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Trip Report Family4Travels to Israel & Petra -matzos, mezze and Menachem!!

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First off I want to say that I “cut my teeth” writing trip reports on Fodors where Trip Reports are long and written with a lot of detail so for those of you reading this on Trip Advisor – you may find it too long. But c’est la vie I am also posting this on Fodors as well as writing it for my own memories.

Returned two weeks ago from a fabulous 2 week trip to Israel and Petra. We are a family of four (me, hubby(DH), daughter(DD) – age 17 and son (DS) – age 14). We also traveled with my Mom and Dad who are in their late 60s early 70s. We have traveled quite a bit over the past several years and always travel independently, hiring a guide here and there for certain sites, etc. This time, however, we decided to go with a private guide for most of the trip (we did have a day on our own in Jerusalem, free day in Eilat and two free days in Tel Aviv). A group tour was never an option for us (and after seeing so many while we were there, we now have even more reasons why!!)

Our basic itinerary was:
2 nights Galilee
5 nights Jerusalem
3 nights Eilat (with daytrip to Petra)
4 nights in Tel Aviv

I always plan our trips on my own using Fodors, TA, etc. only on occasion maybe using a travel agent to book in-country flights like I did for Argentina. However, for this trip we did end up using a travel agent. We had to go during our kids Spring Break (we are lucky they have 2 weeks), but the last 4 days of the trip were during Passover. Back in August when I started planning the trip I couldn’t get the Israel hotels to give me pricing or anything for March but in the meantime the flights were booking up and the flight I really wanted through Atlanta sold out. I always prefer to have my hotels before I book airfare (yes I am a planner!) and I started to get worried, so I decided to contact a friend of mine who is a travel agent in Virginia (I live in Oregon), I remembered that she had recently planned a trip to Israel for another family with teens. We were able to plan and organize everything via email and a few phone calls – it was excellent!! Through her contact in Israel she was able to book all the hotels I requested in August and get everything lined up for me incl. our incredible guide, Menachim (more on him later).

My friend’s name is Carol Flax (caolflax@verizon.net) and she works with All About Travel in Virginia. It was great to have her help me and get everything confirmed so far in advance. Plus her contact in Israel, Miri with Travex would check in periodically during our trip to make sure everything was okay. While we never had any issues or concerns, if we did, it was nice to know that she was there to assist us.

OUR GUIDE:
Our guide’s name was Menachem Holzman. He was the same guide the other family had used on their trip. I had emailed the other family and they all spoke very highly of him, so I told Carol that we wanted to request him. He and his wife are govt. licensed tour guides who also work independently– so you don’t need to use a Travel Agent to book him. His email address is me.holzman@gmail.com. We all really loved Menachim and were so glad that we had a guide. It wasn’t just the things he took us to see, but the amazing conversations we had about politics, religion, Iran, Obama, Haredim, settlements, Muslims, history, the army, etc. etc. He is a secular Jew whose family has been in Israel since the late 1800s and he was willing to discuss all subjects and our discussions became more profound as the trip went on. Not to mention that he also has excellent taste in food!! He owned a construction company and has worked with many Arabs and always wanted to show us that Jews and Arabs did get along and would take us to both Arab and Israeli villages and restaurants for lunch. Plus all his dinner recommendations were always spot on.

OUR HOTELS:

Nof Ginossar (Galilee)– It is a large hotel located on a kibbutz, right on the Sea of Galilee so was quite a nice setting. I believe there are 3 different types of rooms - we had the middle category – they were a bit more “motelly” then the higher type but in all honesty we weren’t in them that much so were fine. There is a large dining hall that serves a very extensive and quite good dinner and breakfast (breakfast is incl. but dinner is extra). There really is no place that you could walk to from there so it is nice that they do have the dinner buffet. Our favorites at dinner were the gefilte fish, soup and the dark bread they served.

They do cater to large tour groups of which there were several while we were there but the hotel is large and the grounds extensive so it was never a problem. They have a very nice gift shop –I hesitated to purchase anything there as it was our first stop, but in retrospect they had some of the nicest mezuzahs I saw.

The second night we were there we had eaten a late and very large lunch so weren’t super hungry for dinner, but did want a small bite. We knew the buffet would be too much ($$ and food) so we opted to eat in the bar downstairs. It was very busy, service was poor and the food so-so though I’m sure it was from the same kitchen as the buffet.

All in all, with only two nights there we were happy with our stay.

Harmony Hotel (Jerusalem) – This was our favorite hotel on the trip which was good because we spent 5 nights here. It is a smaller boutique hotel VERY well located in Jerusalem within easy walking distance of the Old City, just a few blocks from tons of great restaurants, about 2 blocks from Ben Yehuda St. Also, the nice pedestrian street it is located on had some fun shops that got a lot of our shekels!! The four of us had the family room which was HUGE!! Each set of beds had its own flat panel screen and there was a lot of extra space for luggage, purchases, etc. My parents had a regular double room which of course was much smaller but they enjoyed it.

