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I am just starting to do my reading, but tell me where to start on planning a trip to "the Holy Land" (for 2006)

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Dec 26th, 2004, 01:22 PM
  #1
rex
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I am just starting to do my reading, but tell me where to start on planning a trip to "the Holy Land" (for 2006)

Hi there - -I am a "regular" of several years "tenure" on the europe forum, but have never had occasion to look onto, nor post on the Africa/ME forum before... so...

... the Christmas dinnertime conversation(s) threw me for a bit of a curve this year. I was hoping that there might be some interest in a Europe trip this May. But my (oldest) brother-in-law (more or less the ascending patriarch) asked me to think about putting together a trip to "the Holy Land" -- for 2006. Presumably 3-5 couples, probably in September or October, and he didn't seem to be in the mood to play 20 questions with me (and I'm not sure I would have been able to ask 20 intelligent questions) until I had done some further reading.

He did clarify that he is not particularly interested in Rome/Assisi/etc (thinks that Italy is not so difficult to do at an older stage in life - - wants to take on the Middle East now, in early 50's); has 8-10 days in mind, probably single country, and NOT interested in "following the footsteps of Paul" (in Greece and Turkey and other biblical sites actually IN Europe).

It/they (Israel and/or Palestine) might have never made it on my radar screen as a (set of) destination(s) I would have chosen. But I am going to do some reading to at least put together a skeleton plan. Jerusalem will surely be at the heart of the plan. Maybe Nazareth. The focus will likely be on the "major sites amd sights" of Christian importance first, Judaism second, Islam third. Not sure that time on the Mediterranean or on the Dead Sea will likely be on the agenda. And I am going to try to keep an open mind - - even if I was not all that interested in going to the Middle East. B-I-L and wife will surely be able to assemble a very good group of fun people with more than adequate means - - so I won't have to worry about "forming the group".

So - - I have looked on the Africa/Middle east forum and there just isn't the robust quantity of info there - -and besides, I "know" (sort of) "all of you" and feel like I can put your advice into context the most easily. Where have you been in Israel? Where was best? Where was too difficult? or didn't quite seem worth it? My very preliminary reading seemed to leave me wanting for any (lists of) boutique-y hotels. The two properties from the Relais & Chateaux group (American Colony in Jerusalem and Mizpe-Hayamim near Rosh Pina overlooking the sea of Galilee) are on the right track, but maybe more expensive and more "posh" than necessary (all luxury all the time is actually not very appealing, in my prior experiences).

I'll make it to the library and/or bookstore soon, and I have found a few informative websites - - but I'm eager to hear the kind of "more", that only Fodorites can provide, even if it is only to get me started.

Thanks in advance... and...

Best wishes,

Rex Bickers
Floyds Knobs, Indiana

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Dec 26th, 2004, 03:57 PM
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While I haven't noticed many Fodorites provide detailed itineraries for their Israel trips on this board, a Google search will bring up a number of tour operators who handle travel to Israel. Included are Arbecrombie & Kent (very expensive), the Israel Tourism Department and even private guides. You will find both Jewish and Christian (or combination of both).

You do not, of course, have to take a set group tour, rather design your own, but these web sites will give you an idea of the various "sites and sights" visited, hotels used, number of days, estimated prices, etc. In conjunction with any number of Israel guidebooks, you can certainly put together, or offer suggestions for what your family/friends would like.

You should, however, be aware that during September and/or October the Jewish High Holy Days occur (not certain exact dates in 2006) and Israelis themselves take vacation/holiday causing many hotels to be booked up. Something to bear in mind in your planning.

Then once you have a preliminary itinerary put together, I'm sure you wiill be able to find answers or more information from Fodorites on this board.
 
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Dec 26th, 2004, 04:02 PM
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rex
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Thanks, Sandi. Focusing on the question of dates further - - separate from the issue of increased hotel bookings (and restaurants, etc) - - how would you rate the following:

The week before Rosh Hashana (still pretty hot, right?)

