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Israel- Where it all began – December 2010

It was a snowy snowy day across Ireland as I weaved  my way to Dublin airport on-board the Air Coach, a journey that should take 45 minutes was now close to 2+ hours long. Finally I arrived at the airport at 9.40 am. for a flight due to depart at 10.20. During the journey I received texts and calls from family, friends and colleagues all with the same message “ Flights out of Dublin have been cancelled or have long delays”. So I resigned myself to the fact that Israel was going to have to do without a visit from myself until at least next March. But I was in the airport so I may as well give it a go and am I glad. There were further delays  of course along the way but Heathrow flights were all departing on time, I literally made it to the El Al desk just as they were closing the flight.

I’m on my way at last and I sit back and relax, but you really don’t want to hear about the flight as it was a normal, on schedule uneventful one . However; during the flight I did wonder what Israel would be like and on arrival I had to delete all of my thoughts as they were inaccurate to say the least .

Tel Aviv airport iswas a very large international one with no sign of anymore than normal security. Lots of people buzzing around and there seemed to be great positivity in the air.

I made my way to Jerusalem as this was to be my base for the next 2 nights . It’s approximately 40 minutes transfer but there was no traffic. I checked into the Dan Panorama hotel a 4 star tourist class style hotel. It’s interesting to know that Israel do not have any star ratings in their hotels and I would be of the opinion that they are slightly below what we Irish would be used to  but in general service very good and pleasant .

Jerusalem

I started my investigation of Israel very early the next morning, got all my meetings out of the way and decided that I would get the feel of  Israel without a guide for the first day . Jerusalem is a beautiful place. I really enjoyed walking through the streets of the Old City and the souk, which is just fantastic. It’s a mystical place, and has the aura of somewhere very special.

As our company does a lot of World War tours I decided I could not miss this opportunity to visit  Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum, which over the past decade has sought to put together a complete presentation of the story of the Shoah from a unique Jewish perspective, emphasising the experiences of the individual victims through original artefacts, survivor testimonies and personal possessions.

Children's Memorial

The visit  itself is a sombre reminder of what happened  to ordinary people, I would have liked to have more time to visit all exhibitions in the museum but time was against me. However;  my visit  did endorse my belief that  our company are doing the right thing by bringing tours of this nature to the public.   When you see the tireless work that researchers are doing to try get names of the victims of which, thousands upon thousands are still missing, if just my visit alone helps this process I am  happy to be a part of this ongoing research and education.

You may like to read my BLOG on Sachsenhausen .

Next morning was another early start my guide, a historian, was full of energy and had the next few days planned. She knew my mission was one of promoting Israel as a country to visit.  She was impressed that I had ventured out and about Jerusalem and was even impressed with my history knowledge of Israel , but this didn’t last long.

So off we set to visit the Israel Museum for an overview of Jerusalem as it was in the Second Temple Period it also housed  the Dead Sea Scrolls .

Then onto Jaffa Gate in the Old City, this was extremely busy and later found out that Friday was the busiest because it’s the Sabbath and other days are not so busy.

The Tower of David Museum was next and offered a fantastic panoramic view of the city . seemingly the Tower has nothing to do with King David but was mistaken by many as far back as the Byzantine period

Here my guide , Sharon , pointed out all the main attractions and I’m convinced by the end of the evening we didn’t leave any out but I’m sure we did.

We visited The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, known as the Church of the Resurrection to Eastern Orthodox Christians and  is the holiest Christian site in the world this is where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb (sepulchre) where he was buried. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been an important pilgrimage destination since the 4th century. This is well worth visiting .

The Wailing Wall or Western Wall is the remains of the great Jewish temple which had stood for close to 500 years. Herod began rebuilding and adding on to the temple in approximately 19 B.C.E., and the total work was not finished until fifty years later. The temple itself was destroyed by the Romans only a few years after its completion, circa 70 C.E.

The Dead Sea

We had time to stop for a very fast lunch and on we went to the Dead Sea region .

En route we managed to stop off at the Kibbutz Almog and it’s not what I imagined at all. Air conditioned rooms with T.V. phone etc,. The complex had immaculate gardens and considering this Kibbutz is in a desert I would not like to be the gardener.

I’d already been to the Dead Sea and had a swim and a mud bath in it albeit on the Jordanian Side .

You may like to read my BLOG on Jordan .

