Our second day in Israel started with a buffet breakfast at the Grand Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv. After breakfast we joined the rest of our group in the hotel lobby to board the tour bus for our journey northward along the Mediterranean coast. The bus pulled away from the hotel and turned north onto the main coastal road through Tel Aviv. We travelled approximately 20 minutes through the city before reaching the outskirts where it would take us another half hour before our first stop in Caesarea.
As we travelled along the coast, our guide, provided some cultural backdrop about Israel and Judaism. One of the first things he shared was the strict observance of halakha (Jewish religious law) by conservative and Orthodox Jews. Observing Halakha is especially significant during the Sabbath (sunset Friday to just after sunset Saturday). We noticed this at our hotel in Tel Aviv as we had arrived on Friday afternoon. One of the hotel elevators was designated “Sabbath”. We had been advised not to use this elevator as it stops at all floors during the Sabbath. The reason for this is that the use of electricity is forbidden by Jews on the Sabbath. By entering the specially designated elevator, there is no need to press any buttons (which generates the flow of electricity) as the elevator is programmed to stop at every floor both while ascending and descending. Religious Jews also tend to live near Synagogues in order to avoid driving vehicles during the Sabbath and since lighting a stove is also restricted, their Sabbath meals are eaten cold.
Our mid-morning arrival at Caesarea was washed in sunshine and bright skies. We exited the bus in the parking lot just outside the entrance to Caesarea National Park which contain the ruins of the ancient Roman city. Caesarea was built along the seashore as a major port between 25 and 13 BCE by King Herod the Great. While it was initially set up as the administrative centre for Judea Province of the Roman Empire it was subsequently conquered and ruled by the Byzantine Empire from the 4th century to 7th century. In the 7th century, it was the last city in the Holy Land to fall to the conquering Arabs who ruled it until the arrival of the Crusaders at the beginning of the 12th century. Caesarea regained some of its former greatness under the Crusaders until it was eventually conquered again by the Arab Mamluk Sultan Baybars who attacked the city in 1265. Fearing that the Crusaders would return, the Mamluk’s razed Caesarea to the ground and abandoned the city.
Despite (or maybe because of) the many conquests, there remains a wealth of archeological ruins in the National Park. Of significance is the large Roman Amphitheatre and Hippodrome which cover a large area along the coastline. Between the Amphitheatre and the shoreline are the ruins of King Herod’s Palace - the upper palace for public gatherings and the lower palace for private engagements. This area also includes the ruins of a private pool which stretches out into the Mediterranean. King Herod’s Caesarea is also the site where Peter baptized the Roman Centurion Cornelius, who became the first non-Jew to become a Christian.
Other visible ruins from the Roman period include baths and an aquaduct. Walking north along the shoreline and past the Hippodrome some of walls and structures from the Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader periods have also been excavated. We ended our visit to Caesarea at a juice stand at the exit to the ruins. A vendor was squeezing fresh pomegranates and oranges into cool, refreshing juices and we couldn’t resist the bright red nectar of the pomegranate.
Our next stop along the north western coast of Israel was at Haifa, Israel’s 3rd largest city with a population of approximately 300,000. Haifa is a major port in Israel and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and Mount Carmel on the other. We began our tour of Haifa with a visit to the Stella Maris Monastery and Church, located on the side of Mount Carmel and reportedly situated above the grotto that served as the home of the prophet Elijah. The Monastery serves as the worldwide centre of Carmelite spirituality.
There are several religions represented in Haifa including Judaism, Christian and Muslim along with one of the world’s newest religions, Bah’ai. Bah’ai’s believe in the oneness of God, the unity of humanity and the essential harmony of religion. It is a monotheistic religion that sees each of the major religions and their prophets (Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad being the most recent in the period before the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh) as an orderly and progressive revelation of the one true God. The prominence of the Bah’ai religion in the area around Haifa and Acco is manifested in one of the most visited sites in Israel - the Bah’ai Gardens, a World UNESCO Heritage site on Mount Carmel in Haifa. We were awed by the beauty and symmetry of the terraced gardens and the incredible vistas from the top of Mount Carmel over the port of Haifa and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.
