Category Archives: Haifa

Israel Tour replaced by the Israeli Gem Tour

After many years of having the normal, standard Israeli tour in our packages, we have decided to replace it with the Israeli Gem tour. Reason? You want to know the truth? We’re extremely bored with this tour. The people receive sub-standard, not-quality product, while the Gem tour is exciting, nice, interesting and nobody falls asleep during that tour. This is the description of the ‘new’ Gem tour.

We are here talking and showing you this replacement tour, day after day. It tells about the gems you will see, the exciting sights you will visit and the hidden sights like little shops, caves, grottoes, hidden buildings and cities, visit amazing markets, see history coming out of the dust and you can see virtually it happening again. This tour gives you an excellent idea what Israel actually is and how it looks like.

Pricing
And you know what? With our new pricing policy for all the (none-budget) tours, there is no difference in price for a normal Israel tour and the Gem tour. Read here more about the prices. Now it’s possible to have a 7 day tour for under the $600 ($537 p.p.) all-in (this is for example the Israeli Gem tour with a group of 30 people, all-in). And this is NOT a low-budget tour with public transportation!

Then there is another issue about pricing and the tours. If you want to come to Israel for a tour with a small group (let’s say 6 people), the normal choices is that you pay thousands of dollars or you must try to join an existing large group. With us, a group of 6 people pay $910 (p.p.) for 7 days, all-in Israeli Gem Tour.

What is so different between Gem tour and the old Israel tour?
In short, the difference is the content of the tour. In a gem tour, we show you gems (rare interesting and exciting parts of a tour, which is normally not shown).

But let me give you the long answer with examples. An example of the first day of touring in Jerusalem. That day starts with the Hop-On-Hop-Off tour bus of Jerusalem, which will give you a ‘birds-eye of what’s to see in Jerusalem with 28 stops. The guide is here only pointing to the sights (you will soon be visiting them)!

Israeli Parliament Building
Israeli Parliament Building

Another normal boring part of the tour and that’s the Israel Parliament building. We go a bit deeper in the material as usual while visiting and you will be soon meeting and experiencing the unexpected. But this is not as boring as you might expect! Why? Because you get several tours combined here: the general tour, the ‘democratic’ tour, Art and Photographs, Architecture tour, Green tour, Law and Enforcement tour and the Knesset Archaeology Park. When we’re finished, you’ve a total different picture of the Israeli Knesset then before. And that is for sure the case for native Israelis, who in general have no idea what’s going on in their own Knesset building.

Another thing what is different. The model of ancient Jerusalem is normally displayed to all tourists, and for our guides this was always a problem. When you see the model once, it’s really cool. But when you see the model more then 200 times, it’s really dump, not cool and boring to the extreme. So we created a little ‘game’ with tablet computers and mobile phones (an app) you get from us. Many ancient buildings in the model are still there for us and we will see them in real, while everyone can compare them with the model of ancient Israel.And history of Jerusalem doesn’t stop with the creation of the City of David; it rather starts thousands of years before that.

And not to forget the detailed stories the guides are telling you for each part of the ancient model of Israel. Guides can be many things, but one of the basic requirements of a good guide is people knowledge and story telling and that’s what they will demonstrate to you.

And of course the knowledge of the little things, which makes this tour so interesting, exciting and … tasty. Do you know that you can taste real Dutch ‘olie-bollen’ near the Model of Ancient Jerusalem?

The second day we’re still touring Jerusalem, but we will focus not only on the default sights very tourist will visit in a tour, but the not well known worlds of mystery and beauty Jerusalem has also to offer, which are very quiet (no noise, because no tour will come here then only us). An example. While we are touring the normal sights, we will ‘disappear’ for a couple of hours in visiting the city underneath Jerusalem and show you things, most natives don’t know about.

And we ‘disappear’ from the streets to visit those little, tiny shops, where you truly can buy gems for little money. Perfect for unique gifts about Jerusalem for home, family and fiends.

For that evening, we can organize the guided tours through the belly of Jerusalem (and the light show near City of David), walking through tunnels, caves, grottoes and each of them with its own exciting and interesting history of several thousands of years.

There is for example a cave, which leads from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. We will show you the beginning of this cave and give people the choice to ‘take this extra tour’ (it’s included in the tour after all) when we drive to the Dead Sea at day 4. In that case, the bus drives in the evening from Bethlehem to Jerusalem (after dinner at day 4), drops the volunteers off in Jerusalem, and returns. The volunteers ‘hike’ through the cave to the Dead Sea at night and will arrive about the same time as the rest of the group arrives by bus. That’s normally day 4/5.

At day 3, we are still in Jerusalem, but we’re going to show you the gems of the tour in Jerusalem. If you see the Church of St Mary Magdalene, you didn’t see it truly, because how beautiful it is from the outside, it’s breathtakingly beautiful from the inside. And you are going to talk to the monks and priests and you’re going not only see the inside, you’re going to hear about history, meet actual history.

For example Prince Charles from England visited Israel (because of the death of Simon Perez) and visited his aunt, buried in a half-open tomb in the Church of St Mary Magdalene. You will see his aunt too in her beautiful tomb and you also will see why she’s buried there.

In that same Orthodox church, you will see the actual active connections between the Holy Land and several other countries, like Russia, England others.

But that’s not all you will see at this day, we’re going to visit the Schindler’s grave. And you will not only visit his grave, but you’ll be witness of one of the most unknown stories of the Jewish and Christian bible, the Cursed Hill. More details in the tour!

Also the day 3 Jerusalem, we will visit several monasteries, which are normally not visited by the tours (except the expensive ones), like the Monastery of the Cross. This is an amazing monastery with beauty in and outside of the fortress-like building.

