For Christmas 2010 we gave Eric’s parents a travel book on Israel to whet their appetite to join us on a visit in 2012. Then, in the fall of 2011 we discovered a good deal on tickets via British Air for this April and booked them. Eric’s parents quickly decided to join us, beginning our family adventure to Israel!
We flew overnight from Raleigh to London, and after the lengthy commute from T3 to T5 in Heathrow, met Eric’s parents for a quick breakfast in the BA lounge, then the onward flight to Tel Aviv.
After collecting our bags we headed to the rental car area, where our agency (Dollar) was not to be found. Hmmm. As would happen often in Israel, asking clerks at the other counters, we were met with indifferent shrugs and “never heard of it.” We eventually noticed a small statement on our rental printout that we would be met in the arrivals area and taken to the agency, so we hustled back down the escalator and after a few moments found a man waiting with a sign. And thus began our odyssey to get a car… after a 10 minute drive and about 30 minutes of waiting in line behind one customer, plus answering a multitude of questions, we finally had our car and got on the road. [[note: our experience returning the car in Jerusalem was even worse, and I don’t think we’d ever use Dollar again in Israel.]]
When we were planning this trip the complexities of visiting a place with several different religions was definitely in our minds. For example, many Jewish institutions close for Shabbat (Sabbath) from Friday sunset to Sat sunset, while Christian institutions may be closed on Sundays. With that in mind we started our trip in the Galilee and northern Israel, basing ourselves in Tiberias. After two nights in Tiberias, we spent one night on the Dead Sea, and ended the trip with three nights in Jerusalem.
At times Israel can feel like a religious theme park. The large groups in the ubiquitous tour buses certainly don’t help at certain sites, but by having our own car we were able to cover a good slice of the eastern portion of Israel and go at our own pace. There is also the perception of ‘security’ in Israel, and while you will occasionally see soldiers with weapons it is usually because they are going home. Outside of a few spots in Jerusalem we rarely saw a heavy security presence. Finally, with the exception of a few surly service people (mostly related to the rental car experience), most of the folks we met and interacted with were very hospitable and we are definitely glad we had a chance to experience a good part of the country on this trip.