Onboard United flight 85 from Tel Aviv to Newark
After a brisk week of touring in Israel we are on the way home. Because Israel is a relatively small country the time on the bus was minimal and each day was jam-packed with visits to numerous religious and archeological sites. We were never on the bus for more than twos hours at a time. Compare that to previous international tours with transfer days that required all-day bus trips to get from country to country or city to city. Maybe I’m getting older, or maybe I’m a little out of travel shape after a couple of years at home, but the fast-paced nature of this trip was very tiring. I’ll need a few days to rest and catch-up on sleep. But, as a recent retiree, no need to go to work tomorrow!
In the initial post for this trip I mentioned that we’ve been working getting to Israel for a number of years. I’m glad we finally made this happen and Israel was the perfect COVID travel destination. (I don’t think we can say post-COVID yet.) Up until a couple of months ago traveling to Israel was in question. Only after the Omicron wave began to recede to did we get the go ahead to proceed. Because tourism is just restarting in Israel, many locations we visited had small crowds or almost no other tourists. And the vaccination and testing requirements helped make traveling now safe for our group.
Now that I have been there, here is what I can report. Israel is a beautiful country. We saw old cities, modern cities, lush forests, mountainous deserts, and vast irrigated farmlands. The Israeli people … Arabs, Christians, and Jews … were always welcoming, friendly, and helpful. The food was incredible! Shawarma, schnitzel, falafel, hummus, mezze, and more. I could definitely shift to a Mediterranean diet.
But without a doubt the religious significance and political questions are at the forefront of any visit to the country. No deep or meaningful analysis from me on religion or politics, but I will say this … For many people a trip to Israel is a religious pilgrimage. Israel is important for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. To be able to visit the same places that are described in the Bible, and to walk the same ground, is pretty incredible … And since 1948 many have questioned the establishment of a Jewish state of Israel, and the resulting impact on the Palestinian people. For me this trip didn’t provide any greater clarity on the matter, although it did help shed new light on the many different perspectives. I can say that I’m confident a solution to the political questions are likely generations away.
A big part of these trips is the tour bus. You spend a lot of time on the bus and, it’s literally your window to the country you are visiting. And so our driver, Naseef, cleaned the bus windows at night so we would always have a good view (it’s very dusty here), made sure the bus AC was running when we got to the bus, kept the cooler filled with plenty of water, and always had the bus in the right spot at the right time. In the heat of the day, that’s really important and Naseef was always there with the bus.
Army Captain, attorney, and tour guide, Rotem is passionate about sharing his country with visitors. He also hustles! Constantly working out tour logistics with Naseef, our hotels, restaurants, and destinations. The result was seamless travel experience for our group. We never waited in a line. Everything was always prepared. Because this was Israel, Rotem incorporated a number of Bible readings into the tour so that we would visit a location and read a passage from the Bible associated with that place. Literally the Bible come to life. If you need a tour guide in Israel, look up Rotem.
I’ve written before about the great group of travelers that come on these trips, but I haven’t written about how the members of the group ended up traveling with Dr. Craven. As a educator, Brad has been organizing international trips for his students since 1984 … 2 to 4 trips per year! Brad’s wife Nancy has been on the trips almost since the beginning. Nancy’s mom started going on the trips and invited her friend, Ron’s mom. Ron started going and has now been on 47 trips! Marguerite teaches Latin at the school where Brad was the principal. Marguerite has been on almost as many trips as Ron. Marguerite invited Carol and Carol has been on a number of trips. Mickey was invited by a friend whose daughter was a student at Brad’s school. Mickey invited her friend Donna to go on a trip to Egypt. And a couple of years later Mickey invited her sister Shannon, Shannon’s boyfriend Peter, and me to come on the trip to China in 2009. (I knew Donna from the 1997 to Alaska with Mickey, Patty, and Sue and Shannon through Wendy … but that’s a whole separate blog post!) Mickey, Donna, and I have been doing a trip every year or so since the China trip. This was my 9th trip. Of note since our last trip in 2019 … Brad has retired, Peter has retired, Carol has retired, Donna has retired, and now I have retired.
For those of you who have followed along, thanks for taking the time to read, check out the pictures, and comment! And a special thank you to Mickey, Donna, and Shannon for the daily proofreading and wording debates!! Now time to head home and work on those overdue trip videos that Brad harassed me about all week 🙂
At sunset on the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv …
After a busy week of touring everyone is slowing down a little. Rotem gives us an extra hour to get ready in the morning. It’s Saturday in Israel and the Sabbath. Not many people on the streets and not much traffic so it’s easy to get around.
Our first order of business is COVID antigen testing for the return flight. Good news! The entire group is negative, so no quarantine stay necessary beyond our planned return.
We start the morning with a walking tour of Jaffa – the oldest section of Tel Aviv. We see Saint Peter’s Church, the galleries and housing of the Artists’ Quarter, and the Port of Jaffa.
A short bus rides brings us to the oldest part of Tel Aviv. We visit the old train station, then stop for a discussion of the practice of Shabbat. Makes sense on Saturday morning in Israel. Shabbat lasts 25 hours. It starts with lighting of the candles on Friday night and ends on Saturday after sunset when the first three stars are visible in the sky.
We visit a courtyard filled with Jaffa orange trees then stop for a late morning ice cream treat at Golda Flavor Boutique.
Next, a drive down Rothschild Boulevard to see buildings in the Bauhaus architectural style. Then Rotem brings us to Rabin Square and to the memorial that commemorates the exact place of his assassination.
For lunch we skip shawarma and get burgers from the Meat Burger Bar, then head back to the hotel for a couple of hours of free time.
With our week of touring wrapped up, we take a walk to the beach then enjoy cocktails while watching the sunset.
Tomorrow we head to the airport after breakfast at the hotel. We depart for Newark at midday.
On the bus to Tel Aviv …
We spent last night in the Negev Desert starting with dinner in Kfar Hanokdim and then speaking with a Bedouin man about life in his community and the transition away from a nomadic lifestyle. He misses the desert.
This morning we are on the bus at 8 AM for an hour long ride to Masada. We drive along the Dead Sea. We’re at about 1,300 feet below sea level … the lowest point on the planet. Masada towers high above the Dead Sea. You can walk up the Snake Path to reach the top, but we opt for the cable car ride.
The fortress was built by King Herod over 2,000 years ago. When Masada was attacked by 10,000 Romans and defeat was inevitable, the Jews holding the fortress opted to commit suicide instead being taken into slavery by the Romans.
Next we head to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. After lunch and shopping we take a quick look at the Qumran site. It’s incredibly hot in the desert and it’s so hazy that there is hardly any visibility of the horizon.
The Dead Sea is a short drive on the bus. After changing in the locker rooms we head to the sea. You can walk in from the shore, but it’s very slippery. Instead we use the ladder at the end of a dock that extends about 100’ out into the water. On the second step down the ladder I sit back and I realize I am floating. But floating above the water. It’s the strangest sensation. Unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s also oily. I’m in for about 10 minutes and floating on the Dead Sea is checked off the bucket list! These experiences are why we travel.
Of course this is also the location of the lowest bar in the world. We celebrate the day with Dead Sea Margaritas then get back on the bus to head to Tel Aviv.