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Israel, November 2018

Pauline

Forums Admin
#21
We have been here for a week! Only two days left in Jerusalem, then we head to the Dead Sea.

Today we went to Bethlehem in the West Bank. I researched it on the Trip Advisor forums and decided we could do it ourselves, instead of on a tour, and by bus, instead of by taxi. We walked from our apartment down to the Hebron Road where we caught a West Bank bus. These buses run from a station near the Damascus Gate of the Old City into the West Bank. They are not part of the main Jerusalem bus system, Egged, and you cannot use your Rav Kav card but instead pay the driver.

Two buses go to Bethlehem - the 234 to Checkpoint 300 and the 231 to the Hebron Road, a 20 minute walk to the main Bethlehem sites (Manger Square, Church of the Nativity).

We took bus 234 which goes straight east on the Hebron Road and stops in front of Checkpoint 300 and the huge separation wall. It cost 4.70 NIS each for the bus. The bus was modern and clean and not crowded. They run frequently - we waited only a few minutes. We got off the bus and walked through the checkpoint. You go through two unmanned security gates. And then you are in the Palastinian Territories. I've read about the taxi drivers that hang around here and hassle you to get business, but it was nowhere near as bad as I have read. One or two taxi drivers called out to us. Another one followed along with us telling us we needed a cab as it was a two hour walk to Manger Square (it is a 40 minute walk). I found a page online that shows you exactly how to walk from the checkpoint to the Banksy Walled Off Hotel. We walked it in 10 minutes.

The hotel is a few feet from the Separation Wall and it is covered in graffeti - more like artwork than regular graffeti. We went into the hotel, spoke to the people there, visited the museum (15NIS each), walked around the art gallery. After 10 minutes of chaos outside (yes, I was pretty nervous about being in the West Bank), it was cool and calm inside.

We had planned to walk the 40 minutes to Manger Square but after our short walk I could see it would not be a nice walk. The sidewalks are not good for walking - uneven, cracked, they disappear - and you are in the middle of a busy city. I asked the hotel to call a taxi for us. We paid the hotel, not the taxi, 25NIS, and waited a few minutes. The taxi took us to Manger Square.

We went into the Church of the Nativity but did not line up to see the grotto where Jesus was born. The church was packed and the line was very long. We walked around Manger Square - restaurants and shops with a parking lot in the middle. Then we walked up to the Milk Grotto (turned white from Mary's brest milk), but did not go into it. Again very crowded.

We walked back to Hebron Road - about 30 minutes along pedestrian lanes lined with shops. Busy but fun. The tourist crowds don't make it here. I could not figure out where to get the bus, the 231 back to Jerusalem, but asked some women and they pointed us to the stop where a bus was waiting. They bus went through a lot of neighborhoods and came out on Highway 60 where it drove to the checkpoint (a different one from the one we came in). Everyone stayed on the bus and an Israeli customs officer, followed by a soldier with a weapon, walked through and glanced at people's passports. I don't understand the system but I think Palastinians have visas which they show at the checkpoints. It was all pretty quick and the bus continued back to Jerusalem. We got off at the stop where we had got on 2 1/2 hours earlier.

So, we did it. I don't have a lot of interest in Christian religious sites and that is what Bethlehem is all about, but this was an opportunity to see the wall, and see the West Bank.

Lunch back at the apartment (we bought falafel and those long sesame bagels in Bethlehem). Then we took the bus to the Old City and went in the Damascus Gate (Muslim Quarter). We went to the same cafe that we went to last time, where a very friendly guy served us a good coffee (I had Arabic coffee, Steve had espresso) and we could watch the people go by.

Then we dived into the crowds and walked for way too long along narrow, crowded streets lined with shops. It is fun but it feels claustrophobic after awhile. At one point a large group of pilgrims carrying a huge wooden cross were in front of us.

We got to the Church of the Redeemer (where we were headed) and climbed up the tower for an excellent view of the Old City and beyond. Thanks @joe for recommending this. BUT it was 178 steps up on a stone circular staircase which started out narrow with a low ceiling and got worse. The last 130 steps were very tight. I have issues with claustrophia and we started up and I had to call it off. Then we looked at the excavations below the church and walked around a bit and I worked up my nerve and we did it. Once you are up there it is fabulous. The light was perfect and we could see into the West Bank and past it to Jordan. It was not spacious up there, but there were only a few people.

