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Can you do Israel in 3 days? AA/LY Y (Picture-heavy, not much flight info, external)

Can you do Israel in 3 days? AA/LY Y (Picture-heavy, not much flight info, external)

Old Dec 2, 12, 3:09 pm
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Can you do Israel in 3 days? AA/LY Y (Picture-heavy, not much flight info, external)

To put it simply, no. But my brother and I tried our best to cover Israel in 3 days on the ground. We had to cave and get a tour guide (who was fantastic), but he was worth every shekel.

This was on the mistake fare, and neither of us had much vacation left, so we had to cram it in around the US Thanksgiving holiday.

Part I: Mistake airfares and introduction
Part II: Rockets, Jerusalem and The Kelev
Part III: The Incomparable Boaz Shalgi
Part IV: Sacrifice and Courage at Masada, Qumran, the Dead Sea
Part V: Between Two Caesareas

I created my blog for people who aren't very into the FF community, which is why there's a lot of basic "what's a mistake airfare" sort of info in the first section.

Hopefully it'll interest some of you, even though I don't put a huge emphasis on the flights or any planespotting. I will in the future, when it's not in Y!

(note: pics are on the blog pages)

Last edited by bthotugigem05; Dec 10, 12 at 8:13 am
bthotugigem05 is offline  
Old Dec 2, 12, 3:11 pm
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Part I

They say the first step is admitting it. So, here goes: my name is Andy, and I love mistake airfares. Phew. Man, they were right, I do feel better.

What are mistake airfares? Pretty simple actually. Sometimes, when airlines input airfares into their systems, they make mistakes. Could be a fat-finger mistake: last year, United accidentally entered the base airfare from SEA-PEK (Beijing) as $25.00 each way instead of $250.00 each way, which led to roundtrips from Seattle to Beijing for $470 after taxes were included.

I’ve been able to take advantage of these on quite a few occasions over the past few years: DFW-Frankfurt for $340, Houston-London for $294, and DFW-Lima for $320. There are numerous others I’ve passed up, but then I saw a really big opportunity a few months ago. I was perusing some blogs and flyertalk.com and saw someone post what looked like a mistake fare on El Al Israel Airlines: Boston-Tel Aviv for $360 roundtrip! That’s about $800 cheaper than it should be. So I went into Deal Hunting mode. I looked at the fares people were finding, and most of the tickets were routed through London, Paris, or Madrid on American, then onto Tel Aviv on El Al. Since I know American also flies to those routes out of DFW, I went ahead and looked, and sure enough, the mistake was in play! DFW-TLV, $438.77/person, roundtrip, all taxes included. I immediately booked tickets for myself, my brother, and my mom for a quick Thanksgiving trip.

Part of every mistake airfare involves the airline threatening to cancel, and this was no different. But, as is typical, the airline eventually decided to honor its mistake. Time to plan for Israel!

We weren’t going to have much time on the ground, so we did something very atypical, for those of you who know me: we hired a private tour guide. I like to research things myself, but Israel was just too much. Plus, I don’t speak Hebrew. I’ll introduce you to our tour guide in my next post.

The flights were on economy on a mix of American and El Al Israel Airlines, and weren’t anything special, so I didn’t post an in-depth flight review like I will for all international premium travel.

Pictures, descriptions, and a heck of a lot of shawarma coming soon!
bthotugigem05 is offline  
Old Dec 2, 12, 3:18 pm
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Part II (note: contains religious opinions with which some will disagree)

While preparing for our trip, we were unavoidably concerned with news reports of Hamas launching rockets into Southern Israel. The level of concern only escalated when air raid sirens were heard over Tel Aviv. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system ably and quickly handled the threats. As our departure date approached, we were concerned, but, after advice from those on the ground in Israel, we boarded (less our mom, who decided not to make the trip) our flights to Madrid, connecting on to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv!

AA36 767-300 DFW-MAD
As I said, the flights were in coach, so nothing to really write home about, but due to my status on American Airlines (Platinum, PLT for short) I was able to secure my brother and I seats in American’s new Main Cabin Extra mini-cabin on our 767. More legroom meant a surprisingly relaxing trip to Barajas airport in Madrid, where we had roughly a two hour layover in their nice international terminal.

