Seniors Self-Touring Israel (Report 1)

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Nov 21st, 2005, 05:07 PM
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Seniors Self-Touring Israel (Report 1)

SENIORS SELF –TOURING ISRAEL (REPORT 1)
NOVEMBER 1-18, 2005

Our report is divided into two parts.
Part 1 is about trip organization, costs and some of our opinions and suggestions on lodging, food, transportation and tours.
Part 2 will cover our intellectual and emotional reactions to the wonders we encountered in our travels and our recommendations for others.

DISCLAIMER
Our opinions and suggestions are based on our experiences and HOW WE EVALUATED THEM from OUR OWN PERSPECTIVES as Secular Jews without prejudices (we hope) who are quite different from the two most prevalent tourist groups traveling to Israel from the US: Christian pilgrims organized by churches and Christian Tour Operators and Jewish Israel supporters organized by synagogues or Jewish organizations.
Our objectives were not to stay in fancy hotels, eat in gourmet restaurants nor travel all day together with people who think like us and spend half their time talking about their families and their lives in the US.
We sincerely respect the people who have traveled to Israel in these groups and our comments should not be interpreted as criticisms toward them.

THANK YOU
Douglas Duckett: for your guide which was of great help in formulating our itinerary. We greatly appreciate your prompt and informative replies to all our questions and, most of all, your infectious enthusiasm which supported us in times of doubt.
Suzanne Pomeranz: for introducing us to Sammy and his wonderful apartment in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, 1 Miami, 5.15PM, Iberia 6122

Wednesday, 2 Madrid, 7.45AM, Iberia 6122, 12.50PM, Iberia 7867(El Al 0396)
Tel Aviv, 6.45PM
Transfer to the Metropolitan Hotel (4 nights) by taxi.
Centrally located downtown 1 block from beach 3-4 star hotel with clean medium sized rooms, we got ocean view, and GREAT breakfast buffet.

SUGGESTION: Our food costs were SO LOW because we loved and ate abundantly of the included Israeli breakfasts (in the three hotels we stayed at) with many salads, cheeses, smoked/pickled fish, hummus, eggplant dishes, etc; etc.We prepared about four sandwiches to take along for lunch and/or evening snacks!!!

Thursday, 3 Self touring in Tel Aviv:
Morning walk (2-3 hours) to quaint Bialik St., busy Carmel open market ,Nahalat Binyamin shopping area, Dizengoff Square/Center and to hotel for jet lag rest.
Afternoon/Evening walk along beach promenade to Old Jaffa with sunset views. Visit flea market and Kikar Kidumin old central square with museum. Dinner at bohemian style Dr. Shakshula Restaurant with moderately priced delicious North African food. Walk back to hotel along beach promenade. (1 hour each way).

Friday, 4 United/Egged Tour 258, 7.15AM departure from Tel Aviv hotels
After leaving Tel Aviv we passed through Netanya, a fast growing modern city with many beaches, Russian immigrants and some French Jews purchasing ocean view apartments. Drive via the coastal highway to Caesarea to visit the impressive Roman and Crusader ruins. Continue along the coast to Akko to visit the amazing Crusader underground city and the crypt .Because of post Ramadan celebrations the city was packed with Moslem visitors and we were not able to see the old city with its Oriental Market, Arab Mosque and Old Port. We continued via Nahariya to the sea level grottos of Rosh Hanikra by means of a cable car from the white cliffs above.Back through Haifa to pass through the old German Colony and industrial areas See the astounding 19 level Bahai Gardens from below and above with a panoramic view of Haifa Bay at sunset. Return to hotel at 7PM.

SUGGESTION: Because of the very severe drop in tourism 5 years ago (increased somewhat in 2004-5) Egged and United pool their resources to minimize costs in order for the two companies to survive. We found that their tour costs were very reasonable, the group sizes varied from 15-25 people from all over the world leading to a very lively group dynamic. The guides narrated in English and in all of the 4 tours we took they were excellent with many years of experience and, above all, very professional with a commitment to showing and explaining to the visitors the most important points at each site. Although our 4 guides were Jewish they all were extremely respectful of the Christian and Moslem beliefs customs and holy sites. As you can see by our budget shown below an average price per person was about $50-55 for a 10-12 hour bus tour. This compares to a $250-300/day + expenses cost for a private guide. If you have a larger group the cost per person could be equivalent and, of course, if money is no problem a private guide may be a better choice.

