In my last post of a few weeks ago, I asked for some advice in helping my friend Lara to plan a great itinerary for her first trip to Israel. Many of you here, and on my Facebook, made wonderful suggestions of things to do, places to go, and even food to eat. In total, Lara was here for 16 days, and I spent a large portion of that time with her. Your collective assistance was a great help, and I wanted to share with you the bulk of her trip, so you can see the kind of balance we included.
For starters, let me say that this is not a “perfect” itinerary. But I think in the end that it did a good job of balancing different experiences and serious vs. fun stuff. Lara definitely wanted a little bit of “veg” time, in addition to the hardcore touring. I tried to keep that in mind when suggesting stuff. Additionally, only once she arrived did we learn that some other mutual friends were here as well, so we also worked in time for her to see and do stuff with them as well. Thus, while the itinerary hits most regions of the country, and covers a number of experiences, someone who was more interested in straight touring could definitely do more in the same span.
Lastly, I will say that this itinerary primarily focused on largely Jewish-themed sites, without a lot of Christian sites involved. This was largely due to the combination of Lara not expressing a lot of interest in them, and my lack of knowledge so far on the subject. We do, of course, cover Christianity and Christian sites in our course, but so far we have not yet learned much about them.
That being said, here is the basic itinerary with notes and assorted other things (such as food when appropriate) included:
— Arrive at Ben Gurion Airport.
— Take a Sherut (shared ride taxi) to Jerusalem. This was a great “real” experience, with one of those stereotypically insane Israeli cab drivers. Plus it gave me a chance to point out some of the sites, etc. on our way into Jerusalem.
— Nap. Very necessary after a long flight, and timing worked great.
— Israel Museum. Recently reopened. We saw a temporary art exhibition, and the bulk of the Archaeology Wing. Then had some food in the museum.
— Israel Wine Festival (outside, at the Israel Museum). Always a highlight event of the summer in Jerusalem. Just 60 NIS entrance and you get unlimited wine. Nearly 40 Israeli wineries represented. Lots of fun, great atmosphere, good people, etc.
— Drinks and hookah/nargilla/shisha at a bar in downtown Jerusalem. Great to go out and meet some friends, see Jerusalem nightlife, and have an “authentic Middle Eastern experience” by smoking the local waterpipe, with flavored tobacco.
For what it’s worth, Lara said this was the “best first day ever”… and she has traveled to a LOT of places!
— Outlook over the Old City of Jerusalem from the Tayelet/Haas Promenade. A great starting point for any Jerusalem tour.
— Walk to Emek Refaim St. in Jerusalem’s German Colony. Change money, do some window shopping, and get some breakfast. Shakshuka! Not only did Lara love this dish, but she also loved saying (and trying to remember) its name!
— Walk to Old City via King David St. and Mamilla Mall. Stop at King David Hotel lobby and an antiques shop on the way. In Mamilla Mall, check out the outdoor sculpture installation that is there for the summer. Lara is an artist and antiques dealer, so these were appropriate stops. She also had seen pictures of her grandmother in the King David, and wanted to see it herself.
— Old City walking tour: Jaffa Gate. Walk through the Armenian Quarter to Jewish Quarter. The Cardo (ancient Roman road). Excavations inside the Cardo, showing lower strata from earlier eras. The Broad Wall (city wall from the time of King Hezekiah, late 8th Century BCE). Hurva Synagogue, from the outside. Kotel/Western Wall. Into Muslim Quarter. el-Wad Rd. Cotton Makers’ Bazaar (great view of the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock). Kotel Katan/”Little Western Wall.” Mamluk architecture in Muslim Quarter. Walk to Christian Quarter. Muristan area. Back to Jewish Quarter for felafel. Zion Gate.
— Walk down ramp and steps to valley and then up Derech Hevron. First Temple Era burial caves at Ketef Hinnom, behind the Begin Center.
— Ramparts walk around Old City of Jerusalem, from Jaffa Gate to Lions Gate. See Christian and Muslim Quarters, as well as many sites in the New City of Jerusalem to the West, North and East of the Old City.
