The last 2 days of the exotic tour were spent making our way back to Singapore. We drove to Allenby’s bridge (King Hussein on the Jordan side) and dropped the car off before heading through the immigrations. Crossing back to Jordan felt easier compared to we made our way over to Israel. However, the whole sequence was the same, with the minibuses ferrying passengers between the immigration counters. Once we crossed over, we got onto a taxi that brought us to the last accommodation, Larsa hotel.
We catered some time for the crossing but managed to do it earlier than expected, probably because we tried to do so as early as the counters were opened. Took the afternoon off for shopping in Amman in City Mall and had lunch.
At night we visited yet another mall, Mecca mall and had dinner before packing for the long flight home.
From Larsa hotel, we arranged for a taxi to take us to the airport. Then it was about getting to Doha first then transit back to Singapore, arriving in the afternoon.
This trip was one of my favorite as we were visited the “exotic” places where Jordan and Israel had to offer. The Petra as one of the new wonder of the world left us in awe, the amusing experience with the Dead Sea and the salty mud, the feeling of tension through thousands of years of religious conflict in Jerusalem, the eye opening experience in the visit to Bethlehem in terms of religious history and current isolation and others. Glad I had this checked off my bucket list.
Earlier we had made a reservation from the hotel for a tour (Under Bein Harim) in Bethlehem, having not able to figure out how to go by ourselves (and avoiding the hassle of doing so). A bus with a couple of passengers already picked us up from the hotel and drove a short distance to the “immigrations”, a gate in a long stretch of 10meter tall concrete wall of isolation surrounding Palestine.
We got off and proceeded to go through with passports but there were no stamping required. Then it was some more walking before we reached the other side where we got on another bus. We were officially in area controlled by the Palestinian Authority, there were only 2 of such isolated areas and the other one is the infamous conflict zone of Gaza. With this, there was a certain feeling of tension as we go on our tour, the first attraction is the Shepherd’s fields.
The location we arrived at was open wide as expected of a field. The sheep shepherds of old used to have sheep grazing here but we didn’t see any that day. There were stories told by the guide about what the place was about, and caves that were once inhabited to explore. At this location we could also see Israeli settlements that built into the Palestinian land and it seemed some unfairness in this complicated political game.
The next location which was a short drive from the fields was the Milk Grotto. We arrived at a small church, built over a location where baby Jesus was fed milk, and therefore called the Milk Grotto. There was also a story told about how a drop that fell to the ground had whitened the entire floor. We left after exploring the area for the next destination, Church of Nativity.
We alighted at Manger Square to get to the Church of Nativity nearby. We had to skip to the other locations to avoid the crowd earlier at this popular church. Many pilgrims were here to see and pray at the location where Jesus was born.
There were two entrances, one with a shorter door frame, called the Door of Humility. Upon entering the church, we could see the old interior of the church with traditional deco and the wall mosaics. Similar to the Church of Annuciation, there were many people crowded around to pray at the location of Jesus birth location, marked by a star. After spending some time exploring the church, we left through the bigger entrance.
The tour ended as we returned the same way we came through the gate and then with a drop off at the Jaffa gate and we walked over to the Mamillia Mall for lunch.
There was still some time left so we drove to the Masada Fortress which was an hour and a half drive from Jerusalem. En-route, we noticed a Ahava visitor’s center and popped in to have a look. Purchased some goodies as souvenirs for the people back home as they were substantially cheaper than home and continued onwards to Masada.
The fortress perched atop a barren hill. There was a cable car we took to get up to the fortress. From there, we had a tour guide to bring us through the fortress.
Just like any other fortress that we had been to in this trip, this ruins had an interesting history about being under siege and how the enemy built a ramp to reach it. There were a few levels that we could get down to as it was built on the edge of the cliff and that offered different viewpoints of the expanse below.
Our final stop before heading back to Jordan was to enjoy a spa. We drove to a popular Dead Sea spa destination at Ein Bokek where many hotels were built to serve the same purpose. We choose a familiar hotel chain Le Meridian and went in.
Had always wanted to try mud wrap, which we did. We were separated and went to different rooms. The room which I was in felt more like an abandoned surgeon’s room right out of a horror movie but why so was because it would be very messy to deal with so much mud that that had to apply and cover all over my body. The male therapist proceeded to wrap me up after the he was done with the application and then with a blanket above. It was so warm that I was sweating. The end result was smooth skin (I think) after I bath off the mud.
Drove back to Jerusalem, had dinner and packed for the trip back to Jordan.
Our 2nd day in Jerusalem started with a visit to the Yad Vashem museum, which was a museum focused on the topics of WWII and the atrocities of the Holocaust. There were audio guides available that gave information as we visited different places of the very long museum. It was impossible to go through all the details within 2hrs that we were there but we couldn’t afford more time since there were other places to visit. But the history lesson was totally worth it.