The ladies at the front desk were very friendly and extremely helpful. It had a very bright breakfast room with a nice breakfast. The only slight negative was the cost of having laundry done (even more expensive than the laundry at the Royal Garden in Eilat) but there was a self-serve laundromat just half a block from the hotel so that is always an option.

More later…..

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    Wow, this is exactly the kind of information I've been looking for! I want to plan a family trip to Israel for my daughter's college graduation next June. I also do my own travel planning, but with this trip I would like the assistance of a professional and also a private guide.

    We won't have 2 weeks, the most I could squeeze out of my husband's schedule is 10 days. In any case, I look forward to the rest of your report and I will definitely contact your friend Carol.

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    Thank you,jgg, for this Trip Report...very interesting and useful infomation.

    So glad to hear that you enjoyed your stay in the Harmony Hotel - we head there in August.

    What were some of your favorite sites/stops/visits: In Jerusalem ? Ha Galil ?

    And welcome home,
    ~MarnieWDC

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    MFNYC - glad this is helpful. Definitely contact Carol - she was great!
    Marnie - I will get to all the favorites in the trip report! How exciting that you are going this summer!

    Continued:

    Isrotel Royal Beach (Eilat) – We had originally booked 3 doubles at the Isrotel Agamin. A few months before the trip Isrotel contacted our TA to say that they had a very large group book the entire hotel for a few days of our stay and they could put us in two triples at the Royal Beach at no additional cost. The Royal Beach is much nicer and more expensive – we still tried to argue for 3 doubles there, but if we insisted on the 3 doubles they would have put us up in a lesser one of their hotels. We decided to stick with the Royal Beach. Then when we arrived they even upgraded us to an ocean view with a Jacuzzi.

    The rooms were quite large with a sofa bed in each for the kids, so the 2 triples were really not a problem. The bathrooms were also quite large – we really enjoyed all the space. The front desk was very helpful but I was surprised – our first full day there was the Sabbath. They kept insisting that nothing would be open along the boardwalk until after sundown – we ventured out anyway, and I would guess that about 80% of the stores were open!

    It is well located on the promenade with a nice pool and beach area.
    The buffet breakfast was quite extensive with several things to choose from. But get down there early or you might have to wait in line (or maybe that was just because we were there the weekend before Pesach). The only negative about the hotel was that there were a lot of families with young children who would just let their kids run around the hotel. We walked out of our room to be in the middle of a dodgeball game in the hall!

    Melody Hotel (Tel Aviv) – This is also part of the Atlas Hotel chain that the Harmony is a part of. The front desk was nice and helpful, but the rooms were very small. We had 3 different doubles – some smaller than others. We were on the street side, but street noise doesn’t really bother us. What was a problem was the bathroom. Our room had a shower stall (the two other rooms had a shower/tub). There was absolutely no way to avoid getting the entire floor flooded when you took a shower – luckily it was a small bathroom. If that wasn’t annoying enough, they would only give you two towels when they cleaned the room – when you clearly needed at least 2 additional towels just to mop up the floor. Every night I would call for two extra towels. They must know this is an issue and should at least provide extra towels without having to ask for them.

    The breakfast was similar to the Harmony but missing cereals and breads since it was Passover.

    The hotel is well located for the Promenade/beach, the Port and shopping on Dizengoff but a bit further for downtown. The rooftop terrace is fabulous with a great view and THE most comfy loungers!!

    DAY 1

    We flew from Portland, OR to Newark, NJ on Continental, then Newark to Tel Aviv. We don’t usually fly Continental but were quite pleased with the flight. We had a 7 hour layover in NWK, and despite the fact that many people said to just stay in the airport, we ended up renting a car and having a nice dinner in the Ironbound District of New Jersey with plenty of time. We arrived in Tel Aviv and were greeted by someone holding up our name who took us directly to our guide who was waiting outside. Like I said we usually don’t travel with such great service – but it wasn’t hard to get used to – and there was more great services later on! We hopped in Menachem’s Mercedes SUV and drove to the Galilee as we began to learn so many things from him. It was early evening when we arrived at Nof Ginossar so we just settled in and had dinner.

    DAY 2

    Almost everyday with Menachem started at 9am which I thought very civilized! Now, let me just interject here that I, and my parents are Jewish but we also believe that Jesus is the Son of God – so we are Hebrew Christians. My hubby was raised Catholic and we now attend a Presbyterian Church. This is merely to explain that we were interested in seeing all the Christian sites but also very interested in the Jewish history and the formation of the State of Israel.

    Our first stop was at the Mt. of Beatitudes – this was my first introduction to the fact that every significant spot in Christ’s life is commemorated by the Catholic church having built a church on top of it. Menachem did point out that the Catholic church built their churches over Byzantine churches in the same spots built in 300-400AD which is why they believe many of these locations are the correct locations. I will leave out the words ‘supposedly” or “believed to be” when describing a location and just say “this is where Peter’s house was” or “where Christ did this or that”, etc.

