Traveling In Israel - Tips for Your Israeli Visit

 

Israel - Market Day

As you have seen from the previous four articles, Israel is fabulous place to explore and you can spend weeks – months, maybe – in some of the areas.   I have tried to show you places that most tourists don’t pay attention to and hope you will check some of them out.   

 

Israel - Jerusalem Street

This last article is about little tips and tricks that can make your experience in Israel more enjoyable and interesting. 

I was glad I flew El Al because as the national airline, they are extemely security conscioius. 

Before I left I had friends worried about terrorist attacks and safety. The fact is, with all the security, I felt safer here than I do on the 405 (Los Angeles) Freeway, at times!  Just use situational awareness - that is be aware of where you are and where you are going and what and how you are carrying your purse and your packages.  This holds true no matter where you are.  Sometimes we are so engrossed in looking at our phones or watching our steps, that we do not notice others around us.   I was told that most of Israel is safe to walk at any time, but that you want to be careful in East Jerusalem or certain West Bank areas late at night.  And, of course, it is always good to be in pairs. 

 

Israel - Wine and cheese in the market

Food in Israel – because of so many cultures intermingled – is not only Middle Eastern, but Eastern European, Greek, and Spanish. There are many delightful tastes that need to be explored and sometimes a taste needs to be acquired – like the sesame sweet  -Halva or Halavah, or the tart and tangy Techina (Tahini.) . Falafel – fried chick pea balls in a pita with Israeli salad and humus – is a fabulous treat that you can purchase from vendors on the street. Shawarma- made from seasoned lamb, chicken or turkey - also eaten in pita, is also delicious.  

 

Israel- Halavah in the market place

Under rabbinical supervision, major hotels follow the laws of kashrut – no mixing of milk and meat, etc., though there are many fine non-kosher restaurants in the cities – and many, especially in the Arab areas, remain open on Saturdays.

One cannot forget the ever growing wine industry. For over 3,000 years, Israel has produced wines.  Well, not all that time. During the Ottoman rule, when wine was against the Islam religion, the vineyards were forbidden and destroyed.  It wasn't until the 1880's, when the Jews started returning, that wine making resumed with Baron Rothschild taking over the first vineyards. 

At first, the wines were mainly for ritual use and not highly regarded, but in 1981, the light came on and the first Golan Heights winery came into being.  By 1985, more vineyards opened up and the wine became first quality.  Now, in 2015, there are over 300 labels in Israel.  In fact, it's the most wine per capita in the world, with many of the houses following the kashrut laws while making excellent tastes, as well.  There are many fine brands and I encourage tasting them all. 

Coffee here is stronger, richer and darker than I am used to. It's more like espresso.  If you want what we, Americans, are used to, you will have to ask for an Americano.  Mostly, that is Nescafe. Having a coffee is almost a ritual here. 

 

Israel - IDF Air Force at the Wall

When visiting religious sites – Jewish, Christian, Muslin, Druze, or Ba’hai – be sure to be dressed modestly.  That means sleeves for women and sometimes head coverings.  Shorts are not acceptable in most of these places. 

The majority of the Israelis speak English as it is a required language for them to learn in school but a smattering of Hebrew helps.  Words like--

 Eifo Bet-Hashimush (where is the bathroom?)

Mah Zeh (what is this?)

 Re-ga (wait)

 Yalla (hurry up)

 cama zeh (how much?)

 Shalom (hello, goodbye, peace),

b’vaka-shaw – thanks,  

sleecha – excuse me, and

ha kol bsedar (okay)

--are some words you should be familiar with.

A good guide can cost upwards of $400/day, but it's worth it if you don't know your way around.  Our own guide, Avi Tsabri was wonderful and informative and can assist you, if he is already busy. 

 

Israel - Making Tehini in the Market Place

If you are taking a taxi, be sure the driver turns on the meter. Seeing a foreigner, they might just forget and take you for a ride, pocketing the money, themselves. Many tourists get ripped off this way. Taxi drivers are not tipped. Only waiters get tipped 10% and perhaps the bellhop in the hotel. 

If renting a car, reserve it ahead of time and pick it up at Ben Gurion airport. They drive on the "correct" side of the road, so you should be comfortable, but traffic can be miserable. Traffic is usually the busiest on Thursday and Friday nights.  In Jerusalem, Friday morning traffic is rough. 

 

Israel - Esrog man

Be sure to pack in layers, take sun screen and hats.  Most of Israel is usually warm, especially as you go south, but in the mountainous areas of Jerusalem or the Galilee, the nights, even in the summers, can be chilly.  Winters are mild by most American standards, but a coat necessary.  Winter rains can spoil even the best of vacations.   

VAT - Value added tax - can be returned to you at the airport if you deal with an accepted merchant, keep the receipt, and the purchase is over $100 USD.   The purchase should also be places in a separate bag. 

Many of the money changers do not accept travelers’ checks and are, mostly, closed for the Sabbath.  I had changed a small amount of dollars before I left the States so that I could jump in running.  But there are changers at the airport and most hotels, as well.

They have a system for shared taxis - Sherut but often you just have to see if someone is going your way. 

 

Israel - Market Day

Check out the Bed and Breakfast hotels as they can be more affordable than the major hotels.  And many of the kibbutz have simple hotel rooms for rent as you travel through Israel. A list can be obtained from the Israel Government Tourist office.   There are also Christian hospices near the religious sites. These are often cheaper than hotels.  While you do not have to be Christian, you do need to follow their rules.  The Jerusalem Tourist information and the Christian Information Center can provide you with more details.

Electric current there is 220 volts and most sockets are three pronged.

Before I left for Israel, I rented a phone from Talk N Save – so that I could have an American number for people back home to reach me.  Otherwise, your cell phone costs could be prohibitive.  There are several  other phone companies, as well, that you can compare prices with.

Even for those who are not religious, public transport does not operate (except in East Jerusalem, Haifa and Nazareth) on the Jewish Sabbath, which starts at sunset on Friday nights and ends sunset on Saturday.  The same is true for Jewish holidays. 

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day for Jews, no vehicles except emergency ones as ambulances travel on the streets. 

Shops, too, for the most part, close around 2-3:30 pm on Fridays. 

Israel - Druze woman Making Pita - Israel Tourism photo

Muslims and Christian sites also follow their own Sabbaths on Friday and Sunday, respectively. 

Enjoy your trip.  Planning ahead always helps.

 

 

 

 

 

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