Upon entering Israel we were made very welcome. A chap wearing sunglasses and speaking with an American accent greeted us, asked us few questions then searched underneath the car with a mirror. We were then given the OK and passed on to someone else for a questioning on where we had been and what we had been doing. It was all very friendly and lasted around five minutes.
Once parked up we had to go through passport control, buy car insurance (£33 for two weeks 3rd party) and sort out the customs documents. Everything was so efficient with all processes computerised. There was no vehicle check and the whole process took about an hour. Not bad. The sight of the scoff in the cafe at passport control that greeted us was amazing. We thought that going from Sudan to Egypt was good but this was something else again.
As it was starting to get dark we made camp on the beach just over the border before Eilat next to all the other locals in their tents and had a very pleasant evening.
In the morning we took a brief excursion into one of the malls in Eilat to buy a guidebook. Oh I hadn't seen such shops since South Africa. Only here the goods are very expensive so we didn't stay long. The Steimatsky bookshop chain offers a wide selection of guide books and had just the one we wanted along with an atlas for Europe.
The southern half of Israel is very dry and you drive along excellent tar roads through desert that looks like a building site. Distances are quite short and soon we were at Ein Netafin where there is a spring, albeit a small one. Climbing the rocks down to the spring in the heat was not so easy for Andrew as one of his flip flops broke. However, at the bottom we were rewarded with the sight of an Ibex drinking at the spring. They are also known as mountain goats and when you see their ability to climb rocks you can understand why. Ours had a bad leg but tackled the cliffs beautifully. After a brief visit to the Red Canyon we headed for Mitzpe Ramon where there is a huge crater (makhtesh). We camped on the top where it was so cold that we had to put our coats on and cook in the car. What a shock to the system.
The morning was lovely and warm and we had breakfast on the edge of the crater. The makhtesh is in an area known as the Negev and people come here to hike and climb. Schools also visit to learn about geography and geology etc - a good place to learn as the displays and presentations in the visitor centre were of a very high standard. We weren't interested in any such exertion but paid a visit to the visitor centre where there is a museum showing film and video clips of the area and its formation along with examples of the rocks and life around the area. The accompanying Bio Ramon has animals ranging from snakes to porcupines to look at.
The afternoon was spent at Be'er Sheeva and it wasn't a bit like how I had imagined the town to be. It is so modern with traffic lights that work, good signs and good buildings. As we reached the town we got a flat tyre. Not again! So after changing the wheel we made our way out to Hazerim where the Israeli Air Force Museum can be found. We were too late to enter that day so parked up nearby and made camp. There were F15's, F16's and helicopters flying over regularly and we hoped the noise would stop during the night. As it happened the noise didn't stop because the helicopter kept doing circuits but the greater nuisance were scratchy bugs that got through the mozzi net and feasted on my skin all night.
The Air Force Museum was excellent. It seems that the high standard of displays and explanations are normal in Israels museums. It took a few hours to get around by the time we had studied the fighters and the old aircraft.
Back in town the tyre was mended by Sonny and his team who run an excellent tyre repair centre. We decided to run our tyres tubeless from now on to see if we could cut down on the number of flat tyres which were becoming a great irritation.
The vegetable market was the best I have ever seen and I walked around with an excited look on my face at all those lovely items. After stocking up with scoff we even found a place where my boots could be repaired and hence resurrected. That night we ended up at Tel Arad which is the site of an old Canaanite city. It is a national park and Yehudi the manager let us sleep there for 30 NIS each which gave us the use of shower facilities and allowed us to go around the site - which we did at sunset with a couple of cans of local brew. Afterwards we met a couple of Yehudis friends - Orit and Dany who offered us a bed for the night in their home if desired at some point.
The following morning we did a few jobs on the car before making our way down to the Dead Sea. Suddenly the desert view changed to that of a greeny blue blob with white edges where the salt deposits are left. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at around 400m below sealevel.
In the late afternoon we visited Masada which is a very old fort built by Herod the Great. It is on the top of a mountain which can be reached by a strenuous walk up the snake path. The fort was taken over by the Zealots in around 66CE but when the Roman army were certain to take over the fort the thousand or so local people flung themselves off the top to avoid capture and its consequences.
Camp that night was alongside the Dead Sea in total isolation. Absolute bliss - until 6am when we were woken by a beep beep of a car horn. The local military guys saw our tent and asked us to move on.