From Madrid we had a quick 4.5 hour flight into Tel Aviv. Everyone always talks about Israeli airline security, and the reputation comes with merit: pretty much every interaction we had with Israeli security was professional yet extremely inquisitive, but they went ahead and allowed us into the country, even though they mocked us for coming all the way to Israel and only spending 3 full days on the ground.

Our first stop in the airport was the Thrifty rental car counter to pick up our car…only there was no Thrifty rental car counter. Not wanting to bother with a rental car shuttle, mainly because there’s not one, I walked over to Avis, made a pretty good deal (read: got ripped off), paid for the GPS system (worth every shekel), and we got our boogie on to Jerusalem!


It’s kind of hard to put our experience in Jerusalem into words, but I’ll try my best. Most of the historical facts are courtesy of our tour guide, Boaz Shalgi, to whom I’ll dedicate an entire post (that’s how important a role he played) so you can get to know him. Hotel prices in Jerusalem are pretty ridiculous if you want to stay anywhere near the Old City, but TripAdvisor helped me find a little jewel: The Three Arch YMCA. It runs about $120-160/night and is right across from the King David Hotel, about 2-3x as expensive, and is 5 minutes walk from the Old City. The rooms are a bit spartan, but the wifi is fast, the beds comfy, and the architecture of the hotel is pretty incredible.

Our first night we decided to park the car, walk around for a bit, and call it an early night. We found a burger place and enjoyed some good ol’ American food on our first night in a foreign land (facepalm, I know). The next morning, we met Boaz and immediately hopped in our car (which we unaffectionately named “Kelev”, which is Hebrew for “dog”, and more family friendly than what I repeatedly called the car as we tried to drive up hills) and headed over to the Mount of Olives.

Jerusalem’s Old City
In one picture you can begin to see the complexity of this city and, moreover, this land. The golden-domed building you see in the middle of the picture is the Dome of the Rock, the third-holiest site in all of Islam. To the left is the Al-Aqsa Mosque. But the entire complex sits on top of what’s known as the Temple Mount (the holiest site in Judaism), where Jerusalem’s temple stood until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, and where Jews believe a Third Temple will be rebuilt with the coming of Messiah. (note: we’ll get to the Christian sites later) It’s not hard to imagine how this would lead to conflict between the Muslims and Jews, that is the story of Jerusalem: faith and reverence amid struggle.

The Mount of Olives resides in East Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Arab side of Jerusalem. Not entirely unlike Berlin before the end of the Cold War, Jerusalem has a Jewish side and an Arab side (unlike Berlin, there’s no wall anymore, but there’s a marked difference between the two sides in architecture, livelihood, and just feeling). From the Mount of Olives, we walked down through the massive Jewish cemetery along a path that wasn’t dissimilar to that which Jesus used during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

(a note: there are many places where we know something happened in a general area, but don’t know the exact location. The above is an example: we know Jesus started at the Mount of Olives and entered Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate, also called the Golden Gate, but we don’t know the exact route he took, which isn’t incredibly important in my opinion. There are other cases, like below, where we know with very good certainty the places are as they were in the Bible. I try to clarify as possible, but if there are any questions please let me know in the comments)

Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem
The Garden of Gethsemane took my breath away. This is where my Savior prayed, anguished over what was to become of Him to the point of sweating blood, and where he was arrested before his crucifixion. This is undoubtedly the historical Garden of Gethsemane, not a recreation of any sort. It sits at the bottom of the Mount of Olives near the Kidron Valley. The entire site took my breath away, but even moreso the fact that some of the olive trees date back over 2000 years, which means: those trees were there the night Jesus was arrested. It simply blew me away to the point of tears.

