Category Archives: Museums

Ramla, the City with the Colorful Markets

It’s not quite as old as nearby Jaffa – history here stretches back ‘only’ 1300 years – but Ramla’s bustling market, underground pools and crumbling Islamic architecture make it an interesting half-day trip from Tel Aviv. Try to visit on a Wednesday, when the market is at its busiest and most colorful. Map.

Ramla
Ramla

Established in 716 CE by the Umayyid caliph Suleiman, Ramla (spot of sand) was a stopover on the road from Egypt to Damascus. Prior to the arrival of the Crusaders in the 11th century, it was Palestine’s capital and it maintained its importance in the Middle Ages as the first stop for the Jerusalem-bound pilgrims who came ashore at Jaffa. Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War the majority of the Arab population were expelled or fled and was replaced by poor Jewish immigrants, mainly from Asia (eg India) and North Africa. It’s now a friendly mix of Arabs (20%) and Jews (80%).

A joint ticket for the Ramla Museum, White Tower and Pool of Al-Anazia costs 22/25NIS adult/concession and can be purchased at the museum. The museum acts as the town’s de facto tourist information centre. For information, see the municipality’s Goramla (http://en.goramla.com) website.

Pool of Al-Anazia (HaHaganah St; adult/concession 14/12NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, to 2pm Fri, to 6pm Wed & Thu Jun-Aug ) Map.
The name means ‘Pool of Arches’, a reference to the majestic stone structures in this underground 8th century reservoir. The most significant structure left from the Abbasid period, it is sometimes called the Pool of St Helena in reference to a Christian idea that the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine I, ordered its construction. Visitors explore the structure by rowboat.

Pool of the Arches - Ramla
Pool of the Arches – Ramla

Ramla Museum (08-929 2650; 112 Herzl Ave; adult/concession 12/10NIS; 10am-4pm Sun-Thu, to 1pm Fri ) Map.
Housed in a building dating from the British Mandate, this small museum provides an overview of the town’s history. Exhibits include locally excavated gold coins from the 8th to 15th century CE, a collection of traditional products of Arab soap manufacture from the beginning of the 20th century and a display on the 1948 Arab–Israeli War in and around Ramla.

White Tower (Danny Mass St; adult/concession 10/9NIS; 8am-4pm Sat-Thu, to 2pm Fri ) Map.
Experts can’t agree whether this 14th-century tower was built as a minaret or a watch tower. One indisputable fact is that the 30m-high structure was built as an addition to the 8th-century White Mosque (Jamaa al-Abiad), of which only traces remain. The site includes three now-dry cisterns and the shrine of Nabi Salih, an ancient prophet mentioned in the Quran.

Ramla
Ramla

Great Mosque (Al-Umari Mosque; 08-922 5081; admission 7NIS) Map.
Though it doesn’t look particularly impressive from the outside, this is one of the few Crusader buildings in Israel & the Palestinian Territories to have survived almost completely intact. Erected in the 12th century as a Christian church, it was converted into a mosque in the 13th century and the minaret and mihrab (prayer niche facing Mecca) were added at this time. Visits are by appointment only.

Church of St Nicodemus & St Joseph of Arimathea (08-912 7200; cnr Bialik St & Herzl Ave; 9am-noon Mon-Fri)
Constructed in the 19th century on a site that Christians believe to be the site of biblical Arimathea, the hometown of Joseph, this Franciscan church has a distinctive square bell tower and a painting above the altar that is attributed to Titian (The Deposition from the Cross). To visit, you’ll need to call ahead.

Food

Samir Restaurant (08-922 0195; 7 Kehlat Detroit St; mains 40-90NIS; 8am-7pm Mon-Thu & Sat, to 6pm Fri ) Map.
The clock turns back several centuries in historic Samir, an old Arab family-run restaurant hidden in a dusty backstreet behind the market and set in a refurbished Turkish house. It has an English menu and serves various meat kebabs, dips (try the excellent hummus), falafel and salads.

Transport

There are trains to Ramla (map) (13NIS, 25 minutes) from Tel Aviv departing every 20 minutes throughout the day. Buses 450 and 451 depart from Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station every 20 minutes (14.90NIS, 40 minutes).

