Category Archives: Itinerary

2015 Year in Review

BDHiMAs the year 2015 ends it is instructive to review what was accomplished this year. Not an easy year as we accompanied Bonna through chemotherapy, surgery, more chemo, good times, hard times, which ended when Bonna passed away in June. The light in my life, Bonna’s light is missed by many, so I have taken up photography with more passion, to capture and share the light that is so fleeting in this world.

This marks 8 years that I have been guiding and blogging. I only added 11 blog posts this year bringing the total to 309 which includes over 1200 photographs. I posted more to my Facebook page, Israel Tours.

There were 78,735 page views by 42,885 visitors this year, close to the number last year (I feel that the number of people who are interested in my blog about tours and sites in Israel has reached a limit, about 100 people viewing about 200 pages a day). Slowly I am inching my way up to a half a million page views. The total number of people who interact with my website/blog is increasing, there are currently 325 people who have subscribed to my blog directly and another 430 people on Facebook who are notified when I post a new article. I tweet when there’s something I want to share that doesn’t warrant a full post; the most recent tweets appear on the homepage.

I guided a writer for the New York Times travel section on a 3 day Herod the Great tour of archaeological sites connected to the great builder, you can read the article at NYTimes website. I again guided a group of University of Chicago students studying for a semester in Jerusalem, this time to the mystical city of Tzfat, Meron and Tiberias. The Bridges for Peace organization contacted me and used my photos in their annual pictorial calendar, this year about the Israel Trail. In July I walked Yam l’yam, a 3 day hike from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee, twice in consecutive weeks. In the last while I have been focusing on my photography and now offer a number of Photography Tours, here’s one example.

I’ve chosen 8 photographs from those I posted this year on my website. You can view them full size by clicking on them. This is your opportunity to vote for Photo of the year!


Here are the links to this year’s posts in case you missed some:

  1. Photography Exhibit - I would like to share with you that I am exhibiting nine of my photographs in a large group show צוהר לנסתר–A Window to Wonder at Jerusalem’s Cinematheque from April 16-May 28. Opening reception and opportunity to meet the 12 photographers and view over 100 photos Sunday, April 28th, 2019 from 7:00pm-9:00pm. I’d be delighted […]
  2. Through the Lens, Dead Sea - Israel consists of a very broad range of geography: coast, desert, mountains, forests, in a very small area making it a great photo location for those interested in nature and landscape. The Dead Sea is an incredible and unique place to photograph, at the lowest point on earth, part of the Great African Rift valley, […]
  3. Photo of the Week – Along the Allon Road - On my way back from a photoshoot at Agamon HaHula on Friday I decided to take the scenic Allon Road instead of the more traveled highway 90 in the Jordan valley back to Jerusalem. It was a beautiful day and I stopped to take photographs along the route. We’ve had some rain and the hills […]
  4. Photo of the Week – Kokhav HaShahar - As a guide and photographer I’m always looking for new places to visit that would also be interesting to photograph. Last week I woke early and while it was still dark drove the Allon Road again, an 87km long and winding road in the Jordan valley. Just before sunrise I pulled off the highway, drove […]
  5. Masada and Herodium - One of the exciting things about visiting historical, archaeological sites with a knowledgeable guide is that there is always something new. Two of the sites that I like to take visitors to are Masada and Herodium both which show King Herod’s genius as a builder and life 2000 years ago under Roman rule. When visiting […]
  6. Super Moon over Dead Sea, Israel - Yesterday I drove from Jerusalem down to Masada so as to be at the Dead Sea in the evening to see the supermoon rise over the Biblical mountains of Edom in Jordan. As a tour guide and photographer I can take you to places like this.   The technical details – the photo above was […]
  7. One shot, two ways - When you’re taking photographs and looking for the best shot you have a choice of whether to shoot the scene in landscape (horizontally) or portrait (vertically). When looking at landscape photographs you usually expect the scene to be horizontal. Sometimes a vertical shot gives a very different view. I was driving down to the Dead Sea […]
  8. Photo of the Week – Samaria - This week rather than driving up the Jordan valley on highway 90 I drove the Allon Road, an 87km long and winding road on my way to Bet Shean. This is the name given by Israel to routes 458, 508, and 578 in the West Bank, running roughly south-north along the eastern watershed of the Samarian […]
  9. Photo of the Week – Reflection on Sinkholes -   These photographs are of reflections of the landscape by the shore of the Dead Sea that I saw by looking into a sinkhole that was filled with water. I am attracted to exploring the photographic possibilities of this strange and alien landscape. Because the water in a sinkhole is colored by the salts and minerals […]
  10. Philip Evangelist at Ein Henya Spring - Today I bicycled about 6 km each way, from the German Colony (where I live) along the old train tracks to Ein Henya, a spring in the valley of Nahal Refaim, south of Jerusalem. Ein Henya is being developed as part of the new Jerusalem Park, 4 parks that form a greenbelt that extends over some […]
  11. Naharayim – Two Rivers - Driving along the Jordan valley between Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee you pass a kibbutz called Gesher (Hebrew for bridge) because on the site of the original kibbutz was a bridge that crossed the Jordan river joining Israel and Jordan. Actually there are the remains of 3 bridges, one a Roman bridge built of […]

