About nine months ago, my dad announced he would be leading a group to Israel for a tour of the Holy Land. He had lead a few such tours before, most recently in 2010, and I always hoped one day to join him. But, as you can imagine, a 12 day tour of the land of the Israelites doesn’t come cheap. So when he made the announcement I thought, “That would be a great trip, but I just don’t think I can afford it right now. Maybe someday.”
Not long after the announcement, dad came to me and said as the leader of the tour, he was able to bring along one person, free of charge. Would I like to go? I’m pretty sure I asked Jen first if I could leave her alone with two kids and two crazy dogs for 12 days, but I may not have before answering a resounding “YES!” It’s not too often you can walk where Jesus walked for the price of lunches and souvenirs. Jen, because she is the World’s Most Amazing Woman, of course agreed to let me go on what I thought at the time, but hopefully won’t be, was a once in a lifetime journey.
Before continuing, let me make this disclaimer. While this certainly was a pilgrimage of sorts, no one in our group of 19, all from the same church, was expecting to curry any sort of special favor with God for having made the trek. While visiting sites significant to our faith and walking along some of the very streets Jesus walked was certainly inspirational, there was no expectation of special blessing or revelation for having done so. In a way perhaps equally shallow and significant, being in those places did makes the Bible come alive, and yet we know that the importance is the what, not the where. I guess what I’m trying to say is, we weren’t there to worship the relics and ruins. But being in that place, you can’t help but feel your faith strengthen and deepen.
Our group of 19, ranging in age from mid-teens to mid-seventies, launched from San Francisco International Airport at approximately 8 PM on a Tuesday evening. Our Boeing 787 Dreamliner touched down at David Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel at approximately 8 PM on Wednesday evening. No, it’s not a 24 hour flight. It was a solid 13, plus the 10 hours ahead time difference. Plenty of time in the air to watch three movies (Anthropoid, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, and Young Frankenstein) and several TV episodes and still have time to spare.
After making our way through customs–an easier task than expected–and collecting our luggage, we were met by our tour guide for the duration, Roman Tyutnev. We had an hour long bus ride ahead of us to our hotel in the resort town of Netanya, which is right on the Mediterranean Sea. Right from the get-go, Roman was on, pointing out this and that as we drove through Tel Aviv in the dark toward our destination.
We arrived at our hotel, the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, a tired and bedraggled mob. It may not have been a 24 flight, but between leaving for San Francisco six hours before our flight departed and then the hour bus ride after our arrival, we were pushing a 24 hour travel day. Roman distributed our room keys and we all went to crash, anticipating our first glimpse of the Holy Land in the next day’s sunshine.
I think most of us woke up before that sunshine would appear, as our bodies tried to adjust to our new timezone. With plenty of time to spare before breakfast and our early touring start, several of us made our way out of the hotel and down to the Mediterranean Sea, which was literally across the street. There wasn’t time for a proper swim, but I put my hands in it just to say I did.
I haven’t traveled much internationally. The only two other countries I’ve visited are Ecuador (once) and Mexico (several times). Both to Ecuador and once to Mexico I was with my brother-from-another-mother Josh, who made the trip to Israel as well and was my roommate. That brought the total number of international trips with Josh to three, and total number of international trips with my wife to….zero. Should probably fix that soon. One of the first things we did was head up to the roof of our hotel and take a bromantic selfie with the Med in the background. If Jen could not be with me on this trip, it wasn’t too much of a step down to experience the Holy Land with Josh and my dad.
- We made our way to breakfast in the hotel and were treated to a pretty extensive buffet. This would be par for the course on the trip. A few interesting things about the food in Israel, specifically breakfast. Since most places we went were Kosher, there was rarely any meat at breakfast. Not only is pork not on the OK list, but milk and meat are not to be served together. So at breakfast there may be cream for the coffee and milk for your cereal, but that meant no bacon (pork or otherwise) for your eggs. There was plenty of other good stuff though. Eggs, pastries, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, and at least at the Leonardo, honey dripping from an actual honeycomb.
After breakfast we loaded up the bus and began our touring in earnest. Our destinations that first day were the ruins of Caeseria Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, Mt. Carmel, Tel Meggido, Nazareth, and the Sea of Galilee.
- Israel has a TON of feral cats. They’re everywhere.
- Almost every building in Israel is off white.
- There are rocks EVERYWHERE. So many in fact, you are allowed to take them from national parks and ancient ruins. Unless they have an inscription on them.
- There is an IKEA in Tel Aviv.
Checkpoints: 3 (all in airports)