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For about 400 years, from the mid-15th century, Topkapi Palace was the residence and administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. The sprawling complex occupies the end of a peninsula bordered by 3 bodies of water – the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus Straight and the Golden Horn. In 1924, the palace became a museum open to the public and is among the most visited sites in our mystery country.

 

Can you name that country? 
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Private Touring in Israel

our guide Jacob modeling our touring van

our guide Jacob modeling our touring van

The advantages of a private tour may seem obvious to some, but we get quite a few questions about the distinction between our tours labeled “private” and those labeled “motor coach.” With Ya’lla Tours, and in general, a private tour means that the travel party travels with a guide in a private vehicle. The guide and vehicle are not shared with other travelers. Scheduled motor coach tours in Israel average about 20 passengers in a bus but could have anywhere from 2 to 50 passengers.

The biggest advantage of a private tour is the lower guide to traveler ratio. With a small travel party, there’s the opportunity for much more interaction and conversation between the guide and the travelers. It really becomes like a family unit. Rather than lecturing to a crowd, the guide has the time and proximity to speak directly to and with all of her/his travelers. With large groups at site visits, it can be hard to get close enough to the guide to hear what is being said, much less have a one-on-one discussion. (Don’t get me wrong, even guides of large groups strive to connect with everyone in their flock. I’ve been in groups of over thirty, where every traveler felt personally bonded with the guide. In addition to encyclopedic knowledge about their country, good tour guides possess infinite patience, humor, kindness and energy.)

Moving from place to place is also much easier with a small party. Vans can zip through traffic and maneuver ancient, narrow streets. Despite excellent drivers, motor coaches are far less nimble; it’s just a fact. Also, stops and site visits take considerably less time with a small party, meaning you see more and experience more of the destination. Imagine 2-5 travelers arriving in a van at Capernaum, for example. From the moment they park to the moment they are all gathered around their guide at the site should take five minutes. Now imagine a motor coach group of 20 – 50. Just getting everyone off the bus takes 5 minutes or more, plus another 10-15 minutes before the entire group is standing at attention, ready to learn about the site.

Finally, with a private tour, you have much more flexibility. From the outset, your itinerary is customized to your personal interests and needs. In Israel, this is especially important because, for so many, it is a religious destination. Scheduled motor coach tours are general interest tours designed for broad appeal. While they visit religious sites, the guide’s explanations are academic rather than religious in tone.

With a private tour, you can modify your itinerary as you go to suit your experience on the ground. If you fall in love with Jerusalem’s Old City and want to spend the whole day there, you can do it. Maybe you sacrifice another visit or have a longer day tomorrow to make up what you missed today; but you have options, the private itinerary is fluid. With a motor coach tour, such changes are impossible.

Now, all of this is not to say that we are totally down on motor coach touring. We are not. It’s a good value and can be a fun social experience, meeting and touring with people from all over.

Check out tour private and motor coach tours to Israel at www.yallatours.com/israel/

NAME THAT COUNTRY

This is Sur, on the northern coast of our mystery country, about 90 miles northeast of the capital city, Muscat. Sur has been a regional center of ship building for centuries. Visitors can tour the ship yards and observe craftsmen building the traditional vessels in the same way they have done for many generations. The ship pictured is the Fatah Al Khair, a type of Al Ghanjah ship, built in 1951. The semicircular keel is one of the signature features of Sur ship builders.

 

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Mummification Museum, Luxor, Egypt

a cat mummy at Luxor's Mummification Museum

a cat mummy at Luxor’s Mummification Museum

For those interested in mummies and/or ancient Egyptian religion, the Mummification Museum in Luxor is well worth a visit. Most of the mummies on display are animals (currently there is just one human mummy), which gives insight into the reverence ancient Egyptians held for animals. The museum is dedicated to the process of mummification and the belief system behind it. Exhibits are well organized and include beautiful examples of mummification tools, sarcophagi and canopic jars, which held organs removed from the embalmed body. Thirty to forty minutes is plenty of time to see everything and leave with a good understanding of ancient Egyptian mummification. The museum is right on the Nile Corniche in the center of Luxor, just north of the Luxor Temple.