Family travel to Israel is a rich and rewarding experience. A huge factor for us in choosing Israel was that it brought the opportunity for visiting Palestine. We didn’t know if it was possible, but we wanted to show our boys the wall and the West Bank, and to show them that not everyone lives as freely as we do in New Zealand. And ultimately we wanted to see Jerusalem for ourselves and learn about Judaism. We knew little about it before arriving and were excited to see the most holy of places for Jewish people. The chance for a trip to also see the birthplace of Jesus Christ and Christianity added even more to the reasons ‘why’ we needed to visit.
We arrived in Israel after spending the months prior in majority Islamic countries in the Middle East and Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan). Visiting Bethlehem for the day spun a whole different learning and focus for us all. We took the bus and set off to visit the Shepherds Field and Church of Nativity.
It was a great outing and an interesting day for considering the events depicted in the bible from two thousand years ago.
However, it was slightly tricky to imagine it as it may have been that long ago. Bethlehem was far from the images we had imagined growing up, with dusty little roads, mud bricks buildings, shepherds and donkeys…
Note that the town of Bethlehem is now actually situated within the West Bank of the Palestine Territories. We took a local bus from just outside the gates of Jerusalem into Palestine for the day. From there we visited and explored the Church of Nativity and the Shepherds Fields by taxi and on foot.
THE JEWISH QUARTER IN JERUSALEM
A new day, a new lesson!
It was really interesting wandering the Jewish Quarter (also more than imagining how it would be to get lost in the Jewish Quarter!) and making our way through some of the holiest and most famous sights of Judaism.
We watched everyone at the Wailing Wall; which is the most religious site in the world for Jewish people. And happily wound our way through the old alley ways past modern and historic synagogues.
We loved getting lost (literally) and wandering the old streets of Jerusalem! The entire Old City is surrounded by ancient walls, and is home to some of the most famous holy sites in the world. After the Western Wall, we admired the golden architecture of the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine. We then found our way towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which dates to the 4th century). Family travel to Israel certainly sparks a lot of learning; for everyone in the family!
TWO DAYS IN TEL AVIV
Out and about in Israel, with the first stop of course, at the markets. (We wound up a three minute walk from the most famous of the Tel Aviv markets!).
It felt quite an unusual sense of freedom to be in Tel Aviv after months in Islamic countries. We could see backpackers walking around and locals wandering in shorts and jandals. We even saw both tourists AND locals sharing a beer in the little cafes lining the old winding streets of the old town!
WHERE WE STAYED
- Tel Aviv: 1000 Nights Guest House [amazing location! Five minutes walk to beach and local market. Self-check in; rooftop common area; shared kitchen/bathroom; 100m from bus stop!].
- Jerusalem: Citadel Youth Hostel [great location inside Old City; hard to find. Basic room with four single beds; rooftop terrace and great shared spaces; friendly; bathrooms and kitchen not perfectly clean].
GETTING TO JERUSALEM…
Who opts for the 2.1km walk with backpacks, when there is a tram??
That was us, all too soon realising our mistake as we walked literally alongside the tram tracks and past each tram station. With backpacks and day packs, and Gavin carrying Oscar a good portion of the way!
[We didn’t buy a SIM Card for Israel, as we had less than a week. And, as much as it could be cool to claim rugged-travellerness with no need for technology… navigating is definitely easier with an e-map to follow! However, we knew the general direction for our hostel, so we set off that way. As you can imagine we attract some attention wandering with backpacks and blonde children in tow, so it was actually an interesting walk and a neat way to take in first vibes of Jerusalem. A young man asked us if we needed help, and took us to find free wifi to check directions together. He ended up walking us another kilometre all the way to our hostel!].
It was an uplifting welcome for our first day in Jerusalem for sure.
ONE THING THAT CHALLENGED US…
CROSSING THE BORDER TO JORDAN: Another border crossing under our belt, yet each crossing always feels easier to describe on reflection than while in the moment! We had so far crossed the border overland from Kyrgyzstan into Kazakhstan, and walked on foot from Mae Sai Thailand into Myanmar. It is never a very settling feeling until you are safely stamped and into the next country.
One tram, two buses, two taxis, one sherut later, we were very excited to pick up our rental car and put our feet up at an awesome apartment in Amman, Jordan.
From the tram in Jerusalem, we navigated the bus station and took the local bus to a junction which felt like the middle of nowhere – quite literally 300m below sea level! This is the first checkpoint, and we understood we could walk the 2km to the border crossing from there. Not so. Apparently the land in between the two borders is spotted with land mines, and the only crossable path is by road. So one taxi later, and after an hour at the border, we found a bus to take us to Jordan immigration and made our crossing.
The boys were absolute stars, and cruised on through even the most serious of immigration shaking hands and remembering the Arabic greeting when we finally emerged on the Jordan side. [It was only me that nearly had a heart attack when surrounded by bomb shelters and armed guards, there was huge bang at the first checkpoint and I leapt out of my skin… NOT the kind of place the noise of a truck tire exploding ever sounds ok!].