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Frommer's EasyGuide to Israel

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Selling for a lower price than any similar guidebook, and deliberately limited to a short 256 pages, this EasyGuide is an exercise in creating easily-absorbed travel information. It emphasizes the authentic experiences in each destination:the most important attractions, the classic method of approaching a particular destination; the best choices for accommodations and meals; the best ways to maximize the enjoyment of your stay. Because it is "quick to read, light to carry", it is called an "EasyGuide", and reflects Arthur Frommer's lifetime of experience in presenting clear and concise travel advice.

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11 Chapters

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1. THE BEST OF ISRAEL

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THE BEST OF ISRAEL

For a country the size of New Jersey, Israel is startlingly diverse. When you find yourself in the silent, haunting desertscape near the Dead Sea, spotting ibexes on cliffs that are dotted with inaccessible caves—like those in which the Dead Sea Scrolls lay hidden for more than 18 centuries—it can be hard to believe that less than 60 minutes away is the 19th-century East European ghetto world of Jerusalem’s Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter. And a few blocks from Mea Shearim, you’ll find the labyrinthine medieval Arab bazaars of the Old City, with calls to prayer from the city’s minarets punctuating your wanderings. Hop into a sherut (shared taxi) to Tel Aviv, and in an hour you’re in a world of glass skyscrapers, surfboards, and bikinis on the beach. Travel 2½ hours to the north, and you can explore ruined Crusader castles in the green forests of the Galilee Mountains.

The Holy Land surprises visitors in other ways as well. Thirty-five years ago, the country was still an austere, no-frills society—Israelis lived with few luxuries, and this spartan life was part of the national ideology. Today, Israeli society is frenetically inventive, the country’s economy is booming, the standard of living has skyrocketed, and many surveys rank Israel’s percapita income among the top 20 in the world. Israel is becoming a nation with a lively sense of style and a taste for the good life. Luxury and better-quality hotel accommodations have popped up all over the country, and visitors find an interesting array of restaurants, shopping opportunities, and sophisticated boutique wineries.

 

2. SUGGESTED ITINERARIES

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SUGGESTED ITINERARIES

Without a doubt, Jerusalem is the most fascinating place in Israel, so if you have a very limited amount of time, plan to spend much of it there. Distances are not great in Israel, and it is possible to get a quick taste of the desert, the Mediterranean coast, and even the Sea of Galilee on organized day trips from Jerusalem. But if you want to visit Eilat or get a real feel for the Galilee, then you’re going to have to get on the road and move around the country. To help you make the most of your time, this chapter offers two itineraries. The first is for the time-dependent traveler who can spend only a week or two in Israel. The second is specifically designed for families. The chapter also includes a summary of each region in the country for those who prefer to plan their own itineraries.

ISRAEL IN 2 WEEKS

This itinerary allows time to enjoy the beauty and variety of Israel’s landscapes. You’ll swim in four seas and have a solid block of time in which to explore Jerusalem, the jewel in the crown.

 

3. ISRAEL IN CONTEXT

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ISRAEL IN CONTEXT

Israel lies on the tectonic plates where the continents of Africa and Asia, the East and the West, and the Heavenly and the Earthly all collide. No other place is quite like it.

Not only is Israel the birthplace of religions and ideas that lie at the heart of Western Civilization, but this tiny land encompasses incredible diversity on every level—deserts and forested mountains, awesome holy sites and hedonistic beaches, ancient walled cities and coral reefs in crystal-clear waters, medieval bazaars and sleek high-tech society. To millions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Israel is the Holy Land where Solomon reigned in all his glory, where Jesus taught and performed miracles, and where Muhammad visited during a miraculous night journey from Mecca. Yet amid this swirl of charisma, history, legends, and spiritual pull, Israel is also a modern, lively, innovative country that’s fun and fascinating for visitors.