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Christian Pilgrim Itinerary (9 days)

If you are interested in experiencing the Holy Land as a Christian pilgrim I am happy to work with you to create a personalized tour. Here is a sample 9 day itinerary with visits to religious and archaeological sites with time for prayer and reflection. We will visit the trinity of cities: Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and their churches: Annunciation, Nativity and Holy Sepulcher. Click links for more information. I will be sharing more details on Nazareth and Bethlehem in upcoming blog posts.

Day 1 pickup at the airport and drive to Nazareth

Day 2  Nazareth

  • Mary’s Well and Greek Orthodox church
  • Synagogue church
  • Church of the Annunciation
  • St Joseph’s Church
  • Mary of Nazareth International Center
  • Mount Precipice
  • Transfiguration on Mount Tabor
  • dinner in Tiberias overlooking Sea of Galilee

Day 3  Around Sea of Galilee

  • Korazim
  • Jordan river
  • Tabgha: Church of Multiplication; Peter’s Primacy
  • lunch: St. Peter’s fish
  • Capernaum
  • Domus Galilaeae
  • Jesus boat
  • dinner in Rosh Pina with a view

Day 4 Galilee

drive to Jerusalem; Shabbat dinner with my family

Day 5  Bethlehem

Day 6  Jerusalem Old City

  • Mount Zion
    • Dormition Abbey
    • Room of Last Supper
  • Peter in Gallicantu – model of Jerusalem in Byzantine period
  • Gethsemane
  • Church of Agony
  • Tomb of Mary

Day 7

Day 8  Judean desert

Day 9

Expert Travel Recommendations Israel

I was contacted for an article in a UK magazine on travel to Israel. This is what they say about Israel:

Get the insiders’ guide to Israel from those who know it best. There’s nothing like first-hand experience. But if you can’t get it, then the second best thing is to borrow someone else’s. And when it comes to knowing Israel, you won’t find experts with more expertise than ours – take a look at why they love Israel. With its long history, melting pot of cultures, religious heritage and cosmopolitan cities, Israel is an unforgettable destination.

They asked a series of questions and wanted my recommendations.

Favorite place to stay, a city/rural town or village rather than a specific hotel?
The two favourite places to stay while in Israel are Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but I would suggest something different. Since the Negev desert in the south makes up 60% of Israel’s land area, I think you should stay a few nights there and what could be more appropriate than the new hotel in Mitzpe Ramon on the edge of the large Ramon crater, a geological formation unique to this area. To explore, take a jeep tour into the crater and at night, away from the lights of the big cities, gaze  up at the stars and learn to identify the constellations with a guide.

