Thursday, November 06, 2014

Is is safe to travel to Israel?

Is it safe to travel to Israel?

That's the number one question/concern that I get when I talk to people about visiting the Holy Land.

In general, I have to say, "Yes, very much so."

I recently returned from my second trip to Israel. Just two months before the trip an intense conflict between Israel and Gaza was raging. Hundreds of rockets were being fired into Israel every day.

The media like to focus on those conflicts, and it's easy to get a sense that the region is dangerous. In reality, the conflict is typically confined to a small area that is miles away from the major tourist areas.

Gaza is approximately 50 miles from Tel Aviv, home to Israel's international airport and the starting point for most visitors. Rockets fired from Gaza have reached the outskirts of the city, but have not reached into the city. (And don't forget that Israel's "Iron Dome" defense system shoots down a larger percentage of those rockets).

The bulk of Christian touring is done in the Galilee area, which has been completely removed from any danger in recent years.

The other hot area is Jerusalem. The Old City itself is divided into four quarters and tensions, especially in the Muslim Quarter, tend to flare.

During my recent visit, tensions were indeed flaring, especially in East Jerusalem. A shooting in the Old City even resulted in a brief closure of the Temple Mount.

The result for tourists - 1) We didn't hear about the shooting until the next morning even though we had spent that day on a walking tour of the Old City, and 2) Some tour operators adjusted their plans on the next day and visited other sites instead of spending time in the Old City. 3) Finally, two days later (a Saturday), we spent the entire day in the Old City shopping, even venturing into a busy and peaceful Muslim Quarter without incident or fear for our safety.

Tourism is a leading industry in Israel. The dollars spent are important to the Jewish and Muslim communities. The last thing any of them want to see is a tourist get injured or killed.

If you're thinking about going to Israel, consult with a knowledgeable travel agent with connections to experienced tour operators on the ground in Israel. They will have your best interests at heart.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dan Panorama Tel Aviv

Dan is one of the most well-known hotel chains in Israel, offering four-star accommodations in numerous cities.

The Dan Panorama Tel Aviv is located in the southern part of the city and is across the street from the Mediterranean. Most rooms have small balconies with a view of the sea - a perfect place to watch the sunset (unless of course you're on the beach).

The breakfast and dinner buffets are ample.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Holyland Journey: First stop Jaffa

What a joy to take another group to Israel!

After a 10-hour flight from Newark, we landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv around 11 a.m.

The customs process went quickly and smoothly, and we met our tour guide in baggage claim.

We drove to the ancient port city of Jaffa for a brief walking tour. Jaffa, or Joppa, is the mentioned both in the Old and New Testaments. Jonah sailed from here, trying to avoid going to Nineveh. Cedar for King Solomon's Temple arrived in Jaffa. And Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner and saved Tabitha.

The town is now an artistic colony and offers great views of neighboring Tel Aviv.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center offers four floors of fun for all ages - plus a building housing SportsWorks and a submarine docked in the river.

One reason we chose it is because it offers free general admission to members if the Indiana State Museum.

There is space exploration and rockets, robots, physics and weather phenomenon.

It's not as big as Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, but there is plenty of fun to be had.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Seldom Seen Coal Mine

Two hours east of Pittsburgh is former coal mine that is now used to share the occupation with tourists.

The Seldom Seen Coal Mine offers 45-minute tours that go into the mine. Imagine shoveling coal all day in the dark in a space only 40 inches tall.

There is a small museum and gift shop as well. Admission is $11 for adults and $6 for kids. Cash only.

The mine is open Sunday through Thursday. Check their web page for more information.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cozumel Jeep Tour

Our cruise in February took me to Cozumel for the first time.

My wife and I started looking for a shore excursion that would help us have the most fun possible during our stay on the island. I was really interested in snorkeling. My wife wanted to see as much of the island as possible and not just sit at a beach all day.

We found a Jeep Tour that was the perfect fit for us.

Keep your travel agent in mind as you plan your shore excursions. While the cruise lines have a number of offerings, they can often be more expensive than venturing out on your own or using a private operator. Of course, you also want a reliable company, and one that will get you back to the ship on time.

We found our Jeep Tour through a private shore excursion company.

As we exited the the ship and the duty-free shopping area in Cozumel, all we had to do was walk 100-200 yards to a nearby hotel. There we met our guide for the day. As luck would have it, we were the only people booked on this particular tour for the day, so our guide jumped in the back of our Jeep, and off we went.

We cruised out of the city and along the coast, admiring the beautiful blue water along the way.

We drove about 20 minutes to Punta Sur Eco Park where we spent several hours. There's a brackish lagoon that is home to saltwater crocodiles and many species of birds. There are also a couple of small Mayan ruins.

We stopped at the lighthouse and climbed the 133 steps to the top then we drove further down the beach to a calm area for snorkeling.

If you're going to Cozumel primarily for snorkeling, there are other excursions that will take you to the reef offshore, but there are many other places on the island that offer great snorkeling, too.

We were in the water for 30-45 minutes and loved it. We were lucky enough to see a sea turtle as well as barracuda, a sting ray, lobster and hundreds of colorful fish.

After our time in the park, we drove to a small tequila restaurant and tasted several kinds of tequila.

Our afternoon ended at a restaurant across the street from the beach where we dined on fajitas.

Carnival Paradise

My wife and I had the opportunity to get away without the kids on a 4-day cruise on the Carnival Paradise in late February.

I had not sailed Carnival before, and wasn't sure what to expect. Carnival is home of the "fun ships," but it's very budget friendly. I wasn't sure what the quality would be like.

My wife and I were both pleasantly surprised.

The Paradise is one of Carnival's older ships, so some of the decor, especially in the staterooms looks dated, but other than that, there's a lot of fun to be had.

(Kids would have a lot of fun on the ship with the kids club activities, but we were fortunate to go while most kids were in school and there were mostly adults on board).

We were most pleased by the quality of the food. The evening dining options were excellent every night, and the lunch grill and Lido restaurant were very good.

Check out this video for more about the Carnival Paradise.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Traveling WITHOUT Kids

As a parent with three young children, I'm pretty good at traveling WITH children. Packing some games, DVDs, books, new toys, etc. I've gotten a pretty good handle on that over the past few years.

What doesn't happen nearly often enough is traveling WITHOUT the kids! There have been a night or two here or there, but honestly it's been a long time since my wife and I have been able to go on a "real" trip without the kids.

Fortunately, the opportunity presented itself to go on a 4-night cruise in late February. Since the departure date is just a week after our anniversary it was a no-brainer to book it.

As we've started preparing for our getaway - lined up the grandparents to stay with the kids, etc., one item we found buried deep in a drawer was a "Parental Consent" form from the hospital where our kids were born.

The fear of every mother who has to leave their kids for a few days is....'What if something happens to my babies while I'm gone?'

This form eases some of those worries. It won't eliminate an illness or a broken bone, but whoever is caring for your children in your absence will have the documentation needed by medical professionals to offer proper treatment without delay.

Follow this link to an online consent form provided by Indiana's Community Health Network. Then book your next couple's getaway with a clearer conscience.