Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Israel 2010, Part 5

Israel 2010, Part 5
©2010 By David Talbot
February 16, 2010

Tel Aviv, Israel. I was planning on writing about the Galillee Region this week, but got side-tracked by a visit to Jerusalem. So, we’ll chat about the Galillee in the next report.

Jerusalem (Getting there): There are several ways to travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Taking a commercial tour is the best option for the first visit. There are lots of tours available through your hotel, the Israel Tourist Office, or online. If you have a car, Highway 1 is very good with excellent signage and gas stations at several points along the route. Another option is by train. Israeli trains are very comfortable, are reasonably priced, and run frequently between all major points in their system. Last, and the method we chose, you can go by Sherut (mini-bus).

The Sherut system in Israel is interesting, to say the least. In Tel Aviv, Sherut routes parallel the city bus system. So, from our apartment, we can take either the number 16 bus, or the number 16 Sherut, to the Central Bus Station. The big difference is that Sheruts only carry 8 to 10 passengers. When they’re full, they continue to the Central Station and only take on new fares as current passengers get off.

Another odd characteristic of the citywide Sherut system is the way you pay. Passengers get onboard and go directly to empty seats. They then tap the shoulder or arm of the person in front of them and pass the 5.80 shekels forward, similar to getting a hot dog at a ball game when you are sitting in the middle of a row. Everyone knows what to do. If possible, sit near the front of the Sherut and become a part of the cash going up to the driver and any change going back. It’s a hoot!

For inter-city transportation, you board Sheruts at the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv. And then, you wait. Inter-city Sheruts only depart to the destination city when they’re full. If you’re going to Jerusalem or Haifa, it may take 10 minutes or less to fill. If you are going to a destination less traveled, it could take 30 minutes or more before you depart.

Arriving in Jerusalem you discover the reason why it’s better to let someone else do the driving. Streets choked with traffic, impossible parking, wide boulevards that become turning and twisting little alleys, and other drivers with more death wishes than Charles Bronson, is why we take the Sherut.

The Sherut from Tel Aviv drops you off at the Jerusalem Central Station where you take the number 1 bus directly to the Old City. In fact, it circles the Old City so the visitor can depart at the most convenient of the four entrance gates for your destination inside.

To return to Tel Aviv, simply reverse the process.

Tel Aviv to Jerusalem costs 22 Shekels each way (About $6.00) and takes about 45 minutes.

Jerusalem (The Old city): Jerusalem, Israel’s Capitol, is the premier destination for the majority of travelers to the Holy Land. Every step you take here is in the footsteps of the ancient ancestors of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

The Old City is divided into four areas, all but one open to visitors: The Armenian Quarter (Closed), the Jewish Quarter, the Arab Quarter, and the Christian Quarter. Each area has a distinct flavor. Regardless of religious preference, each is a “Must See” at least once during any trip here.

Each quarter is a fully functioning city with apartments, shops, restaurants, schools, etc. There are Synagogues, Churches, and Mosques, ancient and modern, throughout the Old City.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Via Dolorosa, Western Wall, and Dome of the Rock, are all within its walls, and open to visitors. All of these sites can be seen in one day, if that’s all you have. Alternatively, you could move here and spend a lifetime and still miss something.

On our current visit, we stuck with the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, having visited all the Christian sites, and shopped in the Arab Quarter on prior visits.

One thing we noticed on this trip: a lack of respect for the nature of the religious sites. When visiting the Western Wall, synagogues, mosques, or churches, please dress appropriately, and conduct yourself with decorum.

Most Israel tours spend 3 to 4 days in Jerusalem, with a half- day tour of the Old City included in the package. Many package tours also offer optional extended tours of the Old City, the entire Capitol, and specific sites of interest. If you are on a package tour and have a “free” day, consider a side trip to Masada (the fortress of King Herod, and the last stronghold of the zealots) and the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth). These two are usually combined in one full day optional tour. If you are traveling on your own, you may book these tours with the concierge desk of your hotel, or online.

If you prefer, one day trips from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Masada, The Dead Sea, and Galillee can be arranged through the Israel Tourist office.

Next report: Galillee Region and some final thoughts.


David Talbot

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