Saturday, 5 United/Egged Tour 240, departure from Tel Aviv hotels at 7.15AM.
We drove to Nazareth for a visit to the Church of the Annunciation and the
Church of St. Joseph. Continue to the Sea of Galilee via Canna and visit the House of Peter and the ancient synagogue at Capernaum. Then stop at Tabgha and visit the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fish. Pass through Tiberias to the baptismal site on the Jordan River of Yardenit. Return via the West Bank, bypassing Jericho, and enter Jerusalem from the west at night fall seeing the magnificent views of the lights of Jerusalem. Return to hotel in Tel Aviv at 7PM.

Sunday, 6 We rented a car from Eldan (see below), only 4 blocks from our hotel, for pickup at 9AM for 3 days of self touring.
Our first stop, after loosing our way exiting Tel Aviv was the quaint town of Zichron Yaacov in the Carmel Mountains, near Haifa. Then on to the nearby Druze town of Daliyat al Carmel. We then drove to the Safed (Tzfat) famous for its Jewish Quarter with old synagogues and the Artist’s Quarter. After spending about 3 hours walking through the old town we continued on to Tiberias where we stayed at the 3 star Hotel Prima Tiberias for 2 nights

SUGGESTION:
1. Following the advice of a forum contributor we rented an “F” sized car rather than the smallest models for more comfortable driving .By booking directly at www.eldan.co.il we obtained the best price with a 25% discount. Eldan is the largest car rental company in Israel and has a US toll free number, 800-938-5000.We were very wary about driving in a strange country where we did not know the language, driving habits, roads and streets. However, after loosing our way a few times we always got help and found our way. All of our driving, except for exiting Tel Aviv and entering Jerusalem was on connecting roads and in smaller towns and sites. We would definitely not drive in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Monday, 7 After breakfast at 7AM we drove to the nearby Hamat Tiberias (National Park) hot thermal springs and old synagogue with a beautiful zodiac mosaic floor. We continued on to Hamat Gader Park with its Roman hot spring ruins. We rented lockers to change into our bathing suits and soaked in the large modern hot springs pool along with hundreds of Israelis. We then drove to the largest Israeli city on the Golan Heights, the modern city of Kastrin where we looked around and ate our sandwiches with Israeli beer purchased in the central supermarket. We then drove in heavy rain to the look out point where we could see over the border into Syria and the abandoned town of Kuneitra.We continued driving north toward Mount Hermon and Banias but, because of the rain we decided not to visit them .On the way we drove through several Druze towns. We headed back to Tiberias via Querot Shemona with its many new apartment developments. We then stopped at the kibbutz in Ginossar to see the fantastic 2,000 year old boat and the Ygdal Alon Museum. We arrived at our hotel about 6PM.

Tuesday, 8 After breakfast at 7AM we drove to Bet Shean to see the magnificent ruins of what was a very important city with its well preserved Roman amphitheatre, main street and many other structures. We continued on to the Bet Alpha Synagogue with its beautiful zodiac mosaic floor. We continued on to Megiddo, the ruins of a city 7,000 years old with 25 layers of different periods and cultures. We decided to drive to Jerusalem via the new superhighway, route (svish) 6 which was very well marked and saved us some time as we drove, without interruption, at 60-70 mph. We arrived in Jerusalem about 4PM in very heavy traffic and miraculously found our downtown apartment fairly easily. We returned the car, without any problem before the 6PM office closing time. We stayed at The Alon Holiday Apartments (see below) for 7 nights. We purchased bread, cheese, franks, eggs, yogurt, turkey pastrami, butter, chocolate, diet orange soda and vodka from Holland (1 liter bottle about $US 5) in the nearby 24 hour small market.

Wednesday, 9 After a leisurely breakfast at home we walked about a block over to the Jerusalem Towers Hotel where we were picked up for the United/Egged Tour 122 at 9.30AM.
The full day tour started at the Mount of Olives where we had a magnificent view if Jerusalem. We continued on to the City of David to visit David’s Tomb and Dormition Abbey, the room of the last supper. We then entered the old city through the Zion Gate, and walked through the Armenian, Jewish and Moslem Quarters on to the Western Wall for an emotional visit. We then walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by the Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross. After a narrated visit we returned by bus to the Mount of Olives to eat our sandwiches with Israeli beer on a bench enjoying the magnificent panoramic view once again. We then drove on to The Museum of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem, where we spent several hours exploring on our own. We then returned to the pick up hotel at 6PM.

