Looking back on our photographs, our tour was a fascinating insight into the history and culture of this ancient region. We were exposed to insights into invasions and political turmoil that have been the norm for 4000 years and despite all this, were positively impressed by the fantastic sights from the Biblical sites and Roman & Greek ruins and amphitheatre at Caesarea and Crusader fortresses and fishing villages of Jaffa and Akko, Capernaum and Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee to the cosmopolitan heart of the modern cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa.
With our enthusiastic guide, Dani, we experienced fabulous art galleries, poignant memorials and even managed to witness a Bar mitzvah at close hand. We explored narrow alleyways of ancient villages and local markets, and touched such sacred sites as the birthplace of Christ and the manger where He lay in Bethlehem. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, the stations of the cross and Calvary in the Garden of the Tomb in Jerusalem, the Bahai Temple in Haifa and a Druze cemetery. We saw Orthodox churches, ancient synagogues, beautiful mosques and impressive painted caves.
In Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation was another splendid gem and how we enjoyed our lunch and wine-tasting on the Golan Heights and our memorable meal at The Old Man and the Sea in Jaffa with grand finale being the theatrical packing up of all the dirty plates, cutlery, glasses and debris at the end of the meal.
We travelled through the Negev Desert with its beautiful scenery and stops at Side Boker to visit the graves of David and Paula Ben Gurion and to enjoy the canyon and the fabulous museum at the Mitzpe Ramon Crater which, amongst other things, showcased the life of the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon who lost his life during the ill-fated Columbia disaster of 01 February 2003 Some of us enjoyed a swim in the Red Sea at Eilat (amongst the jellyfish) and we all enjoyed a visit to the interactive aquarium based on the colourful corals.
One of the highlights of our tour was our visit to the wondrous pink city of Petra, the ancient city of the Nabateans. What a joy to walk down the narrow Siq and set eyes for the first time on the magnificent and impressive hand-chiselled Treasury rising up against the steep cliffs in the gorge.
On our return to Jerusalem our float in the Dead Sea and journey to the top of Masada will be remembered for a long time.
Our visit to Israel, through the Palestinian Territories and the West Bank and into Jordan, gave us a huge insight into the history and politics of the region and the left us understanding the situation a little better than when we arrived. It has given us much to think about. It’s all about conflict yet at the same time about incredible tolerance.
Visiting Israel and Petra is, in short, a humbling experience, not only because it is the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions but because of the sheer history of the area. It’s rich and mighty and one is constantly aware that it weighs heavily on one’s shoulders. Despite this, our tour will certainly be fondly remembered.