Back into the lanes of shops and out to Jaffa Gate. Then we walked up Jaffa Road (to find an ATM to stock up for our time in the Negev). By now it was 4:30 and starting to get dark. I like the Jaffa Road. It is pedestrian with the Light Rail running in the middle. The sidewalks are wide, the shops interesting and there are a lot of cafes and restaurants.

We walked along another shopping street and found a Wallace Statue, like the ones in France! We saw one in Uzes. Then we hopped on the bus and took it to First Station and walked home in the dark from there, stopping only for pomegrante juice.

Tomorrow we pick up our rental car and drive out to go hiking, or at least that is the plan.














 

Anne

100+ Posts
#22
Interesting that you were nervous being in the West Bank. I spent most of my time there and can't wait to go back! Such warm and hospitable people. (I was there at the invitation of Palestinian Christians...more of a working trip for me, rather than a vacation.)

I wish you and I lived close enough to get together in person. I'd love to have a conversation about our different experiences in this beautiful land.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#23
Interesting that you were nervous being in the West Bank.
Nervous because I had not been there before, neither of us speak or read Arabic, we were not with a group or guide, I wasn't sure how to walk from Checkpoint 300 to Manger Square or where we would get the bus going back, and the only Middle East country that I have been to is Israel which is pretty organized and easy for me to navigate. Plus, in general, I am a nervous person. Sicily made me nervous too. Also all the tension between the Palastinian Territories and Israel which seems to be hotting up right now with the situation in Gaza.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#24
Friday, which is like the UK Saturday. Get ready because everything will be closed Friday evening and Saturday.

We picked up the rental car at Hertz. This time I booked through their .co.il website and bought all the insurance. Last time I booked through AutoEurope and bought insurance but had to buy it again when at the Hertz counter. They wanted us to pay $20/day more for a Honda Civic because even though it is the same class of car that I booked, it was more powerful and we would need that in the Negev. Nice try. Then they lowered it to $10/day. I pointed out how much I was paying for a 12 day rental (almost $700!!) and I was not interested in paying more. They gave us the Honda Civic for no extra charge - because that was the only car they had available. Car rental companies are starting to drive me crazy. And I don't even like a Honda Civic!

We drove back to our neighborhood and parked half a block from our apartment! Needless worry about would we find a place to park! I used the Pango app on my phone to register our car and pay for parking. I wasn't sure how it worked so stopped a guy walking by who not only spoke English but knew the app and he showed me how to use it.

We walked out and joined the Shabbot shoppers. Just like last Friday we got Challah (bread) and a prepared meal (vegetables for me, vegetables and salmon for Steve). We went back, put it in the fridge, and headed out into Friday traffic. In our religious neighborhood everyone is trying to get their shopping done before everything closes at 3pm. We were only driving 30 minutes to a hiking area but it took longer because of the traffic in our area. Once we got on the highway things went better.

Waze, the GPS app, took us on highway 60 which goes along the border with the West Bank. At one point we were just a block from the road we were on in Bethlehem when we took the bus. Highway 60 even goes into a tunnel which seems to go under part of the Bethlehem area. We drove through two checkpoints with military but no one was stopped. We drove through.

Bar Bahar Cafe/Restaurant is a popular lunch spot for people from Jerusalem, open on weekends only I think. The parking lot was busy but we found a spot. Our hike, Wadi Ktalav Hike from Israel by Foot, started there.

This hike is 7.5km, 300m climb and rated as "moderate". I would have to disagree on that moderate rating. We started at 1pm (okay, we got a late start) and finished just before 5pm as it was getting dark. The trail goes out along the wadi (wadi means canyon), high up on the hillside with great views, then goes down to the wadi floor and walks back. The upper trail was narrow with a lot of stone. When it started going down we had to clamber down some steep stone bits. We each had one walking pole, so that helped. The views were stunning. We met two guys doing the trail - they went one way, we went the other, but we met up again half way through as we were circling back. Other than them, no one.

We were a bit worried we would be hiking in the dark and I did not have my flashlight. I am going to add headlamps to my hiking kit (which currently consists of whistles in case we get lost and a first aid bag).