Jericho is an amazing place. The little town is the same as it was when the Canaan were living here (thousands of years ago) and there is not much changed (ten thousand years of history ‘frozen’ for you to see). Except there are truly treasures for the tourists, gems in diamond. Read the history of this amazing place where time stood still and is a taste what will come for this tour.

The Mount Temptation is also a special place. Not only it’s the place where Jesus could confront the Devil for 40 days, but it’s also the place of the Monasteries and the caves.  It’s also the place of the many secrets and many surviving mystical stories about hermits, evil, spiritual battles and the lives of monks.

St. Theodosius Monastery
St. Theodosius Monastery

At day 4 we don’t forget the St. Theodosius Monastery. Saint Theodosius was a monk from Cappadocia, who was led by God to seek out a cave where the three Wise Men rested after paying homage to Infant Jesus after the angel had warned them to return to their country via another road. We will visit this beautiful monastery and of course we’ll see what’s inside and speak with the Monks, who’ll be waiting for us. We can drink their excellent homemade wine (and buy some for underway). The stories the Monks tell about Theodosius are worth hearing them and the guide will tell the rest of the stories when we leave the Monastery.

Then we will arrive at Herodium and Herodian buildings and Herods tomb.

Herod’s Tomb
Herod’s Tomb

Herod’s tomb is said to be located there, even when the scholars are fighting between themselves like street cats, but what you see there in the tomb is still interesting. Also what King Herold did with the mountain (flatting and hollowing it) is also something you must see with your own eyes. The archeologists only uncovered some percentages of the what Herold did those times, it’s still beautiful and fascinating.

We will visit the Solomon’s Pools, Monastery of St. Elias and Mar Saba Monastery and then we go into Bethlehem and visit Bethlehem’s Manger Square, Church of the Nativity, Grotto of the Annunciation and the Milk Grotto.

Day 5 is the day, where we start with a visit to Neot Kedumim. It’s a special place, where you can see how everything looked during the biblical times. And I tell you now already, you need to relax there, because you’re going to need it.

Before we all going to taste the dust, we are going to visit an oasis with the name Ein Gedi National Park. It’s fantastic (take your swimwear with you!).

Ein Gedi National Park
Ein Gedi National Park

It’s a canyon full with springs, waterfalls, little ponds, beautiful nature and all between the mountains. For those who like to hike a little, there are many hike trails close to us, or leading further away to breathtaking views over the nearby Dead Sea and mountains. And if you ask the guide, you can also explore the water caves hidden at the sides of the nearby mountains, which are almost all being skipped by other normal tours.

And then we have of course Masada Mountain & Cable Car. For those too lazy (or you don’t want to hike up in the burning heath), there is a cable car, otherwise there is the snake path to go upstairs to Masada and let the guide tell about the battles of Masada in details. Read here an sample of those critical times.

The Dead Sea is as it is. It’s healthy for the skin and body, it’s fun to run around covered in mud, it’s very strange to dump in the sea and you can’t dive (you always drift, whatever you do) and don’t forget it’s hurtful when you have little scratches on your skin when you go into the sea. It’s also fun to do the activity ‘people watching’ on a lazy chair in the shade with something cold to drink. And we will make a small d-tour right before we leave the beaches of the Dead Sea and show you another little oasis and tell the story about this one (so more personal and interesting then the oasis of Ein Gedi). If you ask the guide sweetly, he will do his magic and will magic you the most amazing ice creams you have ever tasted. And home-made Arab lemonades. And of course the Bedouin coffee and sweets.

Camel
Here is Junior (Junior Guide) (here real name is Lena) on Fred the Camel

In the evening we have barbecue a la Bedouin! Lamb meat with millions of salads, sauces, other meat, fruit, breads, and who knows what’s more, but more then we all can eat in a month. And maybe the Bedouin will bring Wim’s favorite Fred the Camel (Fred the camel and Wim the guide have a whole ongoing history with each other. According Wim, Fred the camel is gay. We all think that Fred the camel thinks that Wim is too fat and heavy for his poor back).

Bedouin coffee
Bedouin coffee

Now the Bedouin coffee. That’s coffee you never have tasted before, I think.  Bedouins like to drink thick, gritty coffee traditionally made from green beans crushed in a brass mortar and spiced with cardamom, and sometimes ginger root. Out in the desert the coffee is brewed with water boiled over a brush wood fire and poured from a long-beaked brass pot into porcelain thimble-size cups or small cups that look like egg cups.

The word barbecue is wrong when you use it in one sentence with Bedouin. Why? I show you images of what we can eat, depending on the Bedouin people we invite and your favorites and preferences (which we talk about before hand).

Men, women, children and infants in Bedouin tribes decorate their eyes with kohl as the ancient Egyptians did. Some Bedouin women have geometric facial tattoos and henna-stained patterns on their calloused hands. You will see them and women can speak with them (for males it’s forbidden to speak with Bedouin women). With water in short supply, Bedouins don’t take many baths. Before prayers they often wash with sand rather than scarce water. Bedouins wash their hair with powdered leaves of the sidr tree, a thorny fruit tree also know as Christ’s thorn because it believed to have been used to make Christ’s crown of thorns. The leaves are dried and pounded and mixed with water to make a lather.

And of course, with the evening fun in the desert (near our hotel though), there is the tradition of story telling. We let a Bedouin elder tell a story of his (or your) choice and the guide will translate it. It’s worth it. Many times the Bedouin is telling stories thousands of years old and millions of times retold by his ancestors.

