The day after my final class in Bucharest, I headed to Israel for a long weekend. There are direct flights from Bucharest (and Cluj) to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. Flight time is less than 2 ½ hours, and my roundtrip aboard discount carrier Blue Carrier cost $140. No visa is required for Americans; however, passport control will ask for specifics of your stay, particularly locations and hotels, so you need to book ahead. Passports are not stamped; instead, small permit cards are issued for a restricted of time; mine was one month.
My reasons for visiting Israel stem from my love of history as well as having been raised in a Christian home in which we were well acquainted with Bible and its various settings in the Holy Land. Given my limited time, Jerusalem was my target, and I was delighted to secure lodging within the Old City at the Lutheran Guesthouse in the Christian Quarter, which put me within a quick walk from the many historic sites I had so longed to visit, most notably the Church of the Sepulcher, the Western Wall, and Temple Mount. I also journeyed into “modern” Jerusalem to visit Yad Vashem, a vast hillside compound that includes Israel’s Holocaust Museum and it memorials to the millions of Jews killed.
I also visited Bethlehem on Shabbat by using the Arab (green) bus; the town itself was disappointing as was the famous Church of the Nativity, which is smothered by scaffolding. On my last day, I hired a taxi for several hours to go to the West Bank to visit both Bethlehem and Jericho and to witness the every increasing (and illegal) Jewish settlements being built as well as seemingly endless walls being erected. I learned more about the plight of the Palestinians during my several conversations with Christians and Muslims living in Jerusalem. The situation is grave and worsening and can best understood in one word: apartheid.
A few notes and tips for anyone planning to visit Israel:
Public services run by the (Jewish) Israelis come to a halt on Shabbat—the Sabbath that begins at sundown on Friday and continues until sunset on Saturday. For tourists, this means no buses or trains; however, taxis still run from the airport, and the Arab (green) buses continue to run in the West Bank everyday.
The shekel (ILS officially but often noted as NIS) currently is worth 26 cents. To determine prices, just divide the total by four, e.g., my 300 shekel taxi ride from Jerusalem back to the airport was $75, which is considerably more than the 64 shekel ($14) Nesher shuttle van that I was supposed to take but missed because I was at the wrong pickup point.
I recommend having your passport with you at all times. I needed mine several times beyond passport control: at the Wall, on the Arab bus, at check points in the West Bank, etc.
The Ben Gurion Airport is beautiful and efficient and located appr. 25 minutes from Tel Aviv and 45+ minutes from Jerusalem. You quickly will note the police and soldiers carrying submachine guns; they are everywhere you’ll travel in this country.