Herzliya Beaches, Marina, Seafront Cafes and Restaurants

Just 12km north of central Tel Aviv, Herzliya is popular due to its fine, clean beaches, marina mall and string of seafront cafes. Named after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, Herzliya started as a small farming community in 1924 and now consists of two main areas separated by Hwy 2. Map.

Herzliya beaches
Herzliya beaches

Middle-class, suburban central Herzliya, east of the highway, is mainly residential and commercial, while Herzliya Pituach (west of the highway) – a neighborhood of huge villas that’s home to some of Israel’s wealthiest residents – is where the beaches are. Herzliya  Pituach is also home to Israel’s blossoming high-tech industry; as a result, modern office blocks are rising up all over the area. Pituach, by the way, means ‘development’.

Herzliya
Herzliya

Apollonia National Park (03-903 3130; adult/student/child 22/19/10NIS; 8am-5pm Apr-Sep, to 4pm Oct-Mar, closes 1hr earlier Fri & holiday evenings)
This picturesque coastal park contains the ruins of a Crusader castle that becomes the venue for open-air concerts during summer weekends. There are some stunning views out over the Mediterranean and nearby you can see the remains of a Roman villa and the well-kept 13th-century Sidni Ali Mosque. The park can be reached by a fairly long walk up Wingate St or easily by car from the highway. It is about 3km north of Herzliya Pituach’s main beach, just beyond the small town of Nof Yam.

Arsur, Arsuf, Apollonia
Arsur, Arsuf, Apollonia

Herzliya Museum of Modern Art (09-950 0762; http://www.herzliyamuseum.co.il; 4 HaBanim St; admission 10NIS; h10am-2pm Mon, Wed, Fri & Sat, 4-8pm Tue & Thu)
Dedicated to Israeli and international contemporary art with an emphasis on political subject matter, this gallery aims to engage as well as entertain.

Herzliya Museum of Modern Art
Herzliya Museum of Modern Art

Food

As you would expect from such an affluent area, Herzliya accommodation consists of luxury spa hotels, but there are many restaurants for all budgets around the marina and on the beach.

Gelateria Siciliana (http://glideria.co.il; 14 Shenkar St; 1/2/3 scoops 15/20/25NIS; noon-midnight Sun-Thu, 11am-late Fri & Sat )
When at the beach, it’s almost obligatory to enjoy an ice cream. And in Herzliya, the best place to do this is at the local branch of the Tel Aviv gelateria.

Gelateria Siciliana
Gelateria Siciliana

Derby Bar (09-951 1818; http://derbybar.co.il; Arena Mall; pastas 69-89NIS, mains 99-135NIS; noon-midnight)
Attached to the Arena shopping mall next to the marina, this well-known restaurant has an expansive waterside terrace where it serves seafood, fish and pasta dishes. Beer is the usual accompaniment – there are six brands on tap.

Derby Bar
Derby Bar

Benedict (09-958 0701; http://www.benedict.co.il; 1 Haetzel St; breakfast 39-98NIS; h24hr)
The Herzliya branch of the popular Tel Aviv all-day breakfast joint is as popular as its inner-city equivalents. Diners can fill up on eggs Benedict, shakshuka or their choice from an enormous menu.

Benedict
Benedict

Agadir (09-951 6551; http://www.agadir.co.il; 9 Hamanofim St; hnoon-3am Sun-Thu, to 4am Fri, to 3am Sat )
A 20-minute walk from the Arena Mall, Agadir sticks with what it does best: tasty meat or veggie burgers with your choice of toppings and sides.

Agadir
Agadir

Transport

Egged buses 501, 502, 524, 525 and 531 run every 20 minutes to and from Tel Aviv (10.90NIS, 30 minutes). Trains run every 20 minutes (10NIS, 10 minutes). The station is quite a way from the beach, so take a taxi or bus 29 (6.60NIS) to the marina.

Katzrin, Capital of the Golan

Katzrin (Qazrin), ‘capital of the Golan’, with 6,725 people living there, makes an excellent base for exploring the central Golan and stocking up on picnic supplies. Founded in 1977, it is the region’s only real town. The lively little commercial center, Merkaz Eitan, is a classic 1970s complex that was spruced up considerably in 2013 – adding a tile-covered sculpture that is as whimsical as it is colorful. In addition to a bank and some eateries, it has a first-rate museum. Everything closes on Shabbat. Map.