Favorite place to eat, a restaurant and what you would recommend from the menu?
For a special experience I would recommend Uri Buri, a homey seafood restaurant in Acre, near the lighthouse, facing the Mediterranean Sea. What makes Uri Buri stand out are his unique dishes, based on interesting combinations of ingredients, for example, sashimi with carmelized beets and wasabi sorbet. The best way to go is to make a reservation, invite some friends and share the tasting menu (ask the waiter/waitress for local Israeli wine recommendations).

Best view?
To get an overview of the Old City of Jerusalem, within the 16th century Ottoman Turkish walls, you need to get high and the best view is by climbing 177 steps to the top of the bell tower (height about 40 meters) on the Church of the Redeemer with its 360 degree view of the city. While you’re there visit to the excavations under the church and the small museum.
Recommended excursion for visitors to Israel?
A day trip to the Dead Sea and Judean desert where you can combine history and nature. Visit Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered or Masada, KIng Herod’s fortified palaces on the top of a mountain. Take a hike in the Ein Gedi nature reserve, one of two natural springs in the Judean desert and enjoy a dip in freshwater pools under the cascade of a waterfall. Hopefully you will see ibex, a kind of mountain goat, native to the area. End the day at one of the spa/beaches for a float in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.

Hidden gem?
Not far from Eilat is the Red Canyon, a colorful gem of a hike for the whole family where you slide down chutes and climb down ladders of a narrow canyon with purple, orange and pink sandstone sculpted walls.

Best way to spend a day in Israel?
Drive the Jordan valley, part of the Great African Rift, visit the archaeological site at Bet Shean, have lunch of St Peter’s fish overlooking the Sea of Galillee, visit Capernaum, with a 4th century synagogue and the house where Peter lived and Jesus preached, later a church. From there drive to the Mediterranean coastal town of Jaffa. At dinner time choose a restaurant on the boardwalk overlooking the sea and watch the sunset.

To see all this and more it’s worth using an expert guide, you’ll enjoy yourself more.

Israel 10 day tour

I guide a lot of 1 day tours but it is a very different experience to create a multi-day tour for a family or group and then be with them guiding for a week or more – it’s an opportunity to go deeper, to get to know each other and this land. For people planning a trip to Israel I would like to share a 10-day tour that I created for a small group. In general, hotel accommodation in Israel includes a buffet breakfast; this tour also included dinner except for Saturday night. The group got to experience a lot and visit some places less travelled.

Some participants’ comments:

Thank you for all your efforts to arrange a trip as diverse as Israel itself. You were always there for us and that allowed us to focus on the subjects at hand. Because of you we learned much more than we could have expected and your personal touch enriched all of our lives. We will think of you and your family every time we recall our experiences in Israel. A.B. Irvine, CA

It was much much more than we ever expected. Thank you for taking the time, preparation and sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm, history, variety of both places and people. Thank you again for a wonderful picture of Israel. Much love. EB and RG. San Rafael, CA

Here is the itinerary I worked out with them. I am happy to do the same for you.

Day 0 airport pickup and transfer to hotel in Tel Aviv

Day 1

  • drive to Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Nature Reserve
  • drive to Tel Aviv-Jaffa and walk along the beach
  • explore Old Jaffa and the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek
  • dinner in Neve Tzedek and dance performance at Susan Delal center
  • overnight in Tel Aviv

Day 2

  • morning walk in Yarkon park
  • visit the Eretz Israel museum in Ramat Aviv
  • Palmach museum
  • Tel Aviv port
  • Holon Design museum
  • overnight Tel Aviv

Day 3

  • travel north along the coastal highway
  • explore Akko: underground Crusader city, multi-media presentation in old Turkish hamam, tour of British prison
  • Lohamei HaGetaot Holocaust museum
  • Bahai gardens and tomb of Bahá’u’lláh outside Akko
  • overnight Kibbutz Ein Gev guest house

