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Israel

Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea picture gallery
Eilat and South Israel picture gallery

The Visitor‘s Guide trip to Israel – General
For a long time I have been longing to go to Israel and the Middle East. Inspired by the long history – the bible stories of the past and the political situation in the Middle East, as well as the biography of Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel and a promoter of women's rights - I finally decided to go for a 2 week trip in January 2010. The purpose of the visit was to: a) take a few days off, b) write about the trip, and c) to look for possible business opportunities. I flew with Icelandair from Iceland to London at 9 am and the connection with El Al Israel was good, a mere 2 hours waiting in London where I was invited to El Al's business lounge. I would like to give my gratitude to Suzanne Knopf in The El Al office in the UK for good help and prompt answers to my few questions concerning the flight, connections and more. These little writings are somehow descriptive. I will also try to cover the many things that people around me have asked me about the trip. It is also seen with the eye of the consultant in business and tourism. The pictures I guess are even more interesting. If there is a picture of the matter written about, it is marked with * sign.

Let us start with the weather as that is usually of special interest to Scandinavian readers. The daytime temperature ranged from approx. 12-26° Celsius and the night time between 8-18° Celsius. The lower grades were in Jerusalem which is 800 meters above sea level while the higher ones where in Eilat in the South. And secondly, as a few have asked me this (silly) question since returning home: Women in Israel do not generally wear hair coverage or veil (some of the orthodox though wear some type of veil)! Total population in the state of Israel was approximately 7,465 millions inhabitants as of September 2009. 75.5% of them were Jewish (about 5,6 m individuals), 20.3% were Arabs (about 1,5 m inhabitants), while the remaining 4.2% were defined as "others" (family members of Jewish immigrants whom were not registered at the Interior Ministry as Jews, non-Arab Christians, non-Arab Muslims and residents whom do not have a religious classification). Inside Israel there are therefore many so-called Israeli Arabs (mainly in Jaffa city in Tel Aviv and East Jerusalem) and the women usually cover their hair.

The author – managing director of the Visitor's Guide and NETID - will hereafter mainly be referred to as the Visitor.

Travel story
The trip took 13 days and 13 nights. Accommodation included a local home, a 2 star guesthouse and 3, 4, and 5 star hotels. The first 3 nights the Visitor stayed in Tel Aviv with 3 guys – arranged through the couch surfing community (a website through which you can arrange accommodation with locals). They lived in the old Jaffa district which is around 7-10 minutes by car from the centre. Tel Aviv is a modern city by the coast* which has great shops and very good restaurants and nightlife. The time in Tel Aviv included among else a stroll on the long beach, taking a look at some shops and a walk in the old Jaffa city – mostly inhabited by Israeli Arabs. Thereafter, the Visitor left with a bus (1 hour and 15 minutes) for 3 nights in Jerusalem, staying in a shared dormitory in the 2 star conveniently located but noisy Jerusalem hostel (see picture from the dorm). In Jerusalem the Visitor visited the old city, the Mount of Olives, some restaurants, bars and more. On the second day in Jerusalem the Visitor met by coincidence outside the walls of the old city his travel partner for the next five days: The extremely nice and polite Kyohei Teshima* (pronounced Cow hey – like hey for cows :) ) from Japan. We were both targets for Taxi drivers trying to hustle us to Bethlehem. We ended up sharing a taxi. The trip to Bethlehem on the West bank in Palestine was quite interesting. On our latter day together we went to Mount of Olives* (where Jesus ascended to heaven) and walked in the Muslim/Arab quarter in East Jerusalem*. 

