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The Living History of Israel - FAQ
With such a rich and varied itinerary, and so many aspects to touring Israel, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about where to start preparing for the Living History of Israel tour. We are here to help. Below, you will find some useful information you'll need, as you get ready for your Israel adventure.
Israel is two hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). Daylight saving time is observed from April to September. While we're traveling, Israel will be 7 hours ahead of EST (Eastern Standard Time), so when it's noon in Israel, it's 5am in New York and 2am in San Francisco.
First, please keep in mind that there are some beautiful things to bring back with you from Israel, so make sure you have space left in your suitcase. Israel is a very informal country, so casual, practical clothing is acceptable everywhere. However, the dress code for women in Israel is more conservative than Western standards, so having a light shawl or a scarf with you will be useful for visiting religious sites. A scarf will also be helpful to protect you from sand while traveling in the arid areas of the country. You will notice that many women wear skirts rather than pants, and aside from the beach areas in Tel Aviv, shorts and tank tops are unusual. You will need comfortable walking shoes on this tour, and since January's weather is quite unpredictable, both long and short sleeved tops will be useful. A medium-weight jacket and an umbrella for the areas in the north of the country and in the mountains may come in handy, as well.
Visitors to Israel are required to carry a current passport, valid for at least 6 months from the expected date of departure and with a minimum of two blank visa pages. US and Canadian visitors to Israel are issued an Israeli visa on entry and it is free of charge. Before traveling it's a good idea to make two photocopies of your passport, your driver's license and your credit cards. Leave one copy at home with a trusted person and another one in your suitcase. Please Note: If you plan to visit Arab countries in the future, ask for your Israeli visa stamp to be placed on a piece of paper separate from your passport when you enter Israel (if your passport is stamped by Israel, that stamp will close the doors to many Arab and Islamic countries for the duration of your passport). Israeli passport control personnel are accustomed to this request and will cooperate. With political conditions the way they are, even in relatively friendly places such as Morocco, Egypt, or even Bali (a Hindu island in Muslim Indonesia), Israeli stamps in your passport could cause problems should you find yourself in a local police station, or when you show your passport in banks, hotels, or post offices.
|ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE INFORMATION |
This tour starts and ends in Tel Aviv Airport (airport code TLV).
The actual tour starts in Jerusalem, Israel at 4:00PM on Thursday, January 23, 2020, and your flight should arrive at the Tel Aviv airport no later than 2:00PM. You'll probably depart North America on Wednesday, January 22, 2020. If you are prone to jet lag and travel fatigue, we recommend arriving a day early. We have arranged for individual airport transfers on arrival, and you will be met by a chauffeur on your arrival in Tel Aviv.
This tour ends after breakfast on Sunday, February 2, 2020 in Tel Aviv, and we will have arranged for individual airport transfers to the Tel Aviv airport in accordance with your departing flight. If you need help with your flights to Israel, please feel free to give us a call.
To avoid jet lag (common when crossing more than five time zones) drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids and eat light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight, exercise and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep and so on) as soon as possible.
The Israel travel group is limited to the maximum of 16 women + the tour director. The minimum group size is 6 women + the tour director. In addition to an experienced Sights and Soul Travels' tour director, the travelers will be accompanied by professional guides and drivers.
Israel is an ultra-modern country with the world’s highest number of doctors per capita, and a health and hospital system that is the envy of the world. No vaccinations are required to visit Israel (unless you have recently been in an area where there have been epidemics of yellow fever, cholera or ebola). You can buy most standard over-the-counter equivalent of North American drugs in Israel. You can also bring supplies of your standard prescription drugs with you. If you need to bring syringes and vials of medicine, bring along a letter from your doctor attesting to your needs, just in case. If you need to see a doctor in Israel, check with your hotel concierge. Travel insurance (including medical coverage) is always recommended for all foreign travel.
Sunburn and dehydration are problems throughout the region. Although the air is dry, you often don’t feel thirsty. Force yourself to drink plenty of water as you travel in the area, especially in summer and if you are in the desert. Sunscreen is a must, though you need less of it at The Dead Sea because the thicker atmosphere screens out the sun.