The high holy week(s?) between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur

The week right after Yom Kippur (and onward, right up to the start of Ramadan, I guess)

or

Dec 26-Jan 2?

... with reference to the "hospitality indistry" being open, not overworked, public services (and attractions) being open and accommodating?
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Dec 26th, 2004, 05:26 PM
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rex -

>>The week before Rosh Hashana (still pretty hot, right?)<<

- are you refering to the weather? Then yes, still hot, though JER is usually cooler as at higher altitude.

>>The high holy week(s?) between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The week right after Yom Kippur<<

- the week after which is the Succoth holiday, you will find Orthodox Jews vacationing at JER or TLV hotels, with Secular Jews in Eilat.

>>(and onward, right up to the start of Ramadan, I guess)<<

- more impact in the Palestinian areas, where some shops might be closed. Fasting is all day, so restaurants may be closed. While the Arab/Muslim communities within Israel also celebrate it is more localized. However, tourism doesn't slow down much in countries as Egypt or Turkey during Ramadan, so travel at that time is fine. But one should be concious not to eat food in front of people who are fasting - common sense.

As replied to on your thread on the Europe Board, I believe from Underhill - depending on the amount of time you have you can/should consider a trip into Jordan to visit Petra. So close, it would be a shame to miss it. That said, like many of us who travel as often as possible to African safari countries... as many people return to Israel regularly, even if they don't post here. An amazing country, so much to see, never enough time. Constant new archeological sites opened, history revealed and one never has enough time to absorb JER. The Dead Sea (En Gedi) and Masada can easily be done as a day-trip from JER.

Tel Aviv is a moder cosmopolitan city, where you might spend your first night and day. Then head up the coast towards Haifa (the Bahai temple is a beauty), over to Safad, Meggido (Armegaddon), Nazareth, the Galalee (sp) down along the Jordan into JER. Get a detailed map a Israel and circle what you want to visit (they're really not far from one another) and figure your itinerary along with a few good guidebooks. There are plenty of private guides available who know where to travel and not; this would be best for a group of family/friends.

Another website you might check is:

www.isram.com - they do group and private tours, but by checking their pricing schedule you'll have an idea of high, low and shoulder seasons.

When returning from Jordan we met archeologist who said that he loved working in Israel because "all you have to do is put a shovel into the ground, and out pops so much history."

Once you get the ball rolling on this, it will fall into place, then you'll have to figure out how to do it all in the given amount of time.


 
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Dec 26th, 2004, 06:08 PM
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rex
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Thanks again...

I have a feeling that the trip timing will be dictated by external factors (time demands from his career), but anyhow...

On to my second follow-up question...

From my initial posting... <<My very preliminary reading seemed to leave me wanting for any (lists of) boutique-y hotels.... American Colony in Jerusalem... on the right track>>

but then... from a reply, on the "other" thread (on the Europe forum)...

<<The large "luxury" hotels are the best places to stay, whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere.>>

One reviewer on tripadvisor.com says that the King Davis (267 rooms, and 70 years old, in its original construction, refurbished in 1997) is the only real compeition to the American Colony (only 87 rooms) - - the American Colony seems like more my cup of tea (and counting on high standards of Relais et Chateaux) - - but is its [East Jerusalem] location a serious negative? (doesn't sound like it to me, reading from their own website, americancolony.com i think)
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Dec 27th, 2004, 04:48 AM
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While the American Colony is located in East Jerusalem this has never dissuaded those who wish to stay here to do so, nor do they feel it to be unsafe. You will find a large international clientel, including politicians and journalists - and often "peace" negotiations take place here. Along with the King David, which since it's recent refurbishing is outstanding - both would be excellent choices; both are historic properties.

I haven't been to Israel in some years, so cannot comment on small "boutique-y" hotels, but I know that a number of these have been established within the past few years. So you'll have to do some research on your own.

