For the 2000 Millennium, I went on a Contiki tour called the “Best of Egypt, Israel & Jordan”. It packed a whole lot of sights and experiences into a 16 day tour, leaving a huge impression on my mind.
From this experience and further insight, I’ve created a list of 10 highlights worth squeezing in when visiting these two fascinating countries. Armchair travellers can also learn a thing or two here.
Part 1 of this post is: 10 Egypt Highlights Greek Goddesses Rule
Now for Part 2 – Israel & Jordan
On my way to Tel Aviv in Israel, after travelling via the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula, our tour group arrived at a border crossing checkpoint station. Our guide told us that a few of us would most likely be interrogated and that we should always remain calm and answer whatever questions we were asked in a respectful manner.
As I walked through a gate, a guard with a huge scar on his face waved me over. I entered a room with a curtain and he asked me several questions, over and over again. After a few minutes he told me to wait. A young lady then entered the room and started asking me the same questions over and over again. Something like, why have you come to Israel? I told her over and over again that I was a tourist. She looked through all of my luggage while I was there, flipped through a few books I had with me and questioned me about them, all the while trying to push me to explode in anger. After what about 10 minutes or so she gave up and let me go. I wondered if the tour group left without me after taking so long. Thankfully they didn’t.
1. Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv, the modern city, grew out of the ancient port of Jaffa. Founded in 1909 it means “mound of spring”.
Tel Aviv really surprised me. Located next to the beach it felt more like Miami beach to me, even though I’ve never experienced Miami. The city had a cool vibe about it. Walking through a shopping centre complex left me thinking that I had just seen some of the most beautiful women in the world. Not sure what the mix of women were. I later found out that many of them were of Russian origin. I was expecting women wearing burqas more so than incredibly beautiful women. It was not what I expected at all.
Another thing that surprised me was when I discovered that Tel Aviv had its own Silicon Valley precinct. Smart people in the Middle East, no way.
You can easily spend at least two or three full days in Tel Aviv. This is my one big regret in Israel, that I didn’t stay in the city a bit longer.
Christians consider the city of Nazareth to be the childhood home of Jesus Christ, but hardly anyone took it seriously. Today it’s a bustling Arab city with the majority of the population being Moslem. The city of Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth), built alongside Nazareth, was conceived in the 1950s predominately for Jews.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said.
As we were about to enter the Church of the Nativity I got a nasty spray of insults from the old tour guide in front of our whole group. My crime being that I wore shorts on a very hot day. Apparently this meant that someone could possibly spit on me for insulting the one true god. Showing your knees is considered very disrespectful and I got hammered for it.
Luckily a young kind lady in our group offered me a shawl. I wore that inside the Church over my shorts. It looked like I was wearing a skirt but this was considered somewhat acceptable. No one stopped me put it that way. Apparently the less flesh shown the better. Seeing the birthplace of Jesus Christ really made me feel like total crap. Make sure you’re appropriately dressed if you go there.
I have to say, I couldn’t comprehend how they knew this to be the exact spot where the birth of Jesus took place. A star is on the exact spot where this took place. Seems to be a pretty big deception.
4. Sea of Galilee
A boat ride on the sea of Galilee is pretty relaxing. Try to walk on water like Jesus did, you of little faith. If you can’t do it, then try and find someone with some faith to show you how it’s done.
5. Beth Shean / Scythopolis
Close to the edge of Mt. Gilboa, this is a very fascinating ancient site.
6. Gan Hashlosha National Park – Sachne
The magical natural pool oasis at Sachne near Mt. Gilboa looks dreamy. Nature is so much more beautiful than manmade structures. It’s like an oasis in the desert. Maybe it’s the Garden of Eden.
Three major monotheistic religions coexist in Jerusalem including Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
For Christians and Jews, Jerusalem is the Holy City. For Moslems, Jerusalem comes after Mecca and Medina.
Why the one true god never settled on the right faith is a mystery. Even after numerous slaughters, no one is any wiser. The First Crusade managed to slaughter just about everyone inside the walls, estimated to be around 40,000 people.
The First Crusade didn’t solve anything, so if anything the righteous religion has to be either that of the Jews or that of the Moslems. Both Jesus Christ and Mohamed never bothered to return to earth though, so that eliminates the Christians and the Moslems. The Jews have to be the righteous ones, but then why did the Nazis kill the Jews?
I wonder whether the Greek Gods care?