Golan Archaeological Museum (04-696 1350; http://www.mpkatzrin.org.il; Merkaz Eitan; adult/child 19/16NIS, incl Ancient Katzrin Park 28/20NIS; 9am-4pm Sun-Thu, 9am-2pm Fri)

Golan Archaeological Museum in Katzrin
Golan Archaeological Museum in Katzrin

A real gem! Highlights include extraordinary basalt lintels and Aramaic inscriptions from 30 Byzantine-era Golan synagogues; coins minted during the Great Jewish Revolt (66–70 CE); a model of Rujum al-Hiri, a mysterious Stone Age maze 156m across, which was built some 4500 years ago; and a film (available in English) that brings to life the Roman siege of Gamla. Wheelchair accessible. Situated 100m west of the Merkaz Eitan commercial centre, next to the library.

Ancient Katzrin Park (04-696 2412; http://parkqatzrin.org.il; adult/child 26/18NIS, incl Golan Archaeological Museum adult/child 28/20NIS; 9am-4pm Sun-Thu, 9am-2pm Fri, 10am-4pm Sat, closes 1hr later in Aug )

To get a sense of life during the Talmudic period (3rd to 6th centuries), when the Golan had dozens of Jewish villages, drop by this partly restored Byzantine-era village, whose highlights include a basalt synagogue and an audiovisual presentation on Talmudic luminaries (not shown on Saturday). On Jewish holidays such as Passover and Sukkot and in August, there are reenactments by actors in period costumes. Situated 1.6km east of Merkaz Eitan.

Kesem Hagolan (Golan Magic; 04-696 3625; http://www.magic-golan.co.il; Hutzot HaGolan Mall, Katzrin Industrial Zone; adult/child 25.50/20.50NIS; screenings 9am-5pm Sat-Thu, 9am-4pm Fri )

An excellent introduction to the Golan, this center takes you on a half-hour virtual journey around the region, projected on a 180-degree panoramic screen (in English hourly on the half hour). Also has a 1:5000-scale topographic model of the Golan. Situated in the shopping mall 2km east of Merkaz Eitan, next to the Industrial Zone.

Golan Heights Winery (04-696 8435, 04-696 8409; http://www.golanwines.co.il; Katzrin Industrial Park; tasting 10NIS, incl tour 20NIS; 8.30am-at least 5.30pm Sun-Thu, 8.30am-2.30 or 3.30pm Fri, last tour 4pm or 5pm Sun-Thu, 1.30pm or 2pm Fri )

Golan Heights Winery
Golan Heights Winery

Winner of many international awards, this outstanding winery offers guided cellar tours (advance reservations highly recommended) and wine-tasting. The shop sells more than 40 wines bottled under its Yarden, Gamla (Gilgal), Hermon and Galil Mountain labels. All wines are kosher but, mercifully, not mevushal (flash pasteurised).

Sleeping

Golan Garden Hostel (072-230 3565; http://www.golangarden.com; 13 Hofit St; dm 100NIS, d without bathroom 285NIS)

Golan Garden Hostel
Golan Garden Hostel

Katzrin finally has a hostel. Opened in 2013, this place – run by super-friendly Alon and Milou – has a chill-out lounge with bean-bag chairs, dorm rooms with four or six beds, a hammock on the back terrace, and guitars and drums for guests to play. Situated 1km southeast of Merkaz Eitan – take Si’on and then Gilabon St. Laundry costs 15NIS, including drying. Rents out camping equipment (eg a sleeping bag for 15NIS a day).

SPNI Golan Field School (04-696 1234; http://www.natureisrael.org; 2 Zavitan St; r 438-504NIS, additional adult 140-164NIS, child 98-114NIS )

SPNI Golan Field School
SPNI Golan Field School

Housed in an unpretentious, 1970s complex on the edge of town. The 33 simple rooms, all with fridge, can sleep up to nine and so are a good option for families and groups of friends. Does not rent individual dorm beds. Sometimes (eg on Jewish holidays) offers free group hikes. Situated 1km from Merkaz Eitan – head down Daliyot St and then turn left on Zavitan St; follow the signs to ‘Field School’.