Old City
We entered the Old City from the Arab cemetery just to the east (the Muslims misguidedly placed a cemetery there based on the idea that the Jewish Messiah would not be able to fulfill prophecy and enter Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate because he must come from a priestly family and priests aren’t allowed in cemeteries) through the Lion’s Gate, which put us into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Just to the right of the entrance, we saw the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the crippled man on the Sabbath. As we exited the Pools and turned to the right, we started seeing groups of Catholics walking slowly and carrying crosses. That’s the easiest way of knowing you’re at the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion. We know where Jesus began his walk (the building is now a Muslim school) and we know where it ended, but the exact route isn’t known.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Via Dolorosa comes to an end at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, venerated as Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, buried, and from where he resurrected. There are other locations theorized (most Protestants acknowledge a different location, the Garden Tomb, as Jesus’s actual tomb), but there is actually very good archaeological evidence for this place being the spot. The church is not a singular chapel, rather almost a sort of mall of mini-churches: Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox (Coptics, Ethiopians, Syrics), Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. There are massive turf wars within the church facility, which is an unfortunate metaphor for our relationship with God: He gives us a testament to His grace, His power, and His plan, and we simply bicker about it.

The line to enter the Tomb of Jesus was about 4 hours long the day we were there (which is a relatively short line), so we decided not to enter, but we did walk around and saw what is likely the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

Truthfully, the church was too crowded and full of controversy between the churches to be called a place of reverence. It’s to the point that the Greeks, who control the area containing the Golgotha stone, and Catholics, who control the area next to it, will watch when each side is sweeping the floors to ensure that no dirt is intruding on their side. Also, fist-fights among the priests are not unheard of. The tomb and the history of the place was incredibly interesting, but the infighting kind of ruined it. The churches disagree on things so fiercely that the opening and closing of one of the holiest places in Christianity is left to two Muslim families, one family opens the doors every morning, and the other closes them at night.

But, we did get to see some of the oldest graffiti in the world on the columns of the church!

Temple Mount
After a quick bite at a shewarma joint in the Muslim Quarter, we walked towards and through the Jewish Quarter on our way to the Temple Mount. The amount of archaeological excavation around the Temple Mount is staggering, and we got to see an incredible amount of recently discovered history. Along the southwestern side of the Temple Mount is a recently-opened park that dates back to the Second Temple area, basically around the time of Jesus. It means you quite literally get to walk on the same stone pathways on which Jesus walked.

On the southern side of the Temple Mount, from where Jewish pilgrims would ascend from the City of David to the Temple three times a year, they’ve uncovered a massive staircase that they believe starts at the Temple Mount and went all the way down to the City of David in the valley to the south. What was unique about these stairs is that they weren’t uniform in height or width. This was done on purpose by the Jews, to force people to slow down (instead of just strolling up the stairs) and prepare themselves for an encounter with God with reverence.

Along the southern portion of the Western Wall we saw many artifacts of the actual night that the Temple was destroyed. The Romans pushed giant stones off the Temple Mount that crashed to the earth below

We also saw various stones with inscriptions that date back to Jesus’s time, which was incredible and lent a sense of authenticity to each and every step you took.

From the archaeology park we made our way to the Western Wall. Jews are not often allowed on top of the Temple Mount, so they come to pray at the Western Wall, which is the closest place geographically to the Holy of Holies in the Temple (at least closest that the Jews can access). This wall was formerly known as the Wailing Wall whenever Jerusalem was occupied by Rome, Muslims, or anyone else who has tried to conquer this city, but it is now known as the Western Wall since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948.

There are two entrances for the Western Wall plaza, men and women. You are asked to cover your head as you approach the wall as well (they have head coverings if you don’t have one, but even a baseball cap will suffice). The experience of approaching the Western Wall is weighty and significant, even for Gentiles. Many will write prayers on papers and stuff them into cracks in the wall. Others will sing, others chant, and still others quietly meditate with a hand on the wall.

Our day wound down at the Western Wall, so we bid Boaz a good evening and went off to find some good Israeli food. But instead we ended up at a really good pizza place (another facepalm). The night was a bit humid after bits of rain on and off all day, so we decided to head back into the Old City to grab some pictures at night, as the reflections from the streets and buildings would surely make some great pictures, and they did.

Up next: a world-class guide, and the desert fortress of Masada
bthotugigem05 is offline  
Old Dec 4, 12, 8:49 am
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Thanks, I am enjoying the read so far... You really can't over-emphasize the extreme level of segregation in Israel. It is a very regressive culture where everything is based on your race. I really wonder if they can ever get beyond that unless the Mid-East in general becomes a more tolerant place.

