Some Of My Favorite Tour Guides

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Some Of My Favorite Tour Guides

“To let life happen to you is irresponsible. To create your day is your divine right.”Ramtha

A great tour guide is one that creates an experience that you will remember. The best guides I’ve had have left me wanting to go back to the destination or have left me feeling like I’ve made a new friend. I have had many amazing tour guides but I picked ten in no particular order.

Ogus Kaya, Turkey

Ogus is such a warm, friendly and truly motivated guide. He is organized and punctual. We traveled for a few weeks in Turkey with him. He taught us a tremendous amount about the history and architecture. I was obsessed with the Mosque architecture of Sinan. We felt that he wanted us to love Turkey as much as he did and i think everyone did.

One of the highlights of the trip was the balloon ride over Cappodocia. I like my feet on the ground and was not going to do it. He finally said that he would go with me. He reminded me that he had two small children and one on the way. This balloon ride became one of my most cherished travel memories which I would never have done without him. ogus 51@yahoo.com

Petar Vlasik, Croatia

Petar was my first internet tour guide. After a land tour and small boat tour both cancelled, I decided to take my kids and plan a trip through Croatia by myself with Petar. This was the first time I had ever done anything like this without a husband. It was before Trip Advisor. He was recommended by Rick Steves  (so i knew he wasn’t a serial killer). Petar was smart, funny and so knowledgeable about his beautiful country.

We had a wonderful trip. Croatia is still one of my favorite countries for those who have not been there yet. I did not listen to him about hotels and I was sorry. I learned from Petar that a good tour guide always knows best and to trust my instincts about internet tour guides. http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com

Dvir Hollander, Jerusalem, Israel

Dvir’s knowledge, insight, humor, non judgmental world view and kindness made touring this amazing city with him a special experience. We met at lunchtime and we were hungry. When Dvir recognized that we were kindred spirits about food, he described himself as a “ friendly dictator” when it came to where we should eat.

If you are going to Jerusalem, I highly recommend hiring him – not just for the delicious food, but for how much you will learn and experience. He has the unique ability to figure out just what you want to do and then he casually adds in what he feels you are missing. The trip was perfect. Contact him at hollander2000@gmail.com.

Guide Gift Bangkok,Thailand

Gift was another guide that I found online before trip advisor. I read the reviews on her page and went with my gut. She is knowledgeable, kind, and fun to be with. I felt like I was seeing Bangkok and Ayuthetta with one of my friends.

She has her plan but is always ready to change if there is something you want to do. She also knows a very good place for Thai Massage. When you are in a part of the world that feels very different from yours, Gift can make it feel like home.
http://www.privatetourthailand.com)

  Do Sy Quy “Buffalo Joe”Hanoi, Viet Nam

My guide in Hanoi  was Mr. Do Sy Quy. He was my first guide in Viet Nam  and set the tone for an amazing experience. “Buffalo Joe” is kind, friendly, funny, intuitive and very knowledgeable about Hanoi and Viet Nam history.

I connected with him immediately and feel like I have a friend in Hanoi. i will always remember our drive to and from Ha Long Bay and everything we did –  especially the Thanh Chuong Viet Palace. http://www.incensetravel.com

Andres Miguel, Buenos Aires, Argentina

i have had a few great guides in Argentina but I had to pick Andres Miguel because he is a tango dancer.  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food, shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He changed things around and went with what interested me.

The boat ride was an impromptu surprise as was eating at a family restaurant on Sunday for the best empanadas. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect Buenos Aires day.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar

Jose Villa, Cartagena,Colombia

The hot, sleepy city of Cartagena is such a special place and seeing it with Jose is the way to go. Being alone he let me tag along to teach English at their church and visit the music school his son Kevin attended..They were both knowledgeable and fun.

We saw the old city, beaches, markets, took a private boat to the islands, visited a fishing village, paddled a canoe through the mangrove tunnels and strolled the streets of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I stayed an extra few days because I loved this city and felt so safe and taken care of. http://cartagenadestiny.com

Carolina Velasquez Obreque, Santiago, Chile

Carolina was our tour guide in Santiago and Valparaiso. She was funny, knowledgeable and organized. She came to us through Vaya Adventures. We spent a beautiful day with her exploring the Casablanca wine region between Valpo and Santiago.

