We began our journey to Israel on a cold January day from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport where we met up with our group of fellow travel agents for our direct flight to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Our overnight El Al flight was smooth and uneventful and we landed at Ben Gurion in the late morning under bright and sunny skies.
Our small group of 20 travellers gathered in the baggage area, where we cleared immigration and filled out our visas. We were met by our tour guide who introduced himself and then led us out of the terminal to our waiting tour bus. On our 30 minute ride from the airport to the ancient port of Jaffa, we learned that the population of Israel is roughly 8.5 million people comprising of approximately 82% Jews, 17% Muslim and 1% Christian. The nearby city of Jerusalem has a population of 900,000 and Tel Aviv has approximately 450,000.
Jaffa, our first stop in Israel, is the Holy Land’s most ancient city. Jaffa is tied to several significant biblical stories including Jonah and Solomon. Jonah began his sea voyage from the port of Jaffa before being swallowed by a whale. Jaffa was also the entry point for the cedars brought in from Lebanon that were used in the construction of the Temple of Solomon.
Our bus navigated through the old, narrow streets of this small but bustling town before dropping us off in the square a few blocks from the Mediterranean Sea. We were given some free time to have lunch and wander around the town square. Kim and I found a street side falafel house that had a few tables tucked inside. We each ordered a falafel which were large, fresh pita stuffed full and doused in tahini. It was very tasty and would be the first of many falafel that we would enjoy on this trip.
After our quick lunch, we walked down the street to an intersection that led to several smaller streets which comprised of a large antique market. We meandered slowly through this market which at times resembled a large garage sale with a variety of odd and quirky items spilling out onto the sidewalk. After walking down several of these side streets we eventually made our way back to the town square in front of the tower in the boulevard to start our walking tour of the old port.
Our guide led us back towards the market and along the main street that runs parallel to the sea coast. We walked uphill along the street past the port mosque and then towards Saint Peter’s Church and the monastery where Napoleon stayed in 1799. Saint Peter’s Church is built adjacent to the house of Simon the Tanner with whom Peter is said to have stayed after raising a Christian woman from the dead. It is also on the roof of Simon’s house that Peter had his vision of the sheet filled with both “clean” and “unclean” animals - believed to be the end of the separation between believing Jews and god-fearing Gentiles which led to the spread of Christianity. On the way back from Saint Peter’s to the square we walked along the port promenade that separates the Mediterranean Sea from the town proper.
We boarded our bus and drove the short distance along the coast from Jaffa to Tel Aviv. Our hotel, the Grand Beach, was located across the main street that runs along the coast. After checking into our room shortly after 4:00pm and dropping off our bags, we decided to go for a walk before dinner to catch the sunset. Our walk took us along the main street for about 1 kilometer before we crossed over onto a side street that led to a boardwalk which ran the length of the beach. We walked at a leisurely pace, as joggers and skateboarders passed us by. We came across a beachside restaurant which had chairs and tables set on the sand overlooking the sea. We each ordered a glass of wine and watched while sailboats and surfers danced across the waves. After relaxing over our wine, we headed back to the hotel as the sun began its slow glide towards the western horizon.
At the hotel, we joined the rest of our group in one of the main meeting rooms where we met Saliba, the owner of the tour company, who were hosting us on our Israel pilgrimage. After our meeting with Saliba, we capped off our first day in Israel with a bountiful buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant.
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Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.