I agree with you on the problems with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, although I didn't realize the extent of the turf wars. It is filled with folks who are into worshipping "holy" objects and "hallowed" ground... last I checked, Jesus rose from his tomb and ushered in the Holy Spirit so now we don't have to visit any given place to get closer to God.... Anyway, even if the site has become a spectacle, most of the other places you stopped by in Jerusalem really bring the Bible to life. That is the best reason to visit Israel IMO, not to mention it has a very unique culture, history, and cuisine.
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Old Dec 4, 12, 9:32 pm
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How you do that? I never find a real cheap price. Unreal! Where you did find out? On what website is that?
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Old Dec 5, 12, 12:43 am
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Last edited by JohnDP; Nov 29, 13 at 4:38 pm
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Old Dec 6, 12, 7:10 am
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Part IV: Sacrifice and Courage at Masada, Qumran, the Dead Sea (pictures on blog)

Our day began early as we departed Jerusalem and headed to the east along Highway 1. The scenery gradually changed from the relative lushness of the Jerusalem area into what I had pictured before the trip began, mainly: desert. As we drove, we saw various Israeli settlements that were well-fortified, because this was in the West Bank area and these were “disputed settlements” under constant threat of attack. Again, it’s hard to escape struggle in this land, the Israelis are determined to survive and prosper, yet face pressure to do both only as long as it doesn’t offend other governments that are mostly hostile to Israel anyway. The towns of Bethlehem and Jericho are located near Highway 1, but we had to bypass them. Bethlehem features the Church of the Nativity and not much else, so we skipped it due to time pressure. There’s not much to see in Jericho, as the walls came a-tumblin’ down many thousands of years ago, and it’s Muslim-controlled at this point, so our tour guide, being Israeli, would’ve faced trouble entering with us.

As I mentioned earlier, our car was a royal piece of junk. The Kelev had maybe 30-40hp and the engine sounded like it was powered by two squirrels fighting each other. This bit of driving was the only easy part of the trip for the poor thing, as we began our descent to and below sea level. There is a sign displaying when you’re at sea level. Many tourists stop and take pictures here, which I thought to be a bit pointless. Imagine a sign that says SEA LEVEL. Yep, that’s exactly what it looked like.

As we turned south onto Highway 90, it began to rain a bit harder. This was rare, as we were very much in a desert. As the miles passed by and we descended further below sea level, we finally saw our first views of: fog. It was very foggy that day, due to the rain. But after a while, we eventually saw: more fog. But THEN, we finally saw: palm trees? In a desert?

Yep, turns out Israelis in kibbutzim have developed a way of desalinating the soil around the Dead Sea and plant and harvest all sorts of fruits and vegetables. The above are date palm trees, and there were literally thousands of them neatly organized along Highway 90 on the way to: more fo…ok I’m kidding, the Dead Sea!

I had to pay attention to the road during the rain, as flash floods are very common in the area with even the slightest bit of rain, much less the steady torrent we faced that day, but the rawness of the desert interrupted by a body of water was very stark. I knew I’d eventually have a better view, so we’ll get to that later.

The Masada Fortress towers atop a sand-colored crag in the Negev desert about 2 1/2 hours from Jerusalem. I would argue that just like Jerusalem represents the spirit of the Jewish people, Masada represents their heart. A bit of history:

In 66AD, the Great Jewish Revolt began. During the beginning segments of the rebellion, the group known as the Sicarii attacked and captured the fortress at Masada (which was originally built by Herod the Great as a refuge in case of revolt by the Jews during his rule, it’s unclear whether he ever even visited his palace here). As the war escalated, more Jews sought refuge with the Sicarii at Masada. Finally, in 70AD, the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. The Jews were on the run and were either enslavened or killed. The Sicarii fortified their positions at Masada and laid wait.

As Roman soldiers scoured the countryside in hunt for Jewish rebels, they came upon the very well-defended and well-supplied Sicarii at Masada. The Romans began their siege of Masada. Since the Sicarii were able to store water and had stored plenty of food, the Roman siege was ineffective. The Romans then began catapulting stones at the fortress.

The Sicarii still did not give in. A Roman commander finally suggested very deliberately building a ramp up to the fortress, allowing them to move their legions directly against the “rebels”. A massive ramp was built leading up to the fortress, despite Sicarii attempts to stop it.