After lunching at the museum, we drove to Mount of Olives and visited the Gethsemane. It was a small garden that had an impressive, very, very old olive trees, some as old as a few thousands years old!
Close to the garden was the Church of All Nations. There was a service at the time of our visit so we didn’t go about exploring the church and merely took a photo of the internal before leaving.
Then we continued walking to Dominus Flevit Church. It was a small church constructed in a interesting shape, like a teardrop. We went in to have a look and from the window we could see the old city. This also provided a short period of shade from the otherwise rather open hill, exposed to the blazing sun above our heads.
Walking along the roads of this hill and above the slope of graves, the old city can be seen.
Leaving the Mount of Olives, we drove to the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were kept. The museum complex was huge and had many different exhibits but we were only focused in going to the scrolls since it was really close to closing time. These manuscripts on papyrus were displayed, some of them were really long and rolled out. Coupled with the content from the Da Vinci’s code at the back of my head during the visit, it was an amazing feeling to see ancient stuff like these.
It was time for a break from the visiting and we took the rest of the evening off with a visit to the Malcha Mall, one of the largest mall in Jerusalem. The large and popular brands can be recognised in this huge mall, and it was definitely a cooler option to walk around compared to the outside.
For dinner, we drove to random street where it seemed like a popular place for dining due number of restaurants available. Found one that had Israeli flags on its window, Marvad Haksamim and ordered to our heart’s content (since we were near the end of the trip and still had some money). The food was delicious!
Started the morning with breakfast at the restaurant next to the hotel, Yotvata at the promenade. Bought the vouchers from the hotel reception at a discount.
After retrieving our vehicle from the carpark, it’s a one and a half hour drive to Jerusalem. Parked along the road side on the Alcazar Hotel and checked in. The simple room given was a twin and came with a balcony but not much of a view.
The walled city of Jerusalem was a lovely place to visit, the architecture of old seemed to bring the us back in time. The 4 quarters (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian) that formed the city but each separated from each other by a small walking street. Location of importance to 3 major religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) of the world, I felt that there seemed to be a small tinge of tension within the different quarters but it could very well be from myself, influenced by media before coming here. The people just carried on with their day to day though.
The area of the city was huge and some strategy for walking about would be required to cover as much with as little time as possible. Streets were only as wide of people to walk about and there was so much walking required. We first visit the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall). Men and women were separated at the entrance to their own sides. There were kippas for temporary usage that had to be won to enter these areas. There were many people who come to pray beside the wall. There was also a library beside the wall and there too many were seen praying, some moving about wildly like as if in some kind of trance.
After that, we went to the Christian side and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I felt that it wasn’t easy to find this place as getting here we had to walk into a small pathway from the main street of the Christian quarters and we missed it the first time around.
Though I wasn’t a Christian, I was kinda excited to visit this place (maybe I heard more of the stories than the other religions?). This was the place where Jesus was crucified and laid to rest. Though from the outside, the church didn’t look all too impressive, once inside, we could feel the confusion as it was a huge areas with multiple chapels within, each with their own significance. Tried to follow the map and explored but it was difficult to get close to some of the more significant spots (Edicule, rock of Calvary, Stone of Anointing) as there were lines of pilgrims waiting!
Our third place of interest was in Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock. Entry into this place was limited to just one entry through the Mughrabi gate at the Western Wall, as we were non-Muslims. We had to queue to enter as entry was controlled and entrants were checked. There wasn’t many places we could go into the mosque or the Dome of the Rock but simply admire visually the beauty of its architecture.
By the end of the visits, we were looking for a place to have lunch and so visited an interesting looking restaurant that was within an arch, known as Between the Arches.
There were still some more places to go such as the Church of Dormition where it was said that this was the place where the Virgin Mary died.
We also visited Tomb of King David. There weren’t much signages here and we ended up not seeing anything that resembled a sarcophagus. On the second storey of the building was the Cenacle, where the Last Supper was supposed to have taken place. We couldn’t make up where that was too, with only an imagination based on Da Vinci’s paintings.
We also walked to Oskar Schindler’s grave, having been inspired by the movie Schindler’s list, where he had saved so many lives from the Nazi persecutions during WWII. Unfortunately it was closed and we didn’t had a lot time.
There were just so much to see in Jerusalem. There were also ruins of archaeological importance as we walked about. It was rather tiring to absorb so much and walk so long in a day.
Went back to the hotel for a rest before getting out of dinner. There was a modern mall, Alrov Mamilla Avenue, so we went there in search of dinner. Settle in at a restaurant with a view. Thoroughly enjoyed the day in Jerusalem.
A short stay at beautiful old town of Nazareth and we were going westwards. After having our breakfast at the hostel, we drove first to the Crusaders fort at Acre (pronounced Akko) some 40km away.
