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12 Day Trip Report to Israel September 2012/First Time


Sep 28th, 2012, 10:24 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 318
12 Day Trip Report to Israel September 2012/First Time

My husband and I planned a 12 day trip to Israel. We had a bit of help from Fodorites but we primarily took the advice from a friend and the driver/guide we hired. Here is our trip report….

Day 1

We got to LGA airport at 7:30 for a 10:30 flight to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport. We were both lucky to get 3 seats to ourselves so we pretty much slept the whole way (10 hours) on the flight and it really wasn't too bad. We arrived at 4:00 AM the next day.

Day 2

We paid for VIP service to go through customs which I think is very worth it. As soon as we got off the plane a young man was there waiting for us. He took us trough a special elevator, cut the lines at customs and drove us to baggage claim. It took us no time at all. He then took us outside with our luggage to a van that was taking us to the domestic airport for our domestic flight to Eilat. It was around 5:00AM. The driver of the van VERY quickly dropped us off, and did not even wait for a tip. We thought that was strange. He apparently knew that that the airport terminal was not open until 5:45. We were standing there when a guard came up to us. He was nice enough to call our driver for us and when they got off the phone the guard actually unlocked the doors and let us sit in the terminal until our 8:25 flight to Eilat. The flight was 40 minutes. We took a cab to the Dan Eilat Hotel. The travel agent actually called ahead to tell the hotel what had happened to us so they gave us a room immediately looking over the Red Sea and pool on the Executive floor .

We changed into our suits and got chairs by the pool. We took a walk along the boardwalk. It is lined with stores and souvenier shops. It felt like Miami Beach!! We had a quick lunch at the hotel snack bar and sat by the pool for a while. We then went to the beach. The water was beautiful. We started talking with 2 young guys who had just come out of the army. We went back to the pool and left as it was really hot. We had arranged for 5:00 massages. Our treatments were very relaxing. We went back to the room to change and started walking to the restaurant Eddie's Hideaway, which has been around for 30 years. We realized that the directions we got were wrong so we got into a taxi. It is a meat place that was excellent. There was a couple next to us that were there for a scuba diving trip. We talked quite a bit with them and even shared a bottle of wine as we both had finished our first bottles. It was really great wine Bazelet HaGolan. We then took a cab back to the hotel.

Day 3

We woke up at 6:00 and had breakfast at 7:00 as we were being picked up at 7:30 for our day in Petra in Jordan. We also got breakfast boxes as we were told we were going to be eating lunch late. Many of the hotels and excursions and entrance fees and domestic flights were booked through a Travel Agency called KEDMA Israel Experience LTD. Our driver recommended them. We dealt with Mireille and her number is 972-8-9264149. She was wonderful to work with. She arranged the tour on the Israel side through ECO tours and used Jordan Experience on the Jordan side. A taxi took us to the border where we paid $55 per person for a visa. We walked through the Israel immigration and then through the Jordan immigration. After we were all cleared our guide Muhammed and driver met us. We drove about 1 hour and stopped at this store where we ate the food from our breakfast boxes, had coffee and bought a wall hanging made out of camel hair. We then drove another hour to the entrance of Petra. We walked around for a while and then Muhammed offered us to climb up 500 steps to the top. It was hot and difficult at times. When we were almost at the top we stopped on the side where a woman Hanan was selling jewelry but offered us grapes, figs and pomegranites that she grew in her garden. To say thank you we bought a silver necklace from her. We made it to the top and the view was amazing. We walked down and walked back to the front gate. We bumped into a little girl that we had seen on our walk in selling postcards. We told her that on the way back we would buy them from her but she said she wasn't going to be there but she was so we bought the cards from her. Her name was Ragid. The last leg of the walk out was very hot and sunny and we were pretty tired but we made it back to the car. We did not talk the horseback , chariot or donkey rides as we were told they were rip offs unless you needed help so as not to have to walk the whole way.

We drove 5 minutes to have a buffet lunch which was included in the trip. We ate at Petra Magic Restaurant. It was OK. It was around 3:30. We then started our trip back to the border. We stopped to look at Wade Ram where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. We continued on to the border. We said good bye to Muhammed and the driver who were both excellent and went through the Jordan border and then Israel border. A taxi was waiting for us to take us back to the Dan Eilat. We got back at 6:30. A long day!!!

