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My Israel Experience

Safely in Israel after 10.5 hour flight

Mid January 2019, I was given an amazing opportunity to go on a group tour with other Travel Advisors to Israel with a potential new supplier to experience first hand what it would be like to travel with them.

Getting There

So, let’s start with flying from home to Toronto. We all know how expensive it can be just to fly across Canada, so I decided to try Air Transat from Vancouver to Toronto – really reasonably priced and direct non stop (my preferred way to fly – get on a plane – get off a plane). Even though I’m just 5’1″, I upgraded myself to the exit row seats. It gave me the freedom to have that extra leg room to stretch out. I must admit that the regular seats on Air Transat are OK and quite comfortable.

The flight attendants were very friendly and seemed genuinely happy that I was on board with them. One thing to watch out for if you are going to order food on board is that if you are seated at the back of the plane – they may “run out” of the popular dishes like pizza and burgers…fortunately I really like the cheese and crackers, although sitting mid plane, that wasn’t a problem for me.

Definitely, download their app before you go as there are no screens on their planes. The app allows you to watch a selection of movies, etc. Alternatively, bring along your own entertainment.

Once landed, it was normal procedures: collect my bag and take my transfer to the hotel I was spending the night at. Remember – IF you are flying during the winter months, always fly the night before – take in the extra cost of the hotel stay – you just never know if there are going to be weather delays. I was most certainly NOT going to miss my flight the next day to Tel Aviv.

I stayed at the Best Western Plus Toronto Airport Hotel and met up with another agent there. About a 20 minute drive from the airport, I found the hotel to have very comfortable beds and a great restaurant. In the morning, we both met with another agent for brunch so I didn’t have to worry about the transfer back to the airport. Remember to always ask about reserving your place on the return hotel shuttle transfers!

At 10:30 am we all gathered near the check in counter for El Al, our airline from Toronto to Tel Aviv (and yes, direct non-stop) to go over a few details and just to say hi to fellow agents that I had met before and get to know new ones that I would be spending the next 11 days with. Here’s where the adventure began.

Here we are! A group of Nexion Travel Group Canada Agents!

The security screening for passengers traveling to Tel Aviv is intense!

I was one of the lucky ones that spent a total of about 1 hour answering questions, having things examined and scrutinized. It was quite intimidating. The agents were professional, at times seemed repetitious with their questions, but very authoritative. If you ever encounter such an event – just go with – answer truthfully without embellishment and remain as cheerful and positive as you can.

I guess in the long run, I would rather they spend time ensuring the plane (and country) is safe….

It was a long 10.5 hour flight, so, of course, I upgraded (along with several other agents) to the Premium Economy seats. Very nice – upgraded services all around. If you have the money – think about jumping in and upgrading yourself! The service on board the Dreamliner was excellent – very friendly and professional. One thing we did notice was the men walking up and down the aisles praying! What I love about travel is experiencing the culture of the country. I never though it would start with the plane flight! It was an excellent reminder for me as a Catholic to remember to take time to pray! (especially traveling to the Holy Land).

Arriving in Israel

Once landed, the Tel Aviv airport is much like every other. My passport was not stamped upon arrival in Israel, but I did receive a “ticket” which is absolutely necessary to present when you fly home – don’t lose it- it’s $250.00 USD to replace it along with a whole bunch of security questions!

We were met by our group transfer liason, brought to baggage claim and off we went. It’s a bit confusing as to which “line” you go into – but paying attention to the signage will take of that.

Meet at Tel Aviv Airport

So, arrival into Tel Aviv – onto the bus we would have for the duration of our tour, meet our Tour Director (amazing Rizek) and off sightseeing right away around Tel Aviv and Joppa. We had the most competent bus driver – Adam (some of the corners he had to take – whew – close your eyes type of corners!). They both spoke English very well and were both extremely knowledgeable about the country that was about to open up before us.

There’s something about group travel – you either love it or you don’t. There are rules to follow for safety, convenience and time management. I like it. Everything is looked after for you. I was able to just take it all in, listen to the commentary that Rizek was sharing with us and become immersed into my Israel experience.