White Mosque Nazareth
White Mosque Nazareth

And day 6 brings Nazareth. But Nazareth is not only the place, which is important for Christians, but it’s a place with a rich history and mystery! Yes, mysteries, because of the many times bloody history, the scars of the land and city are still visible and we will see them. But we will also visit the normal sights like Church of the Nativity, Basilica of the Annunciation, Grotto of the Annunciation, Church of St. Joseph’s Carpentry and Nazareth Village.

Nazareth market
Nazareth market

For the fun, we will visit the Nazareth market and for the mystique we will see and hear the stories of the first Christians and the prosecution of them in Greek Orthodox bishop’s house. And then we will visit – for those who wants – the cursed places, which are still haunted (for those who are sensible for it), where the souls of hundreds, maybe thousands of children are uneasily resting in caves under churches on the slopes of nearby hills.

Basilica of the Annunciation
Basilica of the Annunciation

In the evening we will visit the city again, but this time it’s the night tour of the city, which is so important for Christianity and the guide will tell about the history of the city, the interaction of the Muslims in the time that the Muslims were ruling these lands and the miracles happened near the Basilica of the Annunciation for Christians and Muslims alike.

Mount of Beatitudes
Mount of Beatitudes

Day 7 we will travel a lot and we will visit mountains, the Kfar Cana wedding church (for those who want to do their renewal of the wedding vows, you can do those here. At the beginning of the tour we are asking for those who want that and we will make arrangements for that). We will visit the Khurvat Minya, Mount of Beatitudes, St. Peter’s Primacy, Tabgha, Meshushim Pool in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve (hike), Mount Tabor, Mount Arbel National Park and Tiberias.

At the Meshushim Pool in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve, we will hike a bit (and for those who want to swim only, be our guest, one of our guides will stay there), the nature is more then impressive and it gives you a small idea how the rest of the nature reserves are in Israel. Tiberias is Tiberias and we will have a boat tour on the Sea of Galilee. Traditionally we let the guests make their selections here, because there are simply too many possibilities with the boat tours and Tiberias.

Sea of Galilee
Sea of Galilee

We can arrange speedboat racing, banana boats over the Sea of Galilee, a motor boat (small one with maximum 2-4 people), a Jesus Boat, a party boat, a floating restaurant for dinner on the lake, a simple, small row boat for the romantics under us or the group can rent the whole Jesus boat and we can do what we want on the Sea of Galilee.

One thing is important and that applies on all phases and moments of this tour. Nothing is boring, everything is interesting and even the Israeli natives will look at Israel with new eyes. That’s the reason why this is a gem tour. I really hate it when my guides get bored.

Old city Tiberias
Old city Tiberias

In the evening we will have the city tour through old Tiberias. For those who want or are interested, we can visit the ancient cemetery of Tiberias with some graves there more then a thousand years old, speaking of ancient. There are even graves from the Roman period! At the cemetery the guide knows more about the place then the local caretaker does.

Tiberias
Tiberias

At day 8, we have the bus trip from Tiberias to Caesarea from the Romans, Caesarea Aqueduct, Muhraka, Universal House of Justice (Bahai), Bahai Gardens and Shrine, The Carmel Mountain and Haifa.

This day is more conventional, except all of our guides are very knowledgeable and their stories will captivate anyone. Be also aware, the guide will start his stories while in the bus the moment you leave your hotel in Tiberias!

Caesarea Aqueduct
Caesarea Aqueduct

Caesarea from the Romans and Caesarea Aqueduct are very dusty and that means drinking. We all will taste the Arab home made lemonades (before you all go to the colas and fantas). And if you drink tea before we arrive at Caesarea from the Romans and Caesarea Aqueduct, you will find out that you can handle the heath much better.

Muhraka - Chair of Elijah
Muhraka – Chair of Elijah

At Muhraka, the guide will go into battle-story mode and will tell with his ‘visual tools (and a fantastic movie)’ about the battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. While telling this story, we will all witness the traces of that famous battle. It’s the story of fire that rained down from the sky, with brimstone and all. You can even see the Chair of Elijah! It’s a place important and holy for the Jewish, Christian, Druze and Muslim religions. And of course we will visit the Monastery (Horn of the Carmel, the monastery of the “place of burning”).

And of course we drink there too and not to forget the excellent Druze lunch.

After all that, and when we are a bit recovered from the drama and lunch, we arrive in Haifa and we will visit first Universal House of Justice (Bahai) and Bahai Gardens and Shrine. It’s simply too beautiful not to visit.

Louis Promenade, Haifa
Louis Promenade, Haifa

In the evening we have a shopping trip prepared for you. Haifa is a large city and there are so many things to see, it can’t be pressed in a tour for 10 days, you need at least 30 days before you can leave home and have seen only 5% of the city and environment.

Haifa Flea Market
Haifa Flea Market

And I’m not talking about the sights, but the markets, the neighborhoods, the museums, the galleries, the concerts, festivals, jazz, folk-dancing, theater, the harbor, the dancings, cafes and restaurants and thousands of other things to do in this harbor city.

Day 9 we will leave Haifa and drive to Acre. Acre is something special in Israel as a coast city. First read the crazy history of the ancient city Acre and then you know what I’m talking about. But in this old, ancient city, we only show you a few of those crazy things history gave.

The guide will tell you about the battles and the ghosts of the past, the tragedies happened here, but we will visit even more beautiful parks from the Bahai Center and Gardens in Acre.

After that, we will focus on the Christian sights with St. George Greek-Orthodox Church, and the Crusader’s Citadel and once secret Templars Tunnel (rediscovered literally in the garbage) and the Lighthouse of Acre with it’s greatly unknown, but interesting history and romantic drama.

