My trip through Northern Israel in 2007 began with an invitation from friends to come cycling for summer. Although, in true Jonathan Said style, I expanded the journey to also go my own way and see even more of these parts, this wasn’t one of my classic “Dad in charge” trips. I was just traveling with some male friends - no wives - for 10 days. It was a “boy’s own adventure” so I didn’t have to plan any child-friendly activities or find accommodation that Sheira may like, just go with the flow, set off in a car and do some cycling with the boys…
The best way to kickstart a summery trip to Israel’s more fertile north is to start heading up the Mediterranean coastline from Tel Aviv. The great coastal plains stretch all the way from Gaza down in the South up to the Lebanese border, where the country narrows down to a tiny 5-kilometres!! The coastline itself has huge variety and plenty of highlights, from pretty fishing villages and ancient ports to splashy marinas.
My friends and I were excited heading out of Tel Aviv on Route #2 through the northern suburbs, embarking on our great boys-only road trip with my guide and friend, David Shavit at the wheel.
For the Said family... Israel is a particularly magical destination, one of the world’s most intriguing countries that is full of personal memories and meaning, important milestones and travel highlights. I have visited many times, both with my family, friends, even alone - a rare adventure for me. This is one of the Middle East most complex regions, that lends itself to return visits because each time there is something new to discover…
This extraordinary land is a paradox… It is surprisingly small - we have driven across its width in an afternoon - yet its regions range from coastal plains and mountains to humid, fertile valleys full of citrus groves and eerily empty, arid desert. The country itself has such a short past - but these lands are steeped in amazing history predating the Romans. Tel Aviv is one of the most vibrant, cosmopolitan cities that I have ever experienced - yet Israel is the Holy Land, the epicentre of some of the world’s great spiritual traditions.
As a humanist who seeks connection with all peoples, and a traveler in search of texture and distinctive cultural richness, I like to transcend all the turbulent politics of the Middle East, which are so saddening and frustrating for all different sides. I don’t get involved, but prefer to focus on the wonderful journeys Israel has to offer, both urban and rural; to try the flavours and make many local friends, from Israeli travelers I once met in Greece to Arab musicians and shopkeepers.
Through experience I have learnt two great pieces of advice that I would love to pass on to jonathansaid.com members to maximize your Israel adventure. First bit of advice, unless you are here for a fortnight, keep coming back to try all the DIFFERENT REGIONS so that you can give each one its due. Lively, nocturnal Tel Aviv is full of culinary variety and intoxicating nightlife; Jerusalem, the ancient stone city of sacred sites, is a fascinating place where many cultures and religions collide. The depth of these cities calls to each traveler, to stay a while, soak up the atmosphere, wander the streets and really explore the layers.
Outside these great cities, other adventures beckon that are worth coming back for, from the Bedouin camps and almost lunar landscapes of the Negev desert in the south (where you can also fit in a visit to Jordan) to the valleys, mountains, rivers and border towns of the north. Each city also has stunning satellite attractions like the Dead Sea, which make great day trips. But whether you are strolling along the marinas of the West coast or visiting the incredibly moving Holocaust museum, there will always be profound, memorable encounters to take away as the ultimate souvenirs.
Second bit of advice, bond with a great PERSONAL GUIDE, an across the board rule. Travelers spend so much money on getting here and accommodation that it would be a travesty not to tap into the wealth of meaning that lies all around, from biblical legends and medieval crusades to contemporary military security. Like any city or country that’s steeped in stories, a visitor will miss out on the best part if they don’t hear them!
Luckily there’s no shortage of guides in Israel - there is a thriving culture of scholarship and expertise in a place that attracts so many fascinated people from around the world. And there are different types of guides to suit the many moods of Israel, from fun in the winter sun to study or spiritual pilgrimage.
We are so fortunate as a family to have a strong bond with a wonderful man called DAVID SHAVIT, whom I met randomly 6 years ago at a bar mitzvah on the lawns of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. I was lucky when I started out traveling here. One close family friend of mine who has spent much time in Israel has given me great tips and contacts, while David has opened up the country’s riches to us. Pre-planning our trips together has become an essential part of our Israel ritual.
I genuinely enjoy David’s company. When it was just the two of us heading down South, our road trip felt more like two friends touring than professional tourism. There’s probably not another country in the world I would feel like going to alone, because David has become so much more than a source of information or someone to pave the way. But even for those just passing through, he is a wonderful working guide who can be trusted with the task of revealing Israel’s delights…