— Ir David/City of David. We met up with some other friends there, along with their kids. This gave me a great opportunity to practice my guiding with friends. And I especially had to think (on my feet, since I didn’t know in advance that they’d be joining us) how to tailor my guiding for kids. Was a good experience for me. We started with the 3D Movie, then did a quick outlook from the tower on top of the screening room. Then we went to the excavations beneath the Visitors’ Center (potentially King David’s Palace, though many doubt this), and down to Area G to look at a few things. Finally, we went through the water system, past Warren’s Shaft, and down to Hezekiah’s Tunnel. We did the water tunnel, as well as some of the Roman Road at the bottom, and the Siloam Pool. Finally, as we walked back up to the top, we stopped to look at Meyuchas House.
— Mangal/BBQ at my house.
— Woodstock Revival concert at Kraft Stadium. Great night outside in Jerusalem, with fun music, good friends, etc.
— Drinks and more hookah at a different bar downtown.
— Lara gets a ride to Caesarea and stays there.
— Caesarea archaeological park.
— Walk to aqueduct, and watch sunset on the beach.
— Hang out in Caesarea.
— Head to Tel Aviv.
— Sunset on the beach.
— Walk down the beach to Yaffo and back. Eat a “toast” for dinner (a common Israeli dish in which they take a bagel or something, fill it with cheese and other stuff, and press it in a hot sandwich maker).
— Wander around Nahalat Binyamin. I came to Tel Aviv that morning and reconnected with Lara there.
— Independence Hall. Before we went in, Lara and I sat outside and I gave her a brief historical background for the State of Israel.
— Old Yaffo. Clock Tower. Shakshuka, this time with delicious merguez sausage inside, at Dr. Shakshuka. Shuk HaPishpeshim/Flea Market. Antique store. Artists’ colony — visit art galleries and the Floating Orange Tree sculpture by Ran Morin.
— To Netanya at night. We stayed at a friend’s place there.
— Drive up the coast from Netanya to Rosh HaNikra.
— Rosh Hanikra. Cable car. Movie. Grottoes.
— Drive to Akko/Acre, to Old City.
— Walk around in the Old City. Visit the Turkish Bathhouse/Museum. Walk down to the sea wall, and look out.
— Shwarma for dinner in the new city of Akko.
— I leave and head back to Jerusalem. Lara and friends go on to Zichron Yaakov.
— Tel Aviv. Crafts Fair at Nahalat Binyamin.
— Neve Tzedek
— Bus to Jerusalem
— Organized bus tour to Dead Sea area.
— Ein Gedi Spa. Cleansing mud bath. Float in Dead Sea.
— More drinks (and hookah) in downtown Jerusalem with friends.
— Beautiful train ride through Soreq Valley from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh.
— Dig for a Day at Maresha-Beit Guvrin. I work there, and Lara and our other friends came to participate for a few hours. I got to give them a bit of guiding.
— Lara and our friends went on to Kibbutz Tzuba for lunch at the restaurant there, and a visit to the winery.
— Dinner at my favorite restaurant in Jerusalem, Darna. Delicious Moroccan food in a beautiful and authentic environment.
— Walk to Old City to see it at night. Look out over the kotel. Visit some other Jewish Quarter sites.
— Kfar Maimon for the day.
— Drinks at night in Ashkelon, at the marina.
— Wandering in Tel Aviv. Sheinkin. Bialik. Bauhaus architecture. Rothschild. Dizengoff. Tel Aviv Namal/Marina.
— Back to Netanya. See downtown. Irish pub.
— Beach day in Netanya.
— To Ben Gurion for flight home.
So to sum up, we had hikes, archaeology, history (from many eras), fun times, good food, and much more. As well as some time to just chill and see friends. Areas included Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya. Golan, Galil (western), Kineret, coast, Negev, Shefelah — some more in depth and others just touched on. And a good taste of modern Israel as well. So overall, a good and balanced itinerary, I think!