|Subject: Israel - July '01|
My name is Michael Levin. My wife (Msreb Providence RI) has been a
member for some time. With her encouragement following are some
comments about my first trip to Israel. (Rebbi was not with me.) My
travel notes are much longer than this, focussing on specific sites and
emotional experiences. The following I hope will be helpful for guide,
hotel, and restaurant selections.
The tour was scheduled to leave Sunday, July 22 and return Thursday, July 26. But, I opted to extend the trip, departing Israel on Sunday, July 29.
I spent most of my time in Jerusalem on a jam-packed schedule of group and individual tours. I had three different guides during my five days there, and, as I'm sure others have reported, Israeli guides are very good. For those unfamiliar, Israeli guides are trained for two years and then must pass both a written and an oral exam before the government licenses them. Thereafter, they attend continuing education classes to keep up with the ongoing historical work seems to have endless subjects. Some of the guides try to develop expertise working with different types of groups -- children, educators, amateur archeologists, etc. But, unless you have a special need or interest and have been referred to a guide with that specialty, don't worry; if my experiences represents what to expect, they are all very good. Language is not a problem.
Cost will depend on whether you want a full day or half day (usually considered to be five hours), whether transportation is needed, and whether the guide is providing it. Nine of us for a half day tour cost $50 each, and the guide graciously extended his time to show a couple of us some off-the-beaten track artisans and drop us off at the Cardo (the Old City shopping area). I hired the same guide for another half day. He provided transportation. Cost was $150. Another guide who spent a full day with me cost the same, but we traveled by taxi. (Taxis seem plentiful, and if not immediately available, respond to a phone call quickly.) Keep in mind that tourism is off by about 80% because of the current conflict. So, I don't know if these rates hold when guides are in shorter supply.
Guides I had contact with and I highly recommend: Nathan Shapiro 15 Even Shmuel St. Ramot Jerusalem 972.2.586.5267
Shari Robins PO Box 10497 Jerusalem 972.2.566.9338
Mark Goldstein PO Box 4331 Jerusalem 972.2561.7584
(A comment about the current conflict and travel. I felt very safe at virtually all times and in most places, including during the 20 minute walk from downtown Jerusalem to my hotel around midnight with a couple of people I met on the trip. The Palestinian conflict to one side, street crime does not appear to be a noteworthy issue in Israel.)
As for accommodations, I stayed at the Inbal (formerly the Laromme as most people and maps refer to it) which is walking distance to the Old City and less than a five minute walk to the King David Hotel. Almost all views in Jerusalem in this area are picturesque, and my room looked out at the Montefiore Windmill and the Church of the Dormition.
Rate was about $160 for a very comfortable room nicely appointed and furnished. An extraordinary and delicious breakfast buffet was included. Fresh fruits (melon, orange, watermelon, dates, plums, grapefruit), cheeses, smoked fish (lox and a purported dietetic cream cheese that didn't taste that way were on the low-cal table), herring, Middle East salads, cereals, bagels, pastries, eggs, French toast, and on and on.
Restaurants were very good. It appears a common (and enjoyable) custom that, after ordering, complimentary plates of hummus, various eggplant dishes, olives, cucumbers, and other items are brought to the table. It seems that almost the entire world of cuisines is here. One restaurant of particular note was Darna Moroccan Restaurant, 3 Horkanos St. Excellent, authentic dishes. I was hosted by a Hebrew University professor, his wife and their son. When asked if I had any dietary restrictions or likes/dislikes, I said they should not worry because the only foods I don't enjoy are brains and kidneys, each of which I'd tried several times. We laughed when we saw both an appetizer and entrée made with brains on Darna's menu. There were abundant and more appealing alternatives. I had Tangia Marrakshia (lamb shank cooked slowly in an earthenware jar with preserved lemon, onion and cumin). I was more than pleased. Terrific Website: http://www.darna.co.il.
One final recommendation was my hotel in Tel Aviv. I stayed one night at the Melody Hotel at Ha Harokon and Jablonsky across the street from the beach. Certainly not the Inbal, but, if you're looking for a small, affordable, pleasant hotel, the Melody is a good deal. With tourists few and far between in what should be Israel's busiest season, the room cost $75, probably 50% of normal. And a buffet breakfast was included. (Not a spread like the Inbal, but good and more than adequate.)