    From there we headed back to Nof Ginossar as they had a dock located there with boats to take you on the Sea of Galilee. We ended up being on this large boat with only us 6 and one other couple. My Dad read passages from the Bible where Jesus calmed the storm, walked on water and fed the thousands with the loaves and fishes – it was amazing and very beautiful.

    Next up was Capernaum where Peter’s house located as well as several ancient ruins incl. those of a synagogue. We headed to Nazareth for lunch – and got stuck in some awful traffic. Didn’t arrive at the restaurant until almost 2:30pm. But boy was it delicious!! We ate at an Arab restaurant called Diana. Our first induction into mezze and mixed grill which we absolutely loved!! We always just had Menachem order for us and we started out with mezze which was an elaborate display of at least twenty small dishes of salads and appetizers. Beware – if you finish a plate they will just bring you another one, so when we would decide we were done, we would leave just a bit of food left on it. But everything was wonderful – they do amazing things with eggplant there. Then came the mixed grill – wonderful lamb chops that you could just pick up and eat, great beef on a kebab and their version of shish kebab which was ground lamb and ground beef mixed together into a ball and put on a kebab – an excellent combination!!

    With eating lunch so late we just had enough time to see the Church of the Annuniciation – where Jesus grew up and the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and the Church of St. Joseph which was right next door built on top of Joseph’s workshop.

    On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Cana to see the church that was (you guessed it) built on top of where Christ turned water into wine. I have to say that this was by far my favorite church that day (and maybe even the whole trip). I just liked that it was smaller and loved the materials they used.

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    Enjoying your report!

    Does Carol Flax specialize it trips to Israel or that region? People are so used to booking everything online now but sometimes an agent can make a big difference. Always good to have the name of a recommended TA for future reference.

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    Day 3

    Checked out of our hotel at 9am and drove to Yardenit on the Jordan River. It is set up so large groups can be baptized – but there were no large groups while we were there. Not the exact spot where Christ was baptized – that is in Jordan. Next up was the Church of the Transfiguration which is on top of Mt. Tabor. It is a beautiful church as well as having absolutely stunning views of the valley and Jewish and Arab villages below – definitely worth the short drive up Mt. Tabor.

    Menachem then drove us to Bet Alpha where an ancient synagogue was discovered when pioneers were starting a kibbutz. There is a beautiful mosaic floor that has been well restored and maintained. Also, a well done movie (10-15 min.) explaining the synagogue and the floor.

    From there we drove to Beit Shean. Before entering the ruins we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the small town. We had another incredible meal of mezze and kebabs – with probably some of the best pita bread. Unfortunately I didn’t write down the name but it was on a corner as you entered the town.

    We enjoyed our visit to the Byzantine and Roman ruins at Beit Shean. Again, it is amazing how well preserved much of it is, particularly the amphitheater and the cardo. It did get quite hot there as there was no shade.

    From there we drove through the West Bank along the Jordanian border to Jerusalem – our first look at Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock was exciting!!

    Got to the Harmony Hotel about 5:30pm. Rested up and then went to a fabulous dinner at Chakra – just about a 5 min. walk from the hotel. We ordered beef stroganoff, seafood risotto, gnocchi, ravioli and eggplant – everything was delicious!!

    Day 4

    Our first day in Jerusalem was packed with lots of sites – and our first big introduction to all the many large bus tours – sorry, but I would refuse to wear that yellow scarf or blue hat!! This is a list of what we accomplished this day:

    Mt. Scopus
    Mt. of Olives – while we were here, Menachem took us to the cemetery that was right near the entrance to the Dominus Flevit Church. The tour groups seemed to be skipping this – but we found it quite interesting and moving.

    Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations
    Davidson Archaeological dig – this was more interesting than I was expecting and we learned quite a bit about the temple from Menachem.

    Lunch at Al Buraq – located just to the left as you leave the Wailing Wall area right pass security. Good lunch (not great) we were short on time as we had to make our Tunnel Tour. So, we just ordered shwarmas and falafels.

    Western Tunnel Tour – amazing! This is a must see! You have to get reservations in advance and can only enter with a guided tour.

    Praying at the Western Wall – this was an incredible experience to actually be able to pray at the Western Wall. However, I was surprised when the cell phone of the lady standing next to me starting playing “I wake up in the morning feeling like P. Ditty” - but the thing that I was shocked by was that she didn’t even try to turn it off –she just let it play – and then when she didn’t answer they called again!!