Day 4

  • watch video of famous battle of 1973 Yom Kippur War on Golan Heights, Oz 77 and Emeq HaBacha
  • visit the site and monument to the battle
  • Hula Nature reserve for bird watching
  • overnight Kibbutz Ein Gev

Day 5

  • drive to Katzrin and visit Museum of the Golan
  • wine tasting tour at the Golan Heights winery
  • drive the Jordan Rift valley to Jerusalem
  • Mahane Yehuda market before Shabbat
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 6, Shabbat

  • day of rest
  • afternoon visit to the Israel museum
  • Israeli folk dancing
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 7

  • walking tour of the Old City:
    • Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque
    • Davidson Archaeological park
    • synagogues in the Old City: Hurva and Ohel Yitzchak
    • panorama from roof top
    • Church of Holy Sepulcher
  • overnight Jerusalem

Day 8

  • Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found
  • desert botanical garden at Kibbutz Ein Gedi
  • Masada
  • Dead Sea spa
  • overnight Ein Gedi

Day 9

  • visit the Joe Alon Bedouin Culture museum
  • Bedouin life and hospitality (lunch) at Women’s Center in Lakiya
  • Ben Gurion’s hut at Sde Boker
  • evening walk to edge of makhtesh
  • overnight in Mitzpe Ramon

Day 10

  • jeep tour in Makhtesh Ramon
  • Ayalon Institute
  • tour of Weizmann Institute
  • farewell celebratory dinner in Tel Aviv-Jaffa
  • depart for airport

How much do you estimate a 10 day tour in Israel costs? Of course it depends on the size of the group, hotel accommodations chosen, itinerary and meals; it also depends on the expertise of person doing the arranging. I can organize and guide a tour like this (not including airfare), customized to your interests from $2500. per person.

Four sites in Old City

Most archaeological sites in Israel are part of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority but in the Old City there are a few interesting sites that are run by the East Jerusalem Development Company:

  • Ramparts Walk
  • Roman Plaza
  • Zedekiah’s Cave
  • Davidson Archaeological Park

Together these 4 sites can be the skeleton for a tour of the Old City. Because these sites are under one authority there is a combination ticket that gives you entry to all 4 sites. The current price is 55NIS whereas it would cost 72NIS if you bought  them individually (a saving of 24%) and the ticket is valid for 3 days.

The walls around the Old City were built in 1540 by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman and it is possible to walk on the top of two sections of these walls: 1) from Jaffa Gate around the Christian and Muslim Quarters all the way to Lions Gate (though I would recommend descending at Damascus Gate) and 2) across from Jaffa Gate by the Tower of David Museum around the Armenian and Jewish quarters to Dung Gate.

It’s important when exploring the Old City to go up onto the walls or roofs to get an overview of the city, something you can’t do from the ground. Looking outside the walls lets you see the institutions that were built in the late 1800s by the various European powers as the Ottoman Empire became the sick man on the Bosphorus.

At Damascus Gate you descend back in time to 135CE to the Roman Emperor Hadrian who crushed the Bar Kochba Revolt, destroyed Jerusalem and exiled its Jewish inhabitants. Hadrian rebuilt the city as a Roman city that he called Aelia Capitolina, of which remnants of the city plan exist to this day. The base of the Roman wall and the leftmost arch of three Roman arches can be seen below Damascus Gate. From Damascus Gate going south is El Zeit Street which runs along the route of the Roman Cardo and  El Wad Street that follows the Tyropean valley, above the secondary Cardo. Remains of both Cardos as well as other remains from the time of Hadrian can be visited on your tour.