It was at this point the Sicarii were forced to face reality: they would die fighting or become Roman slaves. A meeting of the Sicarii men was called, and their leader, Eleazar ben Ya’ir, gave a moving and legendary speech:

“Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice…We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.”

Since suicide is forbidden in Judaism, the men of Masada had the horrible task of killing their families and each other, with the last remaining man falling on his sword.

This is the place where pottery shards containing the names of men was found. It is believed these were the men who had the task of killing those on Masada, and a name was drawn from these lots to be the last remaining, who’d kill the remaining men and then fall on his own sword. The Sicarii destroyed everything before they sacrificed themselves, with one exception: the foodstores they had accumulated. The food was left as proof to the Romans that their siege had not worked, that they had not died of starvation, rather they chose death instead of slavery.

It is a tragic story of heroism and defiance, again reinforcing that in Israel you do not have to go far to find heroism, but tragedy and struggle are similarly close. To this day, “Masada shall never fall again” remains a rallying cry of the Israeli people. I believe them.

After a reverent visit to Masada, our next task: lunch, coupled with something better. What could be better than lunch, you ask? The place where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls, you add on? You’d be absolutely correct, and you’d also be a heck of a guesser. We ate lunch at the entrance to the Qumran complex. The Qumran complex very smartly also has a massive cafeteria. We ate lunch, which was more shewarma, or I may have had schnitzel. Wait, I remember now: I ordered schnitzel and got…something else. It was chickeny, but ultimately it resembled a lot of the other food we had: meat and vegetables stuffed into pita bread. (It was always fantastic, as well)

The Essenes were a very devout and pious group of Jews that lived in voluntary poverty. It is believed they moved to the Dead Sea area to get away from the temptations of the city and worldly pursuits to be at one with their faith. Not much is known about the Essenes other than this. They are better-known today for the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered intact in 1948.

Cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a shepherd (who allegedly traded them for a pair of sandals)
There are many other caves in which scrolls were found, the above is the main cave.

After wrapping up the visit to Qumran (and a brief pitstop at a kibbutz where they manufacture soaps and lotions from the Dead Sea due to its abundant minerals), we trekked across the highway to sample the Dead Sea for ourselves at the lowest beach in the world.

The Dead Sea
We came to a place that used to be a Syrian military installation that was long deserted, but past that was the entrance to a beach along the Dead Sea, earth’s lowest point. The Dead Sea is 8-10 times as salty as the ocean and is much more dense as well, which makes the Dead Sea almost impossible to swim in, but incredibly easy to float on!

Getting into the sea is a bit of a trek, with an interesting blend of beachgoers you’re fighting through. As an aside, during our time in Israel, everywhere we went were large groups of Nigerian pilgrims (apparently the Nigerian government will pay for them to come to the Holy Land once), and the Dead Sea was no different. They all converged on the sea (along with many other people groups) with water bottles, hoping to get someone to get some Dead Sea mud for them (the mud is very good for the skin).

I’m sure you’re hoping for some pictures of us in the Dead Sea, but we’re both really pale and it was November, so I’m not going to put your eyeballs through that.

The water itself felt very oily and slimy, but it was hilariously fun to float on the sea. We played around for a little while, my brother almost floated off to Jordan, we met some pilgrims from Nigeria, I put mud into a plastic bag for a Hungarian nun, and made our way to the showers, our skin freshened and honestly looking glorious. I even thought my receding hairline regained some strength, but no, alas, it didn’t.

Wrapping up
We drove back to Jerusalem, the haze finally lifting and the rain letting up. I really enjoyed the drive back, hearing our guide’s thoughts on Israeli-Palestinian relations and the future he hoped for. We switched hotels to what we’re pretty certain used to be apartments, but it was nice enough. Shabbat (Sabbath) started this evening, when the town of Jerusalem pretty much shuts down. It made finding a place to eat a little difficult, but we happened upon a pub that served one of my favorite beers in the world (Kilkenney), and really gave into tourism and ate at a nearby McDonald’s (that’s three facepalm dinners in a row).