My personal likes, as you, are for smaller more personal-type properties, though in a small country when hotels are built, they're usually large to accommodate the thousands of tourists visiting (and tourism has picked-up again this past year) as well for residents to enjoy. While I cannot refer you to any, I'm sure with a Google search some will be found, and hopefully they'll be located in/along the route you'll be visiting. Once you find some small hotels of interest, I'm sure there will be those who post on this board to offer comments.
 
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Dec 27th, 2004, 09:17 AM
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rex
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Much appreciated again, sandi. Not too difficult to keep a thread "topped" on this forum, huh?

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Dec 27th, 2004, 09:20 AM
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You sound as though you really don't want to go. Is this true, or just what I'm reading into it?

I went to Israel in 1998 - a few years ago, granted - but I had an almost magical time. I loved the country, and would like to go back some day!

I would second the caution to not travel to Israel during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. Just for your info, the Holy Days for 2006 are as follows:

Rosh Hashannah - 9/23/06
Yom Kippur - 10/3/06
Succoth - 10/7 - 10/13/06

Before Rosh Hanshannah it will be hot. But I went in August, and the only place it was truly uncomfortable was along the coast due to extreme high humidity. Masada/Dead Sea can get very hot as well.

As for hotels? I think I would pass on the American Colony. Yes, I know it is very popular with American journalists and such, but it is in east Jerusalem and that isn't a place I would spend much of my time. Besides, most of what you will want to see will either be in the Old City or in west Jerusalem. If I could, I would select the King David. Historical and beautiful. Not sure about the boutique-y hotels as I prefer larger properties myself, so I'm not much help there for you.

Is this to be some sort of religious pilgrimage? Or are you looking for a mixture of secular, religious, historical? There really so much to see and do that it is hard to put together any ideas unless/until knowing what people are mainly interested in. (Would not suggest a staunch Christian spend much time in Tel Aviv, for example)

Jerusalem is a given. It's cooler than the rest of the country, filled with many historical sites, and close to day trip possibilities such as Masada and the Dead Sea. I'm also one of the few people who seemed to enjoy Tel Aviv. Yes, it is more of a "big city", but then, it has all the amenties that only a big city can offer. Just depends on what you are interested in. I would NOT pass up Safed (or Tzefat as it is more correctly pronounced). You have a mixture of wonderful artist's colony and orothodox Jews living side by side, literally! There are some synagogues in the area that have been there for centuries, and provided the person who cares for the synagogues agrees, you can visit inside for a real treat! Didn't do much regarding the Palestinian/Islamic part of Israel, so can't speak to that. I did visit Bethlehem (Rachel's Tomb and Church of the Nativity), and by law our tour guide was Palestinian. Extremely nice man, very knowledgeable. But Bethlehem looks like a third world country. Don't expect it to have the same feel as Jerusalem, even though it is only 6 miles away. Bethlehem is part of Palestine and is not in good repair. I was thankful to be in a tour group on that day and the only time I ever did feel unsafe the entire time I was there.

Haifa I could take or leave. The Bahia church is nice and the gardens are really something, but if I'd never seen them I would not have felt deprived. And, short of Acre, it's the only thing Haifa has going for it.

Do try to spend time on a kibbutz. Many of them are supplementing their income by opening guesthouses, and the bonus is some offer tours of the kibbutz. It gives you an idea of what a kibbutz is and how it is run. Plus, you can normally speak to Israelis who live on them and find out what life is like. Most of these, to my knowledge, are in area of Gallilee.

A tour or private guide is your best bet. Public transportation between cities is almost non-existant in Israel. Also, I would NOT recommend driving in this country!

Just a few words about Israelis themselves: they are also called "sabras" after a cactus-like plant native to the area. Why? Because they are prickly on the outside and soft and mushy on the inside. This can put off most Westerners. But a smile, a friendly "Shalom", and respect will help you reach the soft, mushy inside. Also, Israelis just don't understand the concept of standing in line or waiting their turn. If wait for the hotel desk clerk to ask what you want, you might be standing there a LONG time if others come up to the counter. You will simply learn to do what your mother told you never to do - barge in and demand your time. It's expected and Israelis will not be put out. This happens in hotels, restaurants, shops, everywhere!

