SHE SAYS:

To some, this may seem like a strange concept and I have to admit that at first I was a little reluctant to travel to that part of the world.  However, we recently returned from a beautiful two week trip in Israel with two of our friends.  Our flights were booked last January and over the next few months we developed the itinerary which included booking a private guide for six days of the trip.

Given the history of that part of the world we were entering, I had the impression that we might feel unsafe at times.  I expected to see military or police presence everywhere.  This impression could not have been more incorrect.

Upon arrival in Tel Aviv, I quickly learned that the city and the people were more westernized than I expected and I had the feeling that we could have been in any large city in the U.S. if not for the fact that we could overhear conversations in Hebrew.  Almost everyone we encountered during the course of our trip spoke English so we never felt disconnected when communicating.  We never felt unsafe in any place we visited and we enjoyed every moment of the trip.

A view of Tel Aviv from our hotel

A view of Tel Aviv from our hotel

Our travels started in Tel Aviv where we spent the first few days on our own getting to know the city and experiencing some wonderful cuisine.  We visited a local market called the Carmel Market and visited Jaffa, a 4000 year old port area.  We also visited the Tel Aviv Port which is now thriving with shops, restaurants and activities to name just a few of our experiences.

After the first few days in Tel Aviv, our private guide picked us up.  Having a private guide was a wise decision.  He was both knowledgeable and friendly and, in many ways, he is the reason that our trip was a great experience.  He spent the next six days with us as we traveled to the northern coast of the Mediterranean to see the amazing Roman ruins in Caesarea and to visit Old Akko.  We drove east through the Galilee and spent two nights in Tiberias.  With Tiberias as our home base for a couple of days, we visited Tzfat, the Banias Nature Preserve, Golan Heights Winery and a former military bunker on Mt Bental overlooking the Syrian border.

On our way to Jerusalem, where we spent four days, we visited Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee, Beit She’an (another site of Roman ruins) and Beit Alpha to see a preserved 1500 year old mosaic floor that was part of an ancient synagogue.  Once we were in Jerusalem, we took a few side trips that included climbing Masada and floating in the Dead Sea.

A view of Jerusalem from Mt of Olives

A view of Jerusalem from Mt of Olives

The Wailing Wall - Old Jerusalem

The Wailing Wall - Old Jerusalem

Jerusalem was another surprise for me.  I anticipated that all of Jerusalem was a small walled city.  The walled city is in fact only about two square miles and the rest of the city sprawls out about 50 square miles over a very hilly region that quickly gives way to a stark desert landscape.  Jerusalem is a rare blend of cultures, religions and history.  Old Jerusalem is made of the Jewish Quarter, the Arab Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter.

The people in each area go about their everyday lives and seem respectful or, at least, tolerant of each other.  To outsiders like us all seemed peaceful, but even as we toured this beautiful land, it was clear that the peaceful veneer is sometimes very thin.

After four days of soaking up all of the historical and religious culture we could in Jerusalem, we rented a car and drove south through the Negev Desert where we soaked up some sun at the seaside resort of Eilat on the Red Sea.  During our two day stay in Eilat, we took a day trip to Jordan to see Petra and Wadi Rum, which was a wonderful and unique place to end our trip.

Our trip took us to almost every corner of Israel and was filled with many surprises, beautiful scenery, great food and so much history.  Of all of the trips we have taken, this vacation in Israel was one of the very best!

A view of Eilat from our hotel

A view of Eilat from our hotel

Nebatean carvings in Petra, Jordan

Nebatean carvings in Petra, Jordan

 

HE SAYS:

Israel is far different from anything I had imagined.  It has a rich diversity of landscapes from beautifully stark desert areas to lush areas of vegetation and trees along with waterfalls and rushing streams.  On its borders are the Dead Sea unique in its harsh conditions and the contrastingly vibrant Mediterranean and Red Seas.

Israel is also a country with a wonderful melding of a modern and innovative society with traditions steeped in history.  There are progressive cities such as Tel Aviv and ancient cities such as Jerusalem which is the ancestral home to many cultures and religions.

The most impressive thing about Israel, however, is that it is an oasis of sanity and normalcy in an otherwise hostile region.  I was amazed at how the people of Israel went about their daily lives with a steady and calm decorum despite the fact that they are constantly living in the cross hairs of their neighbors’ weapons.

Make no mistake in believing that the Israeli population is not acutely aware of the dangers all around them or that they are not ever vigilant in protecting and defending themselves.   There is the mandatory three years military service, the military checkpoints at key locations, and the state of the art security at airports.  Yet, there was never the feeling that you were visiting a country that was on high alert or living in fear.

For example, much of the security at the airport is subtle and subdued.  They are not unduly concerned about carrying liquids nor do they require you to remove your shoes when going through security.   Instead, they watch and study you as you pass through security to gauge your demeanor and, thus, your intentions.  It appears that when you have been looking at the face of your enemies for centuries, you learn to recognize them when you see them.

Perhaps, this resiliency and ability to thrive in such a hostile environment is a result of weathering the storms of hatred, persecution, bigotry, and unbelievable violence for centuries.   When you have endured and survived the darkest periods of human history, you learn to never again let your enemies control your destiny.

Regardless of where you stand on the political, cultural, and religious conflicts that have been the hallmark of the region for decades, you have to admire the ability of the Israeli people not to let the ever present dangers dampen their spirit or diminish their resolve to build a future.   They may be living in the cross hairs, but, they will not be deterred from living out their dream of a homeland.

Look for Annemarie’s post about our trip to Israel this Wednesday.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?