We ate at Last Refuge, a fish place on the water. It was pretty good.

Day 4

We slept in and had breakfast. We went to the pool and dipped into the Red Sea for the last time. We only had a half hour and then went to the room to change and pack. We checked out and took a taxi to the airport. Went through security and waited for our flight to Sde Dove Tel Aviv. While we were waiting for our flight we saw people taking pictures of a pretty woman. Her name was Natalie and she is a TV personality on a survivor type show. My husband took a picture with her. We arrived in Tel Aviv and checked into the Park Plaza Orchid Hotel which is across from the beach. It is in a great location. We changed into our suits to sit by the water for a couple of hours. We first went to the Executive Lounge and grabbed a bite to eat. We then sat by the Mediteranean Sea for a while and then we sat by the pool for a while. We changed and went to Suzana's restaurant by taxi in the Neve Tzedek area. We sat on the terrace under the ficus tree. It was really good. We decided to walk back to the hotel. We stopped for a gelato at La Mamma del Gelato Anita which was really good. We window shopped a bit and then strolled back on the boardwalk along the sea. Earlier we called our kids as the hotel (the entire Orchid Hotel chain) offers free international calls!!!

Day 5

We had breakfast and met our driver/guide David Hyman at 9:00 who we hired to be with us for 7 days. He was beyond amazing. He can be reached on his cell 972-52-391-3391. His email address is [email protected] and his web site is www.davidhymanisrael.com I would highly recommend him. We first went to Rabin Square where Rabin was killed. After we went to the Palmach Museum, which was amazing. It was more like an experience. Very well done. After we drove to Jaffa Hill. We walked over the Wishing Bridge. Heard about the Jonah story who boarded the ship at the Port of Jaffa. We shopped around the quaint shops and bought jewelry at Adina Plastelina. Very unique jewelry. We then had a typical Israeli lunch at Aboulafia restaurant. Very good. We walked through the Flea Market which had a lot of junk. We stopped at the Clock Tower and walked up Rothschild Avenue and saw Independence Hall which was being totally renovated so we could not get in. That is where the State of Israel declared it's independence. It is one of the original 66 homes #16 Rothschild.

We walked up Shabazi Street in Neve Tsedek where we went last night for dinner and did some window shopping at the quaint shops.

We then went to the Old Railway Station Ha Tachana. There were many brides there taking pictures. We shopped and I bought some clothes at Bellinky Oo La La. We sat with David and had a quick cold drink. David drove us back to the hotel for us to quickly change for 7:00 reservations at Herbert Samuel 6 Koifman Street. Dinner was pretty good. A very hip and expensive restaurant. We walked back to the hotel and stopped in the Executive Lounge for a coffee.

Day 6

At breakfast my husband met the owner of the hotel since he knows him through business. We told him we were on our way to his other hotel in the North. David picked us up and we went to Caesarea, a Roman type village that Herod created. We then went to Stella Maris Church "Star of the Sea" where we saw the Statue of Elijah(Eliahoo). We then stopped at the Baha'i Gardens. They were quite beautiful. We had shwarma for lunch at Falafel a la Carmel as we were now in Haifa-Carmel. It was a fast food place but really good.

I had given David some information prior to our trip on a piece of property that my great great grandparents bought in Haifa on Mt. Carmel. He did some research on it and we actually found the property. It was on the end of a cul-de-sac with beautiful views of the sea. We then went to Akko Prison. On the way out we almost got locked in!!! We walked through the Akko market and got Pomegranite juice which was pretty bitter and some figs. We then stopped at the grottos Rosh Hanikra. It is the border of Israel and Lebanon. Really beautiful and amazing. We also passed some JNF forests . I was happy to see them as I buy trees from JNF for many happy and sad occasions for friends and clients.

We checked into Bayit Bagalil in the Galallie region in Hazor Haglilit. It is a charming chateau in the forest. We had a beautiful suite and were treated amazingly well. The manager Akram is wonderful. This place is not to be missed. We went down for dinner which was delicious. We started talking to a group from Geneva. Gregory, the host at the table was throwing himself a 50th birthday party in Tel Aviv and invited us. Unfortunately we would be in Jerusalem at the time so we passed on the invite. We hung out and drank with him and his friends. Very fun.