    Church of the Holy Sepulchre – Golgotha and the tomb. We were able to avoid the long line at Golgotha because we did not feel the need to kneel under the altar and pray like the large group of Eastern Europeans did who were ahead of us. So we just walked along and were able to stand and look at it. There was however, an unavoidable line at the tomb with a very stern person directing the line traffic. This is definitely a place I would like to return when it was less crowded – as I think back I don’t think I was really able to take it all in.

    Lastly, we saw the “supposed” room of the Last Supper (apparently they really aren’t sure if this is the actual room) and King David’s Tomb.

    Before dinner we went to the Sound and Light Show and the Tower of David Museum. I was a bit wary of this – hadn’t requested it, but they added it to our itinerary. I was concerned it would be tacky/cheesy, but really it was very well done and quite interesting. Difficult to explain – something you just need to see. Only negative was that it started about 15 min. late.

    Had another great dinner, this time at Joy Restaurant in the German Colony. Wished we had had more time to explore the German Colony as it looked beautiful and interesting. Our server was extremely friendly and helpful had wonderful meals which included beef carpaccio, Moroccan pastiche, Cornish game hen – and some of the best duck breast I’ve had anywhere – just beware the duck was enough for two people.

    Day 5

    Today we were headed to Bethlehem. Menachem drove us to the border where we were picked up by a Palestinian driver who would take us across the border. After crossing we picked up our guide for Bethlehem. They were both Palestinian Christians. First stop was Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity, of course built on top of the cave Jesus was born in. I must say that the cave was really quite interesting and one of the more moving things for me. It was also quite interesting to learn about how this church is run – similar to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with several Christian churches having control over certain areas and certain times.

    We then drove over to Shepherd’s Field which is “supposed” to be where the Shepherd’s saw and heard the angels proclaim Jesus’ birth, however, again this is a place they are not sure about. I did appreciate that they would tell you when they weren’t “sure” if a place was what it was supposed to be. The cave there was quite interesting. From here we went to do some quick shopping in Bethlehem – getting a nativity there was a must for me.

    It took us about a 30 minute wait at the border crossing as they were really searching cars.

    Menachem to us to Abu Ghosh, an Arab-Israeli village, and we ate another wonderful meal at Naura. The mezze and mixed grill just keeps getting better – majority thought this place had the best humuus.

    After lunch Menachem took us to a kibbutz cemetery where we looked at headstones and talked about the people. Many had died during the war of independence – very intriguing.

    From there we drove to the Yav Kennedy Forest where we each planted a tree. Again, not something I had requested to be on the itinerary, but I must say it was very meaningful and we were all glad we were able to put down roots in the Promised Land.

    Next up was the Israel Museum where we visited the giant model of the 2nd Temple. Very informative and a great opportunity to see everything in perspective together. The Dead Sea Scrolls were also there, but most of it was a facsimile although there were some original pages from Exodus.

    We returned to the hotel about 5 pm. We headed out to Ben Yehuda St. We loved that all the stores here stay open so late and that tons of people were out and about. We had dinner at Dolphin Yam, a seafood restaurant nearby. We thought it was good, but not as good as our previous dinners at Chakra and Joy.

    Day 6

    This was our free day in Jerusalem. We are shoppers and were anxious to hone our bargaining skills we had learned 2 years earlier in Fez and Marakkech. In Morocco we mostly let my husband d0 the deed, but this time my daughter really got into it, and did quite well, buying jewelry. We enjoyed shopping and exploring in all 4 of the quarters. We had lunch in one of the restaurants in Mamilla Mall, and then did some shopping through there. Returned to the Harmony and then did more shopping on the street the hotel is on. My birthday was this week and found a beautiful painting (my bday present) in the Art & Soul Gallery on this street.

    My parents were meeting some old friends for dinner tonight, and the four of us went to Cavalier. Another excellent meal, but a bit more expensive.

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    Funny about the cell phone at the Western Wall. Interesting juxtaposition of ancient & modern. But rude as well - I thought hearing one ring at a funeral (and the call was taken!) was the worst example of cell phone disrespect.

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    Thanks all!! More to come soon...
    but first correction - I have an error in the email address for my friend/travel agent Carol Flax. Here is the corrected one:

    carolflax@verizon.net

    Leslie - I couldn't agree more!!
    rhkkmk - oh Asia guru - have you been to Japan - didn't notice a trip report from there, on our list for the next year
    ira - considering a trip?

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    Day 7

    Today we started out with a rampart walk of the Old City. It was an interesting viewpoint of both the city inside and outside the walls. We left the ramparts at the Jewish Quarter and had a more indepth tour of that area. Visited the 4 Sephardic Synagogue – they had pictures up of the condition it was in in 1967 after so many years of neglect. We were able to enjoy watching the young boys play in the school yard, as well as some older boys preparing chickens to be delivered to the poor for Passover. We had seen several Bar Mitzvahs when we were at the Western Wall a few days before but they had generally been very small, quiet affairs. Today as we were leaving the Old City a very large Bar Mitzvah party was walking through singing and dancing – very fun to watch, particularly when the Israeli soldiers picked up the Bar Mitzvah boy on their soldiers and danced with him. A great memory for us as we left the Old City.