Eating & Drinking

Fast food (hummus, shwarma, bad pizza and the like) is available in Merkaz Eitan – except on Shabbat, when your eating options shrink to two restaurants 2km or 3km east of Merkaz Eitan in the Industrial Zone.

Co-op Shop (Lev Katzrin Mall; h8am-9pm Sun-Thu, 7am-2.30pm or 4pm Fri )
Picnic supplies for a hike or Shabbat.

Golan Brewhouse (04-696 1311; http://www.beergolan.co.il; Hutzot HaGolan Mall, Katzrin Industrial Zone; mains 49-126NIS; 11.30am-11pm daily)

Golan Brewhouse
Golan Brewhouse

This pub-restaurant, with a circular wooden bar and panoramic windows, serves red meat, chicken, fish, soup, salad, veggie mains and some damn fine microbrews.The  brewhouse Beer Sampler (14NIS) gets you a whisky tumbler of each of the  Brewhouse’s four beers (an amber ale, a pilsner, a Doppelbock and a wheat beer), brewed in the copper vats in the corner. For 48NIS you can sample 200mL of each and munch on olives and sauerkraut.

Meatshos (04-696 3334; http://www.meatshos.co.il; Katzrin Industrial Zone; mains 65-169NIS, 15% off Mon-Thu ; noon-11pm Mon-Sat)
Renowned for its flavorsome steaks, chops, kebabs and hamburgers (400g to 750g),  all made with Golan-raised, kosher-slaughtered (but not certified) 1½-year-old calf and lamb. Also serves Salokiya boutique wine (red/white per glass 42/32NIS), made right on the premises. Situated at the far northern end of the Industrial Zone next to the fire station, 1km past the Golan Heights Winery.

Pub Savta (Ancient Katzrin Park; h9pm-2am or later Sat-Thu)
Inside the archaeological site, this beer pub is popular with both locals and young Israeli travellers.

Information

Information Center (04-696 2885; http://www.tourgolan.org.il; h9am-4pm Sun-Thu)
Run by the regional council, this tourist information office has brochures and free maps in Hebrew, English and Russian, and can supply information on accommodation, hiking and winery visits. Situated in the shopping center 2km east of Merkaz Eitan, behind the round fountain next to Kesem HaGolan.

SPNI Hiking Information (04-696 5030; http://www.teva.org.il; SPNI Golan Field School, 2 Zavitan St; h8.30am-5pm Sun-Thu)
Free consultations with experienced SPNI guides about Golan hiking options. You can also phone with questions.

Transport

Katzrin is the Golan’s public transit hub. Rama buses (1 900 721 111;  http://www.bus.co.il) head to virtually every part of the Golan, as well as to Tiberias, Hatzor HaGlilit (near Rosh Pina) and Kiryat Shmona.
Bus 57 follows the Sea of Galilee’s eastern and southwestern coasts (eg Kursi) on its way to Tiberias; bus 52 goes to Tiberias via the lake’s northwestern coast (eg Capernaum). To get to Neve Ativ, Majdal Shams and other places near Mt Hermon, you have to change in Kiryat Shmona. Egged bus 843 (49.50NIS, four hours, one or two daily) links Katzrin with Tel Aviv. On weekdays there are departures from Katzrin early in the morning and from Tel Aviv at 4pm.

Hiking

The southern Golan – the area between Katzrin and the Sea of Galilee and the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee from the east – has some excellent hiking.

Yehudiya Nature Reserve

One of the most popular hiking areas in all of northern Israel, the 66-sq-km Yehudiya Nature Reserve (Meshushim entrance 04-682 0238, Yehudiya entrance 04-696 2817; adult/child 22/10NIS; h7am-4pm or 5pm Sat-Thu, 7am-3pm or 4pm Fri ) offers walks suitable for casual strollers as well as experienced hikers, especially those who aren’t averse to getting wet. Mammals you might encounter include  gazelles and wild boar; its cliffs are home to birds of prey as well as songbirds.Most  of the trails follow three cliff-lined wadis, with year-round water flow, that drain  into the northeastern corner of the Sea of Galilee. Wadi Yehudiya and Wadi Zavitan are both easiest to access from the Yehudiya Parking Lot (Chenyon Yehudiya), which is on Rte 87 midway between Katzrin and the Sea of Galilee.