Day 7

David picked is up to go on an ATV through the Golan Heights. We crossed over the Jordan River which was the old border of Syria. We drove through the fields where they grow grapes that they sell to the Golan Heights Winery, nectarines, apples, etc. We drove to the border where we met an Israeli soldier and the UN soldiers on the neutral territory and saw the Syrian border. We spoke with a Druze soldier as well. The whole ATV ride was great. We then went to Mt. Bental which used to be an Israeli Station but now it's an empty bunker. We walked through the bunkers and looked out at Syria. We stopped at the Golan Heights Winery in Katzrin and bought some wine and also stopped at Bezalet HaGolan Winery which is located in the Wasset Centre. We had their wine in Eilat and really liked it We bought wine there too. When crossing the Jordan River we stopped so my husband could jump in. We stopped at the Naot kibbutz but did not buy anything there. We stopped for lunch and had Falaffel at Mati Hummus on Route 90.

We then went to the town of Tsfat which is an artist's community. We met one of the artisits that knows who is quite famous Haim Azuz. Really charming cobble streets of art gallerys. We stopped at an ancient synagogue and also bought candles at the Tsfat Candle Factory. We went back to Bayit Bagalil and got massages. After we had dinner which again was amazing. We started talking to a few young American guys that had moved to Israel. Really nice kids.

Day 8

The hotel had beautiful art work all around for sale and we really liked this one sculpture. The artist lives in Tel Aviv. When David came to get us he called her and we arranged to take the sculpture with us and we would drive to Tel Aviv on Saturday to see if she had other sculptures that we liked instead and also to pay her. We checked out and stopped at Kinnert Lake which is Israel's only fresh water lake. My husband took a swim. We then went to Capernaum. There was an old synagogue of ruins next to the church where Jesus Christ lived. They actually built a modern church over the ruins. Israel is known for 7 crops
barley - grains
grapes - olive oil and wine
figs - fresh off tree
dates – honey

We drove through Tiberias. We then stopped at the grave site of Rachel. She was in the 1st kibbutz ever formed and wrote beautiful poems that are spoken to music as songs which are still sung today. The head of the 1st kibbutz was also buried there Beril Katenlson. We then stopped at the kibbutz which still exsists Kibbutz Kinnert and we bought some dates products as they make it there.

We stopped at Bet She'an. It is an old roman type city that was uncovered which had been destroyed by an earthquake. We stopped to have shwarma at Falaffel Zehera. She is an old woman who feeds many of the soldiers as they come and go from the bus station.

We drove 2 more hours to the Dead Sea. We checked into the Dead Sea Isrotel Hotel. We quickly changed into our suits and floated on the Dead Sea. The lowest place in the world. We then swam in the pool as the Dead Sea is very warm and salty so not very refreshing. We then had facials .We went to the room to change and met David for dinner in the hotel. Dinner was included. It was a buffet that was just OK.

We chatted for a while and then went up to bed as we are leaving at 5:00 AM in the morning to climb Massada for sunset

Day 9

We woke up at 4:30 and met David in the lobby at 5:00 and drove 15 minutes to Massada. We walked up the snake path which took exactly 50 minutes which is what David knew it would be. I found it pretty difficult. When we got to the top we watched the sunrise which really was amazing. We then walked around the top and saw Herod’s palace, sisterns also saw the Roman’s ramp that was created for the siege on Massada. We went to the echo wall on the southern most tip. At 8:00 when the cable car starts to operate we took the cable car down. They had already closed he snake path off for people to walk up as it was really hot. We did a little Ahava product shopping in the store and bought mud to put on ourselves at the Dead Sea. We drove back to the hotel and had breakfast. Breakfasts in Israel are incredible.

We then changed into our suits quickly and went to the Dead Sea and then put mud all over ourselves. David filmed it all!!

We then back to the room to change and check out.

We stopped at En Gedi nature Preserve. We walked along and saw hyrax and we saw a herd of ibex and a bee eater bird. We went into 2 beautiful fresh water waterfalls. Refreshing and beautiful.

We then drove to Jerusalem. When we got to our hotel Mamilla the room was not ready yet. The rooms are very contemporary. The shower is clear glass and when you press a button it has a gel that makes it not transparent for privacy. The hotel is beautiful and in a great location. The staff is a bit snotty. David dropped us off at Machne Yehuda market. Since it was Friday around 3:00 it was really busy with people buying fruits and vegetables for Shabbat. The market has everything. People were pushing and shoving. We bought challah, potato latkes and apricot shoe leather.