The early start meant that we achieved a lot that day. The first stop was the Dead Sea for a float at one of the resorts along the coast. It is free to use the beach - surprise, and there are cold showers to wash off afterwards. What a strange feeling walking into the water. There were waves but no splash, the crest just eased its way back into the main soup which is three times saltier than average seawater. The water was really warm and felt greasy. Walking into it was no problem and when you lean back your legs just get taken up from underneath you so you end up sitting in the water. Weird or what. You just can't bob under and if you try to swim on your front you end up face down so you have to rotate yourself quickly onto your back. The water tastes disgusting - one of the worst tastes ever.
About fifteen minutes is enough so we took the opportunity for a shower then headed off to Jerusalem.
After parking near the Mount of Olives we went on walkabout taking in the via Delarosa (along which Jesus carried his cross) and the Western Wall (previously the wailing wall). We couldn't get near it but watched the local Jews pray by doing some sort of head banging manoeuvre against it, and some equally amusing hip thrust as they tipped their heads back.
The Holy Sepulchre was interesting (apparently where Jesus is buried) for its architecture. As it was Friday a number of the sights were shut but we managed to walk our legs off around the alleyways of the four quarters within the walled city (Jewish, Muslim, Armenian & Christian). The alleyways are lined with stalls selling absolute tat. There are no camping areas around town and hotel options turned out to be seriously limited, particularly when you have a car to consider. We ended up in a dorm at the very friendly Faisal Hotel near Damascus Gate and managed to park the car under the room window.
Jerusalem is a fascinating place but the old town shuts down at night. We were still wearing the clothes of the afternoon but decided to go into the Holy Sepulchre again as we were walking passed it on the way to an eating house. During the day the queue to see "Christ's Tomb" was huge but in the evening was very short. Neither of us are religious but we wanted to see what the fuss was all about. After queuing for a little while Andrew was thrown out by the rudest person I have ever met and he happened to be a Greek Orthodox Christian priest. In front of everybody he shouted "YOU SHORTS OUT, OUT OUT". Obviously wearing shorts didn't impress him! We spent the remainder of the evening at the Armenian Restaurant opposite the Citadel. The place was highly recommended but we found it to be a very average meal of rather small size and very large price.
Upon returning to the car we discovered the blind spot mirrors had been pinched along with the hook and D-ring from the winch. Whoever took it knew what to do with the freespool lever. Not a good evening.
The next day both of us felt like getting out of town fast but we still had a few sights to see, the first of which was the Haram (Temple Mount) housing the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic Museum and Al Aqsa Mosque. Our student cards came in useful again. The bag was searched three times on the way into the Haram. Upon entering the Mosque we told by a very rude man "YOU BAG GO". During the searches no-one told us that we had to leave the bag outside the monuments - what's the point in the search? Anyway with well over a thousand quids worth of gizmos inside the bag we weren't prepared to leave it unattended so we went into the mosque in turns. Forget it, don't bother. Most is cordoned off, the remainder very unexciting.
The Dome of the Rock was better - a large rock surrounded by a building with fancy tile work and a lot of gold coloured paint. The original gold of the dome has been replaced by anodised aluminium. The final sight in the Haram was the museum and we were pleasantly surprised. It was excellent despite reports of it being poor in the guide books. Why is it that Muslim sites are expensive to visit and Christian sites are free?
Moving on towards another museum we stopped at a shop front in one of the alleys to check the map. The shops were just opening and were putting out their rubbish souvenirs. The boy (apparently 15) of the shop went to hang up something from a pole above the shop window but instead of asking us to move very deliberately pushed the item into Andrews face. We were stunned. Andrew told him what he thought after which the boy pushed him. Stunned again. Then I intervened and pushed the boy back. By now the locals were around separating us all. The boy tried to make a beeline for me but was stopped. When the crowd then turned around to me the boy stepped around the side and kicked me so I hit the roof and told them what I thought of their society. We had to move on quickly before I really got violent!
The museum at the Citadel is well worth a visit - and it calmed us down. It tells Israels history. We were surprised to find out that Jesus had been dead for 300 years before his importance was considered. It's amazing how his routes and places of birth and death etc. can be pinpointed so accurately! Cynical or what? After the Citadel we tool a walk around part of the city wall back to the car to hot-wheel it as fast as possible out of the city. We were even asked for money for guarding the car!
In 26 hours we had suffered the worst physical and verbal abuse in the whole of the trip. We also had things stolen off the car. Jerusalem is meant to be the holiest city in the world and I am disgusted by it. If I ever go back it will be too soon. Perhaps it was all due to the lack of our religious faith - or absence of it!