At the end, we focus on the Muslim part of the city and visit the second largest Mosque in Israel, the El-Majadele Mosque. And we will have the time to visit the Turkey’s bath house. The evening we will spend time on the evening city tour with the Acre coffee (Wim the guide’s preference) and with its lovely cakes and of course the tour itself. We will have several choices for everyone as evening tour. You all can choose the Jewish tour, or the Christian tour, or the Muslim tour.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv we will reach at day 10, where we will show you this so called white city. First of all, whatever and whoever claims so, the city is not white. It’s only white when you fly over the city with the airplane, but for the rest it’s a place, which is bursting with activities and life, 24 hours long. At day the city is dynamic and you see the house wives, elderly, tourists and you people moving through this city, and everything changes in the evening.

Tel Aviv night life
Tel Aviv night life

In the evening many younger people are suddenly ‘popping’ up and visit and enjoy the large city entertainment in bars, cafes, restaurants, dancings, night clubs, beach parties, concerts, festivals and go on like this for a long time. In the night, the whole thing changes again. Tel Aviv 4Especially the beaches are many people still awake and walk through and along the city at night. Many bars, restaurants and other entertainment is still open and works and it goes on till the morning, when the night people disappear and replaced by the morning folks. It’s amazing.

But Tel Aviv is of course for the normal tourist Jaffa, Jaffa Flea Market and the Tel Aviv – Jaffa Promenade. That’s really fun, because you must stir the guide to show the in- and out’s of the Jaffa Flea Market. And then we have Jaffa … this harbor city is very old and it shows. Even when many things are renovated, it was the place of Napoleon, the Greeks, the Egyptians, even the Germans and all the others who came and went. Ask the guide for his battle history for this place and he will tell and show you the most amazing places, not many tourists see. An example is the story about Napoleon and his armies conquering Jaffa and what went wrong that time!

Within Tel Aviv, we will visit the nice places like Nachlat Binyamin Arts & Crafts Fair, Rothschild Boulevard, Sheinkin Street, Neve Tsedek Neighborhood and Dizengoff Street. Oh I almost forgot. Shopping and more shopping here.

And finally, when there is still time, the Tel Aviv beaches. White beaches and near the evening or late afternoon, not busy (or overloaded full when it’s warm)!

Tel Aviv North Port
Tel Aviv North Port

In the evening we arrange a nice fish dinner at the Tel Aviv North Port. For those who want, we can arrange some fishing time on sea to catch your own fish. Also we can arrange that we all eat on the Sea instead of the restaurant, violin players included or not.

And that concludes the replacement of the normal Israel tour with the Israeli Gem tour. I personally think it’s worth it and the tour is truly fantastic.

The tour is designed to give you an overview, which goes much further then normal tours. The tour is proactive, interesting and deep. But, like most successful tours, it’s too short. You need at least a 30 day tour to cover 1% of Israel.

Classical Israeli-Gems Tour, 7 Days – from $537 per person all in.

For this (multiple day) tour, you need to have the following:

  1. Wim Vincken
    Wim Vincken, Guide

    An itinerary (this one for example. Click here to customize this tour for you)

    A guide. You can use the information here instead of renting a guide, but in the end it’s more expensive and a huge hassle.

  2. Transport. Transports can be that you hire a mini-bus with driver, or you rent a car or let your guide do it for you (click here for more info).
  3. Hotels. You can use the info here, or on bookings.com or generally the Internet or let your guide negotiate the best deals for hotels for you.
  4. Food. You can use the restaurants here in this itinerary or ask the guide.
  5. What you need to supply is
    1. Airplane tickets
    2. Visa and insurance

For costs, questions, queries and other related information, click here. For pricing, click here.

This tour is for visitors to the Israel. It will bring you to Jerusalem, followed by Masada, Dead Sea, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Caesarea, Haifa, Acre and Tel Aviv and visit 44 sights. The tour is designed for the individual, as for groups, with or without a professional guide. The guide can speak English, German and Dutch. This is an Israeli Gem tour and that means that the guide will show you the special side for each sight of the tour. This is now the normal tourist tour.

You will visit the following cities or places in this tour:

Day 1 – Jerusalem
Day 2 – Jerusalem
Day 3 – Masada and Dead Sea tour
Day 4 – Nazareth
Day 5 – Sea of Galilee
Day 6 – Acre, Caesarea and Haifa
Day 7 – Tel Aviv

Itinerary:

Day 1 – Jerusalem

Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus 99
Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus 99
  1. Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus 99
  2. Israeli Parliament Building
  3. Model of ancient Jerusalem
  4. Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
  5. Children’s Memorial

Day 2 – Jerusalem

Ein Karem
Ein Karem
  1. Ein Karem
  2. Kidron Valley
  3. Akaldema
  4. Western Wall
  5. Western Wall Tunnels
  6. Warren’s Shaft
  7. Hezekiah’s Tunnel
  8. Underground Jerusalem tour

Day 3 – Masada and Dead Sea tour

Dead Sea
Dead Sea
  1. Neot Kedumim
  2. Ein Gedi National Park
  3. Masada Mountain & Cable Car
  4. Dead Sea
  • Evening: Dead Sea beach with barbecue
  • Hotel near Dead Sea

Day 4 – Nazareth

Greek Orthodox bishop’s house
Greek Orthodox bishop’s house
  1. Church of the Nativity
  2. Basilica of the Annunciation
  3. Grotto of the Annunciation
  4. Church of St. Joseph’s Carpentry
  5. Nazareth Village
  6. Greek Orthodox bishop’s house
  7. Nazareth market
  • Evening: Night city tour
  • Hotel in Nazareth