We walked back to the hotel to check in. We were going to upgrade our room but there was a misunderstanding with cost so we stayed in the standard room. David picked us up at 5:00PM to go to the Wall (Kotel) for Shabbat. We started walking from the hotel through the Mamilla mall which the stores were pretty much closed for Shabbat already. We walked through the Jaffa Gate which opened for Jews in 1967.We walked through the Old City market which has a lot of stuff and since they are owned by the Muslims they were all open. David walked us to the roof of the market to point out the 4 quarters, Muslim, Jewish,
Armenian and Christian and the Dome on the Rock which is the 3rd most important mosque in the world. 2 synangogues once stood there ( 6 day war Tish Abov) but no more- Mt. Mariah. David indicated that it really isn’t a melting pot but rather a salad where the lettuce and the carrots and the tomatoes etc. are mixed together but they keep their own identities. I thought that it was a great analogy. We then heard the call for Shabbat and went to the wall. My husband and David went to the Men’s side and I went to the women's side. I prayed by the wall, touched it, and put in prayers on pieces of paper into the cracks of the wall. I ended up singing and dancing with s group of female soldiers. The experience was amazing. They were singing Jerusalem of Gold written by Naomi Sheiner who was on the kibbutz with Rachel the Poet. My husband actually got wrapped with Tefillin. As we were walking through the Jaffa Gate we heard the Muslim call for prayer.

We walked back to the hotel and went to the rooftop for drinks. We started talking to a group of Indian women. It got a little chilly so we went back to the room and changed. We took a cab to a restaurant called Chakra. We could only get a seat at the bar which was really fun. Since it was Shabbat we did not have a lot of choices as to where to go. The waiter was really nice and we started doing shots with him. The food was really good, Very hip restaurant.

We sat next to a young man and 2 girls. The guy worked at the King David Hotel while going to school..He invited us to come by and he would recommend some local restaurants to go to. As David says you ask people where they go to eat not where we should go to eat. One of the girls grew up on a kibbutz and she is now in law school. Her kibbutz Ghetto Fighters which makes “Tivall” soy products was bought out by a major company. We walked back to the Mamilla.

Day 10

David picked us up at 10:00 and drove us to the point before Bethlehem where he passed us off to a Muslim guide Mutasem Amro and a driver. David can not tour us through Bethlehem but he has made friends with a souvenir shop owner who helps him set up private tours for his clients. We drove through the town of Baid Jala, a Christian Greek Orthodox town. Muslims however are the majority of the population in Bethlehem.

We first stopped in Manger Square and then on to Church of Nativity, supposedly the oldest church in the world.

There was huge line to get down to the Birth Place of Jesus. Because we were with a private guide we went down a back stair way and got right in. We touched the star marking where Jesus was born. We also saw the crypt of Baby Jesus. We went into the Catholic Church. Underneath is Chapel of St. Joseph and the tombs of 2 year old Christians that King Herod killed. We then saw the monastery of St. Jermaine who was a monk from Croatia and his tomb. He translated the Bible into Latin from Arabic, Greek and Old Hebrew. We saw a bronze tree of the generation of Jesus Christ as well.

We then drove to Sheperds Field- Boas Field. On the way back to the border my husband photographed grafitti art which he does wherever we travel to. The guide said all grafitti is done by a guy named Pensky but no one knows who he is or where he lives??? We stopped at a Souvenier Shop where David knew the owner.

The guide from Bethlehem said:

"He likes to learn from Living stones and not from Dead stones." I agree. It's so interesting to talk to locals and learn their culture rather than see it in museums.

We drove to the wall which separates Israel and Bethlehem and David was waiting for us.

We had a sit down lunch at Colony which was an old railroad building. It was really good. We then went to the Israel museum and first talked about the huge model depicting Old Jerusalem. Again much was derived from Josephus who appears to write the truth. We then walked into the Schrine of the Book which holds the scrolls found in the caves by the Dead Sea. An amazing building and the scrolls were in amazing shape. On the way out David pointed out the government buildings and the Kinesset.