Starting on the Coast

Tel Aviv is a bustling city full of vibrant colors, peoples, nightlife and food. If you are the type of person that wants a cultural experience, this is a great place for you to visit. If you are visiting Israel for the religious encounter then one day is plenty here. We had a great stop for lunch, right down town a short walk from the beach. After lunch – sightseeing – be prepared here – it’s hilly, cobblestone streets and sweeping vista views! But there is also a ton of traffic, people and shops. A true metropolitan city, that just happens to house many spiritual and culturally significant sites.

My first meal – falafel…so good!
Jaffa Port
Water!!!
From Ottoman period (1515-1917)
Tel Aviv
Jaffa Clock Tower
Me and the beach!

I, along with everyone else in the group, was wearing my name tag with a Canadian flag on it. We walked up a hill that has amazing views and sites to visit, and on the way walked by a group of young men, all of them catching our attention with “CANADA, CANADA, WE LOVE CANADA”. Brought a smile to my face!

After the day’s tour, we headed off to our hotel for the night – the Grand Beach Hotel. Most tours allow for baggage portage – one bag per person. Keep an eye on yours! Your tour guide will get you your keys, so you don’t need to worry about that. Dinner was a buffet bonanza! Wow! Amazing. The food in this tiny country is fantastic! Plenty of everything.

Of course, I was tired and that bed seemed to be the most comfortable bed ever! The next morning arrived quickly as the included breakfast buffet was open at 7:00 am and we were on the road by 8:00 am. Group travel is like that – be prepared for early mornings as the schedule to visit the sites along the way are subject to the opening and closing of everything you are about to see and experience.

Disaster Strikes

We were off to Caesarea and Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee! Along the way we were to visit Haifa and Accra. So, this is where my great Israel experience changed.

This place looked amazing – right on the ocean!

Day 2 – morning – Caesarea first stop – on my way off the bus (2nd step in the bus stairwell) – I stepped down, experienced this incredibly painful jab in my foot and up my leg. Thinking I sprained my ankle, I would shake it off and be good to go. I took about 10 steps off the bus to get to the entrance gates at Caesarea and could basically go no further.

Rizek (and George – our tour guide, and colleague) immediately jumped into “medic” mode. I stayed behind sitting on a bench just outside the gates of this seaside Roman city, and watched as my traveling companions continued through the ruins of Caesarea. About an hour and half later they returned – I had since moved back to the bus with my foot elevated and being iced. The tour for the day continued for everyone else as I was unable to put any weight on my foot at all. At the end of the day, Rizek insisted that I go a nearby clinic to have to foot examined and x-rayed.

With a simple step down a bus stairwell, I had managed to break my foot.

Casted, unable to put any weight on my foot at all, and in a lot of pain, I was now completely vulnerable and reliant on everyone else. Fortunately, hotels had wheelchairs! But, getting on and off the bus was excruciating, so once on it, that’s pretty much where I stayed.

I did not experience any further planned sites on this guided tour. After waiting for another 3 days and receiving the OK from the Orthopedic surgeon in Jerusalem to fly home, I did just that.

What Experiences Can I Share?

So, what experience am I coming back with to share with you? Well, I witnessed the incredible kindness of perfect strangers. One man even gave me his crutches to use so I could go to the washroom. Adam took me by taxi to and from clinics and stopped at pharmacies to pick up medicine. Rizek went out of his way to ensure I was safe at all times. Strangers along the way wished me well, covering me with blessings. Staff pushed me around in my wheelchair. Dear friends and colleagues stayed behind with me, missing out on the tour themselves, helped me to bathe and ensured I was all settled in before they themselves called it a night.

I guess the most significant experience is that of putting in a medical claim with my insurance company in a foreign country in a closed network. My cell phone couldn’t connect to the local carrier. With the help of my husband (still in Canada) we managed to connect manually. That made it a lot easier to talk to Manulife and ensure all the “i’s” were dotted and the “t’s” crossed. Two days later I was on my home again, still absolutely reliant on the kindness of others. It was vitally important that I waited for the doctor’s OK to travel home (Fit to Fly) – I needed the form to even board the homebound plane. If ANYONE ever suggests to you that it’s OK to fly in a cast – you might want to rethink it! Soon as we were airborne, I could feel my leg swell and the cast tighten. (I even had a half-cast where the front was open to account for the swelling that inevitably was going to happen.

On Day 4 I did make it home safely, and just a short while later, I did receive a full refund from Manulife for all my medical expenses.

Such a beautiful country full of religious and cultural experiences for all..here are a few shots taken with my phone from the bus and some from my colleagues….

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