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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR HOTELS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

More later…..

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