Israel Today

 

4. SETTLING INTO JERUSALEM

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SETTLING INTO JERUSALEM

Planning your trip to Jerusalem needn’t cause you undue tsuris (that’s the Yiddish word for “stress”). This chapter covers the best ways to navigate the city and introduces you to the city’s most authentic and evocative restaurants and hotels, places that truly wouldn’t exist outside the Holy Land. With these suggestions in hand, the practical issues involved in your stay should go smoothly and allow you to concentrate on sightseeing (covered in chapter 5), which is really the reason you’ve come to Israel. But having a nice place to stay and great meals surely adds to the overall experience.

ORIENTATION

Arriving

BY PLANE    Ben-Gurion Airport is the country’s international arrivals center. It’s a 45-minute drive west of Jerusalem and a 25-minute drive in the opposite direction to Tel Aviv. There are a number of options to get from Ben-Gurion into Jerusalem.

 

5. EXPLORING JERUSALEM

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EXPLORING JERUSALEM

Jerusalem has been a holy city for 3,000 years, far eclipsing the length of time that any other place has carried such a title. It is also a holy city for all three major religions of the Western world: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the past 150 years, Jerusalem has slowly expanded from a mysterious, charismatic walled city in the Judean mountains to a modern metropolis spread across the surrounding hills. It’s a complicated Chinese box of exotic communities, ancient traditions, and rivalries, plus the highest hopes and aspirations of humanity. There is no place on earth like it.

The city invites exploration. Jerusalem’s sacred sites and dramatic vistas are filled with exoticism and meaning. In 1 day, you may find yourself wandering the Old City’s bazaars; awestruck by the golden, shimmering Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount; overwhelmed by the site of the Crucifixion; or by Yad VaShem, the memorial and museum dedicated to the six million Jews who fell victim to the Nazis. Later you’ll stop in your tracks, mesmerized by the evening calls to prayer echoing through the streets of the Old City.

 

6. THE DEAD SEA & MASADA

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THE DEAD SEA & MASADA

Israel has many dramatic sights. But these two—one an unparalleled natural wonder, the other the site of extraordinary courage and tragedy—may well top the list. And happily, they can be seen in easy day trips from Jerusalem, either separately or in tandem.

THE DEAD SEA

The Dead Sea, so dense with salt and other minerals that it’s impossible to sink, is the lowest point by far on the face of the earth. It’s also the most otherworldly body of water on the planet.

The southern part of the Dead Sea, where travelers like to experience the floating sensation, can have a metallic sheen in soft daylight, while in noon sunlight, it can be sky blue with miragelike white “saltbergs” floating on its surface. The northern coast (along Hwy. 1) is rugged and beautiful. At Ein Gedi and the spa hotel strip at Ein Bokek, the water is the most dense and helpful for skin diseases such as psoriasis. These were Cleopatra’s favorite waters for her beauty needs, and today the water and the mud are said to be cleansing for the skin and scalp, improving skin texture and even smoothing wrinkles.

 

7. THE GALILEE

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THE GALILEE

The Galilee, encompassing much of Northern Israel, is an inviting network of forested hills, olive groves, kibbutzim, and Israeli Arab towns and villages. At this region’s eastern edge is Israel’s greatest natural treasure: the Sea of Galilee, a 2½-hour drive north of Jerusalem. This magical, turquoise body of water is a jewel-like, freshwater lake, set amidst a circle of mountains, and surrounded by dramatic Old and New Testament sites.

Organized bus tours can take you through the highlights of this region, but, if possible, the Galilee is the place to bring a rental car so you can free-wheel and explore including a stay for a few days at a Kibbutz Guesthouse or country lodge. Beyond the circuit around the Sea of Galilee, some of the area’s highlights include:

Safad (Tsfat): A mountain city 33km (20 miles) drive northeast of the Sea of Galilee, this has been a center for Jewish scholarship and mysticism since the 15th century; the old city is filled with quaint lanes and artists’ homes.

 

8. TEL AVIV

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TEL AVIV

Tel Aviv has become one of the hottest travel destinations on the planet, with rave reviews from travel magazines, TV pundits, and good old-fashioned word of mouth. “Best for Style,” “Best Urban Beaches,” “Best Gay Destination,” “Best Foodie Scene,” and “Best Nightlife”—these are just a few of the accolades heaped on the city. It’s not exotic or charismatic, like Jerusalem. Nor is it a magnificent world capital, like Paris. It’s not even picturesque, like Amsterdam. But the lively, creative spirit of the people of Tel Aviv, mixed with miles of easy-going beaches and Mediterranean surf, make this a city with real personality.