Sea of Galilee

So after skipping the swim in the Dead Sea we went onwards through the Jordan Valley and onto the Sea of  Galilee to visit the Bet Yigal Alon Museum where Jesus’ Boat  is on show. This fascinating story of the discovery of this boat

Jesus' Boat

unwinds in a short Film and a visit to see the actual boat is well worth a visit

Tiberias

A short drive from the museum we were checking into our hotel for the night in Tiberias , here I stayed in the Palm Beach Club, again another 4 star tourist hotel with friendly and attentive staff.

I had heard of a Las Vegas style water show so after checking in I ventured towards the beach and was less than enthusiastic about visiting Las Vegas after watching this show. I was assured that the wind did play a major part in the overall enjoyment , I think I might miss the show the next time I visit and instead visit the great bars and restaurants . I had a great meal in a waterside restaurant and the food was excellent and very reasonably priced .

Nazareth

Next morning we were off again and this time was Nazareth that was in our sights.

Nazareth itself was busy and I desperately fought with my childhood memories of Jesus in a small town. My memories soon came back as we visited “Nazareth Village” a reconstruction of a typical small village in the time of Jesus, we saw how hard the dedicated people have worked to reconstruct this small sample and delivered an excellent explanation of the time . This made my memories come flooding back.

Church of Annunciation

In 1966 the Roman Catholic Church began constructing a new basilica over A Byzantine church which, was built over the place where it is believed that the angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the virgin Mary. Today this church is the largest church building in the Middle East

Featured on the surrounding  wall of the church is a mosaic donated by Ireland

Ireland's Mosaic

Our visit to the Greek Orthodox Church nearby coincided with a service  which I found most interesting . This church was built over the town’s water source.

Akko (Acre)

Nazareth took up most of the morning, quick lunch and on we drove to Akko . This place took my breath away , steeped in 5000 years of history it was just amazing . From  “The Templars Tunnel” to the many Churches and Mosques all surrounded by City walls and beaches . Although we didn’t get to the Oriental Bazars I am assured that they are amazing and rich in characters as well as unusual trinkets .

Akko is a mix of East and West and has so much history from The Mamelukes, The Crusaders , The Byzantine Empire , The Jews, The Turks and up to the British and a few more in between. It’s a fascinating place and I’m only sorry that time did not allow me have a meal in The Marina which seemed lively and had many many restaurants all as inviting as the next.

Akko Sunset

We stayed a little longer than the guide wanted us to but I couldn’t resist the beautiful sunset and as it turned out neither could a couple of hundred people either. We watched in sheer awe of nature ìn this amazing setting .

Haifa

You may have seen on the news that Israel had terrible forest fires, these fires were in Carmel Forest a mountainous region beside Haifa. It was touch and go whether we should continue on to Haifa but we were cleared to visit . This time round we stayed in the Dan Panorama Haifa a 5 star hotel that really is a good 4 star. The hotel commands a panoramic view of Haifa which was wonderful to see at Sunrise .

Haifa has many attractions, The German Colony many cultural centres, museums, Holy Sites and the Bahai Gardens . All of these sites were surrounded by beaches on one side and mountains on the other .

Baha Gardens

Because there was so much to see and so little time to cover them all,  we chose the Bahia Gardens an amazing journey through these gardens that are immaculately kept purely by donations of the followers of the worlds newest  religion

Tel Aviv

A short drive of 50 minutes or so and we were in the heart of Tel Aviv where One third of Israel’s population have made the bustling metropolis home. At weekends residents from nearby towns head to Tel Aviv looking for entertainment and relaxation . It has been described to me as the “Miami of the Middle East”  and I can see why as the Mediterranean sun shines along a 10km stretch of golden sand. Bars and restaurants thrive from the swell of locals and tourists alike

Despite this side of Tel Aviv it  provides an ideal base from which to explore other parts of Israel including Jaffa, the Galilee and Caesarea. It also hosts many museums and sites that are well worth studying your map for.

Hotels are plentiful and range from hostels right through to five star Hotels .

My overall view

Hotels

As I said before Israel do not have a star rating which is a little off putting but I think the best way to describe Israeli hotels in general is that the hotels are not as good as the Israelis think they are and hotels need to be researched correctly. Overall the staff were very efficient and could be a little direct at times without meaning offence

Food

Even if you are only a little bit adventurous you won’t have a problem , they may not have meat and 2 veg but there is plenty of healthy salads , lamb, beef, pizzas, pasta and all international cuisine .

Anything special I should pack?

A history book, because the past here is so confusing – myths come at you from every direction; a map, to help you navigate the old city streets; and an open mind.

What should I bring home?

Buy something from the souk. One or two stalls have the most beautiful displays of herbs and spices that look like little pyramids – a real taste of the Middle East.

Alan

Managing Director