We then drove to a suberb of Tel Aviv to meet the artist of the sculpture that we carried from up North. We still loved the sculpture we had so we paid her for it and took pictures with her. Her name is Nira Nataniel. She was lovely.

We then drove back to Jerusalem. David dropped us off at the hotel and we walked over to the King David Hotel to meet Tom, the guy we met the previous night. He was already gone so the concierge helped us as Tom could not reach his friend who is the head chef at a restaurant that he wanted us to go to so we will go tomorrow. The concierge made a reservation for us at Adom on 31 Jaffa Street, which happens to be owned by the same people who own Colony, where we went for lunch. We walked there and had a very nice meal. The manager invited us to the bar for shots again!!!

On the way back we chatted, took pictures and had hooka with a bunch of Hassedic kids. Very fun.

We walked through the Mamilla Mall for a bit although nothing was open.

Day 11

We first drove to the Mt. of Olives which is a Jewish Cemetery. While we were there many hassedics were there for a yahrzeit for Rabbii Ediana.
My husband ran into the Church of Ascension. We then went into the Church of Agony. We walked through an archeological dig where they were actively moving buckets of soil to be sifted through for findings. We walked through the City of David and then through the Old City where David bought us to share a Bagala with herbs. It is an oval shaped bread that you put herbs in. It's very good. We walked back to the Wall to put more prayers in.

We then had our VIP tour of the Tunnels that my client arranged for us. Our guide Batiya Davis was great. While in the tunnels we bumped into and was introduced to Avi Solomon who is the main archeologist in charge of the digs. She took us to Ohel Yitzchak Synagogue and tried to get us in beneath it but due to a delivery we could not get in. She then took us to tunnels that nobody goes to as they are in the process of digging. The tunnels were truly spectacular.

We then walked through the Jewish market (Cardo) and had lunch at a Bagel place. After lunch we did some shopping for mezuzahs and gifts. We bought quite a few things from a store called Chaya. They also have a store at the Mamilla mall. Very nice things there.

We then went to the Church of the Seplecher it was the place of crucifiction. We touched the place where the cross stood and saw the empty tomb of Jesus.

We walked back to the Mamilla Mall and stopped and said our good byes over coffee with David. It was sad saying good bye as we had an amazing 7 days with him.

We shopped a bit more in the mall and then went to the room to relax before dinner. We went to the restaurant Yudale that Tom from the King David recommended. His friend is the chef there. Across the street was their "mother" restaurant Machaneyuda, which is pretty famous. Yudale is considered the"Bastard Little Brother". The band Red Hot Chili Peppers was there too. The restaurant was small and we ate at the bar which is around the kitchen area. It was a very lively place. The chef would play the drums on the pots and pans. Very fun. Tom and the kibuttznick girl from the other night came to meet us for drinks and dessert. They kept giving us shots of Arac (Anis).

We walked back to Mamilla.

Day 12

Got up early and had breakfast. We walked to the Wall so I could put another prayer in and then went to the City of David. Our guide Michael was there waiting for us as my client's people arranged a VIP tour of the water tunnels for us .He gave us a little repeat tour of the City of David and then we entered Hezekiah's Tunnel a water tunnel that once supplied water to the city. When we were done we walked underground through the tunnels that are the drainage caves. It let us out at the gate of the Western Wall. The water tunnels were really cool and I would highly recommend them. We took a taxi to Yad Vashem, The Holocaust museum. It was incredible. The children's memorial was especially amazing.

We took a taxi to Mamilla to get ready for dinner with my clients.

My clinets picked us up at 6:30 and we parked the car at the Mamilla garage. We ate at Herzel in the Mamilla Mall. After we got their car and they showed us their home and the new property they just bought to build a newer larger home. We had tickets to the 10:30 City of David Light show so my clients joined us. We parked back in the Mamilla garage and walked to the Light show. It was really incredible. After we went back to our hotel and showed my clients the rooftop, our room and we had drinks at the Lounge.

They left around 1:00AM and we packed for our trip home. We had so much to pack, wine, sculpture, etc.

