Israel and Jordan are probably not high on most people’s vacation list, but longtime Oceanside residents Frank and Janis Galef were drawn to the countries by their histories and prominence in current affairs.
“We wanted to see Israel as it is an amazingly historical place with countless links to the major religions and cultures that shape our lives today,” explained Frank Galef. “It also figures heavily in the news on a daily basis with a lot of emotional overlay. We wanted to get some idea as to what is really going on there by seeing it for ourselves.”
Their 12-day trip during late April and early May was not something they could’ve done on a whim, Frank Galef said.
“We wanted to do our own itinerary, so it was up to us to figure out how to get around. We spent a lot of time reading travel books and viewing tourism websites. The public transportation systems there are good, but it takes a lot of effort to figure out the bus and train schedules.”
It also wasn’t easy to decide which places should make their must-see list.
“The toughest thing about traveling in Israel and Jordan was trying to figure out what to see and what to leave for another visit because there is so much to see and do.”
The effort was well worth it, though, because the couple managed to spend six days in Jerusalem, as well as seeing Masada, the Herodion, the Red Sea port of Eilat, Petra in Jordan, Haifa and the Crusader city of Acre (Akko).
Asked about their favorites, Frank Galef said that it was difficult to choose, but “Petra (in Jordan) was incredible.”
Winding down a narrow slot canyon and emerging into a long-secret city of spectacular temples and tombs carved into the sides of the cliffs was a fabulous experience.
The Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary was peaceful and beautiful … and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was as hectic as it was moving.”
Also fascinating, he added, is the underground base of the Western Wall where visitors see the gigantic stones that Herod placed there as a foundation for the Temple.
Most of the time the Galefs were on their own, but they hired a guide for seeing Herodion, Herod’s final palace built inside a mountain in the West Bank. They also took a tour to Petra, the city in Jordan carved out of rose-colored stone.
The couple would love to return to Israel and Jordan because there are “uncountable things to see,” but recent hostilities in the region make it difficult to determine when.
“On our way home we pretty much set out a schedule for another trip,” Frank Galef said,” but then things over there became unhinged and I’m not sure when we’ll feel safe about another trip.”
But when that time comes, Bethlehem, the Sea of Galilee and a return visit to Haifa are on their list.
“We’d love to go back and experience more of these incredible places, but unless things cool off a lot, I don’t feel that I can recommend a visit to anyone unless they are well aware of what they might be getting into.”
For those who’d like to place Israel and Jordan on their wish lists, here are some helpful points, according to Frank and Janis Galef:
Most people in Israel and Jordan are friendly and helpful, and Americans are generally treated well.
English is spoken in most restaurants, hotels, buses and tourist attractions.
Street signs are in Hebrew, Arabic and English, as are announcements on public transportation.
Look for banks that exchange adequate amounts of money so that several return trips aren’t necessary.
Be prepared for extreme weather — hot and cold.
The food is excellent.
The Jewish sector of Jerusalem shuts down on the Sabbath, but the Arab and Christian quarters of the Old City are open.
Stay with walking distance of the Old City so getting around is easy every day.
E’Louise Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at firstname.lastname@example.org