Day 5 – Sea of Galilee

Arbel cliffs
Arbel cliffs
  1. Kfar Cana Wedding Church
  2. Khurvat Minya
  3. Mount of Beatitudes, St. Peter’s Primacy, Tabgha
  4. Meshushim Pool in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve (hike)
  5. Mount Tabor
  6. Mount Arbel National Park
  7. Tiberias

Day 6 – Acre, Caesarea and Haifa

Bahai Gardens and Shrine
Bahai Gardens and Shrine
  1. Acre
  2. Caesarea from the Romans
  3. Caesarea Aqueduct
  4. Muhraka
  5. Universal House of Justice (Bahai)
  6. Bahai Gardens and Shrine
  7. The Carmel Mountain
  • Evening: Shopping
  • Hotel in Haifa

Day 7 – Tel Aviv

Sheinkin Street
Sheinkin Street
  1. Jaffa
  2. Jaffa Flea Market
  3. Tel Aviv – Jaffa Promenade
  4. Nachlat Binyamin Arts & Crafts Fair
  5. Rothschild Boulevard, Sheinkin Street, Neve Tsedek Neighborhood and Dizengoff Street
  6. Tel Aviv beaches

 

Classical Israeli-Gems Tour, 10 Days – from $767 per person all in.

For this (multiple day) tour, you need to have the following:

  1. Wim Vincken
    Wim Vincken, Guide

    An itinerary (this one for example. Click here to customize this tour for you)

    A guide. You can use the information here instead of renting a guide, but in the end it’s more expensive and a huge hassle.

  2. Transport. Transports can be that you hire a mini-bus with driver, or you rent a car or let your guide do it for you (click here for more info).
  3. Hotels. You can use the info here, or on bookings.com or generally the Internet or let your guide negotiate the best deals for hotels for you.
  4. Food. You can use the restaurants here in this itinerary or ask the guide.
  5. What you need to supply is
    1. Airplane tickets
    2. Visa and insurance

For costs, questions, queries and other related information, click here. For pricing, click here.

This tour is for visitors to the Israel. It will bring you to Jerusalem, followed by Jericho, Bethlehem, Masada, Dead Sea, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Caesarea, Haifa, Acre and Tel Aviv and visit 65 sights. The tour is designed for the individual, as for groups, with or without a professional guide. The guide can speak English, German and Dutch. This is an Israeli Gem tour and that means that the guide will show you the special side for each sight of the tour. This is now  the normal tourist tour.

You will visit the following cities or places in this tour:

Day 1 – Jerusalem
Day 2 – Jerusalem
Day 3 – Jerusalem and Jericho
Day 4 – Bethlehem
Day 5 – Masada and Dead Sea tour
Day 6 – Nazareth
Day 7 – Sea of Galilee
Day 8 – Caesarea and Haifa
Day 9 – Acre
Day 10 – Tel Aviv

Itinerary:

Day 1 – Jerusalem

Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus 99
Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus 99
  1. Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus 99
  2. Israeli Parliament Building
  3. Model of ancient Jerusalem
  4. Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
  5. Children’s Memorial

Day 2 – Jerusalem

Ein Karem
Ein Karem
  1. Ein Karem
  2. Kidron Valley
  3. Akaldema
  4. Western Wall
  5. Western Wall Tunnels
  6. Warren’s Shaft
  7. Hezekiah’s Tunnel
  8. Underground Jerusalem tour

Day 3 – Jerusalem and Jericho

Church of St Mary Magdalene
Church of St Mary Magdalene
  1. Church of St Mary Magdalene
  2. Schindler’s grave
  3. Monastery of the Cross
  4. Biblical Zoo
  5. Jericho Observation Deck
  6. Old Roman Road
  7. Mount Temptation
  • Evening: Old City tour by night
  • Hotel in Jerusalem

Day 4 – Bethlehem

Mar Saba Monastery
Mar Saba Monastery
  1. St. Theodosius Monastery
  2. Herodium and Herodian buildings and Herods tomb.
  3. Solomon’s Pools
  4. Monastery of St. Elias
  5. Bethlehem’s Manger Square
  6. Church of the Nativity
  7. Grotto of the Annunciation
  8. Milk Grotto
  9. Mar Saba Monastery
  • Hotel in Bethlehem

Day 5 – Masada and Dead Sea tour

Dead Sea
Dead Sea
  1. Neot Kedumim
  2. Ein Gedi National Park
  3. Masada Mountain & Cable Car
  4. Dead Sea
  • Evening: Dead Sea beach with barbecue
  • Hotel near Dead Sea

Day 6 – Nazareth

Greek Orthodox bishop’s house
Greek Orthodox bishop’s house
  1. Church of the Nativity
  2. Basilica of the Annunciation
  3. Grotto of the Annunciation
  4. Church of St. Joseph’s Carpentry
  5. Nazareth Village
  6. Greek Orthodox bishop’s house
  7. Nazareth market
  • Evening: Night city tour
  • Hotel in Nazareth

Day 7 – Sea of Galilee

Arbel cliffs
Arbel cliffs
  1. Kfar Cana Wedding Church
  2. Khurvat Minya
  3. Mount of Beatitudes, St. Peter’s Primacy, Tabgha
  4. Meshushim Pool in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve (hike)
  5. Mount Tabor
  6. Mount Arbel National Park
  7. Tiberias

Day 8 – Caesarea and Haifa

Bahai Gardens and Shrine
Bahai Gardens and Shrine
  1. Caesarea from the Romans
  2. Caesarea Aqueduct
  3. Muhraka
  4. Universal House of Justice (Bahai)
  5. Bahai Gardens and Shrine
  6. The Carmel Mountain
  • Evening: Shopping
  • Hotel in Haifa

