It was the seventh day of my Viking journey on the luxurious Viking Star ocean liner to the Cities of Antiquity & The Holy Land. We docked early morning in the port of Ashdod, Israel. My boyfriend L and I were traveling courtesy of Viking Cruises.* I had been happily anticipating this part of the trip and my first-ever visit to Israel. It would be a day to remember in Old Jerusalem.
“Welcome to Israel,” said our guide Isaac. “How many of you have been to Israel before?” he asked. Only one out of 35 guests in our group raised a hand. “We’ve been waiting for you for 70 years. Better late than never,” he added.
A Tiny But Mighty Country
I was amazed at how tiny Israel is. Isaac said the country is about the size of New Jersey, 350 miles north to south and 50 miles east to west. Wow-o-wow! “We are the only non-Muslim country in the region. We are surrounded by Muslim countries. That’s why we have such issues,” he said. Despite the ongoing friction around the edges, I felt safe during our excursion.
Isaac was quite an accomplished Israeli guide. “In the east we have a long border with Jordan and we have a peace treaty. In the southwest is the border with Egypt and we have a peace treaty with Egypt. The northeast border is Syria and we don’t have a peace treaty with them,” he explained.
Isaac told us about the population of Israel. “We have 8.5 million inhabitants. Eighty percent are Jewish. A majority of the remaining 20 percent are Arabic.”
We learned about Israel’s vibrant agriculture with olive trees, fresh fruits and vegetables. He especially encouraged us to try Israeli peppers and eggplants.
We learned about the country’s terrain: to the west is the coast of the country, in the middle the mountains of Judea and the Negev, the Jordan Valley to the east, the Sea of Galilee in the north and Dead Sea in the south. (I didn’t get a chance to swim in the Dead Sea, which is 34 percent salt! Definitely have to plan another visit to Israel.)
Learning The History of The Holy City
After our scenic drive across Israel’s lowlands and into the Judea mountains, we entered the Holy City. It was an amazing feeling to walk around in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world and a pilgrimage site for major world religions. Continue reading