Tag Archives: Israel

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.

From the Golan Heights

Yesterday I was up on the southern Golan Heights near Kibbutz Meitsar, less than 2 km from the border with Syria and looking east at the point where Israel, Syria and Jordan touch.

Golan map

The Rokad river valley separates Israel from Syria – the ridge in the middle of the photograph below is in Syria and the Yarmuk river valley behind the ridge is the border between Syria and Jordan. You can see the new border fence that Israel is building, given the fighting in Syria – in fact, we saw some plumes of smoke to the north, billowing upwards in the distance. Across from where we were standing, near UN post OP55, one of seven observation posts in Israel, is a UN post, one of seven in Syria that monitor the demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel.

Golan Heights

Down below in the valley is Ein Aya, a natural spring that fills a pool, great for a dip on a hot day. Golan view

Across the border in Jordan is a two-story stone building with a red tile roof, one of the German railway stations along with the stations at Beit Shean, Tzemach and Al-Hamma (Hammat Gader) for the Jezreel Valley (Rakevet HaEmeq) line that connected Haifa with Daraa (Syria) in 1905.This is the third branch of the ambitious 4000 km Berlin-Baghdad rail project started by Oppenheimer and Meissner after Kaiser Wilhelm II’s 1898 visit to the Holy Land. The Haifa station today houses the Israel Railway Museum that provides an historical overview of railways in the Holy Land and their part in the development of the country – worth a visit.

Golan train station

Coming up the Jordan valley after Beit Shean you can see the remains of the German rail line and some of the bridges that supported the tracks. At Gesher, next to the station, is the Mujami Bridge, destroyed on May 14, 1948 by the Israelis to impede the advance of Iraqi and Jordanian troops, the lowest rail bridge in the world at 257.5 meters below sea level.  The Naharayim station, in Bauhaus style, was constructed near the hydroelectric power plant built in 1927 by Russian-Jewish engineer Pinhas Rutenberg. The site was chosen because it is where the Yarmuk river flows into the Jordan river.

Gunter Hartnagel has posted a wonderful set of his photographs of the railroad built by the Germans on Flickr.

Photo of the Week – Look over Jordan

The Great Rift valley is a unique geographical formation, a crack in the earth’s crust that runs approximately 6000 km from Mozambique to northern Syria. The section from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee is called the Jordan Rift valley and separates Israel from Jordan. This photo was shot in the late afternoon, looking east towards the mountains of Jordan, biblically the mountains of Moab and Edom.

Look over Jordan

The technical details – the photo was taken with a Nikon D90 DSLR and 18-200mm lens in February (ISO 200, 70mm, F10 at 1/320 sec).

Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Israel Roundup

ARTIFAX magazine and The Book & The Spade radio program have published the Top Ten Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2012. At #3 is a First Temple period cistern with a 250 cubic meter capacity that was discovered by chance during the ongoing clearing of the drainage channel near Robinson’s arch. Press release at http://www.antiquities.org.il/article_Item_eng.asp?sec_id=25&subj_id=240&id=1958&module_id=#as

Photo credit: Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority/Vladimir Naykhin

Photo credit: Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority/Vladimir Naykhin

Found while sifting material from City of David, at #4 is a fiscal bulla, a clay seal impression with three lines of script, related to the taxing of shipments at the time of King Hezekiah, the earliest mention of Bethelehem. Found while sifting material from drainage channel near Robinson’s arch, at #5 a personal seal with the name Matanyahu inscribed on it dated to the end of the First Temple period, see https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/first-temple-period-seal/

Jewish National Fund (JNF) has published a map of Israel with 110 “great old” trees marked. One example, #91, a Common Oak, called the “Lone Tree” symbolizing the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem that has a height of 10 meters, trunk circumference of 3.5 meters and is estimated to be 500 years old. I do a tour that includes the moving audio-visual presentation on the history of the Gush at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, gourmet lunch at Gavna in the forest with a view all the way to the Mediterranean and a tour of the Lone Tree microbrewery.

