Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Israel 2010, Part 3

Israel 2010 Part 3
©2010 David Talbot

February 3, 2010, Akko, Israel

Akko. This ancient city is not on most tour itineraries. If you extend your stay in Israel for a few days (I recommend 2 weeks) it’s easy to get to by bus, sherut (minibus), or train. The Old City is a fortified complex of dwellings, mosques, synagogues, restaurants and shops. Entry is free and you can stroll through the city at your leisure. The Old City resembles Jerusalem, on a reduced scale. Mentioned by Pharaoh Thutmouse III about 3,500 years ago, the old city has been ruled by the Phoenicians, the biblical tribe of Asher, Kings David and Solomon, and Alexander the Great. The New Testament mentions that Saint Paul stopped here as did Julius Caesar (48 BCE). There’s more, but I think you get the idea. This is the rule here in Israel; it is an ancient land worthy of more than a casual visit.

Haifa. The city of Haifa, located about 90 miles north of Tel Aviv, is the second stop, the first day of most tours. But it’s a quick stop near the middle of Mt. Carmel, overlooking the beautiful Baha’i gardens including a panoramic view of the city. However, Haifa has many religious and secular sites of interest. It is a great place to spend a day or two if you extend your stay in Israel beyond the tour. While Haifa is not a major tourist destination, there are hotels to satisfy any taste. And, Haifa is an excellent place to serve as a base for the exploration of Northwestern Israel, including Akko, Nahariya, and the Druze villages along the edge of Mt. Carmel.

Haifa has malls, restaurants, beaches, markets, and holy sites that would take a life time to explore. In addition, Haifa is a model of diversity in that all three major, and several minor (in terms of numbers), religions are free to practice their faiths. In this city, employers ask, “can you do the work?” Religion is not an issue of employment. Public schools replicate that ethic.

Daliyat-Al-Carmel. About 25 minutes from Central Haifa along route 672, and winding around Mt. Carmel to the east, are the Druze Villages of Isfiya and Daliyat-Al-Carmel. Here’s where you’ll find all those unique souvenirs to bring back home to friends and family. At least that’s what the tour operators will tell you. My opinion? Shop carefully and keep in mind that Jerusalem markets, and the Old City, are chock full of hundreds of these shops, and competition keeps prices lower. Also, as time goes by, you’ll notice that gift shops begin to look alike and offer the same merchandise. Remember that Mexican cruise where the shops at dockside Ensenada were expensive? But in town things were much cheaper and open to negotiation? Same idea!

A few words about the Druze community, from the 4th edition of Frommers “Israel”: “The Druze are Arabic speaking people who are, however, not Muslims. …..The Druze were loyal to Israel during the 1948 war, and several of their brigades are highly respected detachments in the Israeli Army.”

More Travel Tips.
If you are planning your first trip to Israel, consider a tour. There are many tour operators available online, and in travel magazines. Prices vary considerably from one to the other, so shop around. Whether you go with a synagogue /church sponsored group, or a commercial tour, all the details are arranged in advance. The highlights of the tour are laid out and optional itineraries can be booked. The tours always include a daily Israeli Breakfast, which is reminiscent of a Roman Orgy of food, as you have never experienced. The trip from area code 575 is a long one. Having a personal representative greet you at the airport and take care of you throughout the tour is a great stress reliever.

A month or so prior to departure on our first trip, we booked an apartment, on the internet, to extend our stay in Israel Tel Aviv for 3 weeks after the tour. By then we were rested, felt comfortable in the country, and really enjoyed the city life. Most tour operators allow for extended departures.

Public transportation in Israel is safe and economical. If you extend your tour by a week or two, you do not need to rent a car. Besides the fact that parking in Israel is impossible, buses, cabs, and mini-buses (called Sheruts) are everywhere and are cheap. In addition, train service in Israel is available to most cities, and is also inexpensive. This trip we took the train from the airport to Tel Aviv. The fare was about $3.75 each (14 Shekels each). The ticket machines have an “English” option, and take Visa, MC and AMEX. A taxi from the airport is about $50.00.

Last tip this time: Continental Airlines fly’s direct to Tel Aviv from Newark, N.J. Most other air carriers have an intermediate stop in Europe. With no baggage fees for international flights, free in-flight meals for most flights over 4 hours, and lots of connections, they have become our carrier of choice to Israel. They also land at Terminal 3 in Ben Gurion Airport (TLV), where the train station is located, inside the terminal.

Next report: Netanya, Nazareth, Galillee, and more travel tips.

David Talbot

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