It was hard to believe we only had one full day left, but we accomplished a TON and saw an incredible amount of the northern part of Israel. Look for it soon!
bthotugigem05 is offline  
Old Dec 10, 12, 8:16 am
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Part V: Between Two Caesareas

First, a bit of technical difficulty. I recently purchased a pretty amazing little camera, the Fuji X10 for use on my fun little trips I take around the world (sneak preview: my next trip report is of my First Class adventure to Vietnam). I adore this camera, it’s equal parts easy to use, idiot-proof, and has protection against idiots. I consider myself a bit of a photodiot, so I went to one of the best in the business, my good friend Brian Braun (www.brianbraun.net), and asked his advice. He said without a doubt the X10 would be perfect, and it has been. with one exception. I love that I can adjust the exposure on the fly with a little dial on the camera, but on our last day in Israel, the dial found itself darkening every picture and I didn’t realize until most of the day was gone. So the pictures you see today will be artificially brightened a bit, and I learned a valuable lesson about constantly checking my settings on the camera to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Our day began on Shabbat in Jerusalem. We met up with Boaz at the appointed time, and began making our way north. Our route would first take us through Tel Aviv to a coastal town called Caesarea. It is an active archaeological site, with new items being discovered with great regularity (it is said it is only 10% uncovered). It is an absolutely massive site, of which we were able to explore quite a bit.


Caesarea was built halfway between what is now Tel Aviv and Haifa by Herod the Great just before Jesus’s time. It was built to honor Caesar Augustus and also serve as home to a very large palace for himself. It was an important city to Rome, with a very large harbor (I think one of the 5 largest in the world at the time). They had a large array of buildings, some of which have been uncovered today, and others lost to antiquity. But the remaining buildings are pretty incredible.

The Hippodrome was a very large area where they held horse races, gladiator games, and public executions. It held up to 20,000 people (who would end up being Roman soldiers and Gentiles most of the time, as it was mainly Jews being executed and other Jews weren’t really excited about witnessing that). Something interesting Boaz pointed out to us is the outcropping in the middle of the oval (just above center in the above picture) is where Roman officials would sit and witness executions, but it wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, they sat on the last turn of the oval, because that’s where the most chariot crashes would occur, not unlike NASCAR today!

Caesarea is the city from which Pontius Pilate governed Judea, and an unbelievably important piece of history was uncovered here: the only non-biblical evidence that he existed.

Additionally, Paul the Apostle, who was a Roman citizen, in Acts 25:11 appealed to the rule of Caesar to be tried as a Roman citizen instead of as a Jew before the Sanhedrin, and he was held for two years at Caesarea.

In addition to the Christian history, the place itself is full of Roman history as well. As you’re walking around, what at first site appears to be rocks upon further inspection turn out to be bits of ancient pottery and mosaic stone. You’re literally walking on history. The palace was impressive as well.

Mount Carmel

1 Kings 18:16 tells the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal and Asherah, two false gods the Israeli people worshipped at the time. Elijah had King Ahab assemble the people of Israel and the 850 priests to the false gods on Mount Carmel. Two bulls were found and made to be offered: Elijah’s bull to the God of Israel and the other to be offered to Baal or Asherah. Each would be placed on an altar, and the true God would set the altar alight for the sacrifice.

Elijah sat confidently while the prophets of Baal prayed and called upon Baal to light the altar, even mockingly asking them to yell louder, since their God might be asleep or traveling! Nothing happened for the Baal priests. Elijah had his altar doused with water from four massive jugs three different times, called upon the name of the God of Israel, and the altar was completely consumed with fire!

Present day Mount Carmel is actually quite large, not in height but in breadth, containing 11-12 big hilltops that together make up Mount Carmel. From the peak of the highest hill, you can see down into the Jezreel Valley and into the hills of Northern Israel.

In the distance of the above picture is an Israeli Air Force airfield. When Lebanon surprise-attacked Israel in 2006, Boaz was with a tour group at this very spot, discussing Armageddon, when all of a sudden jet after jet flew overhead, loaded with missiles for a counterattack against Lebanon. He said the jets were so low you could almost jump up and grab them, which had to be a bit off-putting for those on the tour!

From Mount Carmel, we proceeded onward into Galilee, towards Capernaum.