That afternoon we decided to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, as we were passing it. The church is really old (of course) and you go down stairs to the crypt which supposedly marks the site of Jesus birth. It looks nothing like a stable to me and we had to fight off the people trying to climb into the niche and touch the exact spot of parturition. Every five minutes the activity stopped and the room cleared for the priest with his incense wafter.
Umm, that was that. The chawarma up the street was good.
Next we visited Danny, Orit and their children Yuvali and Gavan at their home in Shoval. They live on a kibbutz and we were interested to find out about that way of life. We were made so welcome and immediately given some of Orits home made puddings - fantastic. There are around a hundred families on this kibbutz, some work on the kibbutz (in fields, with chickens & cows etc) and others work outside. The rule is that all wages are put into the kibbutz and from it people take what they need, ie home, food, car from a pool. The kibbutz is like a village and has its own shop, school, carpenter etc. Everyone knows everyone else which depending upon your point of view could be seen as a benefit or not. From our view the kibbutz was a very safe and relaxed place to be and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time with our hosts and their friends. Not only do we know about life on a kibbutz but also understand a lot more about the problems facing Israel and its people.
The following day was Sunday - a day of work for the people here so after breakfast we said goodbye to Dany and Orit and moved on towards the Sea of Galilee via the West Bank and its desert and occasional oases. At Bet Alpha we stopped off to visit a synagogue not realising it was within a National Park so we had to pay an entry fee. Our visit was brief - it was an old building with not a lot to see other than its original mosaic floor.
Camping at the proper sites around the Sea of Galilee (it's really a freshwater lake) is an expensive option (£13 per night) and one we chose to ignore. We found a fabulous freebie spot in the north well away from the road and right next to the lake. As the inner tubes had recently been removed from the tyres we inflated a couple and jumped into the water with them. What a laugh, playing about in the rubber rings. It was a beautiful floating along with a 3/4 moon reflection shimmering on the lake as night fell.
The following morning we played for a couple of hours in our rubber rings and had breakfast floating on the lake. After a brief visit to Tiberias for lunch at a lovely local restaurant (Kemo Babit) we drove on to Haifa for the business of booking the ferry to Greece. It was easy enough and we got away with student rates without having to flash our cards. The cost was still a hefty $403. Taking the 'Sea Serenade' the following week would enable us to put the car on the deck and sleep in the tent. The other two ships covering the same route insist that cars are kept below deck and you either have to sleep in a cabin or on a deck chair. Three nights on deck chair was a total no-no. The two berth cabins were all booked and the three and four berth cabins were single sex.
Traveling north we camped on one of the beaches and no-one seemed to mind. We were very close to the border with Lebanon and despite the situation being calm the two countries are not the best of pals.
As we had a week left before the ferry went and not an awful lot left to see in Israel we decided to head for Jordan for a few days. Israel is so small that it doesn't take long to drive around. That day we finished the sight-seeing by making a tour of the Golan Heights - probably the most beautiful part of the country and that which Syria wants.
The first stop was Safed - a small town on a hill. In fact the hill is very steep and there are very few roads but many alleys linked vertically by stairways. The town is full of history and is delight to walk around. Years ago the town was divided into two quarters (don't know why not halves) - Muslim and Jewish. However the two sides could not stop fighting so the British cut a stairway the ma'alot olei hagardom - through the middle to divide the warring parties. After some time there was a war and the Jewish won. Now the quarters are known as the Jewish and Artists quarters. The Jewish quarter is loaded with synagogues of which we visited two - the Abuhav and the Ashkenazi. They are interesting to see. Andrew had to put on a paper yarmulke - those flat hat type things worn by Jews. Safed also has a candle factory in the Jewish quarter where you can see traditional Jewish 'separation candles' being made. They are beautiful and very expensive - but I raided the bargain bucket and not some cheaper ones and hope they don't melt in the car on the way home. The Artists quarter is full of galleries displaying all types of artwork.
Heading further north we expected the land to become very green but even the greenest parts were dry. The Nahal Herman Reserve is worthy of a few hours. It is a historical site set in a large area with a walking route marked out. The route takes you past Banias waterfall, various springs, an old flour mill, caves, some forts etc. It was lovely but fortunately for us no-one is allowed in the water, otherwise we probably wouldn't have left. That night we ended up back at our favourite camping spot on the lake.
On the 13th we had a very long drive back down to Eilat - about 500 km in total. Our intention was to drive back north through Jordan. There are three border crossings but there was uncertainty about which ones allowed tourists through. We knew Eilat was a safe option. What we didn't expect was the 64NIS departure tax per person.
