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Trip Report Israel Trip Report

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This was my sixth trip to Israel, having spent a year there in 1998, so I'd already been to most of the sites. Spent three nights in Jerusalem, two in Tiberias and three in Tel Aviv.

General impressions: Things are so much better in both Israel and the West Bank then the media and the guidebooks portray. The economy is doing well, security is the most relaxed I've ever seen it and people seem upbeat.

Having traveled in the last few years to Latin America, India and South Africa where everyone is so friendly and smiles at you and asks where you are from, it is a bit odd in Israel when a "Good Morning" or "Thank you" is often ignored or when you hold your hand out for your change and the shopkeeper literally throws it at you. Takes some getting used to.

Jerusalem has changed a lot in recent years. New neighborhoods, new hotels and new roads. Took a while to get reoriented. Tel Aviv has some new skyscrapers and lots of new hotels but is mostly as I remembered it. Tiberias is exactly the same as it was 12 years ago. Same hotels (with different names), same restaurants, same crumbling buildings.

Weather: Was unseasonably hot the first few days, then cloudy, unseasonably cool and even a few drops of rain for a couple of days (which is not supposed to happen in May) and then perfect for the last day and a half.

Cost: Forgot how expensive Israel can be.

Flight: Continental from Newark - Decent. Israel is one of the few places in the world where you don't have to take off your shoes for security. They asked about liquids before boarding, but if you say you don't have any, they didn't check.

Accommodation: Stayed with my kibbutz family in Jerusalem. Hotel Caesar in Tiberias - way overpriced, but friendly staff, good location, room ok, breakfast crappy. Reserved a room at Hotel de la Mer in Tel Aviv only to find that - for Seinfeld fans, this was a hotel that knows how to take the reservation but not how to hold the reservation. Been all over the world and the only country this ever happens in is Israel. And this was the third time. They were fully booked so the choice was a different room for each night including a dark room behind the front desk or move elsewhere. Moved to the Vital Hotel which has great rooms, good service and great food, if only it were closer to the action.

Guidebook: Lonely Planet was mostly accurate. Could have more hotel options and should show maps for the smaller towns, which they used to do.

Car rental: Rented from Eldan in Jerusalem which has good service. Driving from Jerusalem to the north was fine. From Haifa to Tel Aviv was a pain with traffic, construction and Tel Aviv roads are often one way, clogged with traffic and not easy to navigate. Bus is definitely better. And from personal experience, the comprehensive insurance will come in handy.

Restaurants: I'm a big fan of hummus and schnitzel, but it gets tiring quickly. Israeli waitstaff frequently forget parts of the order or bring the wrong thing and don't really care. I recommend Rimon in the new Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem. Waffle Bar (Belgian waffles are all the rage in Israel today) on Shlomizon Ha Malka in Jerusalem. Yemenite Eastern, a not so easy to find hole in the wall listed in LP place in Katzrin in the Golan. Tishbi in Zichron Ya'akov.

Highlights:

Jerusalem - I enjoyed much more than on previous visits. The four Sephardic synagogues are worth a visit and the newly rebuilt Hurva synagogue is nice. The city center is in shambles due to the light rail construction but took a nice walk through Ben Yehuda and the Mahane Yehuda market.

The West Bank - hired Khaled, a guide who is much recommended on here but with whom I was not particularly impressed. $200 seems excessive and he is more of a driver than a guide. Anyway, went to Hebron which was fascinating. Far more relaxed than I expected. The Tomb of the Patriarchs is definitely worth the trip and I was swarmed by Palestinian children asking my name and where I was from. A walk through the old city is perhaps the best lesson on the Arab-Israeli conflict you will find. Drove to Jericho and St. George's Monastery which is highly recommended. Surprised to find Israelis and Palestinians using the same roads and the ease with which you can enter Israeli controlled areas from PA areas.

The long drive from Jerusalem to the northern border is beautiful, from the parched hills of the West Bank with the red-roofed settlements interspersed with Arab villages with minarets, to the greenery up north, the churches of the Galilee and the attractive towns of Kiryat Shmona and Metulla on the northern border.

Taxi drivers - They've always been a rough bunch. But this time, to my surprise, they were all honest and chatty. There was the one who drove me from the airport to Jerusalem and when he got lost, shut off the meter so I wouldn't have to pay for his mistake. And the one who lived in Australia for ten years and came back because he missed his mother.

The Golan - went with my Israeli friend on the Yehudiya hike which I always wanted to do. Through the remnants of a Syrian village to the flower filled forests, crossing the river numerous times, climbing down a perilously steep ladder into a chilly pool that you must swim across. Perhaps the most challenging hike I've ever done and everything you have will get wet, but it's well worth it. Afterwards, Katzrin is a nice place to see small town Israeli life.

Tel Aviv - When I arrived, after the hotel incident described above, it was cloudy and cool. But once the sun arrived, it was beautiful. Walked through the Carmel Market and the Yemenite quarter then spent a great day on the beach, walked along the long new promenade to old Jaffa and Ajami and then back to the beach for a while. Was invited to a party and met some super nice Israeli guys and found that there can be a wait for a table at 2:30 AM (where the waitress will then proceed to screw up the order).

Next big trip: China

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