Thursday, 10 After a leisurely breakfast we walked to Mea Sharim, the fascinating old world ultra orthodox neighborhood where we spent several hours exploring streets, courtyards, schools and stores. We then walked over to the bustling central market, Mahane Yehuda looking at some of the huge variety of food stands. We then took a taxi to the Israel Museum where we took a free tour of the Dead Sea schools in the Shrine of the book .We then looked at the Billy Rose Sculptural Garden and had a light lunch in the cafeteria. We then saw the important exhibitions of Judaica and the old synagogues before taking a taxi back to the apartment at 6PM.

Friday, 11 A day for some shopping and relaxation in the old city: We purchased four identical pewter mezuzahs for our three children and ourselves and a very nice silver and opal Hamza (hand to ward off bad luck) necklace for my wife. We then stopped at the Austrian Hospice for some wonderful strudel and coffee and enjoyed the magnificent view of the old city from their roof. All of the sites we had planned to see were closed or closing so we returned to our apartment at 4PM to rest and then had dinner at a neighborhood non-touristy, full of locals, moderately priced restaurant called Foccacias.

Saturday, 12 We took United/Egged Tour 130 with 9.15AM pick up at the Jerusalem Towers Hotel. We drove through the Judean Desert to the famous site, Massada, where we spent some 3 hours touring. We then drove back to the Ein Gedi Spa where we ate our usual packed lunch and then had a great relaxing three hours spreading therapeutic mud on our bodies and floating in the Dead Sea. We returned to our apartment at 6PM.


Sunday, 13 After an early morning breakfast our first visit in the Old City was Davidson’s Arqueological Park where we spent two hours visiting with audiosets.We then had the opportunity to visit the Temple Mount which is only open to visitors at certain times. We could only spend an hour before prayers and we walked about the whole area. We had called to reserve a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels which we did a bit after coming down from the Temple Mount. This fascinating tour lasted about 1 ˝ hours. After all the walking we returned to the tranquility of the garden at the Austrian Hospice for a rest, coffee, suchertorte and strudel. We walked back to Ben Yehuda and our apartment about 5PM.

Monday, 14 We had a leisurely breakfast and headed back to the Old City where we were able to purchase tickets for walking along the ramparts. We walked from the Jaffa Gate to the Temple Mount where access was ended. Our leisurely walk took us about three hours. We then shared an excellent lunch at an Arab restaurant near Station of the Cross III with sufficient hummus, salads, pita and kebab to leave us full (only $US 10). We returned to our apartment at a leisurely pace looking into different stores on the way and arriving back at 5PM for a light supper at home and packing.

Tuesday, 15 After breakfast we took a taxi to the Egged Bus Station for our trip to Eilat. The bus was comfortable and the trip took about 4 ˝ hours with two refreshment/bathroom stops. We enjoyed the views of the Dead Sea and saw the industrial area at the southern end. The tickets cost $US 14/each.We arrived at the Caesar Eilat Hotel (3-4 stars) about 3PM and enjoyed complimentary cocktails while pour room was cleaned. We then took a walk along the beach promenade looking at some of the luxury hotels, restaurants, food stands and sundry products, amusement rides, etc.

Wednesday, 16 After a very early included breakfast we were picked up at the hotel at 7.15AM.We were driven to the border where we had to go through Israeli and Jordanian border controls which were facilitated by our guides. A Jordanian tour company and guide took over in Jordan. We traveled in a mini bus passing through the Jordanian port and tourist center of Aqaba on our way to Petra .The trip took about 2 hours arriving in Petra about noon. We spent about 5 hours exploring this magnificent ancient Nabotean city along with our guide and on our own. There was quite a bit of walking, about 2 ˝ miles down and the same uphill on our return to the visitors center .Lunch, Jordanian style, was included. On our return we drove through other parts of Aqaba before reaching the border again with the controls by Jordan and Israel. We arrived at our hotel at 8PM. We recommend the Israeli tour company which organized the tour (See www.desertecotours.com ).