Day 9 – Acre

Bahai Center and Gardens Acre
Bahai Center and Gardens Acre
  1. Bahai Center and Gardens in Acre
  2. St. George Greek-Orthodox Church
  3. Citadel
  4. Templars Tunnel
  5. Lighthouse of Acre
  6. El-Majadele Mosque
  • Evening: Old city of Acre
  • Hotel in Acre

Day 10 – Tel Aviv

Sheinkin Street
Sheinkin Street
  1. Jaffa
  2. Jaffa Flea Market
  3. Tel Aviv – Jaffa Promenade
  4. Nachlat Binyamin Arts & Crafts Fair
  5. Rothschild Boulevard, Sheinkin Street, Neve Tsedek Neighborhood and Dizengoff Street
  6. Tel Aviv beaches

 

The Tour from Hell

This tour was the tour from hell … for me. For the group absolutely not, because they had loads of fun, costing me my hair of course. We are talking about a tour, which shows what Israel actually is, a mixture of culture, adventure, exploration and Israeli sights in all the major touristic centers of Israel. This article is part of the Tour Guide Diaries September 2016.

I’m working on whole range of new tours, like the so called low-budget tours and the tours, which mixes several things together in a more exciting tour then currently exists, and this tour is one of them (for example, we go on concert in the evening, visit festivals, workshops, join even a work camp to dig into the ground with the archeologists, visit the sights, do a little gem-touring, etc.). We were out for 12 days, our group was 50 (originally 30) strong from all over the United States, ages were between 17 and 63, and the group arrived at the airport 13 days ago (from the date of publishing)(so I’m recovering already for three days).

Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport
Welcome to Israel from the Ben Gurion Airport

We went to the airport in a very good mood, I had my junior guides with me (Igor and Lena or together “the Juniors”), our new bus and the driver with the nickname “the Beast” (he’s small and overly polite and never shows any emotion, so his nickname is “the Beast” and his real name is Eddie) to pickup our new group for our new mixture tours.

One thing about nicknames! I really didn’t gave them their nicknames. I’ve no nickname … except ‘the Sheik’, because of some small misunderstanding last August, where some Bedouin men on the goat market of Be’er Sheba were advising me to take ten women as wives to drink coffee with me, but nobody remembers that, thank goodness for that.

I double checked my nice, sign-board (so people know it’s us) I was holding with our names on it to welcome our group. I really don’t want to repeat that prank from the last time where the driver changed the text into “Here’s the Idiot” or something like that. The board covered our names nicely.

When the people started to stream out of the checkout I held up my board and voila! People noticed and streamed to us with smiles on their faces. I spoke before their flight with them in a conference call over the Internet and I’m happy they were in such a good mood.

Hi Sheik! How are you?!” one yelled cheekily with a big grin on his face (someone has been talking)! And soon we were almost overwhelmed with the thirty people … and some … more? We moved our group from the hall to let them drink something and have maybe a bite to eat, but I realized that the group was much larger then 30! I was already upset about the Sheik thing and now this. Maybe some people they met during their flight? The Juniors were already suspiciously grinning.

It turned out that at the last moment they found more people who wanted to join this tour, but ‘forgot’ to tell me. So, suddenly instead of 30 people, we have now 45 people! And not to forget the payments. And the reservations. And the bus! And my heart! And what’s left of my hair! And not to forget my blood pressure.

You know, I’m just 56 years old and I’m old man and it’s really in those times that I’m thinking about going on pension. Maybe a pension on an island somewhere with nobody else then my wife. Well … when my wife comes with me, then she wants her cats also to come with us. And her aquarium with those bl**dy fish too. And the kids too and they have dogs.

I suddenly realize that we have a problem. The hotel reservation with our hotel is in Jerusalem and I know that they have no additional place; they are booked full (they had place for us of course, but with 30 people, not 45). One of my Juniors grabbed my hand, which was busy to pull out my hair (not joking). While the group was amusing themselves, five more people came in to join the group (they said ‘sorry, we’re late’, carrying large boxes with toys they bought at Duty Free). That’s 50!

I called a colleague, who must find us a hotel in or near Jerusalem, who can place a group of 53 people that same day. In high season! I quickly broke the connection with the swearing colleague (he’s called ‘The Pipe’, because he smokes … guess what? Correct, large cigars).

Feeling better, I processed the extra people, gave a pep talk to the Juniors and moved the army … eh … group to the Beast (to our bus). The poor man’s face lit up when he saw us coming. When the people started to enter his bus, slowly his expression turned from happy into confused … then shocked and was trying to find me … only I was at a safe distance looking at the scene and waiting for the expected eruption of ‘the beast’ soon to be … erupting.

‘The Beast’ came out of his bus and walked straight at me. I pointed at the Juniors with my thumb and blamed them for the problem of overcrowding his new and shiny bus. Before the juniors could react and recover from the shock, I was already moving quickly into the bus to tackle the next problem. That’s called strategical thinking. I don’t remember who advised something like that, but what I do remember was the advise “… never admit you’re wrong, always blame the one next to you …”. It never works with my wife though.

So in the bus, I started to bring the problem in front of our group. They came up right before they left to Israel with an additional 20 people for the group without telling us and we have only reservations for 30 people and the hotel is booked full. There will be no chance in hell that we would find another hotel for 50 people  within a couple of hours, then maybe a beach … but no beach in Jerusalem. And not to forget the damage for the hotel if we cancel at the last moment, the money would not be returned and the tour would be more expensive for all of us.

So the group decided that they would room together for this night. Not that they cared, because it was a rowdy group, who would be visiting a pop-concert that night after dinner in the old city and I saw already several girls checking out several gents. I felt my blood pressure going up when I also saw the expression of several of the people of this group who were already grinning mischievously.