Wadi Meshushim, easiest to get to from the Meshushim Parking Lot, is situated 2.8km along a gravel road from Rte 888, which parallels the Jordan River. The parking lot is 8km northeast of the New Testament site of Bethsaida. The rangers at both entrances to Yehudiya (pronounced ‘yeh-hoo-dee-yah’) are extremely knowledgeable and can point you in the right direction, as well as register you, for your own safety.

The only map you’ll need is the excellent color-coded one provided at ticket booths. At both entrances, snack counters sell sandwiches and ice cream. Stick to marked trails – people have fallen to their deaths while attempting to negotiate treacherous makeshift trails, and there’s an army firing zone east of Wadi Yehudiya (across Rte 87).

New Upper Yehudiya Canyon Trail

New Upper Yehudiya Canyon Trail
New Upper Yehudiya Canyon Trail

This new circuit, which replaces a trail closed by a cliff collapse, takes 2½ to three hours. Blazes are red, then black. The trail begins at the basalt ruins of the pre-1967 Syrian settlement of Yehudiya, built – as its Arabic name hints – on the remains of a 3rd- and 4th-century Jewish village. To get there from the Yehudiya Parking Lot, cross the highway via the tunnel in the lot’s southern corner.

One section of the New Upper Yehudiya Canyon Trail involves 20 to 40 minutes of walking in water 50cm to 1m deep. A variant is the Yehudiya Waterfall Trail (red blazes; 45 minutes one-way from park HQ).

Upper Zavitan Canyon Trail

Upper Zavitan Canyon Trail
Upper Zavitan Canyon Trail

This three-hour circuit offers great views of 27m-high Zavitan Waterfall, spectacular in the rainy season. The descent begins at the ruins of the Arab village of Sheikh Hussein, northeast of the Yehudiya Parking Lot. An easy trail with blue, then black, then red, then blue blazes, the path heads downstream to link with the Lower Zavitan Canyon Trail and, eventually, Meshushim (Hexagons) Pool.

If you begin hiking after 11am, don’t plan on making it all the way to the pool. Branches of the Upper Zavitan Canyon Trail can be picked up near Katzrin and on Rte 9088 between Katzrin and Katzrin Darom Junction.

Meshushim (Hexagons) Pool

Meshushim Pool
Meshushim Pool

Surrounded by extraordinary, six-sided basalt pillars (thus the name), this chilly (19°C), 7m-deep pool makes for a refreshing dip. Getting there from the Meshushim Parking Lot, which has changing rooms, requires a delightful, 20-minute downhill walk; getting back up takes 30 to 40 minutes. The Stream Trail (Shvil HaNahal), which hits Wadi Meshushim further upstream (and has a 3m cliff ladder), takes 20 to 30 minutes downhill. Begin these routes before 2pm (3pm during daylight savings).

At the pool, remember that there is no lifeguard – and jumping and diving are absolutely forbidden (people have died here from hitting their heads). It’s possible to hike down to Meshushim Pool from the Yehudiya Parking Lot (four to six hours, depending on your route) but transiting from Wadi Zavitan to Wadi Meshushim involves a steep ascent and then an equally steep descent; and getting back up to your car (assuming you have one and parked it at Yehudiya) could be a problem. This route cannot be started, in either direction, after 11am.

Sleeping

Yehudiya Camping Ground (Orchan Laila; 04-696 2817; http://www.campingil.org.il; Yehudiya Parking Lot; per person incl next-day park admission 50NIS; 24hr)

Yehudiya Camping Ground
Yehudiya Camping Ground

Open year-round, this well-lit camping area is securely fenced (against wild boars and jackals) and has hot showers, barbecue pits and shade constructions. If there’s no one around, just make yourself at home and pay in the morning. Bags can be left at the information desk (when it’s open); nearby there are lockers (10NIS) for valuables.

Transport

Rama buses 52 and 57 (10 daily Sunday to Thursday, six on Friday), which connect Katzrin with Tiberias, stop at the Yehudiya Parking Lot (20 minutes from Katzrin). Egged bus 843, linking Katzrin with Tel Aviv, also passes the Yehudiya Parking Lot.A bus schedule is posted to the right of the Yehudiya snack counter.

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.