Not far from Damascus Gate is another site that is called Zedekiah’s Cave or Solomon’s Quarry. This cave was discovered by chance by Dr James Turner Barclay, a physician and missionary who lived in Jerusalem for some years and was interested in biblical scholarship. On a sunny Sunday during the winter of 1854 Dr. Barclay was out walking along the city walls with his son and his faithful dog as he ususally did every Sunday when suddenly the dog vanished as if the earth had swallowed him up. While searching for the dog near the bedrock at the base of the city wall they noticed a deep hole from which they could hear the sound of barking. Excitedly they went home, gathered lanterns, ropes, measuring instruments and other equipment and under cover of darkness returned to the hole – the opening to a man-made cavern that had been created by quarrying stone. This is the largest quarry in the Holy Land, the cave begins at the city’s northern wall and extends under the Muslim Quarter for 230 meters, reaching the Sisters of Zion convent. Barclay is the one who discovered the gate to the Temple Mount that bears his name today (that you can see in the Western wall in the Women’s section of the Kotel plaza).

Following the secondary Cardo to the south of the city will bring you to the Davidson Archaeological Park excavated by Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben Dov from 1968 to 1978 and later in the mid 90s by Ronnie Reich. Perhaps the most impressive sight in Jerusalem is the main Second Temple street, littered with large Herodian stones that the Romans hurled off the top of the wall 15 meters above when they destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in 70CE. Where the stones under Robinson’s Arch have been cleared away, you can see that the large paving stones are broken and have buckled under the tremendous impact of the arch’s collapse.

In the visitor’s center is a movie of a Jewish pilgrim’s experience coming to the Temple in Jerusalem. The movie uses 3D modelling of the Temple complex based on the archaeological evidence.

Under the street is the main drainage channel for ancient Jerusalem that has been recently opened and that goes as far as the Siloam Pool. Walking through the park you come to the southern steps that lead up to the double and triple gates. Below the steps is Eilat Mazar’s recent excavation of part of a citadel, a 4 chamber entrance gate whose dimensions are almost identical to the palace gate in Megiddo and a building of “royal character” dated to the 9th century BCE.

“Top Ten” Biblical Archaeological Discoveries

Several months ago Tim Kimberley of the Parchment and Pen posted his “Top Ten” list of biblical discoveries in archaeology. I found the link via Todd Bolen’s Bibleplaces blog who wrote that the list corresponds closely to what he would have suggested. So drumroll please, here is the list in reverse order of importance:

10. Sennacherib’s Siege Reliefs of Lachish

9. Black Obelisk of Jehu’s Tribute to Shalmaneser III

8. Caiaphas Ossuary

7. Hezekiah’s Tunnel

6. Pontius Pilate Inscription

5. The Crucified Man (nail through heel)

4. Ketef Hinnom Silver Amulet Scroll (Priestly Blessing)

3. Jericho (Tel es-Sultan)

2. Tel Dan Stele with House of David

1. Dead Sea Scrolls

To see most of these finds, specifically #1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8 only requires a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The British Museum holds #9 and 10 but there is an excellent replica of #10, Sennacherib’s Siege Reliefs at the Israel Museum. You can experience #7 Hezekiah’s Tunnel by visiting the City of David archaeological park. Just last week I took a family, we started at the sifting project at Emeq Tsurim, walked along the Jerusalem trail to the Kidron to the City of David and walked Hezekiah’s Tunnel – everyone had a great time. Site #3 Jericho is off limits for a lot of Israeli guides but I am authorized to take tourists to Jericho – there is a lot of discussion about whether the archaeology supports the Biblical account.

One of the things Tim talks about is provenance, where the artifact was found. Besides seeing the objects at the museum, this is where you would have to go to see where they were discovered:

#1 Qumran, 2 Tel Dan, 3 Jericho, 4 Ketef Hinnom, 5 Givat haMivtar, a suburb north of Jerusalem, 6 Caesarea, 7 City of David, 8 Peace Forest at tayelet/promenade, 9 and 10 you’d have to go to Iraq; you can visit Tel Lachish off of highway 3415 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

You might want to add these places to your itinerary on your next trip to Israel, you’ll learn a lot. I can take you to and guide these sites except for Iraq.

