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This stretch of the Kidron Valley lies between Mount Moriah and the Mount of Olives in one of the world’s holiest cities. The valley continues eastward about 20 miles to the Dead Sea. The valley and adjacent slopes have been burial grounds for thousands of years due to their association with End Times in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

 

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NAME THAT COUNTRY

Byzantine Christians named this ancient citadel The Tower of David because they mistakenly understood one of the Herodian watchtowers to have been built by the 2nd king of the land. In modern times, the Tower of David refers to the 17th-century Ottoman minaret, which adjoins the Mamluk mosque built within the citadel grounds. Today, the Tower of David is a museum, with historical, cultural and art exhibits, as well as activities and lectures.

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Foto Friday – Israel

Anemonies in bloom in the Galilee, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Anemonies in bloom in the Galilee, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

"Mona Lisa of the Galilee" in Zippori (Sepphoris), photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

“Mona Lisa of the Galilee” in Zippori (Sepphoris), photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Nubian Ibex in the Negev Desert, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Nubian Ibex in the Negev Desert, photo by Dafna Tal, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

the Galilee, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

the Galilee, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Holy Sepulchre Church, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

Holy Sepulchre Church, Jerusalem, photo by Noam Chen, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

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The Western Wall, built around 19BCE, is among the world’s most holy places, but much of it is hidden behind unrelated structures built up against it over the centuries. The section commonly known as the Western Wall is only about 200 feet of a total length of 1600 feet . Fifty years ago tunnel excavations began to reveal the full length of the wall, as well as the lower 17 courses below modern street level. One of many interesting things uncovered in 20 years of digging is the wall’s largest stone, which is 45 feet long, 10 feet tall and weighs 570 tons!

 

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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/

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When Jesus was 30 years old, he left Nazareth and settled in the village of Capernaum, about 30 miles away. The village sits on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a fresh water lake, known locally as Lake Kinneret. Several of Jesus’ disciples lived in Capernaum and fished in the lake for a living. The synagogue pictured above post-dates Jesus but is built on remains of a synagogue where he certainly preached.

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