After visiting Jordan we returned to Israel for a few hours via the Jordan Valley border point. The insurance we bought for our first entry had expired so we had to buy more insurance for this visit. Fortunately cover for one day could be bought but the cost was huge. You have to buy insurance for the car (45NIS) and insurance for the persons (135NIS). In Eilat we were only told about the former so paid 168NIS for two weeks and got the customs papers based on one insurance form. This time we sneakily only paid the 45NIS and again got the customs forms. We weren't paying £31 for insurance for five hours!
We visited the Holocaust Museum just north of Akko which was very interesting then hopped down to the port in Haifa to get on our ferry to Greece.
|Climbing down to the spring at Ein Netafin||Perched on top of the mountain at Mizpe Ramon||We finally get a tattie masher, no more forks.||Jacs floating in the Dead sea - weird sensation||Jacs plays in the cockpit of an Israeli Air Force training plane|
|Stephens Gate in Jerusalem||The winding streets of Jerusalem||Taking a drink at the Wailing Wall||The Dome of the Rock||Danny, Orit,Gavan & (Yuvali not in the picture) gave us a great welcome and a tour of the Kibbutz.|
|Jacs with an old bridge on the walking trail in the Nahal Herman Reserve. The water has sculpted crazy shapes in the stone||Inside a synagogue in Safed||Finding a use for all the spare inner tubes we're carrying|
There are plenty of supermarkets here with food to astound you - at European prices.
Juice bars can be found regularly selling giant pots of freshly squeezed juice.
Middle Eastern food is common and there are burger bars and ice cream parlours everywhere.
Kemo Babit Restaurant. Hakishon Street, 9 Tiberias. Tel. 06 6723213. Excellent local food at good prices.
|Bushcamp on beach|
|Mitzpe Ramon||Makhtesh Ramon Reserve||Bushcamp|
|Be'er Sheeva||Fabby food markets, aircraft museum||Bushcamp|
|Arad||Tel Arad National Reserve||Camp at Reserve|
|Jerusalem||via Dead Sea & Masada Reserve||Faisal Hotel|
|Be'er Sheeva||via Bethlehem||Dany & Orits house|
|Tiberius||Sea of Galilee, via Bet Alpha NP||Bushcamp on lake|
|via Haifa||Bushcamp on beach|
|Tour of Golan Heights||Safed, Nahal Hermon Resort||Bushcamp on lake|
There are three ships leaving from Israel to Greece which travel on different days of the week and offer slightly differing services. The journey takes three nights and you can either sleep in a cabin (twins or single sex 3-4 berth, on pullman seats or on deckchairs. Cars travel below deck on all but the Sea Serenade where there is room on the deck for tall vehicles and you are allowed to sleep in them. The prices vary depending upon the season and whether you can get a student discount (20%) or not. In the low season with discount we paid $403 for two people and a car on the deck. This fee includes departure taxes. The Land Rover is classed as a minibus when on the deck. We used a company called Alalouf who were very good and can be found next to the port. Caspi also offers the same service. Our journey took two hours and was the noisiest most awful boat journey ever (see Greece).
Israel is expensive but you can compensate by bushcamping in most places.
Jerusalem is a fascinating place but has the rudest people of the entire trip.
Watch out that you do not park in the firing or military zones, especially in the south.
Upon leaving Israel you get walloped with a 64 NIS (61 + tax) departure tax.
Car insurance cost us 168 NIS for two weeks (140 + commission). It seems the office made a mistake and forgot to charge us for 3rd party non-material liability which would have amounted to hundreds of NIS. One days full 3rd party insurance should have cost us 190NIS!
Diesel is relatively expensive for its location at 2.46 NIS/litre.
20% student discount is offered in most places.
Faisal Hotel in Jerusalem - tel. 02 6287502, email. firstname.lastname@example.org.
N 30° 35' 654 E 034° 45' 885 Hazerim Bushcamping N 31° 15' 346 E 034° 42' 898 Be'er Sheeva Land Rover Garage N 31° 12' 824 E 034° 48' 790 Tyre Repair - Sonny's N 31° 14' 202 E 034° 47' 910 Fruit & veg market N 31° 14' 381 E 034° 47' 793 Masada Fort N 30° 20' 531 E 035° 24' 309 Castrol Warehouse N 31° 57' 608 E 035° 13'236 Sea of Galilee Bushcamping in the north N 32° 53' 227 E 035° 35' 226