Lone Oak

Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey exhibit at the Israel Museum is an exceptional opportunity to encounter the material opus of Herod the Great – his architecture and aesthetics, and the work of his chief archaeologist, Professor Ehud Netzer. Evidence of Herod, the meaning, struggles, and accomplishments of his life beckon beyond the exhibit halls, to the sites where he fought, ruled, dreamed, and built – Herodium, Masada, CyprosSebasteCaesarea, Banias and Omrit

Herodium-4colourFor those who will be in Israel, I am leading in-depth full-day tours of Herodium and the Israel Museum’s Herod exhibit, for details see https://israeltours.wordpress.com/herod-the-great-tour

For those who will not be able to visit Israel, I posted a few articles with photos of the exhibit.
Here are the links to check for photos:

The Israel museum has published a 277 page hardcover catalog of the exhibit. You can order a copy by sending an email to shop at imj.org.il
ARIEL has released volume 201-200 Art and Architecture in Jerusalem and Israel in the Second Temple Period (in Hebrew) in memory of Prof. Ehud Netzer.

From the pantry at Herod’s palace-fortress at Masada, amphorae – large clay jars that held imported delicacies – attest to the luxury and sophistication of Herod’s palate: apples, honey, fine wine, and garum, a savory Roman fish sauce. One amphora bears an inscription of Herod’s name in Latin and Greek. For more about garum, https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/food-discoveries-masada-garum/

Film documentary: Volunteers with military experience, many from America, came to Israel around 1947 to help the fledgling Jewish state. Their acronym, Mahal (MH”L}, stands for מתנדבי חוץ לארץ. The 3 large Hebrew letters, מח’’לֹ, stand as a monument at Sha’ar Hagai, on the road to Jerusalem. Playmount Productions has released a sample from their upcoming documentary Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force.

Emek Habacha project: Estimated at €250 million to install 50 130 meter tall (height of the Azrielli Towers in Tel Aviv) wind turbines able to produce 120 megawatts has received approval. These will replace the 10 wind turbines that produce 6 megawatts at Tel Asania. I blogged about the old wind turbines in May 2011 at https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/wind-turbines-on-golan-trail/

Archaeology in Israel Tour

I’m delighted to announce that Dan McLerran at Popular Archaeology and I are creating a phenomenal tour of archaeological sites in Israel that I will be guiding October 2013.
I invite you to join us on this adventure, 12 days of touring in Israel, where we’ll cover the famous sites like Megiddo and Hazor and uncover some of the less well-known gems like Sussita-Hippos, one of the Decapolis cities overlooking the Sea of Galilee that was destroyed in the earthquake of 749CE and never rebuilt.

Sussita excavation

We’ll start by going back 6500 years to the Chalcolithic period and tour up on the Golan Heights to learn about burial at that time. We’ll see dolmens, the megalithic tombs consisting of a flat rock resting on two vertical rocks that mark a grave. We’ll hike to the cultic site of Rujm el Hiri – is it a site that is connected to the calendar or to burial? At Ein Gedi we’ll see the ruins of a Chalcolithic temple. We’ll see artifacts at the Israel museum, examples of clay ossuaries and fine bronze castings of ritual objects.

We’ll follow in the path of the Kings from 1000BCE to 586BCE by traveling from Dan where a piece of a basalt victory stella in Aramaic was found mentioning the kings of Israel and the house of David. We will explore the City of David, the walled Jebusite city on the ridge between the Kidron and Tyropean valleys. We’ll walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel that brought the water of the Gihon spring to the Siloam pool inside the walls. From there we will follow in the steps of pilgrims to the Temple mount. Part of the 650m distance will be in Jerusalem’s drainage channel until we come out right under Robinson’s Arch. We’ll see the Broad wall, the remains of an 8 meter high wall that protected Jerusalem from the north in the time of the Kings.

Khirbet Qeiyafa

We’ll explore the walled Judean city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, with two gates and hence identified as Shaarayim, situated on the border of Judea facing the Phillistines.