Day 13

We had a quick breakfast and left the hotel at 7:00 AM. We decided to pay for the VIP service though customs on the way back as we had a lot of VAT receipts and had a lot of weight in the luggage. As it turns out I think it’s more beneficial to have the VIP service going home rather than coming in. Our VIP person was there waiting for us. She helped is upgrade to Business Class and negotiated the weight issue for us, helped us through security and baggage scanning and the VAT refund process. It was well worth it. We had a relaxing flight back home. What an amazing trip.
rjbriskin is offline  
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Sep 30th, 2012, 01:17 AM
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Thanks for the detailed trip report. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed your trip and were satisfied with your tour guide.

A note for others planning their trips: most of the sites mentioned in this report can easily be visited on your own, without the assistance of a guide.
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Oct 1st, 2012, 06:26 AM
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As a first timer to Isreal I really think it was beneficial to have the driver/guide for 2 reasons: 1) we got to see evrything as the driver knows where everything is so he coordinted the day to see sites in the same areas and then would drive around to get us if he left off to shop and then he would pick us up close to where we would end up and 2) the information and knowledge that he shared with us I don't believe you could get from a travel book. Plus we saved on taxis.
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Oct 1st, 2012, 07:56 AM
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We are also planning a self-toured trip to Israel. I like the idea of using a guide, we used two excellent ones in Spain and learned a lot more than we could by ourselves in certain cities. Where do you think we can tour on our own and where would a guide be best used? This is a first trip for my family by the way.
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Oct 1st, 2012, 10:07 AM
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cbr-You certainly don't need a guide in Eilat unless of course you go to Petra where you definately need some kind of tour,either group or private. We used the guide everywhere but not in Eilat or the last day of Jerusalem. I would contact David, our guide, and ask him what he recommends. He was beyond amazing. In fact I just heard from him as I sent him a copy of the trip report for his comments.
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Oct 1st, 2012, 10:51 AM
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I plan on contacting him. We had tried another guide who we were referred to and has been impossible to pin down, not a good omen. Was it very expensive or comparable to a tour company? Did you arrange for free time in your visit or was he with you throughout? Also as you were obviously pleased, did if feel unique, unlike something you would get on a standard tour? To my mind the joy of a private tour is to do what you enjoy. Thank you for your help
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Oct 1st, 2012, 10:06 PM
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I do not dispute the benefits of using a guide or the quality of your particular guide. My point is that a private guide FOR THE ENTIRE TRIP is very expensive and beyond the budget of most tourists. The majority of tourist sites in Israel provide audioguides, brochures, explanatory signs or have their own tours. A wealth of information can be downloaded from the internet. The road system is modern and all signs are in English. Most Israelis speak English and are always willing to help tourists. So paying a guide to take you, for example, to the Jaffa flea market is an unnecessary expense in my opinion. On the other hand, paying a guide to take you around the Old City in Jerusalem is money well spent.

You also do not "definitely" need a tour for Petra. Many tourists simply cross the border at Eilat and take a taxi to Petra.
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Oct 2nd, 2012, 02:46 PM
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Thank you all these are great suggestions. We have been contemplating Petra but for 4 people it adds quite a bit to the budget,perhaps for another trip. Do you think we need a guide to Masada and Dead Sea or can we do those areas on our own? I agree a guide to Jerusalem is great and we thought travelling North to Galilee as well.
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Oct 3rd, 2012, 04:48 AM
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Audioguides are provided at Massada. There is also a nice museum at the base. Do you need a guide ? No doubt a guide will add more depth and answer your queries, but the question is (1)are you interested in all that additional information (2) can you afford the private guide? This a subjective and personal decision.

Regarding the Galilee - what sites do you want to visit ?
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Oct 3rd, 2012, 07:38 AM
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cbr- David was not cheap. His fee was $350/day and the car expense was $250/day. They have to use certain tour guide cars. So $700 a day is expensive but I still feel he was well worth it. Going private did allow us to do things that we did not have on the itinerary that we wanted to do. For example, David did research and found property my family owns and took us there, we enjoyed a certain wine so when we were going to the wineries he made sure we went to that one. It was in a remote location so he called the winery and found out exactly whre it was, when my husband wanted to swim in the various seas as we were driving along he would pull over to let him take a dip, he knew where to stop whereever we went for lunch and unlike most drivers he had no relationsip with the owners so he was clearly not getting kickbacks. He was pretty much with us throughout and never counted hours. He did not go out for dinners with us of coure. He was prompt all the time and was able to get an idea from Day 1 how much time we spend and from that point coordinated the trip to fit in as much as he could as we are pretty quick when we are sight seeing. There is no comparison going private and going where you want rather than with a group. I had emailed him prior to the trip to see certain sites that are not normally what First timers see but he was more than happy to accomodate us and made sure we saw it all. Also, without his help we never would have gotten into Bethlhem. I will warn you that he is booked up far out and has committed to his wife that he only works 170 days a year. As for Petra there is no way I would have felt comfortable going through the border by ourselves and getting to the entrance is far from the border. It was helpful havng a guide talk about the history on the hour and a half drive to the entrance. As for touring Masada, you can definately do it on your own and the Dead Sea for sure.I am not sure I would have gotten up at 4:00 to see the sunset on Masada if David didn't recomnmend it. Also, we needed him to drive us from the North to the Dead Sea so not sure how we would have gotten there without him.
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Oct 3rd, 2012, 10:13 AM
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Interesting trip report and interesting comments. If I may add my 2 shekels worth.

