I was blessed (literally) to recently accept a special invitation and journey to the amazing land of Israel. While barely the size of New Jersey, this unique country holds so much history, culture and intrigue within its borders.
We started our travels on Turkish Airlines – now one of my favorite airline carriers. Sitting in business class with its impeccable service and great food and beverage options definitely helped make this “long haul” flight more bearable!
After flying through Istanbul and Tel Aviv, our true on-the-ground experience started in Jerusalem. The city itself is beautiful, thanks in part to the fact that the rock used in building has to be quarried right there locally. Over time, Jerusalem has become known as “The White City.”
Our time in Jerusalem was spent admiring the views and the architecture, hearing the centuries old stories and even participating in an active archaeological dig. Specific highlights include:
Mount of Olives (Mount Olivet) – This hill along the ridgeline overlooking Jerusalem offers one of the best vistas of the Old City. It’s the location of many biblical stories, one of which is when King David fled to escape his son Absalom when he rebelled.
Archaeological Dig – This was one of my favorite experiences (partially because I felt like Indiana Jones!). I loved that this wasn’t a tourist trap – it’s a real, live dig where we were finding glass, bones, beads and other artifacts. Rubble was dumped into this valley area years ago and they just started excavating it within the last 20 years. It would be a great experience for families with kids, or any adult with an appreciation of literally digging up history.
Siebenberg House – I was fascinated by the story that surrounded the Siebenberg family and their unique house in the Jewish Quarter. After years of digging, the Siebenbergs discovered their home sits on top of rooms, stonework and artifacts that date back 3,000 years. Check out this video if you want to learn more.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher – This is one of Jerusalem’s most important sites, especially for Christians. I couldn’t help but physically feel moved here. The historic significance of the location was amazing. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, I highly recommend visiting the church. We walked the Stations of the Cross on our way into the church and I felt like I was transported back in time. Not only is the structure itself beautiful, but it is known as the place both of Jesus’ crucifixion and where his empty tomb remains.
Israel Museum – This museum is full of fascinating and unique objects that range from jewelry worn by Jewish brides to a nail used in crucifixions during Jesus’ time. However, most visitors come for a look at the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. This is one of those places where I would highly recommend utilizing a private guide. There is so much to learn about the significance of the Scrolls and other pieces there that I felt like much of it would have been lost on me if I didn’t have someone helping to explain it all.
Western Wall (Wailing Wall) – Quite arguably the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people (built by King Herod in 20 BC during an expansion of the Second Temple). Today, people visit the wall to read or recite prayers. We had a guide that could give us insider access to an active dig of the Western Wall in the tunnels underneath the Muslim Quarter, which is closed to the public. It’s crazy to think that I was the first person in 1,800 years to touch some of the part of the wall I put my prayer in.
After spending a couple days in the heart of Jerusalem, we visited Elah Valley and the surrounding wine region (about an hour outside the city). It was a beautifully mountainous area and the views were stunning, along with the wine being top notch.
We ventured outside of Jerusalem and took in so many more historic and religious sites. One of my favorites was seeing the Sea of Galilee, known as the place where Jesus performed many of his miracles. During our time in that area we visited the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum Village and Nazareth. The entire region was beautiful and reminded me of the Mediterranean – a unique blend of greens, pinks, floral hills and old-style ships on the sea.
Our time experiencing Israel came to an end in Tel Aviv. I was surprised by the beauty of this area. This cosmopolitan, liberal, safe and clean city is set on the Mediterranean Sea. I loved the seaside walks and beachfront restaurants. A great place to spend your last couple days visiting the region.
The relationships I was able to build with the local guides and the “insider” experiences we participated in were unbelievable. Many people pair Israel with Jordan because of its proximity and ease to get to Petra and other sites. Because of airline routing, Istanbul and other areas of Turkey can also be a nice add-on.
I can’t wait to help others absorb all that this amazing destination has to offer!
Interested in learning more about traveling to Israel? Email Tracy at TracyL@PiqueTravel.com.