We’ll learn about the Second Temple Period, specifically the time of the Hasmoneans and King Herod who ruled under the auspices of the Romans. We’ll check out Herod’s impressive building projects. At Caesarea, we have the temple to Augustus, the protected harbor, the palace as well as a theater and a hippodrome later used as an amphitheater. At Sebaste there is another temple to Augustus. Josephus writes that Herod built a third temple at Banias. It’s unclear whether the temple was at Banias or nearby, perhaps at Omrit. We’ll visit Herod’s palaces at Masada, the Western palace and the 3 tier hanging palace on the northern end of the site. We’ll explore the palace and administrative complex at Lower Herodium and the palace/fortress on the top of a manmade mountain where the base of a mausoleum was discovered by Prof. Ehud Netzer in 2007.

Herodium Palace:fortress

We’ll visit the newly opened exhibit at the Israel museum Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey, artifacts from Herodium on display for the first time. We’ll also visit the Second Temple period model that displays Jerusalem at its peak just before its destruction at the hand of the Romans. We’ll visit the Shrine of the Book that houses the Dead Sea scrolls and other artifacts and combine that with the archaeological site of Qumran by the Dead Sea where the scrolls were found.

We’ll focus on the architecture of sacred space and check out various churches, in the basilica and martyrium form from the Byzantine period (4th to 7th century) and synagogues from the same period. We’ll see some amazing mosaics by visiting the  museum at the Inn of Good Samaritan, the archaeological sites of Sepphoris/Tzippori, and the synagogue at Beit Alfa. We’ll visit sites off the beaten path like the Kathisma church on the way to Bethlehem and Samaritan site on Mount Gerizim.

Synagogue mosaic floor at Israel Museum

Besides the Western wall, Judaism’s holy site, we will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site to Christianity and go up onto the Haram el-Sharif to see the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site to Islam.

We’ll travel around the Sea of Galilee stopping at sites important to Christianity like Kursi, Capernaum and Magdala. We’ll even go up to the Golan Heights to the Jewish city of Gamla, the Masada of the north.

Gamla

For anyone who enjoys taking photographs, there will be plenty of opportunities and as an special incentive to join the tour, participants will be able to submit their best photographs from the tour to a special Pinterest site and will have a chance to win up to $1000. for the “best photo”.

If you’re interested in participating in an archaeological tour of the Holy Land, contact  me.

Site Map update

An opportunity to take a few moments to review where things stand and what has been accomplished. January 2015 also marks 7 years that I have been guiding and blogging. I’ve built a website about Israel to market my guiding services, including a comprehensive blog and an online store [update, the store is no longer active]. I am using a blog theme called Twenty Twelve, a clean, modern design with more capabilities. I have now over 300 blog posts. There were over 82,000 page views in each of the last two years. There are currently 308 people who have subscribed to my blog and another 334 via Facebook.

Here are some of my favorite posts from the last couple of years.

On November 20th a rocket from Gaza landed just 6.5km from our house in Jerusalem while I was writing a post about the Jerusalem botanical garden during Operation Pillar of Defense.

Because I studied computers and worked in High Tech before becoming a tour guide, I wrote an article about how the museums in Israel are using technology to share their collections with the world.

Based on an email exchange with a pastor in England asking about the sycamine tree mentioned in Luke 17:6 I researched and wrote about it.

Starting on August 5th every week on Sunday I’ve posted one of my photographs of Israel as a Photo of the Week.

I wrote two blog posts about early photographs taken in the Holy Land, by Francis Bedford on the 1862 visit of Edward, Prince of Wales and by photographers of the American Colony at the turn of the century.

There were a number of sites that were on my list: Mar Saba, SebasteMount Gerizim and Omrit— I visited them and wrote them up on my blog.

I built an HTML site map:

Shmuel Browns

December 2, 2012

Hanukah, Christmas and Kwanza are celebrated  around the time of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. At this holiday season, I am pleased to announce the opening of my new online store, Designed in Israel, where you can buy products (like calendars and notecards) that include images of my photographs and artwork. As far as I know I am the only Israel guide that has an online store [update, as of 2017 the store no longer exists].