Scorpions are something to be aware of in desert and Mediterranean regions. If bitten by a scorpion, get emergency medical treatment immediately. Scorpions do not go out of their way to attack, but they love damp, warm places, and you can get bitten if you happen to put a hand or foot where one of them is resting. Check carefully when entering showers, bathrooms, or other damp places. In the Jordan Valley, there is a rare but very ugly skin infection called “Rose of Sharon” that’s hard to control and will scar unless you get medical treatment—don’t hesitate to see a doctor about any unusual or persistent bug bites or skin eruptions.
Tap water is safe and drinkable in Israel, except at the Dead Sea area. Although Israeli water is safe, the presence of various minerals in the water can make you a little queasy. For this reason, we will be providing bottled water on all days when we tour by bus, plus the hotels provide bottled water in the rooms. It is fine to use tap water for brushing your teeth.
At least half of all restaurants in Israel are kosher, although some may not have official kashrut certificates (in many cases because they do business on the Sabbath). All Israel hotels serve kosher food. In some secular areas of Tel Aviv, kosher restaurants, certified or not, can actually be hard to find. If you're lactose intolerant, note that kosher meat restaurants use no dairy products at all, not even for desserts. Recently, late dining has become a trend in Israel, but it is the land of the luncheon special, in many restaurants, the fabulous weekday lunch specials last until 5pm, or even later!
Nonsmokers should be aware of the fact that lighting up is not nearly as frowned upon in Israel as it is in North America. This practice is gradually changing, but there are plenty of restaurants that won't even have a nonsmoking section.
In Israel, public toilets are rare to nonexistent. Some may require payment, so you should always have some coins in the local currency with you to pay for them. Large hotels and fast-food restaurants are often the best bet for clean facilities. Restaurants and bars in resorts or heavily visited areas may reserve their restrooms for patrons. Most establishments geared towards tourists will have Western-style toilets. In each quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, there are scattered public restrooms, marked w.c., a tradition from British Mandate times. They’re not 21st century, but they’re better than nothing.
Israel is a low-crime country. Every year between 3 and 4 million tourists vacation in Israel, and apart from those who fall in love with an Israeli or with Israel, they all go home safe and sound. The planes of 90+ airlines wouldn’t fly to Israel if it weren’t safe.
If you are flying EL AL Israel Airlines (or from Europe on Arkia Israel Airlines or Israir), please know that the security precautions taken by Israeli airlines are the stuff of legend and the envy of the world’s airlines. On check-in for your flights you will be asked a variety of questions during a security interview. Some of the questions may seem intrusive, irrelevant or repetitive. Just answer truthfully, go with the flow and don’t lose your cool. Remember, the questions are designed to protect you and your fellow passengers. When you leave Israel, the departure process is identical to that outlined above for all airlines. Terrorism is a consideration everywhere in the world, and Israelis have become experts in dealing with it. In Jerusalem, security guards now prowl the bus stops, checking and intercepting suspicious-looking people before they can board a bus. Guards conduct bag and body checks at the entrances to shopping malls, markets, shops, cafes, restaurants, transportation hubs, and hotels. You’ll find security guards at most major restaurants. Always keep alert and be aware of suspicious persons, especially if they are well bundled in coats or jackets when the weather is not cold.
When traveling in Arab areas inside Israel, you should not carry or drink alcohol (which is forbidden by Islam) in public, and modest dress is expected of both men and women.
For women travelers, Israel proper is not too different from Europe or the United States. Army service is universal for nonreligious Israelis, and many young Israeli men may seem more macho and pressing than Europeans or Americans, but that's usually because you're a tourist. Hebrew is a language that stylistically prefers directness over guile, and when translated into English, some Israelis may seem amazingly blunt.