At one point we passed old stone terraces and then an old Muslim grave called Dir a Sheich.

At the bottom of the trail we walked for a bit along the valley with the Jerusalem to Tel Aviv train line. It still runs but it meanders through several towns and takes two hours to get to Tel Aviv (I think). A new electric train has just started (from the airport, will be from Tel Aviv soon) that takes under an hour. We passed and abandoned railway station too.

The hike along the Wadi floor had some difficult climbing. There were even handholds put into some of the rock. It was a tough uphill back to where we started, but we made it before it got dark. We even had time to walk out to a viewpoint (lame, the trees have grown up and there is not much of a view, and the sign showing where things are was lying on a rock). And time for a coffee and fruit frozen thing which is popular here and I had not had one before.

We drove back on empty roads. This time we were stopped at one of the checkpoints and the soldier looked at our passports and visa.

As we got to our neighborhood it was dark and everyone was walking to the synagogues. We krept down the roads because people were walking on them. It was magical - dark, mild, all these people out walking in large groups. We parked exactly where we had parked this morning. Then had a lovely dinner.






 

Anne

100+ Posts
#25
Nervous because I had not been there before, neither of us speak or read Arabic, we were not with a group or guide, I wasn't sure how to walk from Checkpoint 300 to Manger Square or where we would get the bus going back, and the only Middle East country that I have been to is Israel which is pretty organized and easy for me to navigate. Plus, in general, I am a nervous person. Sicily made me nervous too. Also all the tension between the Palastinian Territories and Israel which seems to be hotting up right now with the situation in Gaza.
I hope my comment didn't come across as judgmental or belittling. I appreciate hearing different perspectives was what I meant. I'm really enjoying your posts!
 

Anne

100+ Posts
#26
As we got to our neighborhood it was dark and everyone was walking to the synagogues. We krept down the roads because people were walking on them. It was magical - dark, mild, all these people out walking in large groups.
What a perfect description. I loved our Friday evening in Jerusalem, for the same reason. I also found it very moving watching the people pray at the Wall and welcome Shabbat - such joy, it was infectious!
 

joe

100+ Posts
#27
Pauline posted :


Wadi Ktalav Hike
The Wadi is named for the red Arbutus trees.

These are one of the most beautiful wild trees in the country, and have a protected status. They are relatives of the North American "strawberry tree", and the European madrones.
The strength of the wood made it very useful in the making of tools and construction in previous times, making its numbers dwindle, and hence the need to protect it.
I don't see much use of the fruits here in Israel - even among people who like collecting wild fruit - although in Italy we'd see quite a bit of them in the markets. They have a slightly astringent taste and some seeds, so not always popular. Ready in late autumn.

 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#28

Pauline

Forums Admin
#29
I hope my comment didn't come across as judgmental or belittling. I appreciate hearing different perspectives was what I meant. I'm really enjoying your posts!
No it didn't. I gave some thought to your question and answered it as best I could. Today, driving out of Jerusalem into the suburbs, the new residential areas and into Area C of the West Bank I realized that I am still pretty nervous about Israel in general. I wasn't on our last trip but probably because I was completely freaked about that trip and the reality was much better than I had imagined.

If I am this nervous about it, then why come to Israel? The first trip was a "roots" trip for Steve. This is where his relatives would live if they hadn't been lucky enough to emmigrate to Canada well before WWII and had survived. He probably has relatives here. The second trip was because we had such a great first trip. Our current plan is to return each year.
 

joe

100+ Posts
#30
@joe on that walk we went through a part of dead trees. They were still standing and their cones where on them making it very beautiful. Would they have died because of the drought?
Most certainly. Maybe some, or many of them, are dry, but not completely dead - hard to say from the photos. But for sure the forests in the country are suffering from the droughts of recent years. Pines are not even indigenous to Israel, so their resistance to drought is not very high, at least not as high as local species of the woods. I haven't heard of outbreaks of pests, which could be the only other reason.
The fact that the last 10 (or maybe more) years have been the driest on record has also caused a rise in the severity of forest fires.
I suppose that much the same is happening in other places in the world, unfortunately.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#31
Our last day in Jerusalem. I am sad about leaving! The big city-ness of it is getting to me, but only when we drive or bus out for hiking. Here in the German Colony, Old City and the modern center I love it. And once we are out of the city and hiking, I love it there. It is the very modern growing outskirts that unnerves me. So many people!