Leaving Jerusalem the Visitor(s) rented a car and the travel mates drove to the Dead Sea*. There we took a float in the sea, near Ein Gedi and visited the nearby Ein Gedi Kibutz, which is mostly a tourist resort. Thereafter we drove in a hurry and very windy weather to the Ein Gedi spa for a few minutes visit (not entering) and to the magnificent Masada fortress*. After that we drove all the way to Eilat in the south of Israel by the Red Sea arriving there at night. Eilat was the base for the next 6 nights; the first night we spent at the 4 star Seaside hotel (the room was very nice) – it was full for the next 2 days - and the rather grumpy girl in the reception, unlike the lovely one the night before, wanted to move us to their "sister" hotel. However we were supposed to pay more at that resort! Thereafter we could have returned back to this otherwise convenient and good hotel. The Visitor was not inspired by this service and left the premises one parking fee richer. We left to the 3 star Americano Hotel* where the professional hotel manager Jeff gave us a good rate, a dinner invitation and more. The Visitor also spent some daytime in the next door/nearby 5 star Crown Plaza hotel (see many pictures), using the pool, looking at the premises, having a massage and a spa. The days in Eilat were spent going to the beach, running errands, relaxing at the swimming pool and shopping in the good malls they have over there. Not to forget being picked up in a limousine and driven to the Elite Stone Mines* with the intention of buying nothing which of course failed (among else due to good prices). The time also included a day trip to Egypt (Sinai desert), where the Visitor said goodbye to his friend Kyohei who was going to take the bus all the way to Cairo. The Visitor also went to Jordan, among else to Petra, one of the 7 wonders of the world. Finally the Visitor flew with the domestic airline Israir from Eilat to Tel Aviv where he spent his last night at a conveniently located 4 star hotel in the center, with very helpful reception staff, leaving early in the morning for London.
The Visitor found himself quite safe when travelling in Israel, of course the security is high but not without reason. In fact the Visitor felt more safe over there than when out on the nightlife in Reykjavik, Copenhagen or Stockholm to take an example.

The people
What the Visitor liked the most in Israel were the people, which generally were nice, open-minded, warm and welcoming. Their biggest drawback was maybe that almost all of them seem to smoke :). The Israelis are also generally rather good looking and fit! One thing also noticeable is that the women have a kind of natural look, not using too much cosmetics. What the Visitor found especially interesting was the diversity in look and background, with some of them for example having a Scandinavian-German look while others have a more Arabic look. I had the habit of asking people where they came from and their background turned out to be very diverse, with grandparents stemming from Morocco, Poland, Yemen, Iraq, Germany, Poland, and Russia. For some reason the Visitor seemed to like people with grandparents from Morocco, the sample though not being very scientific or only 5 persons. Some had parents who had immigrated to Israel, but some had simply moved to Israel themselves at a young age. This I often found to be the fact with people coming from Ukraine and Russia. Those people were often (as the grandparents) escaping from persecution. Because of the many people with Russian and East European origins, Russian is very widely spoken. Tourists from these countries are also very common, and almost the only ones the Visitor met in Eilat – in this off season period - were from Russia and Ukraine. The compulsory military service in Israel is 3 years for men and 2 years for women, served usually between the ages of 19 and 21/22. The Druze people in the north also serve in the army as well as many Bedouin Arabs who live in Israel. After military duty, Israelis often go travelling for a few months or even a year. Thailand and India and other Asian countries are the destination. During my three trips to India I have often met people from Israel.

Accommodation, food, prices and services

In my view one can deduct approximately 15-20% from the stars given to the hotels (leaving a 5 star hotel closer to 4 or 4.25 stars). The downgrade can be from lack of professionalism in the reception – even in 4 to 5 star hotels. Also some basic things lacking in the rooms, bad English in menus, but very often some small things that a consultant could easily point out and fix. The Visitor had some comments at the hotels staying at which very usually taken with much gratitude. The food in Israel was generally very good and the Visitor still misses some of the great salads! The readers will have to do with some pictures in the galleries. The price for food and accommodation is rather high or similar to European prices. The Visitor has worked for years as a marketing consultant for restaurants in Iceland and Scandinavia (see for example our website www.restaurants.is) and therefore has a critical eye. I would like to recommend the restaurant Ginger* – Asian Kitchen and bar, in Eilat (www.gingereilat.com), where I went twice alone :( but had some talk with the some of the nice staff working there as well as the owner. Once I had sushi which was better than the average sushi restaurants I have visited in Scandinavia and the look was a bit unique. On my second visit I had an exceptionally good Salmon course (which can be seen in the Eilat gallery). Another good experience was on my last night in Tel Aviv when visiting the restaurant Hapizza*, 51 Bugrashov street (www.hapizza.com). There I had a very good salad, served with delicious pita bread – as well as a good Italian wine as they unfortunately didn‘t have any Israeli wine. The Israeli wine came as a nice surprise to the Visitor - as I hadn‘t connected the country to quality wine. The staff at this restaurant was very nice and smiley, this was outdoor in approx 18 Celsius at 10 pm, not bad in early February :). Service orientation is in some places lacking, even at good hotels. This I hardly though noticed in restaurants. The Visitor rented a car with Sixt car rental (35$ pr. day for a small car, down to 30$ if taking for one week, this is without full coverage insurance which my credit card covers – check those things well before going), the price was good.


