure enough there was my backpack. I asked "Jeff" about our driver. "Jeff" said he'd call him. So, I head back to the cafe.
Our food order had not arrived when the driver shows up. We cancel the food order and take off once again. It turns out that the driver was the same guy who originally picked us up at the border. The driver actually lives in the town of Petra.
On the way out of "town", the driver pulls over and says he's got to pick something up and it will only be a minute or so. So, we sat. In a couple of minutes he returns. He had bought lunch for us and said it was his treat (my word not his - but the meaning was clear). There were three or four kinds of falafal, cheese stuffed pita, Arabic pizza, and other stuff.
As we were driving to the border the driver suggests that we cancel our hotel in Eilat and spend the night with him and his family and he would drive us to the border early in the morning. We, of course, politely declined but I truly believe he was being sincere.
Yes, we were tourists and tourism is a big deal in Jordan, but we could not have been treated better by the people of Jordan. They could not have been a more friendly bunch of people. Jordan was spotlessly clean every place we went.
A funny thing happened on the way back to Israel, however....
The people in both Israel & Jordan are very, very interested in USA politics - especially who is running for president and seem to want a change to the status quo. They are both dependent on the US for much.
The Israeli people seem, to a one, feel that the insults to and denigrations of Israel, including Israel's Prime Minister, by our current administration are unforgivable.
The people of Jordan with whom we spoke feel the same way but for different reasons. Jordan is not in good shape financially. They feel the US has let them down in refusing what they feel is needed military equipment in their fight against the Islamic State.
Note: For those who feel I may be exaggerating or being misleading in the above, a quote from Humphrey Bogart in the movie 'The Caine Mutiny' should suffice: "I kid you not!"
We never, never got the sense from anyone with whom we interacted that any type of ill feelings toward the American people was even a consideration.
During these discussions, they seemed most interested in our "heritage" - from whence came our parents, grandparents, and ancestors.
Being adopted I couldn't offer much. But, Cyndy is 1/2 Syrian. They all seemed most impressed by this. Our guide commented that the Syrian refugees were smart, hard working, and did things with style.
Anyway, we had crossed over the "no man's land" from Jordan to Israel and were meeting the security people on the Israeli side to be processed. The Israeli agent asked Cyndy her nationality. Being used to the heritage subject matter mentioned above, she responded with, "I'm Syrian". The eyes of the Israeli agent almost popped out of his head; the armed guard became very alert, and all, including me, gave her really funny looks.
I jumped in and said, "No. You are a US citizen - that's what he wants to know."
After the mix-up it seemed that everybody got a kick out of the occurrence - except Cyndy, of course.
We returned to Eilat and spent the night there. The next morning we started our trek back to Tel Aviv with a short stop in Mitzpe Ramon. This part of our journey took us right through the Negev Desert.
After leaving Mitzpe Ramon we drove straight to Tel Aviv. We had an early flight home the next day.
Israel is truly a Nation of contrasts and diversity - it's terrain, languages, peoples, religions, etc.
THE TRIP WAS NOTHING BUT AWESOME FROM START TO FINISH!
There are two additional issues I'd like to discuss.
We hear and see stories of the Mid-East refugees basically overrunning Europe. Comissions of crimes by these refugees are highlighted. Further, we are informed that the Arab world refuses to take in these refugees. While this last part is true to a large degree, Jordan doesn't appear to be one of them.
Jordan now has more refugees than Jordanians. Think about that. Aside from employment issues, there is a another more significant issue. WATER! Jodan has very limited access to water. The water required to support the refugees has greatly diminished that available for the citizens of Jordan. Rationing has been instituted - at present there seems to be no known soultion.
Apparently, the only ones in Jordan not experiencing some sort of Water shortage are the Bedouins. Per our Wadi Rum guide, Abraham - member of a Bedouin tribe - there are 41 springs that his village uses to obtain water. And, he knows of hundreds of others. It appears that the Bedouins all over the wadi are doing fine in the water department.
Years ago I ran across a very high level look at Israel and it's political situation. With all the negative attention Israel is receiving from the UN and our current administration, I though it may do all of us some good to be presented with some facts - not someone's agenda.
I encourage everyone to view this: Click Here.