Trips

Reflections on our first visit to Israel

a stuffed animal sitting on a railing overlooking Mount of Olives

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Thinking of visiting Israel? A brief reflection on our trip to Israel 2019.

After a great flight on United’s Polaris Business Class we arrived and checked into the Intercontinental David which looks right out on the beach. If you’re looking to use points, this hotel is well worth considering as is the Jaffa and perhaps the Sheraton down the road. Another great option, especially if you’re looking for more of a neighborhood vibe, cafes, etc is The Norman ( a SLH that will soon be accessible via Hyatt points ).

a man standing in front of a building

 

Before arriving into Tel Aviv I’d asked around, many friends have visited multiple times, and the resounding impression was “they loved it.” From the beach and nightlife culture to the food, the consensus was Tel Aviv was a place to visit time and time again. The food is absolutely incredible ( aside from the hotel…not a great experience), but I didn’t experience much nightlife while on a family trip, and the beach did look quite vibrant.

Stamps are no longer a thing when you enter the country,

so if you’re planning on visiting any other countries that would discriminate against your having a stamp, you can rest assured you won’t have evidence in your passport. Instead, you’re given a ticket which you’re supposed to carry with you at all times. That ticket is inspected when you leave. Also, don’t be surprised if you’ve visited Muslim majority countries to have increased questioning. If it’s been some time, I’d recommend spending a few minutes refreshing your memory so you have answers to questions they may ask…when, where you stayed, how long, etc.

When you leave the airport you’re kind of in the “silicon valley” of Tel Aviv with modern buildings ( the Ritz Herzliya is nearby), but once you start getting closer to the beach front, and especially Jaffa, you’ll experience vibes of new and old world colliding. Jaffa was an instant fave, and if I were to visit again I’d do my best to stay at the eponymously named, The Jaffa.

The construction in Tel Aviv is impressive, as are the prices of new developments, but aside from there being no Starbucks at all, the thing that shocked me the most was the despite open construction sites, building in dilapidated/disrepair, I felt extremely safe. Oddly, and quite distinctly safer than I had imagined I’d feel given the news reports we hear in the west, rockets being fire, etc, etc.

a city next to the water

Safety was a big issue in planning this family trip, and concerns over safety delayed the trip a few years in a row. Walking around Tel Aviv, and even more so in Jerusalem, I didn’t have any pangs of anxiety walking at night, by myself, down alleyways, and comparing it to Los Angeles, where I live, I felt far more at ease in regards to petty theft or getting mugged in Israel than I do in West Hollywood, let alone downtown LA. I’m sure it exists, but for instance, I felt far more “aware” walking around Budapest at night than I did Tel Aviv.

There is the other kind of safety, and that is always present. Bomb shelter signs are on every single floor of the hotels, and the day we flew out of Israel, several hundred rockets were fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from Gaza. Despite all of that…I felt very safe

Tel Aviv is artsy, fashionable, and street art is everywhere.

You’ll think a building should be condemned only to see a rent or for sale sign, glimpse inside, and discover the timeless beauty of exposed brick, beams, and the vibe of a Soho loft. Time after time, you’ll be learn the lesson not to judge a book by its cover. People are nice, but exude more of a NYC cool essence than laid back LA.

a store with clothes on a swinger

Everywhere you look, there are tons of people walking. Everywhere. Bird and Lyft scooters race up and down the Tel Aviv boardwalk, through town, and taxis via Uber are super easy to get. Watch out for hailed taxis trying to rip you off, which happened to us once, but that’s fairly typical wherever you are in the world. Funny how that works.

a man taking a selfie at the beach

After spending a couple of days in the cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, we headed to Jerusalem. I didn’t know what to expect of Jerusalem. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza which was not my favorite hotel, and it’ll be interesting to see the new Intercontinental that is scheduled to open near the Old City. The Waldorf looked incredible, but requires an absolute heap of points, and in all honesty, the CP worked out fine despite being under construction and in an odd location. It’s kind of on an island near government buildings. We spent the majority of most days out and about, but staying within walking distance of the old city is what I would recommend. One thing I would suggest is looking into renting a residence at the Waldorf. From some of the prices I’d searched, rates were reasonable and the location is unbeatable.

Jerusalem is complex juxtaposition

Religion, commerce, history, architecture, relics, everything is coexisting. Stacked. And while it all seems to work, often times shoulders are bumped, elbows grazed, intention and communication jumbled, tempers flared, but it’s absolutely amazing. Jerusalem should be on your bucket list. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited.

As someone raised in the American Catholic and Protestant churches, I was excited to visit the biblical sites not only in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but also throughout Israel. I Instagram storied most of my visit and couldn’t believe the amount of people that reached out to ask questions, give support, and thank me for providing them access to something they’d only imagined.  It reinstilled the feeling of how lucky I truly am to be able to do all the travel I do.

I probably left more confused than I have ever been in my life. The opinions, facts, data are all contested, but each opinion, albeit influenced by historical politics, tradition, and dogma, has its own merit.

On one hand, it was stunningly beautiful seeing so many different faith bases represented, openly worshiping, genuflecting alongside those who weren’t there for religious pilgrimage. On the other, there is a lot of commercialization and haggling, and while contained, you can feel the conflict beneath the surface. Again…it’s unlike anywhere else I’ve visited.