We drove north of town, about 30 minutes, to get to the Ein Prat Nature Reserve for the Wadi Kelt (sometimes Qelt) hike. This is the third hike we've done from Israel by Foot. This one was rated as moderate and after yesterday's moderate hike I realize I can only go with their easy ones.

I am 63, not 43, and today I came up against that reality. These trails are hard! They are not like our lovely Dorset trails on well worn paths. These trails are rocky so you have to walk slow and watch your feet. You have to climb up over large rock ledges and I can barely manage it. Steel hand holds are provided but it is still difficult. Steve, eight years older but slender and in good shape, has no problems. But I can feel the strain on my knees and ankles.

Wadi Kelt is in the West Bank. No one mentions that when they tell you about this hike! It is in Area C which is Israeli controlled, but you pass through a checkpoint and the separation wall to get there. I think we even had to drive into a settlement (new Israeli towns built in the West Bank - very controversial) to get to the park! There was a barrier with an armed guard. I may be wrong because even away from the West Bank most towns here have barriers. Even Ein Gedi where we go next has a barrier and a guard.

The landscape is barren. We drive down a very good but winding road to the bottom of the Wadi. There were a few people there (maybe 30 cars) hiking, rock climbing, picnicing. We had to pay 29NIS each to get into the park. If I had managed to find a place to buy an Israel Park Pass in Jerusalem we could have used it. They did not sell them at this park. I will buy one at Ein Gedi.

The hike is in two parts. We started with a short walk upstream to the main Ein Prat (Prat Spring). This is where the river starts and it flows year round. In Roman times Herod had his winter home here. An aqueduct brought water to Jericho. In more recent times this spring was used for East Jerusalem, until they were hooked up to the main Jerusalem water. The canyon is steep and rocky. It is lush and green along the edges of the river.

It was hot - an introduction to the hot weather we will have for the next 10 days and we make our way around the Negev.

The second part of the hike goes downstream, along the river. After a few kilometers you cross to the other side of the river and return higher up on the Wadi wall. We didn't make it that far. We walked out for 30 or 40 minutes, passed several pools and small waterfalls, scrambled up steep rocks and gave up because I did not want to do any more climbing. Still, we did get a good way out. There were not many people around but most of the pools had people in or around them. In the summer this must get very crowded.

At the point where we turned around I realized that we were looking at the remains of a Roman aqueduct. The hike description said there were some here but we hadn't spotted anything until then.

The drive out in the morning was easy - because of Shabbot there was hardly any traffic. There was more traffic going back but it wasn't bad. We got home around 3pm (an easy day out) and them went for a walk around our neighborhood walking along the Train Line park which we love, stopping for pomegranate juice, and seeing some new areas.

Dinner at home and I am packing. We parked the car right outside the building - we've been lucky with parking. Tomorrow - Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea.










 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#33
I just found out there has been bad flooding around the Dead Sea with a road collapse and hikers caught in flash floods. That is where we are heading tomorrow!

Times of Israel - Flash flooding collapses part of Route 90 near Dead Sea
Police say other parts of the major north-south highway at risk due to heavy rains; IDF search-and-rescue team airlifts four stranded hikers to safety

From the Times of Israel: "In the last three weeks, 17 people have been killed on the road which runs from Metula in the north to Eilat in the south. Last Tuesday, eight members of one family were killed in a head-on collision near the Dead Sea. On Sunday, six Palestinians from East Jerusalem died in a similar crash in the Jordan Valley."
 
#34
Yes..... flooding! Be very very careful and maybe rethink plans. The recent years of drought means that when the rain comes on the dry roads they flood even more suddenly than usual, and people are trapped and drown. And it IS the rainy season now.

Good that you’re checking local papers. If you’re not already doing so, look at the TA Forum, as some of the guides who post there really know where it’s dangerous.

Your hiking photos are spectacular!
 
