We had an outstanding trip in every respect and found our travel agent to be exceptionally responsive in both the trip planning and follow-through during our stay in Israel. We would highly recommend his services to anyone planning a future trip to Israel. Despite the 7 hour time difference, our emails were responded to promptly and thoroughly while we were planning the trip. Several conference calls were made for last minute reviews and details--all at our convenience. When adjustments were needed, our agent made them. We wanted a very full itinerary with the objective of seeing as many of the religious sites (Christian, Muslim and Jewish) as possible as well as historical sites. We also asked for a tour guide who could provide an overview of the political situation there. Our agent did an outstanding job of fitting in all of the major sites via an aggressive schedule (per our request). It was very well-organized and allowed us to cover ground efficiently. More importantly, the sequencing flowed in such a way as to carefully build upon our knowledge as we went. Finally--and most importantly, we had the best tour guide we have ever had and we all travel extensively. I have been pleased with my Zicasso trips--but our tour guide for 8 full days, helped make this trip truly exceptional.
Finally, we really enjoyed the Norman hotel and the Mamilla and recommend getting larger rooms and/or suites while in Israel. The suite at the Mamilla was really great when we were doing so much walking on rough terrain. It was nice to have a free lounge where we could stop for cold refreshments, wine and/or coffee and a lite snack. Also having the space to spread out and rest after so much activity was very refreshing. Don't cut corners on the hotel options--you will need to have R&R time.
There are almost too many to mention. We are Christian, so it was extremely moving to go to the Temple Mount, to walk the Via Del Rosa, to touch the actual rock atop Calvary, to see the Garden of Gethsemane and all the many paths Jesus walked. To sail on the Sea of Galilee was very special, as well as seeing a baptism in the Jordan River--and the very exciting newer archeological find of Mary Magdala--and so much more. But it was equally moving to go to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum and to float in the Dead Sea. From a non-religious perspective, to go to the Golan Heights and the Syrian border or the border to Lebanon left us with a much better understanding of the geography and political situation there. You realize what a miracle it truly is that Israel survived--much less prospered as a new nation state.
Potential travelers should also know that the food is truly outstanding in Israel--everywhere we went. The fresh fruit and vegetables were among the best we have had. Highly recommend dinner at Shila's in Tel Aviv--hip vibe, great food and superb service. We did not have a bad meal anywhere we ate. Israel wines were also quite good--we drank them almost exclusively throughout our trip and are all wine lovers.
We asked for a very full itinerary, but under-estimated a bit the walking terrain and the pace we set for ourselves. We went in August, which is one of the hottest times of the year and hiked up hills, rocky and uneven steps some days for hours. I am not sure I would do it any differently as we had only so much time to see things and would not trade off a single site. But I would probably pick a different time of year and possibly build in a rest day here and there if I could afford the time.
I would also warn travelers to Jerusalem to use caution when crossing the streets as they divide the streets up into two crossing areas so if you look to the far side as we would typically do, you will see a green walk sign--but it could be red in the first lane--so look at both walking signs in that city before crossing.
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