8. Sacred sites of Jerusalem
Western Wall (Wailing Wall)
How one god could get it so wrong is incredible. The Western Wall is the last remaining remnant of the Jewish temple. Built by Herod the Great and destroyed by the Romans in 70 Omega (AD). How the Jewish holy site became holy for Moslems shows how the battle is for people’s minds rather than for anything else. You will see lots of head nodding and lots of paper prayers and thank-you notes jammed in between the cracks of the wall, making you think that either they’re crazy or whoever they’re worshipping is. The wall is about 50m long. It’s something you have to see to believe. It has been turned into one big open-air synagogue.
Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount
The Dome of the Rock is erected on the Temple Mount, where Muhammed is said to have ascended to heaven and back. From the Old Testament, this is where Abraham is thought to have offered his son Isaac to God as a sacrifice. Inside, the dome I was surprised at how comfortable it was. Relaxing on the carpet felt great.
At the time I went in 2000, tourists were allowed to enter into the gold-plated Dome of the Rock. I wonder why the Greek Gods didn’t try to take over this place over.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This place has been a Christian pilgrimage destination from the Byzantine to the Crusader Periods and beyond. Tradition says it’s the site where the crucifixion of Jesus took pace. It marks the location of the Resurrection of Christ, which is why it is also known as the Church of the Resurrection.
Mount of Olives
This site is on a hill on the eastern side outskirts of Jerusalem offering fabulous views of Old Jerusalem. It is often considered the best place for photo opportunities.
- Christians associate it to the life and death of Jesus Christ.
- Moslems believe the Final Judgement will take place there.
- The Jewish faith also associates it with the Final Judgement, where the Messiah will cross from Mount Olives to Jerusalem before the Final Judgement takes place.
The Greek Gods and Goddesses probably believe all three of them are just:
9. Masada, the Fortress of King Herod
Take a cable car to the top of this 441m high hilltop palace which overlooks the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea. This place stands out as a major highlight for me. The views were simply superb on top of this very isolated mountain plateau.
Herod the Great had it built when he enjoyed independence from Rome. The site is famous for the last stand of approximately 1000 Jewish rebels who resisted Rome in 73 Omega (AD), so the story goes. None of them were going to become slaves of Rome. Instead of surrendering to Rome, they chose to kill themselves. Jesus Christ obviously had no impact on either side at this time, if the story is true. Sounds like some kind of cult.
If you feel like doing some exercise, then you can climb up or descend down Masada using the ancient snake path. One way will take you about 45 minutes.
10. The Dead Sea
Floating on the dead sea is like nothing you can imagine. You can’t sink. This is the lowest accessible place on earth at approximately 415m below sea level. It’s ten times saltier than the Mediterranean and has up to seven times the mineral content from other seas. It’s a great place to read a book or magazine. Just make sure you don’t splash a drop of water in your eyes. It happened to me and the sting felt very painful. Rubbing them made it even worse. Your fingers a wet remember. I had to leave the sea to splash some fresh water in them quickly after.
The Dead Sea has been turned into a therapeutic mud spa. My lowest point came when I gave my mother some of this special Dead Sea mud as a gift. Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistake.
11. Eilat – The Red Sea
Go for a swim in the Red Sea while staying for a couple of nights in the coastal port city of Eilat.
12. Wadi Rum
You’ll feel like you’re Lawrence of Arabia. The 50km long valley is best explored in the company of Bedouin guides. To camp out in Wadi Rum overnight, looking out at the stars, would be an amazing experience.
13. Petra, Jordan
Walking through the narrow gap in the canyon towards this ancient site is surreal. After a short stroll you’ll discover the ancient Treasury, carved beautifully into a canyon rock wall. The Bedouins called it the “Treasury of the Pharaohs”. Indiana Jones did well to come here.
The main memory for me had to be when we met a trader in the area. Our tour group went past an older guy selling a few items including some old looking coins. Two of us strayed behind the tour group as we were both curious about them. The guy I was with quizzed the old guy, who looked a bit like Omar Sharif. Some of the coins looked like fakes in one basket, which he admitted to, telling us those came from China. The other coins in another basket looked like they were old coins. The seller kept on saying they were real and that he personally found them in the area. I didn’t believe him but after he swore to god that they were real, the guy I was with decided to take a chance and buy one. Guess what? Lo and behold, it turned out to be fake as well. I found out after we returned from the trip when I emailed him a few months later.
Saying Goodbye to Israel
At the airport, departures pulled me over and my bags were searched. I had to take my clothes off for a strip search. I had a camera and a young lady asked me if she could take a photo to prove it was real. I agreed. Later on she gave me my bags back and allowed me to leave. I asked her whether everything had been returned to my bags and she insisted that everything had been. I asked her again and again if she was sure. More yeses. Then I pointed to a table with some of my gear strewn all over it. You can imagine what I thought at the end of my 2000 Millennium Holy Land journey.