a. A private guide definitely enhances a trip BUT I think what mbgg is trying to make people realize--it is NOT necessary. No one should feel they can not visit Israel if $700 a day ( plus expenses) for a guide is beyond their budget.

b. The Dome of the Rock is not a mosque. ( ask David--you remembered incorrectly)

c. Any synagogues that were destroyed, more recently were in the Jewish Quarter. (not on the Temple Mount or Mount Mariah) The only thing Jewish that ever stood were the first and second Temples. It is the destruction of these Temples ( amongst other things) that we mourn on T'sha B'Av. --you can ask David this too!

d. I am curious--I have walked both the water tunnel and the drainage ditches that go up to the outside of the intersection of the Southern and Western walls of the Temple mount. --with guides from the City of David--and very small groups--once with 7 people and once privately. What does a VIP tour do that other tours don't? --there is only one route!

e. You wrote, "Also, without his help we never would have gotten into Bethlhem." It is 100% incorrect to say that it is difficult to visit Bethlehem. You do not need a guide on either side. It is easy for tourists to take an Arab bus from the Damascus Gate area, Arab bus station right to Bethlehem.

f. I do not know how you know he didn't have any relationships with stores that he took you to and how you know he wasn't getting any "kickbacks" I personally know many guides and the vast majority of the time ==there IS money changing hands. It may not be in front of you and it may not even be that day--but it happens!

g. I had to laugh when you claimed the Mamilla staff were "snotty"-look in a mirror at some of the things you wrote. It may not have been your intention but you come off that way too.

In spite of everything, I am glad you had what you felt to be a very successful visit to Israel.
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Oct 3rd, 2012, 12:20 PM
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Elkaz- Let me respond to your 2 shekels:

a) I believe hiring a private guide is obviously not NECESSARY but it certainly enhanced my trip. I hire private guides wherever we travel to and I believe they are value added!!!
b) and c)The Mosque is on the top of the rock where the 2 synagogies once stood. David very clearly explained all of that to us and I am aware that is why we celebrate T'sha B'Av. But thanks for your clarification.

d) We were the only ones in the tunnel, didn't have to pay, the guides were waiting for us at the times we were told to go and did not have to wait on any lines, met the chief archiologist, etc. That is VIP.

e) I would not feel comforatble taking an Arab bus. There is a neutral territory between Israel and Bethlehem for a reason.

f) I know he didn't take kick backs. He never recommended a store to us and as far as restaurants he didn't come with us nor did he make the reservations for us. He is an upstanding guy whose wife happens to be a judge so he would certainly not take any risks or be that greedy. He explained very clearly that is why his fees are a bit higher than the other guides I looked into. As for the cheap $10 lunches that we went to enroute if he does get a $2 kickback I can live with that. But he is too classy for that.

g) Without knowing me, I am unsure as how you can make any comments on my personality. All I was doing was "giving" back to other Fodorites, which I have done on all of my trips for the past 10 years. I have never gotten such a negative response from anyone before. In fact, quite the oppostie. People have thanked me for my detailed reports.

BTW- I went back and looked at the chat forum and haven't seen anyrhing from you. So you don't help people you just berate them. Nice!!! Keep up the good work!!!!!!
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Oct 3rd, 2012, 01:05 PM
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Hi,rjbriskin. I remember your posts when you were planning this trip so it's great that you came back with a trip report. There are so few on Israel here so the detail can really help all those people who come looking for an itinerary or ideas.