Once we arrived, managed to parked at the carpark which was quite full. Got the tickets for the visit for the fortress. It was a huge fortress and had many arches in the many spacious empty rooms.
The external areas were just as interesting as the internal with the emblems and flags and the markets. There was also a Templar’s tunnel used by the Templar Knights, those fascinated by this historical period and of course the fascination brought about by the Da Vinci’s code, would like to walk through this tunnel that had animated story telling on its walls.
This port town was also a great place to walk about and explore but we had other places to go to and thus did not spend too much time. Drove to the next place, Bahai Gardens, a short drive away.
We didn’t know what to expect and as the GPS brought us uphill, I had to look for a place to parallel park alongside the road. We weren’t sure of the entrance either and had ended up at the end of the garden in the middle of the hill. But it was ok as the view of Haifa and the Gardens was awesome!
There were specific timings on the opening hours of the inner gardens and it was closed by the time we arrived and only settled for the outer gardens.
The next location was a short drive to a Druze village called Daliyat El-Carmel, the visit recommended by Lonely Planet, a village of ethnic people. As we arrived at an area with different style of buildings and we knew we were in the area, as GPS wasn’t able to give a specific location on Mount Carmel. We parked by the road and walked around till we found what looked like a restaurant and decided to have lunch there.
From the Druze village, we drove southwards towards Caesarea, also a historical attraction that was next to the sea. This was also a very nice place to visit with the sea breeze blowing while we explored the place. I was amazed to see the amphitheatre right next to the waters, first of its kind that I have seen!
Our accommodation Beachfront Hotel for the night was at the city of Tel Aviv and it was an hour drive. As this was a city, it was not a fast drive there since traffic was heavier. I had to go twice around and finally parked at a manned parking space right next to the hotel.
Our hotel room, although small and simple, was facing the nice Tel Aviv beach. The room had a fenced up open space at the front of the room that was opened to the streets! I liked this interesting concept.
After rested enough (really tiring from travelling to so many places), we drove to the old town of Jaffa, hoping to get dinner. It was not easy to get a car park here and we parked at a public carpark space with a few lots left. It was on the slope of a small hill and from there we could see the lighted city of Tel Aviv.
Took a while to explore the small and quiet old town but there weren’t much to see as most places were closed. We also couldn’t get a place to eat and so as we walked to the modern town, we bought some pastries for dinner. Drove back to Tel Aviv and rested for the night.
There was quite a lot of ground to cover as we first moved northwards towards the Golan heights to visit Nimrod fortress before going the to Banias National Park for some nature walks and to see the waterfall. Checked out and loaded up the car with our luggage and we were on our way.
It was about an hour’s drive and very soon we managed to identify the ruins on top of a hill. The GPS did a fantastic job that brought us all the way to the doorstep of the castle, along a narrow 2 way road. Parked at an open space and as we walked towards the entrance, we saw some animals loitering on the steps, adorable Syrian Hyrax!
We were practically on our own as there weren’t any guides around. There were signboards all around so it was not too bad to just roam around and read off information. There weren’t many visitors either.
This castle was pretty big and to just run through every signboard took a lot of time. Got to the top where we could get a 360 view of the surrounding. There was also a secret tunnel which was said to link to Banias but we didn’t have the time to explore and left.
It was a quick drive to Banias National Park to check out the Banias Waterfalls. We parked our car at the public carpark and started to walk on the wooden pathway alongside the gushing stream. The coolness of the shade in the forest made us felt really good. It was about 25mins walk till we arrived at the waterfall, the splashing was so big that we couldn’t approach it without getting wet.
After that, we moved to the Pan’s grotto just 10 mins away and there we could see only ruins. There were sign boards again that we tried to make sense of with the illustrations. Apparently, this was the place where sacrifices were made to God Pan (half goat, half man) and where temples for him used to stand.
The area actually had much more to explore but we didn’t have time as we had to drive to Nazareth, 2 hrs drive southwards.
On arrival to Nazareth, we were in awe of the view of this historical town. To get to our accommodation, Fauzi Azar Inn, we had to drive through cobbled streets with narrow lanes. I found an open space where cars were parked, close to the accommodation and parked there.
Fauzi Azar Inn was equally beautiful as it was one of the older buildings that was converted into this accommodation in the heart of the historical town. It had its own private terrace where people could sit and chill, the room was simple but nicely and cosily decorated. No wonder the great reviews on tripadvisor.
Again we were on the move after checking in, drove to Megiddo. It was said that this would be the site of the final battle between good and evil, and that was where the world armageddon was derived. This story intrigued me that I had to give this place a visit, some 30mins of driving away from Nazareth. We ended up at Tel Megiddo.
