|Oct 28, 2005 - Overview of Israel|
|Overview of Israel|
Israel is a destination popular with Jewish travellers from around the word and most seem to make their way to the Promised Land for multiple visits in their lifetime. However, for non-Jewish travellers many have not yet visited this wonderful country that is a hotbed politics, religion, history and history in the making. This small country has endured years of turbulent times and violence as cultures and religions co-habituate in close quarters and dispute for land they all think rightfully belongs to them. Luckily, the past year has seen quieter times, less violence and a growing return of tourism to the area to experience what this dynamic country has to offer.
For me this is my first visit to Israel. For Eric, it is his 7th trip one of which included a 2 month work term in Jerusalem. I can safely say that Israel was a destination that I have learned more than any other place to date on our 6 weeks of travelling - history, politics, religion, architecture of not only Israel but many of the surrounding countries Middle East countries as well. Israel offers such diversity for travellers from secular and happening Tel Aviv to beach destinations such as Eilat and the Dead Sea or for religious and historical experiences of their capital city of Jerusalem.
Many people are concerned about travelling to Israel for safety and security reasons and rightfully so. You should carefully watch travel warnings if planning a trip to Israel, after all, it is one of the most sought after pieces of real estate in our modern world and a hotbed of political strife. However, if peace continues as they are experiencing now I would not hesitate to travel to this interesting and unique country. Certainly you will see more security there than anywhere in North America - metal detectors before entering bus stations, restaurants, malls etc. Military carrying guns are all over the cities, especially in Jerusalem and before entering almost any public building your bags and purses will be searched similar to when you board a plane. The security should not be feared, but take it like the Israelis do as a comforting factor knowing their city is safer and well protected. I felt completely safe everywhere I went in Israel with no sign of any crime or violence. Many major North American cities are much more dangerous than cities in Israel.
Israel is a young country that has faced more challenges than most Canadians will ever see in their lifetime. The cities are not yet beautiful world class cities, but they are loaded with potential. The tourism industry has been hard hit in the over the past 5 years or so of violence with the Palestinians, but tourism is ready for the come back and enjoying the massive upswing they have had over the past year. Hotels I found were often a little run down and ready for a face lift not quite living up to their equivalent chain counterparts in North America. However, the warm and helpful staff more than make up for the few walls that may need some paint.
If you are looking for a diverse vacation with history, religion, politics, beach and city life then Israel may be for you. Enjoy the photos and city right ups and if it interests you - just do it!
TRAVEL TIPS FOR ISRAEL
1. Watch the Jewish holidays as they can have a profound effect on your trip. We were here in Sukkot which although on one level it was interesting to see and experience it also meant many days of everything in the city being completely closed for the holidays. I would suggest avoiding the month of Oct for travel to Israel.
2. Remember the Jewish Sabbath called Shabbat is from Friday afternoon until Saturday at sundown when everything will close up completely especially in Jerusalem where the city is highly religious. Come Saturday night though the streets come alive and with people, music and dancing.
3. Watch the Canadian Government website for any travel advisories to Israel - www.voyage.gc.ca
4. Be safe and diligent in your travels but don't be paranoid. There is a lot of security, especially in Jerusalem, but use this as a comforting factor and enjoy the country like the locals do.
5. When taking taxis, agree upon a rate before you get in or request that he runs the meter. Most charge you reasonable rates but you may get the odd person trying to overcharge the tourists.
6. Any flights you are taking from Israel or on an Israeli airline will have long security line-ups before boarding. Make sure you arrive at the airport well in advance of your flight so you can clear security in plenty of time.
7. The Ultra Orthodox Jews do not enjoy having their pictures taken very much and absolutely not allowed on Shabbat or any other Jewish Holiday. Ask permission or be discreet and take photos from a distance.
8. If you are going to the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Dome of the Rock or even Mea Sharim neighbourhood (where most of the highly religious Jews live in Jerusalem) dress conservatively with no shorts or tank tops.
9. Take some time before your trip to Israel to research and learn more about the region, current and past, as it will help you to appreciate everything you see and do that much more.
10. Having said the point above, throw out any preconceptions you may have about the country, the people, violence, religion etc. and explore the country with an open mind to discover it first hand. I know I had many pleasant surprises and experiences.