We toured Bethlehem for an afternoon, and venturing beyond the wall, seeing things from a different perspective was an experience I would recommend. The little village of Bethlehem I have envisioned from bible stories is a town of 10s of thousands, and you’ll need a different guide to show you around as it’s within the Palestinian territory.

Within Bethlehem you’ll find Shepherd’s field ( Psalm 23 ) and Church of the Nativity where Christ was supposedly born. Lines are very long, but if you’re on a private guided tour, you’ll be allowed in a side entrance which expedites things. The church is divided between multiple denominations, and was what was really interesting/surprising was numerous services will concurrently be performed. Within the area that Jesus was born you’ll see an area designated for the birth, and then where the manger would have been. Each of those areas is attributed to a specific faith as well.

a group of people in a large building

Masada is a destination you can not miss. The story, the view, the incredible museum. If you don’t know the story, in a nutshell, after the Romans occupied Jerusalem, the exiled Jews formed a refugee camp on top of a hill, named Masada. In fact, they occupied an abandoned Roman palace. They held out, and it required an enormous Roman army to ultimately unseat their occupation, but instead of surrendering and becoming slaves, the remaining Jewish rebels committed suicide to die free men.  The museum, the site, it’s all extremely well done.

Heading to the north we stopped at the Baptismal site of Christ on the river Jordan. It was peaceful, and the only border between Israel and Jordan was a rope with floating buoys. On both sides, you’ll find people observing, worshipping, getting baptized, and it’s highly worth visiting. In fact, I’d say it was one of the few places that came close to what my mind’s eye had envisioned.

 

Up north we toured the sites along the Sea of Galilee ( Tiberias, Capernaum, Tabgha ). The mount of beatitudes is very interesting; however I’ve since heard stories that this would have actually taken place on a nearby hillside rather than where the church currently resides. When we visited there were multiple busloads of people, and I’d highly recommend taking a minute to walk down to the waterside and enjoy a few minutes of solitude and reflection.

Our final day we toured Cana and Nazareth. The Church of the Annunciation is stunning and sits atop where Mary was thought to have potentially lived. It’s gorgeous. On our travels back to Tel Aviv, where we would end the trip with a couple of nights at the Intercontinental David, we stopped at Caesarea to see the ancient great port city of the Roman Empire. It’s also where Paul was tried by Festus.

a stuffed animal sitting on a ledge in front of an empty stage

Reflecting on our trip and discussing it with friends who have also visited, those who want to visit, I consider myself extremely fortunate of having done it with my family. It’s been a lifelong bucket list trip that we’ve wanted to experience. I’m so happy that we didn’t let the fear of safety delay the trip once again.

I could see myself visiting again. Discovering new aspects of the country, history, and obviously the food. Boy, the food is incredible. If you eat at one place in Tel Aviv, make it Man and the Sea. The line is long, but fast, and the food is wonderful. All 20 something starters are 100% necessaryJ

There is something that draws me to the regions of the world with Ancient history, namely in the recent past, to areas around the Middle East and all over Asia.


Read more about our trip to ISRAEL, JORDAN, EGYPT, AND DOHA

  • Planning a trip to the Holy Land including how we got the points, which points we used, etc.
  • Finding Award space on United’s Polaris for 3 people
  • Finding Award space on Qatar Qsuites for 4 people
  • Booking a Quad on Qatar QSuites with individual record locators
  • My Experience using Groundlink
  • St. Regis New York
  • Intercontinental Barclay New York
  • United Polaris Business Class 777-300ER Newark to Tel Aviv
  • Initial Impression of Tel Aviv
  • Intercontinental David Tel Aviv
  • Visiting the Holy Sites of Jerusalem
  • Crowne Plaza Jerusalem
  • Why Masada should be on your Israeli bucket list.
  • Sea of Galilee Hotel
  • Combined 2nd review of Intercontinental David in Tel Aviv ( this time in Club room )
  • Royal Jordanian Economy TLV-AMM-CAI
  • Ritz Carlton Egypt booked via STARS
  • Why I would HIGHLY recommend Experience Egypt Tours to visit Cairo
  • Royal Jordanian Economy from CAI to AMM to Aqaba
  • Problems to avoid getting a Jordanian Visa
  • Intercontinental Aqaba
  • Why Wadi Rum should be on your bucket list
  • Martian Tent at the Mazayen Rum Camp Wadi Rum
  • Marriott Petra
  • Why you need a full day at Petra
  • Crowne Plaza Dead Sea
  • Royal Jordanian Business Class Amman to Doha
  • St Regis Doha
  • Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge Doha
  • Qatar Airways QSuites Doha to Dallas
  • American Express Centurion Lounge Dallas

Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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1 Comment

  • Ghostrider5408 August 14, 2019

    You know that was pretty good! Thank you, it’s nice to see and read a article like this one without all the “look at me” or look at our FC seats etc.

    You’re taking note of the security in Israel is commendable it is safer there than many streets, cities and towns in American. The restaurants and night light is an adventure to behold. Shalom

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