For as long as I can remember, I've dreamed o...
Apr 12 - Apr 20, 2023
For as long as I can remember, I've dreamed of visiting the Middle East. My wish finally came true when my friend Leyda was invited on a Catholic pilgrimage to Israel. While Leyda was keen to visit the holy land, she didn't want to be part of a large tour group. She wanted to experience the country on her own terms. Another motivation for her trip was to visit her mother's best friend, Dorita, whom she considers her aunt. Leyda's family has been closely connected with Dorita's for over six decades, and Leyda was eager to see her again, especially since she is now 92 years old.
Knowing of my own desire to visit Israel, Leyda invited me to join her. She also suggested that we take the opportunity to see the Pyramids in Egypt while we were in the region. I was overjoyed at the prospect and readily agreed to go. However, we had limited funds for our trip and were looking for a package that would provide us with a safe, hassle-free, and affordable way to visit many of the holy, cultural, and geographic sites in the area within just 10 days. Finding such a package seemed like an insurmountable challenge.
That's when I turned to KimKim, a reputable travel agency with strong connections in the area. They put us in touch with Samir, who was able to deliver a travel package that surpassed all our expectations. Despite our demanding and specific requirements, Samir was able to provide us with an incredible travel experience that met all parameters and was one of the most amazing of my long, well-traveled life.
The journey officially began when our plane landed in Tel Aviv airport. We were met by Michael, our driver (and guide) in Israel. I put the word ‘guide’ in quotes because Michael told us he is only licensed for driving, not being a guide. He was tremendously knowledgeable, humorous, friendly, knew people everywhere we went and drove well.
We spent our one free day in Israel with Leida’s family in the Dalia Kibbutz and returned to the By 14 Hotel in Tel Aviv. The hotel was excellent, our favorite part was the fresh Mediterranean cuisine offered at breakfast.
Israel was a hotbed of religious activity on a grand scale with Western and Orthodox Christian Easters, Passover and the Holy Month of Ramadan occurring at the same time. Michael impressively negotiated the crazy maze that was Jerusalem on days when the city was partitioned to accommodate hordes of Pilgrims from several religions and scores of sects. He also explained how the city managed the chaos using zones, barriers, checkpoints and many other means of controlling the movement of people based on their intentions and ethnicities.
Our itinerary took us to additional compelling destinations that were steeped in history and a privilege to visit: Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Qurman and Masada.,
We said good bye to Michael at the Allenby Bridge and crossed into Jordan after a relatively smooth passage through customs.
Bart (I’m not sure I remembered his name correctly) was a reassuring sight as we entered Jordan. He exuded a sense of warmth and tranquility, which immediately put us at ease. This was just the beginning of our journey in Jordan, a country that proved to be a hidden gem in the Middle East. From the moment we arrived, we were treated like honored guests, not just tourists to be milked for money at every step We found this hospitality to be the case in both Israel and Jordan.
Bart delivered us to Yazeed (not sure of the spelling) our driver. Yazeed not only took us around per the itinerary, but found more scenic, interesting routes. Thanks to him we were able to see the people and countryside of Jordan that would have been bypassed. He applied his creativity to enrich our travels and we appreciated it.
Petra, of course, was fabulous. Per Yazeed’s suggestion, we saw the site at night. That was a nice adventure. We toured Petra for a full day with Ied, our guide. He is very educated and provided excellent information. We were exhausted after walking the full length of the site and Ied negotiated a camel ride. We rode two beautiful, well kept camels back to the Treasury, serving as much needed transportation, and an exhilarating experience at the same time. That night we took advantage of the Turkish Bath that was attached to our Hotel – another special experience.
Yazeed dropped us off at the Amman Airport after completing a job well done.
Henry met us at the Cairo Airport and handed us off to our driver, Sabri. We really appreciated the smooth transitions that Samir coordinated!
Egypt was challenging, not at all because of the tour itself. We found it to be chaotic, unpredictable, and the tourist-facing people to be extremely venal. This did not keep us from appreciating the greatness of this country and provided an element of adventure as well.
Due to an unexpected unavailability of a scheduled guide, we ended up with Hoda. She was the only person who dealt with us that was in any way disappointing. Her presentations on ancient Egyptology were fair, but several of recent cultural and historic facts she discussed were inaccurate. She was rude to wait staff at our lunch restaurant, telling the waiters in a haughty manner to move food away from her because the smell of it would interfere with her fast. Worst was when she had an attendant in a parking lot throw stones to chase away a street dog that was lying on the pavement not bothering anybody. Finally, she didn’t adhere to the itinerary and we missed our opportunity to see Giza. We went to a carpet factory, which was not on the schedule, that ate up valuable time, so when Giza closed early we were unable to see it. This would have been disastrous, since Giza was our reason to visit Egypt. Fortunately, we had to wait a full day to fly out at 3:15 am the following day and Sami had reserved Sabri for that time. The following day he took us to Giza, where we had a very exciting, satisfying visit to the pyramids and sphynx. We then saw much of Cairo and spent the evening exploring old Cairo.
Sabri took us to the airport where Henry met us for the departure. We were exhausted, but absolutely thrilled and grateful for the experience.
Overall, the quality of our accommodations during our trip was excellent. All were high-end, clean with great service and food. We were pleased to note that Samir pays close attention to quality and rescheduled a hotel Torino to Ambassador Hotel due to less than favorable reviews.
The Helnan Dreamland hotel in Cairo was spectacular. We spent a magical evening in the pool area in what looked like a huge Bedoin tent. A trio of musicians played authentic Egyptian music as we took in the beautiful evening.
The food everywhere was good Mediterranean fare – fresh and delicious with a broad selection.
Often, we saw large groups of tourists being corralled and gaining only encapsulated exposure to people and places. The bespoke service provided by KimKim allowed us to explore at our own pace without being stranded or scrambling because of unforeseen contingencies. We were happy to be independent, but completely taken care of at the same time.
BY 14 Hotel Tel Aviv offered a fantastic location, great service, and the best food we had during our trip. It was a comfortable and enjoyable stay, and we would highly recommend it to other travelers.
The Holy Land Hotel in Jerusalem provided a comfortable stay with good service and no complaints. Overall, it was a positive experience.
Silk Road Petra was an amazing hotel, and we highly recommend it. The option to enjoy a Turkish bath and massage on-site was an added bonus. Overall, the stay was fantastic.
he Cairo Pyramids Hotel was a beautiful resort, and we liked it best during our trip. However, we encountered some issues with locals in Cairo being aggressive when trying to sell us services. Despite these challenges, the hotel's amenities and location made it an enjoyable stay.
The private group tour of Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, and Mt Zion was an amazing experience. Our drivers and guides were knowledgeable and allowed us a deeper insight into the culture and history of the places we were visiting.
Our Old City Jerusalem and Bethlehem private group tour gave us the flexibility to explore these historic locations at our own pace. The drivers and guides were very informative, and we learned a lot about the local culture and history during our tours.
The trip to Masada and Qumran was another fantastic experience, with private group transportation and knowledgeable drivers. We got to see many interesting sites and gained a broader understanding of the history and significance of these locations.
The full-day Petra private group tour exceeded our expectations. Our driver and local guide were incredibly knowledgeable, and we felt truly immersed in the history and culture of Petra.
The Giza Pyramids tour with Sakkara and Memphis was a good experience, but it required us to be vigilant and assertive when dealing with locals trying to bargain for services. Our driver, however, added value to the experience by taking us around and sharing his knowledge of the sites.