That being said, Tel Aviv is everything Jerusalem is not. The city was founded much later, in 1909, to be exact, along a gorgeous strip of beach on the Mediterranean. Known locally as the Big Orange, Tel Aviv has no holy sites and until its founding, it had no history. What it does have is oyster bars, nightclubs, samba sessions on the beach on summer evenings, and miles and miles of massive medium-rise apartment buildings. In summer, the heat and humidity can put New Orleans to shame, but a short walk or bus ride can always get you to the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean

 

9. THE GOLDEN COAST

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THE GOLDEN COAST

Like the rest of the country, the Mediterranean Coast combines the old and the new in a uniquely Israeli way. Neon and chrome shopping malls and golden beaches exist side by side with biblical, Roman, and Crusader sites. The vast archaeological ruins of Caesarea, washed by Mediterranean waves and dotted with wonderful places to dine, is probably the most romantic ancient site in Israel. Further north, Haifa (Israel’s third major metropolis) provides a smart base from which to explore the northern coast and the Western Galilee. Just north of Haifa, the medieval walled seaport of Akko (Acre), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of Israel’s hidden treasures.

CAESAREA

Caesarea (40km or 25 miles north of Tel Aviv) was the culminating vision of Herod the Great (37 B.C.–4 B.C.), who created a new, spectacular classical Roman city by the sea to rival Alexandria as the greatest metropolis of the Eastern Mediterranean. Since it had no natural port, he built a vast artificial harbor. On the empty sands, he constructed theaters facing the sea, temples, hippodromes, palaces, colonnaded avenues, and markets. A thousand years later, the city was reborn as a Crusader fortress, but after the Crusades, the ruins of the city were covered by sand and forgotten.

 

10. EILAT & PETRA

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EILAT & PETRA

At the southern tip of Israel, a 4-hour drive across the Negev from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, the Red Sea resort of Eilat is a world apart from the rest of the country. It’s a place where Israelis and tourists love to come for a few days to unwind and relax. There’s no history to absorb, just easily accessible coral reefs to snorkel and plenty of beaches. Even in winter, when Jerusalem can be cold and raw and Tel Aviv can be chilly, Eilat’s beaches are usually warm enough for sunbathing and at least a quick swim in the Red Sea. There are tons of hotels in every price range, and although most are not directly on the town’s beachfronts, most have large swimming pools with many of them heated for winter. Summers in Eilat are blazing hot and usually filled with vacationing Israeli families.

Eilat is also the closest and most convenient border crossing into Jordan if you plan to visit Petra—unlike the busy Allenby Bridge Crossing from the West Bank into Jordan (where you must have a visa issued at a Jordanian embassy ahead of time), visas are issued on the spot at the Eilat-Aqaba Crossing, and there are far fewer crowds and processing delays.

 

11. PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO ISRAEL

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PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO ISRAEL

Israel is a tricky country to visit even when it’s at its absolute best. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim holidays dot the calendar with accompanying high season crowds and prices. It’s also a very compact country in a politically sensitive part of the world. Whenever political tensions subside for awhile, the floodgates open and the country is awash with a backlog of travelers who have been waiting to visit. Because Israel is so small, hotel rates skyrocket during these times. The minute hostilities rise or an act of terrorism occurs, tourism dips and you have the entire country to yourself. This chapter helps you get the most out of your stay with a variety of planning tools, including information on how to get there, tips on where to stay, and quick, on-the-ground resources.

GETTING THERE

By Plane

Israel’s main international airport Ben-Gurion (TLV) is approximately 20 minutes by train or taxi from Tel Aviv and 45 minutes by private or shared taxi from Jerusalem. The other international airport is Eilat, at the southern tip of Israel, but it is mainly used for direct charter package flights from Europe and flights from inside the country.

 

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