#35
Yes..... flooding! Be very very careful and maybe rethink plans. The recent years of drought means that when the rain comes on the dry roads they flood even more suddenly than usual, and people are trapped and drown. And it IS the rainy season now.

Good that you’re checking local papers. If you’re not already doing so, look at the TA Forum, as some of the guides who post there really know where it’s dangerous.

Your hiking photos are spectacular!
Aah—- I see you did ask and got answers.
 
#36
I just found out there has been bad flooding around the Dead Sea with a road collapse and hikers caught in flash floods. That is where we are heading tomorrow!

Times of Israel - Flash flooding collapses part of Route 90 near Dead Sea
Police say other parts of the major north-south highway at risk due to heavy rains; IDF search-and-rescue team airlifts four stranded hikers to safety

From the Times of Israel: "In the last three weeks, 17 people have been killed on the road which runs from Metula in the north to Eilat in the south. Last Tuesday, eight members of one family were killed in a head-on collision near the Dead Sea. On Sunday, six Palestinians from East Jerusalem died in a similar crash in the Jordan Valley."
Yes, Pauline, I just wanted to let you know that there were very recently deadly floods in Jordan and in Israel. This is a capricious season and floods are sudden and powerful, particularly along wadis. When you decide to hike in the wadis, which are exceptionally spectacular, try to get updated meteorological information. If you are with a guide INSIST the she/he checks the "Tahazit mezeg ha-avir", i.e. the weather forecast.
Good luck. Enjoy. Your story is must reading for our younger son and his wife, towards their own trip to Israel next year! Hugs, D.
 
#38
We got a parking ticket! We read up on the parking regulations. The woman who runs the agency we rent from told us it was free parking on our street. I installed the Pango app for paid parking and the first day we parked on blue and white curb for paid parking. And yet the second day we parked on the street in front of our apartment and this morning got a ticket. 100 shekels that we will never see again! :)

Steve says no trip is complete unless you get a parking ticket. On closer examination there was a tiny sign, scrunched up with a sticker plastered on it, in Hebrew, that said permit only. And our vacation rental person said she clearly told me it was around the corner that was free (she is right, I checked the email).

We went to the post office to pay the ticket but there was a big crowd so we decided to pay it later in the trip.

The drive to Ein Gedi went well. It is very barren once you get east of Jerusalem. We passed sea level and kept going down. Once you make the right turn on highway 90 you can see the Dead Sea and the Jordon Mountains on the other side. It is a beautiful drive. The road was closed on Saturday because of flooding, but there was no evidence of it on our drive.

As we were driving by the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, almost at the hotel, two small animals ran across the road in front of us. They were young Ibex and they were in a herd of about 50 Ibex. Most of them had gone across. We turned off and drove where they were going then got out of the car to watch them. Most were young but there were several males with huge curved horns. These young ones must have been born in March when we came here hoping to see Ibex. We were told they were all up at the mountain tops giving birth.

It was amazing. We've wanted to see a herd of Ibex for a long time. This was our first time seeing a male with very large horns. We watched them for about 15 mins and they ran past us and up into the mountains. They went up into an area of new trees and some of them stood on hind legs to eat leaves. Finally!! Ibex!!

We checked into the hotel and got the room beside the one we had last time. Lovely view up Wadi Arugot. We had lunch at the cafe then went for a walk around the Kibbutz. The Nature Reserve closes at 4pm and the last entrance is 3pm, so we missed going there.

Instead we had a dip in the Dead Sea - in the pool at the hotel. It is real Dead Sea water, without all the fuss of driving to their spa on the edge of where the Dead Sea was 20 years ago and then taking a shuttle out to the current edge of the Dead Sea. On our last trip we did not go into the Dead Sea but I put my hand in at Ein Bokek where you can walk up to the edge easily. Today when I got in the water it felt sort of slimy and interesting. Then my legs just lifted up and I was floating. And I couldn't easily get back to a standing position. After awhile I figured it out, but that water is buoyant. Even after a shower I felt kind of slimy.

Dinner tonight at the hotel Kosher restaurant. It is a meat meal but there are a lot of vegetarian options and Steve had some fish. It is fun being back here. This is a special place. Tonight the breeze was warm and gentle and it felt like Hawaii with all the flowering bushes and palms trees growing in the Kibbutz.




 

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