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10 Days in Egypt & Israel – Day 7

By tam-admin | December 6, 2007

The Middle East is the world’s hotspot of political unrest. The news is saturated daily with stories depicting constant tension, hostility and warfare. And the focus on Israel and the Palestinian Territories (the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) are no exception. The locals, however, offer a different story. Despite tension in the Israeli areas surrounding the Gaza Strip, the rest of the country goes about its daily routine. Not that they don’t take precautions – security is higher here than almost anywhere else in the world, and many businesses come complete with bomb shelters. But residents and frequent travelers to the area repeat the same motto: the media is exaggerating the situation.

After all, the tension here is nothing new. The current territories have been contended for decades; and the boundaries in this area of the world have been disputed since biblical times.  As we discovered during our travels, the locals here are more concerned with the effect the increased negative media attention has on their daily lives. Tourism has become virtually non-existent. And the real unspoken tragedy here is how those who depend on it will survive.

Our Palestinian guide in Bethlehem (part of the West Bank) was anxious to not only educate us on the history of the town, but also to point out that our travels were safe and the area was calm, quiet and without incident. Where once he conducted multiple tours a day, he’s lucky to have one a week now. His earnest request was that we return to the U.S. and spread the word that it’s safe to visit. While we still recommend that any overseas travels should be prefaced with a check into local warnings and possible safety risks, we agree with our guide. And although he may never have the opportunity to read this account of our travels, we hope our story may inspire others to consider exploring the area as well.

We arrive in Tel Aviv, Israel around 10am. Airport security is extreme – perhaps the highest of any airport. It’s immediately obvious that unlike the U.S. who at least makes an attempt, albeit a feeble one, to make their “random selection” appear “random,” the Israeli airport makes no such attempt to hide their focus of interest.

We go through customs and then locate the rental car section to book a vehicle with a GPS system. (If you rent a car from the Tel Aviv airport, regardless of which company you use, you’ll have to rent the GPS system separately from Hertz). Be sure to pay the extra few dollars a day to get the insurance unless your own car insurance is going to cover you overseas. Based on the aggressive driving here, it’s better to be safe than sorry (I don’t think we saw a single rental car without at least one dent).

We throw our bags in the car, set the GPS destination and head north along the coast. Israel is a relatively small country, and you can travel between most major destinations within an hour or two. With the exception of trying to drive in the heavy traffic of larger cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the highway systems here are good, and we never had an issue with signage (GPS helps, but at times logic prevails). A rental car is a great way to explore the country at your own pace.

Our first stop in Caesarea will also prove to be one of my favorite Israeli destinations. An archaeologist’s paradise, this area is littered with the remains of Herod and Augustus Caesar and surrounded by breathtaking views of the Mediterranean. Fragments of ancient pillars are wedged within the rocky coastline, and fishermen throw lines from the beach next to the Roman and Herodian Amphitheatres. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Once a famous ancient city built by Herod the Great in 22 B.C., Caesarea is steeped in history. After Herod’s death it became the local Roman capital, and everyone from Pontius Pilate to the Arabs, Muslims, Crusaders, and eventually Louis IX of France lived, conquered or built here. In the Caesarea National Park you can explore ancient Roman aqueducts, climb the steps of the Roman Amphitheatre and Herodian Amphitheatre (the Hippodrome) where chariot races, gladiatorial combats and other events were held, view the ancient bathhouse (with intricate tile designs still intact), as well as a variety of other remains. Excavations are ongoing – it was only recently that members of a local kibbutz discovered the historical remains of ancient Caesarea buried under the sand.

Caesarea, Israel.

Photo: Caesarea, Israel.

We end the day with a great dinner at the Port Café, a local restaurant that sits on a rocky cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. In Israel, they love fries and potato wedges and serve them with almost everything. The typical restaurant tip here is 10%, and you’ll have to ask for your check – they consider it rude to give you the bill if it hasn’t been requested.

After the long overnight flight to Tel Aviv and the drive to Caesarea, we opt to relax for the evening and stay at the local Dan Caesarea – a nice hotel complete with pool, golf course and great views from the room’s balcony. As in Egypt, security here is extensive and all bags are checked before entering hotels.

Check back to find out what happens tomorrow for Day 8 in Israel!

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