It's important to remember to dress modestly when visiting holy places of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, or ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, such as Mea Shearim in West Jerusalem. In Mea Shearim, women should not wear pants or jeans (shorts are forbidden there for men and women). At least knee-length skirts (the longer the better) and blouses that do not leave shoulders and upper arms exposed are strongly advised. The penalty for immodest dress can be getting spat on or pelted with pebbles. The police generally do not take action against religious Jews who attack “immodest” visitors to their neighborhoods. East Jerusalem, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the West Bank are largely Arabic societies, and unless women travelers are guarded in their dress and behavior, there’s a good chance there will be insults and unwanted advances. Women in Islamic societies do not venture far from their houses unless they are in the company of a husband, relatives, or at least one other woman; women travelers may seem to be breaking the rules of propriety simply by being alone. It is always best to try to have at least one traveling companion, male or female, with you if possible. Modest dress and behavior also helps to avoid unwanted attention. In Arabic communities, a woman alone, dressed in shorts or a bare midriff is not respectable, and will often not receive common courtesy. In Israel, except in religious neighborhoods, revealing dress is more common.
Both men and women are required to cover their knees and shoulders at Israel's holy sites. Outside of those places, like almost everywhere in the world, casual is the "rule" for everyday sightseeing. Bring good walking shoes or sneakers, a hat, sunscreen and "layers." Israeli women like to be “elegant casual” in the evenings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Some religious shrines require modest dress (arms and legs covered, and, occasionally, no pants for women). Don't forget your swimsuit and, for the Dead Sea, plastic shoes. January weather is unpredictable, so pack a jacket and an umbrella, too. Even if days are warm, evenings are definitely cool year round, so bring adequate warm clothing with you.
During the Living History tour to Israel, we will travel by a private bus and on foot. Most of the archaeological sites will require substantial walking on uneven surfaces. To be able to enjoy the tour and participate in scheduled activities, you need to be able to walk, at a leisurely pace, up to 4 miles throughout the day, including steps, and quite often on uneven surfaces and on sand. You need to be able to stand unassisted for up to 30 minutes, you need to be able to climb stairs, get in and out of vehicles without assistance and manage your own luggage. This trip is not strenuous, but you should be of at least average fitness to enjoy all scheduled activities. This tour is busy, and we will be moving a lot from one location to another. You must be prepared for full days and early starts.
Israel has Mediterranean climate. We'll be visiting Israel in January, what the Israelis consider to be winter, when daytime temperatures are in the lower 60s to lower 70s (F) and nighttime temperatures drop to mid 40s (F). Jerusalem and mountainous areas will be about 8-10 degrees cooler, especially in the evening, when temperatures can drop to 40 degrees (F). There may be some rain, but nothing torrential. The temperature around the Dead Sea will be about 10 degrees warmer. This is great weather for touring, but it is not beach weather, so please dress accordingly. Of course, the winter weather fluctuates and while some winters are mild and sunny, some are severe and overcast.
Free WiFi will be available at all hotels where we'll be staying during the tour. Tel Aviv, Haifa and the city center of Jerusalem provide free, citywide WiFi. You will also be able to connect to the Internet in cafes, hotels and many public spaces. American cell-phones that work overseas will work in Israel too.
Israel's electricity is 220V A/C, single phase 50-cycles, and 110V-220V transformers can be used. Israeli outlets take three round prongs plugs, type H adapter, but European two-prong adapters usually work. If you don’t have an adapter that seems to work, you can usually get one from the hotel's front desk. All hotels, where we'll be staying have hair dryers. Heat generating appliances will probably need a converter.
Official languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. English is very widely spoken and understood in all hotels and most restaurants. In big cities and on major roads, most signs are in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.
The Israeli currency is the Shekel (officially “New Israeli Shekel” or NIS), worth around 30 US cents. On arrival in Israel, it’s a good idea to use your bank-card to withdraw some Shekels from the ATM in the arrival hall at Ben Gurion Airport. There are ATM machines all over Israel and credit cards are widely accepted.
The shekel is divided into 100 agorot, and the smallest denomination you will encounter is a copper-colored 5-agorot coin, but these are hardly in circulation anymore. There are 10-agorot copper-colored coins, and larger, copper 50-agorot (half-shekel) coins, all useful for bus fares. The 1-shekel coin is a tiny silver buttonlike object that is extremely easy to lose. There are also 2-, 5- and 10-shekel coins, as well as 20-, 50-, and 100-shekel notes. Note: The new, small 10-shekel coins are not popular, as they are easily lost and counterfeit 10-shekel coins abound. You can tell a fake 10-shekel coin by its smooth or irregularly grooved rims. If you don't catch it, you're out approximately $2.50.