I agree somewhat with other posters just as a reminder to people that they don't have to have a guide in Israel . To me, it sounds like you had a good match with your guide and found that he enchanced your trip. I would never argue with success like that

I think part of what's come up here is that some people who are just starting their research think that Israel is inaccessible or unhospitable to independent travelers . Many people (including me) disagree with that and just want to say go with a prvate guide, go with a group tour, go with a private guide--just go and have a great time. The cost of a guide was worth it to you, but it's also good to point out that much (but certainly not all) of what you enjoyed in Israel can be done at a lower cost. No one should feel like they can't do it right if they can't travel the way that you did.

About the specifics that cbr asked, I think that in general the cities especially Tel Aviv can be done independenly but more remote locations might be enhanced by a guide. Some people just aren't comfortable driving in a foreign country though Israel to me is better than driving in much of Europe.

Putting several sights together into a one day itinerary is also intimidating to people so a local guide who doesn't have to stay overnight may be well worth it too. I also think that many of the archaeological sites, especially Masada are better with a guide if that's an option to you. Audio guides are nice, but you can't ask questions. And some sights have English speaking tours but not all do , or not all year, and the quality of language skill can vary.

I have friends who'll have a guide for 2 days up north, do one day tours like a bus trip from Jerusalem to Masada, and some specialized walks in Tel Aviv to supplement their independent wanderings. Anyone thinking of a trip to Israel can pick and choose what works for them
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Oct 3rd, 2012, 04:46 PM
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I couldn't resist.

a. reread what I wrote. I never said do not hire a guide. I did say it enhances a trip, but, as Alex above said, I just wanted people to realize it is not a necessity! No one should feel they can not visit if they can not afford a guide. If you can afford a guide--then go for it!

c. Okay--now i see where you are coming from. The two structures that were on the Temple Mount, were the First and Second Temple. Synagogues may be used as a synonym today, but the Temple was not a synagogue in any way manner or form and my mind didn't realize what you were referring to when I responded.

d. I too ( along with my guide) was the only one in the tunnel. It is just not that well known. I paid a whole big 60NIS. The City of David is run by a foundation. They also solicit donations. I had no problem with paying.

e. What neutral territory is there between Israel and Bethlehem? Dozens of tourists take an Arab bus. No one is telling you that you should, your feelings and your actions are your own and it is your right to do as you please--but to write something that seems to imply you need advance reservations to get to Bethlehem and it is difficult to do is to guide some readers in the wrong direction.

g. I made my comments based on how you were coming off. I am not saying you didn't include good information. But, my feelings are just as much mine as your feelings are yours.

In terms of saying I do not participate in chat rooms. I do not even know where the chat rooms on Foders are. If you are referring to these forums. I have been a member for a few years and I make comments and share information as I know it. I am not on everyday, because I only write when I feel I have something to add.
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Oct 3rd, 2012, 10:53 PM
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OK - I think that this discussion is going way off-track onto irrelevant details. The only point I was trying to make is that people might incorrectly infer from this trip report that it would be difficult to visit Israel without a full-time tour guide. I am jealous of Mr. Briskin that he can afford this luxury, but we must keep in mind that the vast majority of tourists cannot afford to do so. I will repeat what I wrote in my first comment: most of the sites mentioned in this report can easily be visited on your own, without the assistance of a guide.
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Oct 7th, 2012, 06:07 PM
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I most certainly did not want to send this post off on a negative tangent. Travel style is a personal choice. We are independent travellers, we did a solo tour of Spain last winter hiring guides in certain cities as went so this is what we planned in Israel. Yes I agree guides are pricey but I have found they enhance my far to few vacations. We have managed to economize where we can , such as trips in low season, to make certain extras like a guide work. In general the ability to travel is a luxury no matter how you go.
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Nov 11th, 2012, 05:38 PM
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rjbriskin - First thanks for taking your time to write your report. It is appreciated. Can you tell me more about VIP access at the airport? Thanks!
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Nov 26th, 2012, 08:58 AM
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The VIP access is where they meet you at the gate upon arival and take you through a restricted area and then you go right through customs and then they take you through a restricted area to get to the baggage area. On the return we felt since we had excess baggage and and needed to collect VAT we hired the VIP access going back as well.
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