Do try to get to Yehuda Mehane market in Jerusalem. It's an open air market that sells everything! The fruit sellers will let you sample the fruit, and it truly is good. Seeing the meat out in the open might off-putting, but getting some fruit and bread can be heavenly. (And cheap!)

Don't really know what else to suggest unless/until I know what you are looking for specfically. Have fun planning, though. This can be a great country to visit and I think you might enjoy it!
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Dec 27th, 2004, 03:43 PM
  #9
rex
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Wow. Thanks for the most thoughtful answer yet - - not only here but on the same posting of this thread on the Europe forum. I'll have to spend time to post some answers that are equally thoughtful.

But one quick answer. Yes, I see this as a Christian pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - - but then after that, a general educational trip to learn more about the melting pot/birthplace(s) of the three great religious traditions that lay claim there.
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Dec 27th, 2004, 07:43 PM
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We went to Israel in Nov 04 and May 03. The first trip was completely on a tour. The second trip was 6 days on a tour and then added on 11 days on individual touring. The packages offer a great price break. For example... the tour for 6 days with air, breakfast, dinner, tour guide, etc was only 1000 US. The airfare alone if purchased separately was 1300 US. So you may want to look into a package. With the number in your group you can put together your own tour. The travel company we use puts together specialized tours.
Edhilltours.com

8 days will provide you with the highlights of Israel. You can see Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea / Masada areas plus more.

Our first trip was in May - it can be very warm. With the need for long pants in the holy sites, it can make the temperature seem even hotter. Nov was a very nice shoulder season. The temperature was good. Nice and warm on some days and rather cool on others. We did have a couple of days of rain.

What time of year are you entertaining making the trip?
My recommendation to get educated is search the web for tours to the holy land and then read about the sites they visit. A book you may find helpful... The Holyland ISBN 096627751 1.

We stayed at Western Hotels (Sheratons and Dan) and really enjoyed them. We like the creature comforts. The King David Hotel is very nice. It can be a little pricy.

After being in Egypt, Bethlehem, Israel this year, I would avoid major holidays due to the political situation.
Let me know if you have specific questions.
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Dec 28th, 2004, 03:45 AM
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Depending if you fly into Cairo or Tel Aviv aiport your route will vary. But I would suggest that you include Jerusalem, Petra, Nuweiba ( possible site of the Red Sea crossing, St Catherine, Cairo. If you could come at the end of March 2006 you could include a two day trip to the Libyan dessert to witness the total solar eclipse. At Nuweiba you could rest a couple of days on the beautiful beaches snorkeling the coral seas and explore a little the Sinai mountains. Cairo would be worth a minimum of 2/3 nights and if you could extend upto 14 nights ( after all its gonna be a holiday of a lifetime ) then try and include Luxor/Aswan.

Tel Aviv is probably slightly cheaper to fly to than Cairo. But I would suggest as the mother of all trips the following...

Cairo 1 night
St Catherine 1 night
Nuweiba 2 nights
Boat to Aqaba then Petra
Petra 1 night
Jerusalem 2 nights
Eilat then Taba and back to Cairo
Cairo 1 night

add-ons

From Taba head down to Sharm, boat to Hurghada, then upto Luxor
Luxor 2 nights
Aswan 1 night
Return to Cairo by overnight sleeper train