Thursday, 17 After a leisurely breakfast we walked along the beach promenade for some time and then took a taxi to the Dolphin Reef where we relaxed watching the dolphins after a very exhausting day in Petra and before our 30 hour return to Miami. We returned to the hotel to pack and rested until 7.30PM (we paid an extra ˝ day to rest and it was well worth it).There were no evening flights that day to Ben Gurion Airport so we had to fly to the small Tel Aviv airport of Sde Dov and transfer by taxi (about $US 25 and 30 minute drive).
Arkia1840 IZ Eliat to Sde Dov, Lv. 9.30PM Arr. 10.25 PM Transfer Ben Gurion by taxi

Friday, 18 Iberia 7867(El Al 0395), Lv. Tel Aviv 3.30AM, Arr. Madrid 8.05AM
Iberia 6123, Lv. Madrid 12.05PM, Arr. Miami 3.15PM
We arrived at our home about 6PM, 30 hours after our Eilat hotel check out, tired but OK.
NOTE: The Madrid airport and Iberia Airlines were in a chaotic state due to weather related cancellations of many flights, including our Madrid-Miami flight, the day before.


BUDGET

SUGGESTIONS:

1. We purchased our airline tickets about 4 months in advance once we decided that we would like to travel in November. We thus avoided the heat of July and August and the busy October holiday season. Of course, November is the start of winter with possible cold weather and rain. However we were extremely lucky since we had the best weather for touring with 65-80 degrees during the day and 55-70 at night. It only rained for two half days and we had sunshine the rest of the time. We purchased our tickets through www.priceline.com where the flights were listed by www.lowestfare.com which sent us our tickets. We purchased the Iberia Miami-Madrid-Tel Aviv flights which had a 4 hour lay over in Madrid so that we would have sufficient time for incoming flight delays and Madrid airport security check by El Al who operated the code shared Madrid-Tel Aviv flight. We saw many people in the Madrid airport, on our return, who had missed their connecting flights because of weather related delays and short lay over times. We found that $815 RT Miami-Tel Aviv was about 50% lower than the other flights offered .In addition, the large lead time allowed us to study all our touring options in guide books, web sites and travel forums.

2. Orit of Regent Tours, an ISRAM contractor got us the three hotels lower than any price on the internet travel sites, both US and Israeli. She also got us 15% off on all the United/Egged daily bus tours. Everything was in order on arriving; in fact we were treated especially well as independent US travelers booked by ISRAM! Orit can be reached by a toll-free US number 1-866-383-6130 or at email [email protected] .She is extremely efficient, works in Tel Aviv and replies very rapidly to any question. We paid her directly with our US AMEX card.

3. In Jerusalem we stayed at a very centrally located modern, clean, quiet and comfortable apartment only one block from the famous downtown Ben Yehuda Pedestrian St. and 5 blocks from the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. Our apartment had a fridge, two burner stove top, a pot, a pan, dishes, glasses, and cutlery. The room was cleaned and towels changed daily. The cost was $US65/night.We prepared our own breakfasts or other meals quite easily since there is a 24 hour convenience store only ˝ block away. Contact Sammy Szumsztajn at Legend Tours at email [email protected] or at 972-2-623-6732. See website for The Alon Holiday Apartments at www.jerusalem-apartments.co.il .

4. If you are going to visit some national parks consider purchasing a 6 park visitor’s pass for 80NIS (about $US 17.50) since you will save some money .See www.parks.org.il .

5. Stay at clean, centrally located 3-4 star hotels or apartments to get significant savings. Who needs a fancy lobby, fancy doormen, high priced bars and restaurants, etc, etc.

6. We estimate that our land cost of $US 95/day/person was about 50% lower than many US tour packages and saved us some $US 2- 3,000!
We also saw more of Israel than any of these tours during our 15 complete days of touring!

1. Hotels: Metropolitan 4 x $89 $356
Prima 2 x 62 124
Apartment 7 x 65 455
Caesar 2 x 83 166
$ 1,101


2. Transportation:
Taxi TLV to downtown hotel 25
Car + Gas (3 days, 400 miles) 200
Bus to Eilat 2 x 14 28
Air to TLV 2 x 45 90
Taxi SD-BG 25
Other taxis 50
418
3. Tours:
United 122 2 x 41 82
United 130 2 x 60 120
United 240 2 x 51 102
United 258 2 x 56 112
N.Parks Pass 2 x 14 28
Petra 2 x 180 360
804

4. Food: 15 x 20 300 300

5. Other (entrance fees, phone card/calls, tips, gifts, etc.) 227

(Land Costs approx. $95/day/person) TOTAL $2,850

Airfare MIA-TLV-MIA $1,630 +Shuttles (70) GRAND TOTAL $4,550



















paulfr is offline  
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Nov 21st, 2005, 06:27 PM
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Paul, so happy that you had a really great vacation in Israel.