    We walked down to the City of David, but all agreed that we weren’t up for the full tour – the next trip! Instead we headed to Ein Kerem. I really liked this village. It had very beautiful homes and a lot of gorgeous vegetation and flowers. We had another incredible meal at Karma in Ein Kerem. They made this amazing flatbread with different toppings – we decided to order it when we saw another order come out of the wood burning oven. From there we drove to Yad Vashem and spent a few hours there. The architecture of the building was interesting and very symbolic.

    We were leaving Jerusalem the next day and had to pack, so we ate at Zuni for dinner located right across the street from the hotel. Again, it was a good meal but not anything particularly exciting.

    Day 8

    Daylight Savings started today in Israel so we got to lose another hour (having lost another one about 2 weeks before in the US). We left Jerusalem at 9:00am and headed to the Dead Sea. We stopped first at the Ahava factory store and bought gifts for friends. Then we got to the sea. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what the name of the place was where we were at the Dead Sea, but they had lockers and decent bathrooms to change in. When we arrived there was really almost no one there, just one other couple and a little while later another family arrived. We enjoyed the water as well as getting covered in the mud bath. It was starting to sprinkle so we headed to the covered hot springs area (my favorite part). By now it had gotten more crowded and there were a number of people in the hot springs.

    We left the Dead Sea and drove to Masada. We were all starting to get hungry so we ate in the cafeteria there where we had respectable pita schnitzels. The funny story is they had a schnitzel pita and a schnitzel plate on the menu. DH asked what the difference was between them and the guy said, “the price”. It made me laugh – typical Israeli customer service – uninformative and brusque!!

    We rode the cable car up and had a little over an hour to spend up there before the last cable car was set to come down. It was truly amazing to think that 1000 people had lived up there, and I was impressed at the condition of the place and the renovation work.

    We drove the roughly 2.5 hours left to Eilat and arrived about 6:30pm. Here Menachem dropped us at the hotel and headed back to Jerusalem. We would meet up with him again in a few days in Tel Aviv. We had not made dinner reservations and it was nearly impossible to get in anywhere for dinner. The concierge finally got us a reservation at El Gaucho (an Argentinian restaurant) at 9:30. The four of us were in Argentina last March so we know how great Argentinian food can be, again the food was fine, but not great.

    Day 9

    This was our free day in Eilat. The plan had been to just rest on the beach or by the pool, but when we woke up it was overcast and cold. As I mentioned earlier, it was Shabbat and the workers in the hotel kept insisting that nothing would be open, but we ventured out anyway along the boardwalk and found most things open there as well as at the mall. I have to say Eilat was not my favorite place, crowded and noisy, the big hotels reminded me of Las Vegas minus the gambling. However, it is a great location for seeing Petra, and I’m sure we would have enjoyed it a bit more if the weather had been better. Kids and I ate at Giraffe, an Asian Noodle Bar, for lunch which was quite good. For dinner we all ate at Ginger, another Asian restaurant, located across the street from the IMAX theater. Isrotel Royal Beach is in an excellent location and we were able to walk everywhere we needed to go (I think we could have also walked to the airport). After dinner we headed to the mall because when we were there earlier that day Zara was one of the few stores that was closed, but DD really wanted to shop there. So, we got there about 9:00 and all the stores were packed – not sure how late they all stayed open until.

    Now, the Eilat airport is literally located in the middle of the city. As we walked from Ginger to the mall – a flight was landing and flew so low over us we felt as though we needed to duck!

    Day 10

    Today was our day to see Petra, this is also where that VIP service was once again a welcome surprise. We had chosen to book a private tour. The Travel Agent had booked it with Ahalan Olympus (http://ahalanolympus.com/), and we were very pleased with the entire day. Sergei picked us up from the hotel and took us to the border crossing (only about a 5 min. drive). We walked through “no man’s land” (ok I thought that was cool!) and was greeted on the other side by a man who took our passports to go through the formalities while we exchanged our money, used the restrooms, etc. It was a bit of a wait as there were two large tour groups ahead of us. Next we were introduced to our driver(whose name I didn’t write down) and our guide, Khalid.

    We had about a 2 hour drive which incl. two stops – one for drinks and restroom and the other for a view of Wadi Musa. We arrived at Petra about 11:45am, bought some nuts and energy bars at the stands near the entrance as we wouldn’t be eating lunch until we were done in Petra. All I can say is that it was amazing! Walking through the Siq and your first view of the Treasury……We were lucky and it really wasn’t that crowded. Khalid took us climbing over some tombs – which my mom wondered what she had gotten herself into (but she was able to do it!!) and my DS absolutely loved!! He was climbing all over the place, pretending he was a parkour master. Sometimes we would see him climbing way ahead of us – Khalid encouraged him to come back and take the 4 day trip through Petra and said he would get to do tons of climbing. We didn’t go up to the Ministry but did go up to the Court. When we entered the hall there was a small group of German women singing. They had beautiful voices and the music reverberated throughout the hall – it was beautiful.

