I am not Jewish, but Estela is. Born in Argentina of Jewish immigrants, Estela has visited Israel twice before where she still has living relatives.
So, fair to say, when I said I have always been fascinated with Israel and would like to visit, Estela jumped at the chance. Although we booked on an organised coach tour, we hoped the itinerary wouldn't be too restrictive and would allow us some free time to visit Estela's relatives.
We flew from Madrid on 14th October 2018 to Tel Aviv. Initial concerns about being left behind at the airport were soon dispelled when we picked up with the rest of the party, all Spanish speaking residents. Fortunately for me, Estela is an excellent interpreter!
After an excursion round old Tel Aviv and a meal on arrival, we set off for our first of 3 hotel stays, the first literally beside of the Sea of Galilee. As hotels go, this was the basic of basics, but the location superb, just a short walk to the sea itself. Two days of excursions followed, mainly to view churches with a Christian context. This theme was to be repeated for the next 6 days, by the end of which it was difficult to recall one church from another.
The next two nights saw us in a Bethlehem hotel, where the sound of being woken at 5.00am every morning by the call to morning prayers, is an experience I will never forget. More excursions to churches followed, including the church built where allegedly Jesus was born, where his mother Mary lived, and where Joseph the carpenter had his workshop. I wouldn't say Bethlehem was a pleasant experience, the place is dirty, intimidating, and the historical context has been submerged beneath decades of development with no regard to the sanctity of the place.
A trip to Jericho (claiming to be the 'oldest town in the world') was an altogether different experience. First up, a large sign just outside the town warns Jewish residents of Israel to enter Jericho 'On Fear Of Death', Yes, really! Although our Jewish coach driver was apparently exempt as he had a 'permit' and he was bringing many shekels to be spent in the town.
Two more nights followed in a hotel just outside the old town of Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself, as you would expect, is very security conscious, with border patrols and checkpoints everywhere, and armed soldiers a frequent sight. In the old town itself we lost count of the number of young men who were being frequently stopped and searched by armed soldiers, some who looked younger than the men they were frisking. But the old town itself is fascinating and a 'must' for anyone with an interest in the place. Estela and I went on our own on our last day just to savour more of the atmosphere and culture.
Finally, during our last night in the hotel we were awakened frequently by the sound of gunfire! Nobody knew what was happening but I guess it is sadly all part and parcel of Israel and Jerusalem.
We never did get to visit Estela's relatives, nor other places we wanted to see like the Holocaust Museum and various Art galleries. But Estela in particular found the sights, sounds and smell of Israel conjured up many memories of time spent with her grandparents when she was a child.
Although enjoyable and certainly an experience, our next trip to Israel will not be an organised coach tour, but one where where these two travellers can visit and see exactly what we want to see.
Alan & Estela
15h June 2019
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