During our talk, my disgruntled Juniors were already in the bus and my driver in his place. When he started the motor, I could hear how upset he was. The bus is exactly for 53 people and we always have a golden rule to have a larger bus then we there are people in the group. Well, technically we still have (three reserve places), but it was not ideal. They will suffer during the tour.

While we were on our way to Jerusalem, I got a phone call with a swearing Pipe (the guide my age checking out hotels) and he said he moved the reservations to another hotel the days after for 52 people and claimed that I could sleep outside and hung up. Funny boy. Oof. Two things down. Now a bigger bus and that would be even perfect. So instead of chatting with ‘the Beast’ myself, I sent him a SMS. Much more manly, not? I could have sent the Juniors, but they were angry at me for some reason.

American Colony Hotel
American Colony Hotel

All went well during our trip to our hotel in Jerusalem. We only had four bathroom stops, so nothing more then normal in such situation (never happened like that, but who cares at that point). We arrived at last at the American Colony Hotel.

We all got out of our bus and we moved into our hotel, with a smiling hotel manager who was looking at us happily and welcomed us in Israel with open arms. That continued – smiling and all – until he realized that there were not 30 of us, but the whole “g&^^%^$^%$%#$%d” US army!  Suddenly he was not smiling anymore and I saw him already looking for me. The cowards of a Juniors ran already in the hotel, so I was forced to confront the manager myself.

After calming the manager down (and pay a fortune to do that), he clearly didn’t care anymore to welcome us to his hotel, he disappeared posthaste. After everyone was checked in, and disappeared into the hotel, I could sit in one of those easy sofas at last.

That evening I discovered that I forgot to check myself in. “Well, sorry, no place!” But I arranged a bigger bus (the bus was called Fat Bertha, like that super gun), the Beast was happy again. The Juniors were alright after they found out I slept on the sofa. What else? Oh yes. One woman hurt her foot during wild dancing (is the Polkas a dance?), another one discovered that she’s pregnant, one man thought he lost his way and was in the wrong hotel, while he was wandering around at the back of our hotel and we experienced yesterday evening an example what Israeli rock sounded.

The concert hall was a cafe and the rock turned out to be House Music, but that was really great and everyone danced and had fun. They didn’t want to go back to the hotel at the end, but the bouncers almost kicked us out. We took Fat Bertha and went back to our hotel, still singing and dancing.

I had pain in my head and my back was hurting because of sleeping on the sofa. The Juniors had fun and were in a good mood, the Beast was still polishing Fat Bertha and our group was in a super good mood after a great breakfast (I ate chips). At the end we moved into Fat Bertha and drove to the Jerusalem markets and shopping streets. Why? We rented off a restaurant for the day, where everyone could demonstrate that they wanted to cook and we suppose to eat what the volunteers would prepare for us. The Chef of the restaurant refused to allow us ‘barbarians‘ in his kitchen alone, so he would stand guard (in the middle of his kitchen).

I skip a couple days of the tour and move to the 5th day, the day that we go to Be’er Sheba. But one more remark about the cooking in the restaurant. It was so much fun and we ate so well that evening after loads of shopping (we went back three times to the market and it was a fortune what they bought). The group didn’t burn down his kitchen nor the restaurant! And the cook hid the large knifes for some reason.

We arrived at our usual hotel in Be’er Sheba. Be’er Sheba is a very nice place, but the choice in hotels is limited and they can’t be compared with the hotels in Eilat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But this Be’er Sheba hotel would do. And who was there waiting for us while we were checking in the hotel? Right, the same worried looking manager from last August, who was confronted with the fact that there were two small goats running rampage in his hotel in the middle of the night in August and one totally destroyed (or better eaten) room.

Bedouin Goat Market
Bedouin Goat Market

The manager didn’t look pleased. He asked me though if we plan to go to the goat market today. Of course we would go to the goat market and not to forget the chicken market too. And this time I arranged also a small tour on camels and we would maybe see a small auction of buying and selling camels (and we have also chicken speed running organized). I told him that, and he really didn’t look pleased. I guaranteed him that we this time inspect everyone coming in and out of the bus for hidden goats, chickens and camels. The only thing he said was that he would do the same when we would come back to the hotel.

I was happy at that time, because we would only stay one night at his hotel, before we would spent two days in the desert with carts and camels. I really didn’t look forward to meet Fred the Camel again, so I could avoid having a camel tour in Eilat.

Market in Be’er Sheba
Market in Be’er Sheba

We indeed went to the markets in Be’er Sheba (the normal one, and the goat and chicken markets). Nothing exciting happened, except that our group was very hard to keep together (50 rowdy people in a very good mood with loads of energy) with three guides (the Juniors and I). We didn’t pickup any other group, they didn’t buy any goats or chickens, nobody got upset, but there were some people who bought some strange Bedouin dresses for women for some reason. We also tried the camels. That was so much fun that others have problems climbing on camels like I usual have. But no auction of camels, otherwise I could change my Juniors for a camel or three goats maybe, damn that manager.

Bedouin Goat Market
Bedouin Goat Market

We met those same Bedouin men who were asking about my 10 women and again explained to the group that I’ve a harem and 20 children, but I got my coffee. That reminded me about ordering the evening amusement and this time we had real Bedouin musicians not such phony flop of a so called d^&&*^*%&^$%^ magician and his sexy belly dancer like back in August during the goat disaster. The Juniors were giggling! I was highly suspicious seeing that, but at that moment my attention was drawn to my camel, who was trying to bite me. All camels in the world only try to bite me and nobody else.

In the evening back to the hotel, we met the manager, who was indeed inspecting everyone (I forgot to check anyone for hidden goats, chickens and camels), but he obviously not. After that, he insisted in inspecting Fat Bertha and when The Beast finally understood what the manager wanted, they together almost tore the bus apart for their ridiculous quest for goats, chickens and camels! Honestly, who do they think we are?