    Khalid said it would take an hour to walk back from the Court, but really it was only about 30-40 minutes depending on how fast you walked – the kids passed us early on and took only about 30 min. It is a slight upgrade the whole way back, and once you leave the Siq it can get pretty hot. They do have donkeys, carts, etc. that you can take on the way back.

    For lunch we went to the Marriott Hotel (lunch was incl. in the tour) which was quite nice and we really appreciated the nice air conditioning and great bathrooms. It was a nice buffet lunch with a good variety of food.

    We got back to the hotel about 6:30pm. We decided to skip the optional tour to Aqaba, but now I kind of regret that we didn’t at least drive around there a bit. We rested up a bit before our 9:00pm reservation at La Cucina. It is located just outside the hotel on the promenade and we had a nice Italian dinner.

    Next up Tel Aviv.

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    " the guy said, “the price”. It made me laugh – typical Israeli customer service – uninformative and brusque!!"

    What did you expect him to say? "in the schnitzel pita the schnitzel is served in a pita while in the schnitzel plate the same schnitzel is served on a plate". DUH. He gave you an honest answer !

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    "in the schnitzel pita the schnitzel is served in a pita while in the schnitzel plate the same schnitzel is served on a plate". - that's what I would have expected him to say!!

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    I think someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed...

    Loved hearing about your time at Petra. I would've liked to do a lot more climbing too - that's why I want to go back next year with my husband. I was with my mom & we were moving at a slooow pace.

    I guess you didn't have any problems with your passports going into Jordan - had they been stamped in Israel or on a separate piece of paper? I don't think you mentioned that above.

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    Thanks Leslie - I had prepared a response, but yours was better!

    About the passport stamp. Jordan and Israel have full diplomatic relations, I believe it is only the countries that don't recognize Israel as a state or don't have diplomatic relations, that it is an issue with. So, we had our passports stamped and had no problem entering Jordan.

    (Taken from Wikipedia)Countries that might not accept passports which contain Israeli stamps or visas

    * Algeria
    * Bangladesh[7]
    * Iran[8]
    * Kuwait[9]
    * Lebanon[10]
    * Libya[11]
    * Pakistan[4]
    * Saudi Arabia[12]
    * Sudan[13]
    * Syria[14]
    * Yemen[15]

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    Thanks for spelling that out. None of those are on my wish list so no passport worries if I should go to Israel.

    Can't wait to hear about Tel Aviv - have read a few magazine articles about it recently.

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    Day 11

    We had an 8:45am pickup for a 10:25am flight to Tel Aviv. Airport is literally 5 min. away - you could walk if you wanted to lug your luggage. This airport is completely undersized for the number of people going through there, but they had a lot of security people working so the process was quick. We flew on Azira – no problems.

    Arrived at Sde Dov airport – picked up by a driver (that VIP service again) and driven straight to the Melody Hotel. Tonight was going to be the first night of Passover but things were still open and bustling when we arrived in Tel Aviv. We made a reservation for lunch at Orna & Ella in the Shenkin neighborhood. It was a bit of a walk so we took the bus in order to get there in time for our reservation. We had a fabulous lunch – and the tip for the Sweet Potato Pancakes was spot on – incredibly delicious!! When we were done it was 2pm and things were still busy outside so we decided to do some shopping in the many interesting boutiques. We went into a bathing suit store and DD started trying on suits. The employees were extremely nice and helpful and she purchased a bathing suit she liked. We walked out of the store at 3:15 – and what a difference!! Everything was closed and the streets were empty as everyone had headed home to prepare for the Seder. We decided to take a leisurely walk back to the hotel and enjoyed the quiet streets.

    We had originally planned to just go to Tiv Tam market and get some food for dinner, as I had already confirmed they would be open. However, the lady at the front desk said she had found 3 restaurants open for dinner that night. Only the Red Chinese was within walking distance so we tried to make a dinner res. there, but nothing available until 10pm. Then the other guy at the front desk said that the Hilton Hotel, which was just across the street had a lounge open that we could go to without a reservation.

    We headed over there about 7:45 and walked into the lobby of the hotel. It was packed with people dressed to the nines mingling with each other. We felt a bit out of place but headed to the lounge where a few other people were dining. About 15 minutes later at 8pm the crowds dispersed into various ballrooms for their specific seders. There was a very limited menu – they had a special Passover menu for the week but even more limited tonight. However, we had very good Caesar and Greek Salads and gefilte fish so we were quite pleased .

