Every trip I've ever taken I've labeled as, "A Trip of A Lifetime", and rightfully so. Each has had unique memories about the place, the people we met and the friends we've traveled with. That said, our recent trip to Israel stands alone as taking my breath away. Perhaps I wasn't sure what to expect. Perhaps it was such a distinct experience. Perhaps it was travelling with members of my family. Perhaps it was meeting so many new friends. Perhaps it was the religious connection. Perhaps it was everything rolled into one.
If I were to recount our itinerary piece by piece, no one would finish reading this blog. So, I will dispense with that format. What I will write about is Israel as a country. I was totally amazed at its beauty and diversity. I really had no idea when we began organizing our venture as a faith-based pilgrimage that we would have such an amazing experience exploring so much of this rather small country - not much larger than the State of New Jersey - 250 miles long and 50 miles wide.
Of course, much of our success is attributable to our Palestinian Guide, Mich, who made sure to include everything we wanted to see and do. In order to engage as a tour guide in Israel, you must be licensed by the government. Requirements include at least two years of college education, extensive training by the Israeli tourism office and continuing re-certification through refresher courses. It's no easy task and you can understand why. Non of the sites we visited had docents. Your tour guide is responsible for not just providing general information about the country, but details about every single place he or she takes you - the history, archaeology, politics, fauna, flora, climate, religions and so on. Wow - that's a lot to remember! Great job, Mich.
Our drives through the country from Jerusalem to Qumran to Masada to Jericho to Galilee to Tiberius to Caesarea to Jaffa to TelAviv brought us through everything from arid desert like regions to lush, almost tropical terrain. Twice, we went through checkpoints as we returned to Jerusalem to Bethlehem, but in all honesty, it was no more than crossing the border between New York and Canada. Never once did we feel threatened, intimidated or concerned about where we were. While in Jerusalem a few of us ventured out at night to see the activity during the Purim Festival and we did the same one night in Tiberius. Both were wonderful.
We ate the absolute best dates ever and the tilapia from the Sea of Galilee was to die for! Each meal offered a bounty of fresh and grilled vegetables which would have been sufficient for dinner, but was only an accompaniment to the many other choices. The variety of salads was outstanding and I couldn't even begin to describe the creamiest of hummus and the most amazing falafel I've ever tasted.
We had the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea, ride a camel, sail on the Sea of Galilee, experience Yad Vashem, eat at a kibbutz, tour an olive oil factory and so very much more. My faith experiences were personal, but I will say that I have a much greater connection, understanding and appreciation for what I believe in having been to the Holy Land sites of my faith.
If you're thinking about a trip to Israel - faith-based or not - my suggestion is there's no time like the present. Don't hesitate because of things you hear on the news. Go with a reputable tour company who will make sure that you are not taken to any of the so called "hot spots" - they are not all over the country. You will be amazed at how the Jews, Palestinians, (80% of the Christian population in Israel is Palestinian), Muslims and others actually live and work side by side. You will be awed at the beauty of the country; astounded by the culinary delights; and blown away by how much there is to see and do there.
Call me at Hudson Valley Traveler Worldwide if you have any questions about a trip to Israel or anywhere else. I love to travel and totally enjoy helping others do the same. Until next time, be safe and stay healthy.