Israel – it’s been on my bucket list all my life and I had to wait until “old age” to finally get the opportunity to visit this past February. This was a FAM (familiarization) trip for travel agents through a company, Isram, based in Israel, and I must say they do a first-class job of showing the country.
We flew to New York and boarded El Al for the nonstop flight to Tel Aviv, where we were met by our Isram guide Schumel, who “scooted” us through customs (which was a delight). We got on the bus to the beautiful Dan Carmel hotel perched high atop Mt. Carmel. After a short rest, we met in the dining room for a late “welcome to Israel” dinner.
After breakfast Tuesday morning, we began our journey driving to the mystical city of Safed and strolled the streets learning about the Kabbalah, the famous rabbis that lived here and the artists’ community that remains.
Then on to the Mount of Beatitudes, site of the Sermon on the Mount, before ascending the Golan Heights to hear the fascinating story of the wars that were fought there. We visited a Golan winery for a tour of the facility, including a wine tasting and a light lunch.
We arrived at the iconic King David Hotel, an historic landmark in the heart of Jerusalem. Following cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, we then drove through the famous Ben Yehuda and the Midrechov before returning for our overnight stay.
Wednesday, we visited the Yad Vashem Memorial to the Holocaust. We walked along outside where there were plaques with the names of people who saved so many Jews. Inside, was the complete story of the Holocaust It was very quiet, even though the museum was full of tourists.
We journeyed on to Mount Herzl to pay respects to Israel’s fallen heroes. We drove past the Knesset and the Supreme Court Building to the Shrine of the Book, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and viewed the scale model of Jerusalem during the Herodian period.
Thursday we continued our discovery of Jerusalem with a drive to the Mount of Olives and the Western Wall, the only remaining portion of the Second Temple. Men went to one side, women to the other.
Next, we followed the path of the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with its gold dome, then Mt. Zion, where we saw the traditional Tomb of King David and the Room of the Last Supper.
On Friday, we traveled via the Judean Desert and the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, to Masada. This was the highlight of my trip.
We ascended by cable car to this last stronghold of the Zealots in their struggle against the Romans. We saw the excavations, the palace, synagogue and bathhouse – or what was left of them. Our guide gave a sermon – the story of Masada – and it was breathtaking.
After lunch, we chose to float in the pool that was filled with the Dead Sea waters while the younger people floated in the sea.
On Saturday, we took the optional tour to Petra in Jordan. We experienced the border formalities for entering the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, met our Jordanian representatives and began our journey to the Rose Red City, Petra.
Visitors can either go by horseback or by foot, walking more than a mile. Then, all at once the Valley of Petra opened up in front of us and we saw the famous Khazane (Treasury) building, looking intact.
We visited the famous monuments carved in red sandstone, the small temple, the Roman amphitheater and the caves in the rock between dozens of imposing obelisks and monuments.
The next morning, we were driven to the fascinating pre-state underground ammunitions factory at Machon Ayalon to learn about the activities of the Hagannah. Seems they recruited young people secretly between 1945 and 1948 and built a complex underground, under the laundry facility of the kibbutz where they made bullets. No one knew they did this.
And so, another dream has come true. Israel was all it was supposed to be for me … the history, the descriptions I read in so many books. It was a wonderful trip.
Joan Flynn is the manager of Classic Travel on Hilton Head Island. joan@classic travelhhi.com