Sometimes fear keeps us from experiencing new things and places. Some people fear a trip to the Holy Land. I just returned from Israel and I believe there is nothing to fear. A historical or faith-based journey to this location will produce an unforgettable travel experience.
I took the trip with 35 other travel professionals to preview things for a group trip I’m arranging for March 2015. We departed New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on El Al airlines, near midnight, for the 10-hour flight to Tel Aviv. Contrary to my belief that many people wouldn’t be going to this destination, the plane was completely full of Israeli nationals, church and youth groups and individual travelers.
Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in late afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised by its beauty and cleanliness. It sparkles like a jewel with its modern motif and abundant stores and restaurants. Due the extensive screening process before departing New York, the arrival process was not very long. As an added protection to travelers for future travel to other countries, your visa is issued on a separate paper rather than stamped in your passport.
With all the arrival procedures complete, our guide, Mike, and driver, Aviv, ushered us onto the bus for a 45-minute ride to the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem, www.olivetreehotel.com. The lobby was as busy as a beehive with groups from the United States and other places. After a quick check-in, we enjoyed a tasty dinner buffet before bed.
The next morning, our first stop was Mount Zion, which is the location of the City of David, David’s tomb and the Upper Room where the Last Supper occurred. Continuing our walk, we visited the house of Caiaphas the High Priest, which is now a church, beheld the prison dungeon where Jesus was held and the spot believed to be where Peter denied Christ.
From there we were driven to Bethlehem, in the Palestinian territory, for a visit to an olive wood factory and lunch. Afterward, we visited a significant site that included the Basilica of the Nativity, the place where Jesus was born, Shepherds’ Field, where the angels announced the birth of Christ, and Herodium, the 2,000-year-old fortress built by Herod the Great.
Other places we visited on the trip included the Dung Gate of old Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall. People of multiple faiths were praying and time was allowed for personal devotion. As suggested, I wrote my prayer requests on paper and placed it in the wall.
We also drove to Qumram, the location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. It is thought that John the Baptist also spent time here with a sect dedicated to writing and self- purifications.
We filled some days with self-directed activities. A highlight was a day trip to historical Masada Fortress and some therapeutic time at the Dead Sea. It’s true, anyone can float in it; even me.
Our trip was arranged by Educational Travel Services, the group subsidiary of Educational Opportunities Tours. Other vendors, such as Globus, Regina Tours, LaTour and more, also offer these trips. However, my experience with ETS solidifies my decision to go with them for my group instead of another vendor because of trip content and spirit, professional guide services, quality of the accommodations and pricing. For a visual view of an Israel trip, visit http://player.vimeo.com/video/24824200?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0&color=ff9933&autoplay=1.
If you’ve had a strong desire to visit the Holy Land, don’t let fear stand in your way. We were welcomed with open arms wherever we went and felt completely safe at all times. As always, I suggest talking to your professional travel consultant to help pick out the right trip for you.
Rose Alston is a certified travel and master cruise counselor. She operates a business in Fairfield and can be reached at [email protected]