2 nights Libya


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Dec 28th, 2004, 04:16 AM
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Rex
Welcome to the Africa board!
Just a few words as I haven't been to Israel but want to recommend that you include some time in Jordan if you can.
We recently went to Jordan and particularly enjoyed our time at Petra, at Jerash (I had no idea...) and the desert castles in the region and also our visit to Wadi Rum. Aqaba was an utter waste of time, in my personal opinion.
Note that if you are strongly politicised about the Middle East and your support falls on the side of Israel you may find it hard to accept the feelings and opinions of the Jordanian people who will often refer to Israel as Palestine. However, I strongly believe that you will find the Jordanians to be a warm and welcoming people who are open-minded, well-educated and friendly.
You may want to visit the mosaics and church at the top of the Mount Nebo as this is the place from where it is said that Moses looked down upon the promised land.
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Dec 28th, 2004, 08:25 AM
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Rex: Okay, so as I understand it, a Christian pilgrimage first, then historical. While Israel is in the Middle East and there are many Arabs in this area, the only site holy to Islam is in Jerusalem. Not sure how much you will find in the way of historical Islam in Israel. (With the possible exception that it was Suliman the Magnificent who built the current wall around the old city and the Dome of the Rock) For religious highlights, I would suggest the following:

Christian:
1. Church of the Holy Sepulchur, Old City, Jerusalem.
2. Via Dolorosa (way of the cross), Old City, Jerusalem. (many combine this with the Church of the Holy Sepulchur)
3. Mount of Olives, which is not as specatular as some might think. You can hike through it (it's basically a Jewish cemetery), but it is very hilly and most people view it from the road.
4. Garden Tomb, the place where many Protestants believe Jesus was buried. Jerusalem.
5. Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.
6. Nazareth and surrounding areas, north central Israel. This includes Meggido.
7. Gallilee, Tiberius, and surrounding environs. The sites of many of Jesus' miracles.

Jewish Site:
1. Kotel (Wailing Wall, Western Wall), Old City, Jerusalem.
2. The Jewish Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem. (there are many historical sites within this quarter that pertain to the Jewish faith, far too many to name)
3. Rachel's Tomb, Bethlehem.
4. Tomb of the Patriarchs, Shechem. (WARNING: this should only be approached with caution as this has beent he scene of violence in the past - remember a fellow by the Baruch Goldstein? This city is in the West Bank and is still argued over by both Jews and Arabs)
5. Gallilee and Tiberius, which is considered one of the holiest cities in Judaism because of the burial sites of revered rabbis.
6. Safed, the birthplace of the Kabbalah and home to one of the largest groups of Sephardic (Spanish) Jews. (And absolutely GORGEOUS!)

Islam:
1. Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsah Mosque, Old City, Jerusalem.
2. Moslem Quarter, Old City, Jerusalem. (This can also be done in conjunction with the Via Dolorosa as it runs through the quarter.)

In the next post I'll cover the historical.
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Dec 28th, 2004, 08:49 AM
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There are good deal of historical sites within Israel - I know I didn't cover nearly as many as I had wished in the week and half I was there! Here are just a few to consider:

1. The wall of the Old City. It has been built on top of other ones, the most recent by Suliman the Magnificent of Ottoman Empire fame. However, it is still possible to view the various types of walls that once surrounded the city, due to excavations.
2. All of the Old City, actually. It's small, but the streets are narrow and twisting and NOT named so it is easy to get lost! The Cardo, which used to be the site of a market place during Roman times has been excavated and is filled with merchants. Some are cheesy souvenier vendors, others are nicer. I like the historical feel.
3. Masada, the site of an historical Jewish revolt against Rome. Reached by cable car. Be sure to bring water!! There is none available at the top!
4. Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Just outside of Jerusalem.
5. Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
6. The Israel Museum, if for no other reason than to see the Shrine of the Book, home to the Dead Sea Scrolls. But it is a good museum, too.
7. Petra (if time permits) is simply amazing.
8. If you are in Jordon to see Petra, Mt. Nebo is almost a given.
9. Golan Heights (although with current hostilities, this might not be an option). There are several kibbutzim in the area and you can still see bunkers from the Yom Kippur War in the hills.
10. Acre, Haifa. Once a fortress for the Crusaders, it served as a military fortress for the British in the '40s. Jewish terrorists were imprisoned here (Irgun members), some were punished by death.
11. Cesaeria. Still has Roman Aquaducts and theater.
12. Mt Hertzl, the Jewish equivalent of Arlington. Jerusalem.