Just another 20 minutes up the coast we arrived at Acre - known locally as Akko. While only comprising a population of around 50,000 it is purported to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement on Earth. It is home to Jews, Muslims, Christians and Bah’ai’s (who regard it as the holiest city of their faith). Much like Caesarea, Akko underwent several conquests dating back to the Bronze Age including by Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders and Mamluk’s. The old city of Akko is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its main building is an Ottoman Fortress built on the foundation of a Knight’s Hospitaller citadel.
We walked through the secret tunnels of the original Crusader fortress that run under the city out to the sea. As we exited the fortress we arrived in a square that led to another market on the streets of Akko. We found a spot for a late lunch and feasted on falafel and shwarma then walked around the market where we spotted a street vendor selling an interesting popular Middle Eastern desert called malabi. It is a creamy, milk-based pudding that is flavoured with rosewater. Though quite tasty, the texture was very different to what we were expecting.
Since Akko was our last scheduled tour for the day, we boarded the tour bus for the one hour drive east towards the Sea of Galilee Hotel in Magdil where we would be spending the next 2 nights. We arrived just after sundown and checked in to this brand new hotel just off the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The hotel had only been open a couple of weeks and while it was pristine and modern, it wasn’t quite fully finished. It was comfortable though, and featured a modern bar and lounge just off the main lobby. Our room had a magnificent view over the hotel pool and beyond to the Sea of Galilee which offered a sensational sunrise that would summon the beginning of our 3rd day in Israel.
Continue to Day 3 - click here
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Why Use A Travel Agent? One key reason is to have PEACE OF MIND.
Have you ever had anything not go as planned on a vacation? Having that peace of mind that your agent is available to handle things for you is extremely important. Booking through a website does not ensure you will have someone to talk to should something need to be changed or fixed from a far-away destination. Cancelled or delayed flights, last minute tour cancellations or weather issues – they can all happen at any time.
An example of how an agent can help you on the ground was when clients called saying their flight was delayed and they didn't think they were going to make their ship departure. By the time their flight landed the cruise line had already been contacted, a hotel reservation made and the flight was in place to get them to their first port of call. While it wasn't the ideal situation, it was managed for them and was essentially stress free.
You never anticipate interruptions to your vacation plans but this way you know you have me at home – and trust me I care. Rest assured I am invested in my clients' happiness and satisfaction and I want to make sure each and every trip is packed full of positive lifelong memories.
Another thing to consider is knowing that your agent has booked what you asked for. Travel has become more complicated than ever – so many times people are unsure about what exactly they are purchasing since they didn’t take the time to read the fine print. Unbundled airfares with so many new options can cause major confusion and disappointment when it comes time to travel and you have to pay for seat selection or luggage fees all at an extra cost. And cruising is also more challenging now – with dozens of new ships coming out I can help you sort through all the cruise lines with a multitude of cabin categories and so many different rate codes, refundable vs. non-refundable rates, guaranteed cabins vs. cabins with free perks. When the rules change, as your agent, I am uniquely positioned to provide vital advice. I help people find the best offer based on what’s most important to them - when you know someone is looking out for you it makes all the difference in the world.
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Be sure to tune in next week for a new video in my series about TIMING.
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.
Continue to Day 2 - click here
After nearly 3 weeks exploring southern Africa, we were about to spend our last day on this amazing continent. We awoke at 5:30am and finished packing for our arduous flights back to Toronto. But before leaving Victoria Falls we still had some unfinished business to attend to. To this point, we had visited a total of 5 countries - South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Since we were spending our last day in Victoria Falls, at the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, we decided to visit one more country before we left.
After being informed the night prior that you shouldn't walk around on the streets in the evening due to the "animals being on the move", we decided to take a cab from the Rainbow Hotel at 6:30am to the Zimbabwe/Zambia border. On route the driver stopped at the Old Tree in Victoria Falls which is said to be 1000 to 1500 years old. We arrived at the Zimbabwe border at 6:45am and went through immigration to get our exit visa stamped. We walked across the bridge that spans the Zambezi River through "No Man's Land” on the way to the Zambian border. At the border we went through immigration to get our entry stamp into Zambia. After passing through immigration we checked out the price of the park entrance on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. While the cost was only 10.50 USD per person, it was a lengthy walk so we opted not to proceed as we had a very limited amount of time. We walked back through immigration and got our exit stamp from Zambia. In total we spent about 15 minutes in Zambia before walking back across "No Man's Land" to take some pictures from the bridge. Kim bought a bracelet and teak elephant from an entrepreneurial Zambian 'artist' who also moonlighted as a tour guide. We then crossed back into Zimbabwe where the border control officers were humourous and friendly, noting that we had exited Zimbabwe 3 times in 2 days. In total, the walk from Zimbabwe to Zambia and return, including border checks was about 1 hour.