    DAY 12

    Today was the first full day of Passover so most stores, etc. were closed but restaurants were open. We headed up to the wonderful rooftop terrace to rest and read. For lunch my parents walked along the Promenade and ate at a restaurant there. The four of us headed to Goocha a few blocks away on Dizengoff St. Another excellent meal – stellar seafood! We had a great leisurely lunch then just rested more in the sun. For dinner we decided to head to the Red Chinese as now we could get a reservation – DS loves Chinese and when he had heard we had missed the opportunity for Chinese food the night before he requested (begged) that we go there tonight. Well, frankly it was the worst Chinese food we have ever had – enough said.

    Day 13

    We met back up with Menachem today and he basically gave us a full tour of Tel Aviv visiting Old Jaffa, Tel Aviv neighborhoods, markets, etc. The highlight of the day was definitely Independence Hall. There was a well done movie there that gave an overview of the history of Tel Aviv, and an excellent docent who gave a fabulous talk on why Independence Hall in Tel Aviv was chosen to announce the Independence of Israel and details about that day. We were taken into the room – set up just as it was that day and listened to audio recordings of that day. I must say this was one of the most emotional experiences of the trip – just an overwhelming sense of finally coming full circle after 2000 years of the diaspora to finally have a homeland.

    We had another wonderful lunch of mezze and mixed grill at Itzik Hagadol Grill on Raziel St. in Jaffa. We were surprised to see that they also have a location in Encino, California! DD will be attending college in LA in the fall, so hope to make it to the US location soon!

    We were done touring mid afternoon and we all split up in different directions. DD and I hit the many boutiques on Dizengoff street and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon together.

    For dinner we ate at Boccaccio – a nice Italian restaurant, then walked back home along the promenade.

    DAY 14

    Today was the last full day of our trip and a packed one. Menachem picked us up at 9am and we headed straight to Caesarea. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful location right on the ocean. Well preserved and restored it did seem a bit more “commercial” than many of the other places we had been – but I can’t deny that it would be cool to see a concert sitting at the ancient amphitheater.

    Next we headed to Haifa and drove up to the top and looked down at the B’hai Gardens, but all agreed not to do the 1 hr. garden tour. Instead we went to Habank for lunch – I didn’t care for what I ordered but everyone else really enjoyed their lunch there.

    From there we drove to Akko and visited the crusader fortress – amazingly well preserved, and through the Old part of the city to the tunnels and out to the beautiful coast. Did do some last minute shopping/bargaining!! It was a long day and arrived back at the hotel at 6:15pm.

    We had a 7:30 res. at Gilly’s at the Port so quickly leaned up before walking down there. Had a nice dinner but not up to the caliber or Orna & Ella or Goocha. Back to the hotel to pack for our flights home.

    DAY 15

    Today we flew home and it was also my birthday. We always travel during our kid’s spring break, which is generally the last 2 weeks in March. Sometimes I have just returned home on my bday, other times I have spent it shopping in Buenos Aires or serving schoolchildren lunch in Cambodia. This year was one of those years where I get to celebrate by traveling home – eating airplane/airport food and having the day last for 34 hours!! But our travel day was uneventful, we arrived safely home and I was able to think about the great memories of our trip – so all in all a great birthday!!

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    Thanks so much for the lively and interesting report! Great title, too. My last trip (to Israel, not to Petra, where I've not yet been) was more than 20 years ago and your report heightened my wish to return someday soon..

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    Great report! Thanks so much for sharing. You have a flair for writing about travel - I'm sure you're already planning the next adventure - can't wait to read about it :)

    I try to plan trips around my birthday (this year = Morocco) & so far I've been lucky enough not to be on a plane on that particular day. But not a bad birthday for you, all things considered!

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    Dear JGG:

    We just got back last week from Israel and Jordan! My husband and I had Menachem Holzman and we would have said JUST precisely what you said about him!!! He made our trip memorable in every way- we were with him for 11 days then we went to Petra, but talked about him so much! It was so weird to come across your comments! We had Travex- dealt with Ann there who was terrific and came to our hotel to meet us, checking up on us helped a lot since it was our first trip to Israel & Jordan, and I was a bit nervous! Thank you!

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    prins - So glad to hear that you enjoyed Menachem just as much as we did. Small world since I have never seen him mentioned on here. Travex was also awesome - everything was so well planned. Glad you had a wonderful and safe trip!

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    Great report...my husband and I are going for trip #3 to Israel in a few weeks. You have me all excited again. We are going to go back in December because our daughter is going to go to college there so we are planning our first trip to Eilat & Petra then (it's always been too hot to go to Eilat other times). Happy travels!

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    Wish I had found your write-up a few weeks ago. It would have been quite helpful in our travels so far. We (also a family of 4 with 2 boys 11 and 13) are nearing the end of week 3 of a 5 week visit. My husband is here on business so we travel on weekends. We've been or are going to many of the places you mentioned but unfortunately they've just been day trips. Wish we had more time in Jerusalem.

