Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Israel 2010, Part 4

Israel 2010
©2010 By David Talbot
Part 4

February 8, 2010

Netanya, Israel. High cliffs overlooking clear turquoise seas, white sandy beaches hugging the cliffs, and warm light breezes off the water; a description of some island paradise in the South Pacific? No, this is Netanya, only 25 KM north of frenetic Tel Aviv. Long an enclave of French ex-pats and absentee owners, Netanya is booming.

Along the approximately five miles of Netanya’s coastline, high-rise condominiums, apartments, villas, and hotels are being built, or are in pre-construction sales promotions. Israeli tourism in December 2009 hit 225,000, an all time record. Increases in seasonal visitors have fueled increased demand for both short and long term accommodations, here in Netanya, and in other areas of the country.

The City is bisected by Highway 2, the major North-South traffic corridor, with the industrial areas to the East of the Highway and the mostly residential West side. The city is part Tel Aviv and part Paris. The beach promenade has been improved and is equal to ocean drives we’ve experienced in California, Hawaii, Auckland, and Florida.
Accommodations and restaurants in Netanya are available for every taste and budget.

As in Tel Aviv, public transportation is available throughout the city. In addition, train service is available on the rail line that connects many of Israel’s major cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa.

While in Israel, Netanya is a perfect getaway for the ultra modern beach experience vacation before, or after, a tour of Israel’s antiquities.

Nazareth, Israel. On every secular or Christian oriented tour operator’s mandatory list of sites, is the city of Nazareth. Our group arrived here in afternoon of the first day of our tour, after lunch in Daliyat-Al-Carmel. The attraction is Mary’s Church of the Annunciation. The site is impressive to everyone, regardless of religious preference. And, it is a great example of how this “Jewish” country preserves religious sites of significance for every community that has called this land holy. This is in contrast to other nations that have not been respectful of all mankind.

Mary’s Church is beautiful inside and out, and services are conducted here daily. Appropriate dress and decorum is suggested, inside the church. Also, don’t miss the excavation in the floor of the church, where Mary’s personal Mikveh was discovered, and is preserved. A Mikveh is a place where Jewish men and women cleanse themselves at prescribed times according to the Torah. Your tour operator will point out how ancient civilizations built upon ruins, keeping them fully or partially intact to be discovered by future archeologists. Operators will also point out whether a site is “in situ” (exactly as excavated), or a replica of an ancient site, throughout the holy land.

The Galillee Region, Israel. In addition to Nazareth, most tours take travelers to the Eastern edge of the Galillee region to view Capernaum, The Jordan River Baptismal site, the Sea of Galillee, Tiberius, and Bet Shean, before continuing to Jerusalem. These sites will consume most of a day, and represent many periods of Jewish and Christian history. I recommend, Tiberius and the surrounding area as a possible place for a post tour stay of 2 or 3 days.

In the next report I’ll give you a few of the highlights of this region that have been of interest to us as we continued our tour.

More Travel Tips:

Cell phones: Confirm, in advance of your trip, that your carrier will have roaming service and telephone compatibility. On a recent trip to Israel, my T-Mobile cell phone didn’t work. There was a roaming network, but I had recently purchased a new phone which was not compatible with the Israeli network.

Water: Water is safe to drink everywhere except parts of the Dead Sea area.

Even if you stay in a hotel without cooking facilities, don’t miss the open air markets in almost every city. In Tel Aviv-Yafo, Shuk Ha Carmel, Shuk Ha Tikvah, and Shuk Ha Pish B’sheen, are great shopping opportunities for food and merchandise. Friday afternoons are very busy in preparation for the Sabbath.

Rental cars: All major rental agencies have facilities in Israel. Book your vehicle online for best rates. Renting a car at Ben Gurion Airport includes an extra “facilities” expense. Gas is expensive and public transportation is available almost everywhere. So you may not need a car for the entire duration of your trip.

Short-term apartment rentals: We have rented apartments on each visit to Israel. Off season rentals are available from December to March or April. Weekly or monthly rates are about half of hotels. We typically pay about $1,800.00 for a monthly rental, during January and February. With hotel rates running $150 to $300 a day, an apartment rental may be an attractive alternative. The closer to the sea the higher the price

Restaurants: What can I say? There are places for every taste, and every budget. But here’s a tip, look for businessmen’s specials. Most restaurants have them from 11:00 to 15:00 every day, and they are a real bargain, compared to regular meal pricing.
Shopping: There are malls and stores lining almost every major street in Tel Aviv and other cities. Modern grocery stores and a great variety of specialty shops can be found everywhere. In many smaller shops, owners expect the customer to bargain for the best price. Even if you are reluctant to bargain, simply walking away slowly may be enough of an inducement to reduce prices at some stores, especially in the open markets.

Dollar denominated transactions: Some stores may accept dollars for purchases, but a word of caution: have a general idea of the rate of exchange. Google “Currency Converter” to get an application to check world currencies. Also, if you have a bank or debit card, they will work in Israel.

Banking options: As a general rule, notify your bank, credit/debit card issuers, and other financial institutions, that you will be traveling abroad. Make sure you understand the daily limit of an ATM transaction: 500 shekels is about $135.00 (as of the date of this article). As an example, if your bank has a limit of $250.00, it may not authorize a 500 shekel withdrawal as it appears to violate the daily limit. Credit cards are accepted for payment here, as much as they are in the States. However, in addition to bank fees, most financial institutions also charge a “Currency Exchange” fee, usually 3%. To the best of my knowledge, Discover Card is not accepted anywhere.

Don’t forget to send an email if you have a question or comment.

Next Report: More on the Galillee Region.


David Talbot

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