Entering the site, we saw that this castle was mostly in ruins, nothing much was left. Cows had taken over the fields and were all around.
This wasn’t the most interesting place as we had been through so many castles and ruins. The only interesting parts were the huge silo and a underground water tunnel.
Our last stop was the Church of Annuciation where it covered what was supposedly Virgin Mary’s house, which was a cave.
The church was also quite big and had quite a few places to explore. We weren’t aware of all the details and therefore simply exploring around (through the crypts and looking at the stained glasses) and taking in the historical atmosphere of this place.
Ended the day with dinner at one of the restaurant Annai Bar before retiring for the day.
It was the end of the Jordan leg of the trip and onto a new country that would be equally exciting. This country being a birth center of 3 major religions and its modern day political controversies definitely had us both excited and concerned, as we weren’t sure if it was really safe to go on our own during planning.
At the Israeli side, we had wanted to avoid a passport stamp as there could be issues travelling to other countries in future, especially for some whom still do not recognise Israel as a state officially. So we asked if the officer could stamp on a separate form (known as a 17L sheet) but was asked the reasons. We said we wanted to visit Malaysia but he informed that it was ok for Malaysia as they were friends. We couldn’t convince the officer and so ended up with a stamp in our passport. Thereafter it was a getting a short taxi drive out to the main gate as it was not accessible for our rental vehicle.
After dropping off, called Green Peace car rental rep who arrived not too long after. Taking over the car, I started my GPS and we were on our way to our first city of Tiberias, right next to the Sea of Galilee. We first checked in at Berger hotel which was not too far away from the town center.
Next priority was to exchange currency as there weren’t any at the borders. By the time we arrived at Tiberias, it was late afternoon and there weren’t any forex around and so I had to changed some at one of the bigger hotel’s reception (ours didn’t have either). For lunch, we had MacD, after which we took a short stroll at the port side town before leaving for the attractions.
First stop for us was the Church of Primacy of St. Peter at Tabgha, a town real close to Tiberias, after negotiating the small windy roads. This little church was just beside the water which made it picturesque. Within was a rock table that was once used by Jesus while having a meal with the Apostles (or to that effect, am not a Christian). There were tour guides bringing their guests who were most likely on a pilgrimage tour to the site, and while they told the tales, we listen to some and left for the next location, another more famous site.
On arrival to the Church of Multiplication, we were disappointed to find the gates closed. We had probably there during the closing hours. The significance of Jesus feeding thousands by multiplication of 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes was represented by this church. Couldn’t see more, we snapped a photo of the stone by the entrance with what looked like chalk drawings of the fishes and bread and left.
We knew we were running late already and as we drove around in search of “Mount of Beatitudes“, not knowing how it looked like. Stopped at a church and snapped the nice view of the surroundings.
Went back to the hotel for a rest before heading back to the town for dinner. There were many food stalls around the area, something like a pasar malam, but not as crowded or squeezy. Had our nutella pancakes for dinner. At night, what was quiet in the afternoon became an area of lights and food and games and people enjoying the night walking about.
We walked to the end of the Yigal Alon promenade to see the water and light show at the Tiberium, which had a few scheduled timings. Had to be there earlier as many people turned up for the show. Went back to the hotel for a much deserved rest after such a long day.
Total duration 16D17N Singapore is 5hrs ahead of Doha,Jordan and Israel. Flight time is 7,5hrs direct flight on Qatar Airways from Singapore to Doha. Night flight on 20th April and arrival in Doha at just after midnight.. Return flight is a slightly more than 2.5hrs direct flight on Qatar Airlines from Amman to Doha, a transit of 5.5hrs and another 8hrs flight back to Singapore. Return journey started on a Saturday afternoon and touching down in Singapore on Sunday mid-day.
This escape plan was planned as our long trip for the year. We chose this trip because we wanted to see one of the wonder of the world, Petra in Jordan and also to hop over to Israel for a visit (though we aren’t the religious sort).
Budget nature: Budget buster.
This trip took some time for saving up as the Singapore dollars are smaller than the currencies of the Jordanian Dinar and although it is bigger than the Israeli New Sheqel and the Qatari Rial, the expenses there are expensive too. Petrol prices in Jordan are cheaper than Singapore but not in Israel. Accommodation have been chosen for the affordability and thus not luxurious. Food prices are higher than Singapore but still affordable. Entrance fees and transportation to attractions are also contributing the the costs.
Complexity: Driving a car is required to move around Jordan and Israel.
These two countries are huge and a car to move around is the most ideal. We did not take any of the public transportation during our time except in Doha where it was just a stopover for us and taxi is the easy way around and in Amman, where driving in the city is too challenging.
With a GPS on hand, navigation is a breeze. Speedtraps in Jordan were especially common and thus one has to be careful not to get caught or risk a fine on the spot.