In my previous post I forgot to includ Jaffa under Christian sites. This is just south of Tel Aviv and was the place where Peter had the dream of all the food coming down from heaven. (Not sure how familar you are with the Bible) Nice little city, and walk from Tel Aviv.

Israel also has some wonderful museums. Hadassah Hospital in West Jerusalem houses the Chagall windows, which can be exceptional to see. Most of the more modern museums are in the Tel Aviv area. You would probably also find more nightlife in Tel Aviv as well, if you are into that. As the phrase goes: Haifa works, Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays.

Even though Israel is a small country (the size of New Jersey, I believe??), it can be tiring to drive from one location to another, even on a tour bus. I would get a good map of the area (you can find them online), and look at the areas you want to visit and see what is reasonable in the timeframe you are looking at. It is important to remember that Jerusalem is usually cooler in temps because it sits at a high elevation. (It can snow there in winter) It is also more desert-y, so it is dry. However, northern Israel, by Gallilee is green and warm, and can be humid. Along the coast, from Haifa to Tel Aviv, the area is green and can be warm with extreme humidity in summer. I would think the best time to go would be end of October/beginning November. Might be cool, but perfect for walking around. (Nights, especially in Jerusalem, might get a little on the chilly side) Might also get some rain, especially in northern Israel, but it shouldn't be so much as to destroy your trip.

Good luck with the planning! Oh, how I wish I was going back again!!
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Dec 28th, 2004, 09:45 PM
  #15
rex
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I have a lot of information that I need to assimilate here - - and on the (now closed by Fodors) thread on the "other" (Europe) forum.

I'll probably re-post - - a new thread in fact, once I have figured a few things out.

A fork in the road that my brother-in-law (and I) will have to figure out is whether I really ought to be involved in planning (or leading) this trip or not.

I think I have enough information to order info packets/brochures from a dozen or so sources and present an "executive summary" to him.

A few points of clarification: perhaps, this should properly be called a Catholic "pilgrimage", and I think that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will have sacred significance for him and perhaps the other travelers. I expect that I would not readily share in that spiritual aspect of the trip. I am respectful of the Catholic traditions of my inlaws and the Catholic world, but do not share at a same personal level.

I am indebted, in particular, to the reference to edhilltours.com above - - as it made me realize that I should search for "catholic tours israel" on the internet broadly - - and that, in turn has led me to no fewer than seven companies which specialize in offering just that.

For now, I will ask if anyone has specific experience with:

http://www.206tours.com/?okey=christian_tours
http://www.unitours.com
http://www.gocatholictravel.com
http://www.allstartours.com
http://www.marian-tours.com
http://www.jericojourneys.com
http://www.reginatour.com/tours/tours.asp?TourID=120

I intend to write to all seven of these, plus various ministries of tourism for more info. My "job" may (or may not) end with synthesizing info from all of your postings, plus three side conversations (one non-Fodorite who has traveled to Israel often, and is going again in mid-January; his second of two children is in university there for a semester; i.e., his first child studied there for a semester also). I am interested in his impressions of changes associated with any new "air" in the post-Arafat era.

He affirmed a few observations for me:

Yes, guides are a good idea, and yes, it is customary that they might be armed.

No, he has never traveled into Palestinian controlled areas, and could not imagine feeling good about traveling into Bethlehem; he did mention, however, that his son has traveled into Hebron and continues to do so.

Yes, he would think it very worthwhile to try to acquire basic reading skills in Hebrew. Arabic could also help, but he feels that the average guide has only the most rudimentary grasp of reading Arabic signs.

So, I am not convinced that I can bring "enough" to the table - - even with a (short) scouting trip to make the selection of a tour guide an unnecessary idea. And cost/value ratio makes it very likely that I should simply hook my B-I-L up with the best Catholic-oriented specialty tour operator, and "scratch my own itches"; other destinationsd are still calling my name more loudly.