Capernaum is a very important site for Christianity, as it is the home of the Apostle Peter and is where a significant part of Jesus’s ministry took place.

Peter’s home is a bit of a conundrum. It is 100% verified that Peter lived here, but to commemorate it a church was built literally on top of it about 30 years ago. Most buildings of this sort in Israel are built in alignment with the surrounding scenery or geography of the area, but this was not anything like that, it was modern, ugly, and ruined the site in a way. If any of you have ever driven into LAX and have seen the UFO-looking thing at the front, the church resembles that.

From Peter’s home it is a short walk over to the synagogue (reference the very first picture in this post for a look at the synagogue). What is especially significant about the synagogue is what was uncovered beneath the limestone floors: the original floor of the synagogue, from Jesus’s time (you can see below it is volcanic rock, which is the geologic heritage of the area). Why is this important? Jesus most likely walked on these stones while ministering at the synagogue.

On our way out from Capernaum, we stopped for a brief visit to the legendary Jordan River. Now, growing up reading bible stories about the Jordan River I somehow pictured the roaring Mississippi in the USA, but reality was a little, well, underwhelming.

Many people have asked me what the topography is like in Israel. I don’t think I was alone when I imagined very sparse vegetation amid desert conditions, but in the north I was blown away at how beautiful everything was, and we eventually found ourselves driving through a forest not unlike what you’d expect to see in northern California

The Valley of Tears

The gravity of the situation increased as we approached the Valley of Tears and the Syrian border. The Valley of Tears is the site of one of the largest tank battles in recorded history during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Most tanks were destroyed, and the shells of a few are left as a memorial to the heroism and tenacity of the Israeli soldiers during the battle.

It was at the Valley of Tears that we heard a very moving memorial to the soldiers who fought, including actual radio transmissions heard during the battle. Boaz eloquently painted a picture of what occurred here, it was very emotional and hearing it firsthand from a 22-year veteran of the IDF made it that much more special. Heroism and struggle, you’re never far from either here.

From the Valley of Tears, we passed through a few Druze villages, then headed to Caesarea Philippi.

Caesarea Philippi

What is now just an archaeological site in the extreme north of Israel (literally a few hundred yards from the Lebanon border, which we drove next to on our way out) used to be a city and temple complex to the pagan god Pan. It has a few nice springs that feed the Jordan River.

Matthew 16:18 tells the story of Jesus and Peter at Caesarea Philippi, when Peter confesses Jesus at the Christ. Jesus then tells Peter “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is the huge massive rock face at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus most likely used as his backdrop for what he was saying (apologies for the psychadelic-looking picture, got a little crazy with the HDR software)

Also at Caesarea Philippi we ran into some of the cutest little creatures imaginable: marmots. These little guys are about as cute as can be, and look like a gerbil that’s about the size of a cat. We saw a family of them on the path ahead, and I tried to guess the noise they made to win their favor (which consisted of me saying “MARMOT!”), but to no avail, they ran away frightened. Although I guess if someone ran up to me yelling MARMOT I’d do the same thing.

Wrapping Up

This was unfortunately the end of our tour with Boaz, and, as our trip was drawing to a close, we were left with some fantastic views of the Sea of Galilee as we headed to Tel Aviv.

As we bid farewell to Boaz, and to the northern part of Israel, I was left with two emotions: sadness at leaving such a beautiful place, and hope that I’d soon return. I will see Boaz again, I will visit this beautiful place and people again, and I will continue to learn from their strength and resiliency.
bthotugigem05 is offline  
Old Dec 10, 12, 11:41 am
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Israel is a small country.

Thanks for a great report. Masada really impressed me.

How much is a private guide per day?
Bretteee is offline  
Old Dec 10, 12, 12:52 pm
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The going rate is between $300-800, depending on the guide. Mine was somewhere in between (he gave me a bit of a deal since I had a connection to him through a friend).
bthotugigem05 is offline  
Old Jan 1, 13, 8:30 am
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Who on earth would want to do israel at ANY point?
handsomestpete is offline  
Old Jan 1, 13, 8:02 pm
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Different strokes for different folks but I can tell you that by not going you're missing out.

Originally Posted by handsomestpete View Post
Who on earth would want to do israel at ANY point?
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