    We are heading to Eilat for the weekend and plan to go into Petra for a day. We hope to spend 4 - 5 days in Egypt for our last weekend before heading back home but haven't booked anything yet so not sure if it's do-able. BTW, we're also from Oregon. Are you in Portland? If so, which church do you go to?

    We're staying in Herzliya so the boys and I may have to venture into Tel Aviv on our own next week based on your notes. Just a little nervous about the whole driving/parking thing.

    One thing we're still unclear about is tipping for tour guides, restaurants, etc. Some co-workers told my husband that you don't need to tip in restaurants but we're still not sure. Any suggestions or guidelines? Thx!

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    Most restaurants in Israel do not add a charge for "service" as is customary in Europe - so if you received good service, tipping in restaurants would be the right thing to do. Similarly, for a tour guide - if you are pleased with the service, had a wonderful experience, etc. then a tip would be much appreciated - especially on a bus group, where the guide is paid only a basic daily rate.

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    kks4 , As recently as 5 years ago I still used to see restaurants add a 10% service charge, but that is much less likely these days. Some touristy places might, though so if in doubt, check and ask. 10% would be considered skimpy in most places by the way, so more like 12-15% is what I've seen people doing.
    Remember there is no sales tax added to bills, so if you see a charge other than what you ordered, ask what it is. It's less common than a couple of years ago, but some places add a small per person security charge, If you choose, You may ask to have this removed. I believe that technically they are not allowed to out in on a bill, bt some still do. I have spoken to many friends who feel that since this surcharge is not going directly to the guard you may see at a restaurant's entrance, they choose not to give it. Just an FYI

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    jgg, I just discovered this trip report. We leave in the morning for Kenya (so I guess we can't rendezvous in Lake Como). I will have plenty of time to read this...Looking forward to it.

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    Based on this post I contacted Carol, and also Travex directly, as well as some private guides that have been recommended to me. Carol charges a fee, and does much of her planning through Travex. The private guides and Travex, do not charge a fee so I decided against using Carol. I am sure she is wonderful, but I generally do my own travel planning anyway, and the other contacts I've made have been very responsive and helpful. I am now comparing itineraries and prices (most being similar). I will do much of the hotel research myself in any case. We only have 9 nights so, sadly, can't cover everything in this trip report.

    The 2 private guides I have been in touch with are Dina Horn and Itay Yaari. Anyone here familiar with them?

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    Hi,
    My husband and I are going to Israel on October 27, 2010. I emailed Menachem Holzman a few days ago, but have not hear back from him. Is he usually pretty good about that? We are also considering a group tour. Any suggestions?

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    From my recent experience emailing private guides, if they are currently on a tour, they don't have much time to respond to emails, but as soon as they return, they seem to be pretty responsive.

    Check out www.travex.co.il, which is the travel agency that made many of JGG's arrangements. You can contact them.

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    Just got back from another trip and glad to see this has helped others.

    kks4 - how exciting to have some extended time in Israel! We used to live in Portland (hubby grew up there) but have been living in Medford for the past 16 years. We always tipped in the restaurants, and travex gave us a guideline of $10-$15 per day per person to tip the tour guide. We waited until the end of our trip to give him his tip.

    crosscheck - Have a fabulous time in Kenya, sorry we couldn't meet up in Lake Como, but looks like we will be in LA for a week with atleast 2-3 totally free days. Will contact you again in early/mid aug.

    MFNYC - Totally understand about not using Carol, I too have never booked an entire trip like that with a travel agent. Travex was excellent to work with while we were there. Miri came to see us one morning at our Jerusalem hotel, and checked in periodically by phone every few days to make sure all was ok - can highly recommend going through them. I had picked all my own hotels from my own research and just had them book them, since I wasn't able to do it on my own so far in advance. Good luck on your trip planning!!

    jjbj - since I didn't deal directly with Menachem in the planning stages I really can't speak to his email responses, but he was extremely professional so I would expect that he would run his entire business that way. I agree with MFNYC, he was often with us from 9am - 6pm and then still had to head home, which wasn't always that close. My BIL and SIL are using him next week for two days and they contacted him directly so I trust he will be contacting you shortly.

    Dayenu - No expert, but happy to answer any questions from our experience!

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    Great stuff!! Thanks!

    We're going in Oct and will look into Mr. Holzman. We're hearing that you can get a guide for a day or half-day without a car much cheaper than those awfully expensive tours. We'd planned to rent a car and do a lot on our own anyway, but a day here and there where we'd feel more comfortable, just a guide is a great option. Found that availability on a cold search - anybody know if private tours in israel (.com) is a reliable outfit? Or other companies that have either planning consultants or the just guide option within a reasonable price?

    Thanks

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    Thanks for this great report. I was so happy to find it. We will be in Israel for only a few days, and I've been trying to figure out if we could see Petra. From your report (and others), it looks like it isn't feasable this time, but your report is super useful.

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