Which might include these holy lands someday...

Or maybe, I am jumping to conclusions...

I often see things a bit differently after I think on them for a month or so. And my friend will be back from Israel by then.

Thanks again for all this preliminary input.

I'll be topping this again before too long.
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Dec 29th, 2004, 04:14 AM
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Here is a suggested itinerary for your trip, follwoing your guidelines of 8 - 10 days and with a Christian (Catholic) focus. The plan skips Egypt/Jordan as some have suggested at travel times would be long for such a short trip.

JERUSALEM - 4 days

Besides the Via Dolorosa/Church of Holy Sepulchre, check out other churches in the Christian quarter and the Armenian Quarter. A side visit to Bethlehem would take half a day, the Mount of Olives would take a few hours. Other sites include Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Citadel, Mount Zion. A visit to Holocaust Museum and Israel Museum would take much of one day.

DEAD SEA - 1 day

I think this worth a (long) day trip from Jerusalem. If you leave early enough, you can visit Masada, swim in Dead Sea, David's pool at Ein Gedi, and Qumran in a day. (or at least 3 of the 4 places) I would normally suggest an overnight, for a longer trip, but your's is short.

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Dec 29th, 2004, 04:32 AM
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...continued from previous post

Galilee: 3 days

day one - drive north from Jerusalem, stopping in Nazareth and one other site (e.g. Meggido (Armageddon) or Sephoris or Bet Shean. Overnight at a kibbutz on/near Sea of Galilee (e.g. Nof Ginosar - site of "Jesus boat")

day two - visit Christian sites along shore of Galilee - Mount of Beatitudes/Capernaum/Tagbha, and Jordan River - there is a nice "Jordan River Park" near sites above - could go kayaking on river if interested overnight kibbutz

day three - depending on your interest visit 1) Banyas (national park with hiking/ruins) and Nimrod Fortress (crusader). 0r 2) Safed

GALILEE TO TEL AVIV - one day or two

You need to be back at the airport near T/A to leave. I would take a full day or two to get back.

Between Gal. and T/A there are quite a few potential stops. Two highlights could be Acre (old Arab/crusader town), and Caesarea (Roman port). Other possiblities would be Haifa/day at beach/ full day to T/A, etc.

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Dec 29th, 2004, 07:47 AM
  #18
rex
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Hmmm... my (modest?) "negativity" (?) about doing this myself (as planner/leader) doesn't deter you from advising me on how I could do this myself, huh? Or is this a recommendation for how to ask a company to set up an itinerary?

In any event, I was thinking that save the "highlight(s)" for later in the week - - this is something that I think works best for, say... travel to Italy; I routinely recommend NOT flying directly into Rome or Venice first; Florence works better, IMO. Thus, maybe Nazareth/Galilee in the first 2-3 days, followed by 3-4 in Jerusalem?

Do you have any idea how it works to be able to go to mass IN the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Are there "day priests" who celebrate mass, one after another, pretty much seven days a week? So many of the companies offer the opportunity to attend mass there.

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Dec 29th, 2004, 08:59 AM
  #19
 
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Sorry, I don't have any info/experience with Catholic oriented tours. But I wish you well with that.

I'm thinking if this is to be a Catholic pilgrimage, it would be difficult to pass up the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I'm not sure of your friend's not feeling good about going there. It is not picturesque within the town itself, certainly. Palestine, for all intents and purposes, is closer to a third world country. However, that being said, when entering the West Bank, by law if one uses a tour guide that person must be Palestinian. This means that these guides are receiving money and tips for their services and knowledge. If tourists stay away, these tour guides receive no money at all. The same is true of the shops in Bethlehem. Yes, sometimes the vendors can be annoying, but if one wants to buy a souvenier of the Nativity, I feel it is best to buy it from Bethlehem and, in some small way at least, support the area financially. Just my opinion.