That evening there was no original Bedouin music, but that belly dancer and her bl**dy so called magician who was loudly calling me “The Sheik” again. I will get my revenge on my Juniors for that!

But thank goodness, I slept wonderful (even when the Beast was snoring loudly), no goats on the rampage, but I heard in the morning that the manager couldn’t sleep all night.

Ramon Crater
Ramon Crater

The next day we visited the Ramon Crater and met our Bedouins. Guess who? My old Bedouin man and his many children and camels and … Fred the Camel. Fred the Camel was the camel only for me, according the Bedouin. Damn him and his camel. The same for the Juniors. I will cook them and feed them to Fred the camel. Never met something so smelly and with such awful sounds he makes when he sees me. Always in a bad mood too. And he bites. And tries to throw me off when I finally manage to climb on his back.

Experience Eilat's Mountains

We moved to the desert with the group on the back of the camels. I knew that the Bedouin with his many children were waiting somewhere with jeeps. They suppose to pick us up tomorrow evening for a big party with the Bedouins. That evening we finally could sleep at 3 am, after I translated again the campfire stories of the old Bedouin. Instead of his usual horror theme, he was telling about the old caravans of ancient times, who were stranded in the middle of the desert and were forced to eat their own camels … and scorpions and other insects to survive.

Experience Eilat's Mountains

I changed the story and translation somewhat (the man speaks only Arabic) and told the group that camel meat tasted just like what we all ate that evening (we ate lamb). The woman who discovered (at the beginning of the tour) that she was pregnant started to puke and the Bedouin who didn’t understand English was looking at me and pointed threatening at Fred the camel and shook slowly his head, frowning and all that jazz.

So he was telling another story about the young Bedouin woman, who fell in love with a boy her age from another tribe, while her father promised her to someone else (three times her age). He translated dutifully, but every time I wanted to make his story sound more … juicy (?), the old Bedouin man (who didn’t understand English?) was pausing and frowning at me. No fun like that.

Under the stars of the desert, it would quiet anyone, so impressive it was. The old Bedouin suddenly had deep knowledge of the stars and demonstrated it. He was trying to explain to us how you could navigate in the desert and with only the stars.

The next morning was a disaster. Fred the camel managed to bite me straight in my behind and couldn’t sit very well any more after that. According Junior, Fred’s teeth were visible for days after that. It seems to be funny for the group though.

Eilat
Eilat

When we finally arrived at our hotel in Eilat, I could find relieve there. For whatever reason, the group tipped the Bedouin man extra! Not fair. They can’t handle some teasing? Especially when everyone was calling me Sheik.

Hilton Eilat Queen Of Sheba Hotel
Hilton Eilat Queen Of Sheba Hotel

I skip the tour here to the tenth day and we are in Jericho. Until then we survived, we didn’t pick additional guests up in our group, we didn’t loose anyone, neither additional goats or any other animals, my behind was alright again and could sit (tenderly). We still were using Fat Bertha the bus and the Beast our driver was still happy. I couldn’t exchange my juniors for camels or goats, so they were still there, looking wearily at me when I could prank them back.

Tel al-Sultan near Jericho
Tel al-Sultan near Jericho

But now we arrived in Jericho and that’s a special place in Israel. Not only it’s the oldest place you can find anywhere in Israel and surroundings, but also very mysterious. There were so many cultures and civilizations arriving and disappearing in Jericho over the many thousands of years, nobody really could even count them. There are hundreds of layers of different buildings built once in Jericho and the archeologists are still counting.

The Canaan were a bunch of wild people, who believed in all kind of gods, who are now classified as demons or devils. So everyone was interested in my horror stories and that I did. So they were already in the proper mood for the Mount of Temptation!

Mount of Temptation
Mount of Temptation

Then we came to the Mount of Temptation near Jericho, where everyone was highly impressed about my strange stories. They wanted to see proof and so we did. We didn’t take the cable cars but walked and climbed the mountain.

Mount of Temptation, the mountain and the monastery
Mount of Temptation, the mountain and the monastery

Half way some people were murmuring something bad of course, until we reached the promised caves and showed them the scratches the devil once had made thousands of years ago, when Jesus was tempted by the same devil to make bread from stone. I showed them the caves of the hermits of old, who dedicated their lives to live there and to pray, never talked to anyone else anymore for more then 40 years.

Or the Hermit who became mad after seven years in a narrow cave and who received food from people from Jericho. He became too fat to exit his cave and he died there. His spirit still haunts the cave, some believe.

Mount of Temptation, inside in the monastery
Mount of Temptation, inside in the monastery

When we finally arrived at the Monastery, everyone was looking a bit sketchy, especially my two Juniors. The Monastery is amazing where you can see the personal cells of the Monks still working there. It’s still not too late to allow the Juniors to dump them there for some month or so, I was joking of course, but one Junior thought I meant it. Ha!

At day 12 we said good bye to everyone. All went well after the disasters at the beginning when suddenly our group grew from 30 till 50. Nobody bought or smuggled any goat or camel, nobody destroyed or ate a room, I got finally my revenge on my Juniors and I had one happy large group of people who felt bad that they needed to go home.

I still have my hair (mostly), I will not see Fred the camel for at least one week and I’m dead on my feet. Now I go back home to see if my wife is still there.

I also discovered that Eddie (‘The Beast’) decided to sleep in Fat Bertha his new bus when I finally came home. My wife hid my phone after that, so I could not help him out. I discovered the day after that he changed our old new bus with Fat Bertha and the bus company was not happy.