We took a cab from the Zimbabwe border to the Victoria Falls Hotel where we walked though to the Jungle Junction restaurant for a buffet breakfast that was $25.00 USD per person. This was a much better buffet with far superior service to what we received at the Rainbow Hotel for $20.00 USD the day before. The view and ambiance of this location are unsurpassed in Vic Falls as the terrace overlooks the rainforest that borders the banks of the gorge a short distance from the falls. We finished up our breakfast that included Eggs Benedict (Denis), omelette (Kim), bacon, sausage, baked tomato, home fries and then topped it off with a waffle with strawberries and whipped cream (for sustenance). It would be several hours before we would have a chance to eat again and that would be on an airplane.
After breakfast we walked back through town to the Rainbow Hotel (20 minutes), picked up our suitcases and checked out. Our driver, Handsome, picked us up at just after 10:00 AM and we headed towards the Botswana border, about 45 minutes away. En route, we spotted a venue of vultures picking at a large carcass just off the road. A short distance further down the road, Handsome spotted a male lion resting in the shadow of a tree. Just a regular day in Zimbabwe.
We arrived at the border crossing shortly after 11:00 am. We went through Zimbabwe customs to get our passport stamped. This was the 2nd time we had exited Zimbabwe in the span of 4 hours. After getting our exit stamps, Handy drove us a couple of hundred meters to the Botswana border control where we moved our luggage to a Botswana vehicle and then went through immigration to get our passports stamped once again. On exiting the customs building, we again walked through a dissinfecting solution that looked like a muddy puddle to clean our shoes as a precaution against foot and mouth disease. We then boarded our Botswana vehicle with a new driver who took us to the airport in Kasane, about 20 minutes away.
We arrived at Kasane International Airport just before noon. The Kasane Airport consists of a single tiny modern terminal. As you enter through the main door, there is a small coffee shop/restaurant with 4 or 5 tables on one side and a ticket and check-in counter for South African Airlink on the other. The electronic flight board showed a single international flight (ours) departing at 2:00 pm and a single domestic flight departing at 10:30 am. No other flights for the day were displayed. After checking our bags we went to the cafe and each ordered a glass of wine. At about 12:30, the line at the Airlink counter was finished and the attendants all left. Only a handful of passengers remained in the terminal so we went through security (in record time) and waited a few minutes in the gate area before being escorted across the tarmac to our waiting Embraer 190 that would whisk us to Johannesburg for our connecting flight through Paris and then on to Toronto.
While we had been away from home the better part of a month, and we were anxious to get back to Canada, we felt a sense of melancholy at having to end our African journey. We have both travelled extensively for business and pleasure over the course of our lifetimes, and this was the most fascinating adventure thus far.
Would you like to visit Africa? Contact us for expert advice and assistance with your Africa trip planning.
CUSTOMIZATION More and more I am hearing from my clients that they want something customized for them. Fortunately, I specialize in creating a customized, personal vacation specifically tailored to your needs. I work with vendors that are destination specialists entrusting you to the best of the best.
You can ask my clients - I take a very individualized approach with each person I work with. Here is a short testimonial from a current client:
"I highly recommend Kim for all your travel needs. Her knowledge and expertise is a huge asset when planning your next vacation. She will always give you the pros and cons on your holiday options and will work with you to ensure you've made the right choice. She's always available to answer any questions you may have. But most importantly is her follow up skills before, during and after your vacation. She guides you through the entire process. I wouldn't book my travel with anyone else."
I spend time asking you questions about your priorities for your holiday, your preferences and what you like to do while you are away. Then based on your interests, your wish list and your budget, I create a solution that is perfect for you. This can include private tour options, small group tours or be combined with other available package solutions such as cruises or existing tours combined with pre and post stays, that meet your individual requirements.