When you change money, ask for some small bills or loose change. Petty cash will come in handy for tipping and taxis (Israeli taxi drivers never seem to have change when a foreigner tries to pay). Consider keeping the change separate from your larger bills so that it's readily accessible.
International ATM debit cards will only work at Israeli ATMs specifically marked to accept them. These machines usually have decals for PLUS, Cirrus, Visa, MasterCard, or international flags on them. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, these ATMs are easy to find in heavily touristed areas, but in other cities they are few and far between, so you should stock up on shekels while you can.
All restaurants'. guides' and drivers' gratuities are included in the tour's cost, as well as porterage at the hotels. The hotel maids' gratuity is at your discretion, and about 5NIS per day is common. When you are on your own, waiters should receive a percentage of the bill, usually 10%, that reflects the quality of the service, but check first if the service charge is already included. Taxi drivers do not expect tips unless they have helped you load or carry luggage.
Here are some suggestions on items to bring back from Israel as souvenirs:
- Tubi 60 This potent and enigmatic Israeli liquor was created in 2012 by two brothers from the northern Israeli city of Haifa. It is characterized by its cloudy appearance and strong citrusy and gingery taste. Its effects, some drinkers claim, are a combination of being drunk and being high. Due to this, it was rumored to contain kat (ghat), a plant that gives users similar sensations. Consumed either as a shot or with ice and sparkling water, Tubi 60 is a must buy when in Israel for anyone seeking a big night out!
- Bamba These peanut butter flavored crisps are a staple in family homes throughout Israel. Light and crunchy, Bamba is not only a delicious snack, but it is a medically beneficial one! A recent British study found that these addictive treats can prevent nut allergies when eaten by young children.
- Locally made arts and crafts Israel is home to a vibrant community of artists and creators, so it is no surprise you can find beautiful handmade arts and crafts in the Jewish state. Head to Nahalat Binyamin, a long street adjacent to Carmel Market in central Tel Aviv, where twice a week there’s an excellent arts and crafts market. You’ll find anything from beautiful handmade jewelry to quirky gifts and stunning prints from Israeli photographers. Alternatively, head north to the picturesque towns of Rosh Pina and Zichron Yaakov, where you’ll find numerous shops selling Israeli arts, crafts and other souvenirs.
- Israeli wine See for yourself why Condé Nast Traveller ranked Israel as the third hottest wine destination for 2017. With over 200 boutique wineries throughout Israel, from Golan Heights Winery in the Golan region to Tishbi Winery in Binyamina, there is plenty of choice for wine connoisseurs. Misty Hills (red) by the Tzora winery in the Judean Hills, and Chardonnay (white) by Matar Winery in the Galilee region, were among the Israeli wines most highly rated by the venerable wine publication Wine Spectator in 2016.
- Rare Hebrew literature Nestled minutes from Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, on a side alley off Allenby Street, is Halper’s Book Store. Here you can find a large selection of literature in numerous languages, including rare Israeli magazines as old as the state itself. These give a fascinating glimpse into the culture of the nascent Jewish state and are certainly interesting items to own. Rare Hebrew books and other collectors items can also be found at M. Pollak Books, on nearby King George Street.
- Hebrew name necklaces Wander through the shuk in Jerusalem’s Old City and you’ll find jewelry stores where you can get personalized Hebrew name necklaces made right in front of you. You’ll be hard pressed to find places doing the same anywhere outside of Israel, so be sure to buy one in the Holy Land – they make for great gifts. Just don’t forget to haggle!
The American Embassy is at 71 Ha-Yarkon St., Tel Aviv (tel. 03/519-7575)
The U.S. Consulate-General in East Jerusalem is at 27 Nablus Rd. (tel. 02/628-7137; http://jerusalem.usconsulate.gov)
The Canadian Embassy is in Tel Aviv at 3 Nirim St., Beit Hasepanut, Yad Eliahu (tel. 03/636-3300)
The Australian Embassy is at 23 Yehuda Ha-Levi St., Tel Aviv (tel. 03/693-5000).