What to see in Jerusalem

What to see in Jerusalem and Not Hire a Guide

I’m often asked by people who are planning a trip to Israel what they should do if they have a couple of days to see and experience Jerusalem. Of course, there are many answers, it really depends on what you are interested in. Assuming that this is your first visit, you’ll probably want to start in the Old City so here are my recommendations – note some sites charge an entrance fee.

First, drop by the Tourist Information Center at Jaffa Gate, in the Old City and get a free map and a list of sites to see; say hi to Jennifer, she’ll help by marking sites on the map for you and answering your questions. Then walk around, exploring the 4 Quarters, Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian.

Another possibility is to take the Ramparts Walk starting at Jaffa Gate where you actually walk on the walls built in 1537 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent – looking in gives you a birds-eye view of the Old City, looking out gives you a view of the new city.

In terms of churches, I would visit the Church of the Agony/All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane outside of the city walls, re-enter the Old City at Lions Gate, visit the Church of Santa Anna, a Crusader church with incredible acoustics (try singing Amazing Grace or other liturgical melody). Continue and you will come to Station I of the Via Dolorosa, follow the Via Dolorosa counting 8 stations to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site to Christianity, where Jesus was crucified and buried and according to Christian tradition rose again, stations IX to XIV are at the Church.

Walk through the Arab shuq and take a right at the Cardo to get to the Jewish Quarter. Visit the Wohl archaeological museum to get a feeling for Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, in the time of Herod and Jesus. If you are interested in more archaeology, then visit the southern wall excavations at the Davidson Center; there is also a movie that describes life at that time.

Visit the Western Wall, the holiest site to Judaism, write your prayer on a paper and tuck it into a crack in the stones of the wall. Try to reserve a Western Wall Tunnel tour in advance, either on their website (if you know some Hebrew) at http://english.thekotel.org/VisitorInfo.asp?id=1 or you can call them at (02) 627-1333 between 8:30-17:00.

It’s worth taking a guided group tour of the City of David – exit the Old City through Dung gate, take a left and then right and the entrance is on your left. If you have “water” shoes and aren’t claustrophobic, you can even walk 45 minutes through Hezekiah’s Tunnel with water up to your knees (you’ll need a flashlight which you can buy at the site or use your cell phone), which is quite an experience.

You might want to walk up onto the Haram el Sharif to see the Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa mosque (the third holiest site to Islam) close up (the Muslim Waqf won’t allowed you to enter them unfortunately) but if so you’ll have to do it in the morning and it takes between 1/2 and 1 hour to pass through security at the entrance to the Western Wall Plaza. Make sure you have no religious articles, prayer books or Bibles and no Swiss Army knife, etc. with you – they will be confiscated.

The new Israel Museum is open after extensive renovations and it is now much easier to find your way (for more information check out my blog entry) – the Archaeology wing has been completely redone, the Ethnography section has been expanded and called Jewish Life and the Art gallery includes a new section on Israeli art. The museum includes the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts from Qumran are on display. From the same period, the Holyland model of Jerusalem is now housed on the museum campus. If the weather is cooperative, walk around and enjoy the sculpture garden. If you’re interested in archaeology, you can also visit the Rockefeller museum (on the same admission, there’s even a shuttle bus) which will get you back to the Old City.

For an overview of Jerusalem, there’s a red double-decker bus that takes you for a 2 hour audio tour (explanations in 8 languages) of the whole city:
http://city-tour.co.il/ntext.asp?psn=8375

The Arab shuq/market and the Mahane Yehuda market are great places to get a feel for Jerusalem. There’s the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall, called the Midrahov, and at the bottom Zion Square and the pubs, restaurants and boutique galleries in Nahalat Shiva. There’s live music at the Yellow Submarine in Talpiot.

Explore the German Colony: for a local movie theater from the British Mandate period with restaurant/pub check out the Smadar; for artistic films, check Cinemateque. For music, dance and theater try the Mabada. There are plenty of places to eat in this neighborhood (including my house 8-))

All this without hiring a guide, but to be fair how about reading my post, Why hire a guide?