Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Good time for an Israel Vacation?

I recently had a good 5 weeks vacation overseas, spending the first half of my trip in London, Paris and Stockholm, before flying over to New York and having short city stops in Boston and San Francisco on the way home.

Travelling from New Zealand you lose a good day or two at either end, with both the long flight times, and the inevitable jet lag.

The last time I managed to do a good multi-stop holiday was when I was living in the UK. I did one of those Top Deck group bus packages, which was a great way of seeing the popular sights in some of the main cities in Western Europe (as well as a few days in Prague). I also managed to visit Poland a couple of years back, to catch up with a friend I met working at summer camp in the United States.

There's still many countries and cities on my "To Do" travel list. I want to visit South Africa (I have friends there from both the Top Deck tour and from summer camp days), and also travel to the Middle East, including Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. I've always been a big fan of Egyptian mythology, so the Pyramids and related attractions would be high on my list.

I have also noticed that a number of campers I've kept in contact with from my summer camp days have been reconnecting with their Jewish roots, with vacations to Israel. Some of these I know were in organised groups, which is probably a safe way of doing it considering the volatile nature of that area.

I want to visit Israel to see and experience all of its history, including the historical landmarks and places of biblical significance, like Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea, Bethlehem, and other attractions which seem to be included in religious tours from the main cities.

Although many Americans travel to Israel every day, officially the US State Department has a travel warning in place relating to the potential risks of travelling to Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

They caution Americans in particular to be careful around restaurants, shopping centres, and businesses (especially those of US brands), as well as local bus stations. However, again it sounds like being part of an organised group is the best idea, especially one with a local guide who knows the best places and times to go.

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) have a strong presence on the streets and around these sorts of places. The sight of armed soldiers is apparently quite common, and I have seen a few photos of friends posing with soldiers (and with their guns in one case), although that's not really a recommended practice!

I know that direct flights do go from major cities in the United States to Israel, although it can be cheaper to go via the UK, and pick up Flights to Tel Aviv from London or other cities there.

I'm hoping to travel with a group when I do manage to organise a vacation to the Middle East. There are good Israeli travel tips here to read up on, to help ensure a safer trip.

One recommendation is to make Israel the last visit on a travel itinerary, to avoid any issues over Israeli passport stamps from countries which don't recognise the Jewish state.

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