Think about it…all this personal service from a live human being is something that you can’t possibly receive from a static online website! This is yet another reason to consider working with an agent.
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Be sure to tune in next week for a new video in my series about my favourite topic – SAVINGS!
As our 3 week trip to Southern Africa was winding down, we were about to embark on our last 2 safaris - our fifth on land and our first water safari. We awoke early and had a fulsome breakfast at the Rainbow Hotel in Victoria Falls before being picked up by our driver for our 1 1/2 hour drive to Chobe National Park in Botswana. We were accompanied by a group of 5 Australians who had just completed a trek to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda.
As we headed east out of Victoria Falls through Zambezi National Park on our way to the Botswana border we spotted small herds of elephant and several giraffe browsing the trees along the roadside. After about an hour we reached the Zimbabwe/Botswana border where our driver escorted us to the Zimbabwe customs office to have our passports stamped. We were then driven a few hundred yards to the Botswana customs office where we had our passports stamped once again and then walked in single file through a narrow boardwalk and stepped into a shallow tray of disinfectant to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease.
After passing through the border it was another 20 minute drive to our meeting point - Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane. We wandered through this beautiful African resort before making our way down to the pier to board our safari boat.
Once we were settled on the boat, we left the pier and motored slowly along the Zambezi shoreline in anticipation of what we would spot first. We did not have to wait long.
Within a few short minutes we spotted a herd of over 40 elephants strolling down the sloping bank on our port side towards the water. Our pilot cut the boat’s engine so we drifted quietly along the shoreline to watch the first few elephants enter the water and begin their long swim across the river to the opposite bank. Only a few minutes later a massive herd of buffalo appeared as we rounded a bend in the river. We were able to drift in right to the shoreline with unobstructed views of the buffalo only a few yards away. Dotted along the shore were numerous crocodile basking in the morning sun.
As we meandered around the Zambezi, crossing from shoreline to shoreline we had many more up close encounters with elephants, buffalo, hippos, crocodile and a variety of birds. Compared to the other parks that we had been to, the water safari at Chobe presented us with the largest number of wildlife that we spotted in a single safari.
We returned to Chobe Safari Lodge where we enjoyed a well-presented buffet lunch and the company of our Australian travelers. After lunch, we boarded an open safari vehicle to begin our afternoon land safari in Chobe National Park. We trekked along the sandy slopes dotted with acacia trees and patches of grassland that led to the banks of the Zambezi River. We covered much the same area that we had in the morning by boat, only this time we were following the river from the shore. This gave us an opportunity to get up close to some of the wildlife that we hadn’t been able to see from the water.
Hidden amongst a group of small trees, we pulled alongside a pride of 4 young lions who were resting comfortably in the shade of the acacias. Not far from the lions, a herd of impalas was scattered across the grassland. As we travelled back toward the park entrance we encountered several groups of impala, zebra and giraffe making their way methodically towards the water.
We exited the park and stopped for a brief water break before we changed vehicles to go back to the Botswana/Zimbabwe border for our journey back to Victoria Falls. Once again, we had our passports stamped as we re-entered Zimbabwe, a process which took a considerable amount of time due to the number of people in the queue.
We were dropped off at our hotel to have a refreshing swim then prepared for our African themed dinner at the Jungle Junction Restaurant in the elegant Victoria Falls Hotel where we met up with our Tasmanian friends with whom we had travelled on the Shongolo journey from Pretoria. The restaurant is an open air venue with a superb buffet offering a variety of cold and hot foods. Several carving stations offered up meats such as kudo, beef and crocodile while other stations featured curries, seafood and sushi. Live entertainment was provided by costumed tribal dancers and singers who performed energetically throughout the meal.
As the evening wound down and we were ready to go back to the Rainbow hotel for our last night in Africa, we realized that it was time to say goodbye to our vivacious and fun-loving Tasmanian friends Helen, Tina, Merv and Julian. They had provided us with constant companionship and endless conversation and entertainment over the past few weeks for which we are eternally grateful. While it was difficult to say goodbye, we look forward to spending time with them again when we visit New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania in 2021.
Are you considering a trip to Zimbabwe? Contact us for expert advice and assistance for your trip to Zimbabwe.
Continue to the Final Day - click here
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.