I had not really intended to travel to Israel but some friends had booked a tour of The Holy Land and I jumped on the bandwagon. I will not dwell on the conflicting politics of the Middle East. I can appreciate the Jews’ Zionist desire for their own historic land and culture but I found it hard to come to terms with their expansionist tendencies putting them in conflict with their Palestinian neighbours. What now of a two state solution?
In brief and In no particular order…………….
1. MEET THE LOCALS.
A mixed bunch of Jews, Christians and Arabs. English is widely spoken. From the start, on the Easy-jet flight out, one realised the culture shock with 90% of the passengers being Orthodox Jews with their traditional dress and hairstyles. The overhead lockers were full of large black hats. Can be a bit prickly — the Jews — not the hats. Beware, guns are everywhere!
2. SEA OF GALILEE/BIBLE LANDS.
Much religious tat around here but the scenery is magnificent and brings the Bible to life. Highlights are the villages Jesus was ‘said’ to frequent and where he performed his miracles — think feeding the five thousand, walking on water and changing water to wine etc. A special hilltop was The Mount of Beatitudes, a very spiritual place. Close to the Golan Heights are acres of minefields overlooking the UN buffer zone to war torn Syria. The Jordan River baptisms are an American theme park, but there are lots of fervent takers. I spotted a long hiking route through the area which would make an interesting trip.
3. ROMAN CITIES.
Caeserea and Beit She’an are wonderful evocative Roman cities excavated to reveal everyday Roman life.
Talking of Romans this spectacular hill top fort has become the symbol of Israeli resistance in a three year siege [70AD] culminating in mass suicide. Hence, the presence at the attraction of lots of School parties and Army fledglings learning their history.
5. THE DEAD SEA.
Not necessarily the scrolls but the wonderful touristy floating on the water. At 425m below sea level the lowest place on earth!
6. JERUSALEM OLD CITY.
A hotchpotch of society, races and architecture. Spend as many days as possible wandering the alleys here. Soak up the unique culture and activities. Highlights are the Wailing Wall, The Temple Mount, Islamic sites with the Dome of the Rock, the Jewish quarter and synagogues, the Arab markets and Mamluk architecture, Garden of Gethsemane and Mount of Olives, the Via Dolorosa and the Christian churches culminating at queues in the Holy Sepulchre. ? The crucifixion site — but also visit the wonderful Garden Tomb, in a bus station!, for an alternative evocative historical view.
7. YAD VASHEM HOLOCAUST MUSEUM.
Architect Moshe Safdie’s austere memorial to the 6 million Jews killed at the hands of the Nazis. I found this a humbling and emotional [if not harrowing] experience. Despite it’s sombre dimensions the museum highlights wonderful snapshots of personal experiences through pictures and diaries. Needed more time to take it all in.
A must visit but rather a let down. Interesting for a close up view of the Israeli partition fence/wall and in our case the tourist bus being stoned by local Palestinian kids. Fair dos as some had been shot the week before by Israeli soldiers. The famous Christmas tree was in the square being decorated by a firm from Liverpool!! The Church of Nativity has a star marking the supposed site of Christ’s birth. This is all in the Palestinian Controlled Sector.
9. TEL AVIV MUSEUM OF ART.
A modern exciting gallery, by architect Preston Scott Cohen, houses a large collection of Impressionist and post-impressionists. Also highlighted are 20th century avant-garde pieces and lots of contemporary exhibitions. I was lucky to catch a roomful of Andy Warhol creations. You name it, they’ve got it here, mainly funded by worldwide rich Jewish corporations and families. One area of beautifully lit, geometric floor levels has a stunning 27m hanging installation, Lusitana, by Joana Vasconcelos. A colourful textile and artefact giant organic piece interweaving onto all floors. Brilliant.
10. TEL AVIV BEACHES.
Over a kilometer stretch of golden sands, protected by breakwaters giving clean safe bathing. Extremely popular with locals and tourists. The sea was warm enough in December with air temperatures in the high 20s. Beach volley ball and racquet games are added entertainment. Book a hotel on the beachfront to enjoy the atmosphere and then watch the beautiful sunsets from your favourite terrace bar.
OK then — No 11. THE FOOD.
Couldn’t miss the food out!
Israelis seem to eat and drink coffee all day. The ubiquitous Falafels and Hummus on the street and in the cafes are tasty and wholesome. The salads are to die for. Freshly pressed Pomegranate juice revives the weary tourist. Search out some good fish restaurants.
Wouldn’t you just love to own a café you could name The Last Supper?
Breakfasts are a banquet in their own right. I was there during Hanukkah, Festival of Lights, and every evening there was a surfeit of delicious traditional doughnuts, sugar heaven.
Ah well, back to the New Year’s Diet.
It takes me some time to digest [no pun intended] and interpret all the nuances of this amazing country. Lots of conflicts and questions. But what is the solution?