As far as language is concerned? There really is no need to learn Hebrew. Actually, you wouldn't become fluent enough in it to do much good anyway. Remember, it's not simply learning a new language, it is learning a whole new alphabet! The same is true of Arabic. Certainly, it would be nice to learn some phrases to get by, but remember: one cannot easily tell Israelis from Palestinians and many Palestinians work outside the West Bank. Therefore, how will you know when to say "Shalom" or "Salaam"? Unless you venture deep into the West Bank (and I'm talking way, way outside of the normal tourist haunts), you won't really have any need for Arabic. And almost all Israelis speak English. It is rare to find an Israeli who doesn't speak English. And any Palestinians who work in the major cities, especially with tourists, speak English as well. I know people who travel to Israel a good deal and are fluent in Hebrew, but they also know when to speak Hebrew - something the casual tourist is not aware of. Also, all road signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Besides, reading Hebrew? I can speak rudimentary Hebrew, but I cannot read it. In Hebrew the vowel indicators are left out in written form. Therefore, you come across something like "rd" and you have to figure out what that is. Could be red, read (both ways), reed, ride, road, rad, radio, rude, rid - get the idea? In a year of taking lessons, you could probably learn enough phrases to get by (most Israelis would simply speak English to you anyway), but reading is a different story.

I'm not certain what you mean by the going to Gallilee first as opposed to Jerusalem?? Either way works, and tours are set up both ways. There is only one international airport, and that is in Tel Aviv, so you will have to make a big circle. Whether you choose to go north first or east is entirely up to whatever the group wants to do.

As far as mass is concerned, you must understand that the Church of the Holy Sepulchur is NOT strictly Catholic! Catholics do have a "space" within this massive complex, but they do not have sole "ownership". The predominating religion is the Orthodox Christian church. (Russian, I believe??) And they have the largest "chunk". Others, such as the Armenian Orthodox, Coptics, and others must share space. One does not go to mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchur as they do in their own neighborhood. Normally, the Russian Orthodox are in the center, the Armenians are in that section over there, the Roman Catholics have a corner over there, and so on. I think this church is split between something like 5 different demoninations? I do know that each demonination must maintain residency in the compound to preserve their "space" (the Coptics live on the roof), and that the key to open the Church is actually held by a Moslem family to insure fairness in all having equal access. From what I've heard, attending religious ceremonies within this church is a bit trying, as each demonination tries to "outshout" the other. Not my idea of a good time, but then I'm not your in-laws.

I hope you are able to strike a happy balance with all involved. It sounds like you have your work cut out for you!
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Dec 29th, 2004, 10:50 AM
  #20
rex
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This thread just keeps getting better and better - - thank you for the added info, Chele.

I think I need to pass on, to my brither-in-law, your explanation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, just as you have written it. In fact, it helps me a lot to understand the existence of a Catholic body known as the "Order of Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem". Now I get it - - they literally perceive an obligation to defend the presence of the Roman Catholic Church in "form" and in actual physical presence there - - wouldn't it be reasonably accurate to look at it that way?

My friend (who is traveling, again, to Israel in a few weeks) is a ("fairly"?) orthodox Jew (is that a meaningful characterization? for example, he will not use the telephone on the Sabbath) - - and his saying that he would not feel comfortable going to Bethlehem may be HIS feelings about his surroundings, not an absolute statement about the security of traveling there.

I think I took this at face value, particularly when I read the following account (admittedly seven years old) - - http://www.sanscott.com/asia/bethlehem.htm - - though I was certainly scratching my head at the fact that so many tour companies mention seeing the main sights in Bethlehem as part of their itineraries. And I realize that news stories, as recently as last week refer to the "opening back up" of Bethlehem to tourists (so maybe it has been quite off and on over the past few years?) - - while I am not ignorant of the news, the specifics of geography and "Israeli control" and "Palestinian control" clearly do elude me.

Perhaps the most telling to me of all - - is that you have NOT (necessarily?) tried to persuade me that I should NOT try to proceed with planning/leading this trip!
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