Politics
This could be a topic for a very long review. Going to Israel, with around 7,5 million inhabitants and the neighbouring Arabic countries is a great experience and lesson. It also gives you a much better understanding than the one give in the headlines in the newspapers. To the Visitor’s view many people have a very narrow eye of the situation in Israel and the Middle east – some of whom I have had same arguments being rather of a pro-Israeli.

Israel is the only democratic country in this region! along with Lebanon which I guess would somehow fall under that category. It is surrounded by Arabic countries (Lebanon 4,3m, Syria 22m, Jordan 6,32m, Egypt 77,5m, Palestine 4,15m – the West bank and Gaza) the total number in these countries counting around 115 millions. The total inhabitants in the Arab League around 360 millions many of whom are very hostile towards Israel and total Muslims in the world 1,572 millions. Including the very hostile president in Iran 77,3m – (the nation though mostly being Indo-Arians not Arabic as many people in the West think).

The Visitor especially liked the equality of sexes in Israel, the women can be seen in most jobs often supervising the boys/men. There seems also to be a big tolerance towards gay people and other minorities. The women working in the police, the army, bakeries etc. often look like miss Troms÷, miss South (Sudurland), miss Írebro to take an example of their often good looks – a comparison that the Scandinavian readers will understand. You could therefore say that being pro-women’s rights, pro-tolerance, pro-democratic, makes you therefore somehow pro-Israel. I‘m not getting into the Israel-Palestinian issue here, which is a long and sad story (would strongly though recommend reading the Golda Meir story). It was though sad to read on my arrival in London in the Jerusalem Post, that the day before a 26 year old Israeli soldier, was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian policeman. This news I didn‘t see in the Norwegian or Icelandic newspapers.

Recommendations
Travel books like the Lonely Planet are a necessity for trips to Israel, with in-depth writing about most things. As usual the Visitor didn’t quite agree with their restaurant recommendations. The Visitor leaves the Travel book for in depth recommendations etc, but would like to leave only three here.

a) Read about the country, its history etc., before going.
b) Be open minded, talk to people. The Scandinavian countries have a positive image in Israel. One usually gets a positive reaction when saying that one is from Scandinavia, although don’t say that before bargaining, especially if you are from oil-rich Norway
c) Do some shopping in Israel; the shops are very good and trendy. Not least for shoes, which most women love.

Final words
The Visitor left Israel on a nice flight with El Al Israel, the male and female flight attendants were young, dynamic and very friendly. The Visitor took the liberty of taking a picture of a couple of the staff* and filled out quite a long questionnaire about the service – a much more professional questionnaire than I have seen for a long time.

The Visitor left Israel with the memory of a great experience - would rather use that word than fun. People were generally welcoming, but of course it helped a lot that one of the main purposes of the trip was to write about the trip and Israel. I had the habit of presenting our publications, website and documents (see picture below), which gave a very positive input for discussion. People were quite curious about Scandinavia – the most common question isn’t it very cold there now? Our publications therefore helped to open discussion with people. The Visitor can feel that something is pulling him to go back there and to this region quite soon. I am proud to have therefore created a new slogan on the last evening (although after 2 glasses of red wine) for our international brand.

                          You are never alone with - the Visitor‘s Guide


An updated checklist for travelling abroad

Sources:
Lonely Planet travel book
Wikipedia


I tried to give many people the Icelandic Topas,
but very few wanted or liked it -)



 



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