And thanks so much for the detailed, fascinating report!

BTW, since someone mentioned it here, was there any problem for you using the toll road (#6) driving a rental car? Did Eldan turn your attention as to not using it, or under a certain condition?
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Nov 22nd, 2005, 04:28 AM
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Thank you for the excellent trip report. I plan to print it out. My husband and I are going to Israel in July and have also received great advice from Doug Duckett. I am now in the process of confirming reservations through Regent and I agree, Orit has been wonderful to work with. I was very glad to hear how positive your experience was. We are also doing a similar itinerary- with the exception of Eilat. We will be renting a car for a portion of our trip and doing group tours for Masada/Ein Gedi and Jerusalem- but, like you, we prefer to tour mostly on our own. Look forward to Report 2.
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Nov 22nd, 2005, 09:00 AM
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I'm printing this out too - have plenty of time to plan my after-the-trip stay on my own in March.
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Nov 23rd, 2005, 06:10 AM
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Mamamia:
We told Eldan that we would be using Highway 6 and they will bill our credit card when they are billed by the highway authority.The cost is pretty high;50NIS for Eldan processing and just some 15-20NIS from the Iron interchange to the Ben Shemen interchange which seamlessly puts you on Highway 1 to Jerusalem.
Since we were in a hurry and also wanted to relax on an almost empty road we just went "SVISH!".
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Nov 23rd, 2005, 07:18 PM
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Hello, Paul, just finished reading your report - here and on Frommer's

Do you mind a couple of questions?

From the airport you took a taxi to your hotel. Was it easier then looking for a shuttle? This is what I usually do. I remember taking a shuttle (sherut??) but it was long time ago, and it was $10 to Jerusalem. Should I not even bother with a shuttle?

You went to Dizengoff square - is that musical fountain with fire inside still there? I remember music starting at 9 pm.

United/Egged tours - do they pick up and drop off at the hotels in Tel Aviv or you need to be at a pick-up point?
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Nov 24th, 2005, 03:44 AM
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FainaAgain:
When we exited Ben Gurion at 7.30PM we went to an official taxi stand.The shared sheruts only travel to Jerusalem.We talked to the dispatcher and requested a cab to our hotel downton on Hyarkon.He referred us to the first cabdriver in line who requested 120 NIS(about$US 26).We had read on a web site that the fare,before 9 PM should be 68 NIS plus 2.5 NIS per bag in excess of 2.We argued with several drivers to no avail.They said that the prices had gone up recently because of higher gas prices.We ended up paying 100 NIS($US 22)which seemed reasonable since the ride was over 30 minutes,even with little traffic.
We found that within cities it is best to always use the meter and hope that the driver will take the fastest route We made friends with the first driver and about 3-4 others in Jerusalem and Eilat and learned a lot talking with them and their lives.More about that in Report 2!
We do not remember the fountain in Dizengoff Square and were not there at night to check out the music either since we were resting or sleeping in our hotel room after 12 hour tour days.
YES,Egged/United tours will pick up and drop off at the hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.As we posted,since we were staying in an apartment in downtown Jerusalem we walked to the nearest hotel about 1 block away.
If you have any more questions do not hesitate to ask them and we will try to reply ASAP.
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Nov 24th, 2005, 05:37 PM
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Thank you, Paul, very helpful, I will have 3 days after the tour in Tel Aviv, nice to know United/Egged will pick me up as I plan on taking tours to see more.

I will go to Jerusalem first, so a shuttle (Nesher, somebody mentioned in another post) will be the best bet for me, going back it will be a taxi.

Waiting for your part 2!
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Nov 27th, 2005, 05:03 AM
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Seniors Self-Touring Israel (Report 2)


It is more than one week since we returned from our first trip to Israel.

We promised a second report which we were going to call 100 memorable moments.

However we are not going to do so because many of these moments are personal and, although they may provide some insight to others, they would not be of interest to many of the forum readers.

If any of you would like to contact us to communicate further please email us at [email protected] .


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