The trip was seamless – except when I lost that paper that they give you at customs when you land. Apparently it’s very important in Chile. She went with me to get a new one before driving to Valpo which is why I am home and able to write this. I highly recommend spending some time in Chile with her. https://www.vayaadventures.com

Michai Bojanowski , Wroclaw, Poland

Michai is a wonderful guide who loves his country. With knowledge and humor, we spent a long day in Wroclaw exploring the beauty of the city. He incorporates the darkness of the past as we explore the Jewish quarter. He has such passion for passing on the truth.

Before lunch I saw a street art drawing of man looking out the window. I ask about it. He tells me it is Poland’s most famous poet and playwright Tadeusz Różewicz.

After lunch, he has brought copies of a beautiful poem that he thought would go with what he was speaking about.He made sure we learned a little extra. I love that.  michal.bojanowski@chidusz.com

Wayne Thomas, Aukland, New Zealand

I usually don’t write  about a half day group tour of a city but I learned and retained more information with Wayne Thomas of Bush and Beach Tours http://www.bushandbeach.co.nz/, then any day tour I have ever been on.

He has a way of passing on knowledge that is sometimes funny and sometimes personal  that makes you remember it.  This is a wonderful welcome tour of New Zealand. I highly recommend him.

Fly safe,
JAZ

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Dead Sea, Israel

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Dead Sea, Israel

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps.” Frank Herbert

If anyone tries to tell you that floating in the Dead Sea is overrated, don’t believe them. Floating in the Dead Sea is truly an awesome experience and a must-do when traveling to Israel.

The reason why it is so easy to float in the Dead Sea is because it is the second saltiest body of water in the world, with a 33% salt content.  The high salt content makes anyone buoyant and actually makes it pretty impossible to swim or do anything other than float.  The Dead Sea, which is actually a large lake, is so full of salt and minerals, nothing can live in it.  For being so salty, the water is pretty clear You can literally sit down in the water and float in a seated position. You can recline, you can lie flat, you can do sit-ups, you can do leg scissors, or pretty much any other  thing you can possibly think of. The water feels thick-almost oily.

The other popular thing to do at the Dead Sea is to slather black Dead Sea mud all over your body.  Dead Sea mud has many health benefits.  The rich minerals accelerate exfoliation and restore pH balance.  Dead Sea mud can improve elasticity.  The drying of the mud draws out toxins from skin cells.  There is an added benefit of looking really scary and seeing what your skin might look like when you’re 120 years old as the dried mud makes your skin pucker and move in very odd ways. It is really funny to see everyone on the beach like that. (selfie before the mud)

We stayed at the  Herod hotel in  Ein Borek. It is the only hotel with a private beach. The mud is not on this beach so they give you mud to use. It works. There are other beaches that have mud, but I opted for privacy,  ease and comfort. 

You can get “Dead Sea mud treatments” all over Jordan and Israel, but here you’re actually at the Dead Sea getting it straight from the source. There are many other health and beauty spa treatments to do. 

Don’t shave for a few days before floating in the Dead Sea. Have you ever had lemon juice on a cut?  That is the kind of pain you’ll experience. I did it when I was here and eighteen years old and I still remember that pain. Also, beware that any cuts or abrasions are going to sting.  Your skin will start to tingle after spending some time floating in the Dead Sea even without any cuts .Don’t get the water in your eyes.  If you do, it’s going to hurt l and you’ll need to get your hands on some fresh water . Wear an old and/or dark bathing suit.  The mud is dark and it can stain or make colors fade. I know that now.

Leave enough time to take a long shower. You can try to rinse off all the mud in the Dead Sea, but it’s pretty hard to get it all off.  Also, as soon as you leave the water you’ll notice deposits of salt stuck on your body.

People came  to the Dead Sea many years ago, because the water was supposed to be magical. It’s said to heal all kinds of problems like psoriasis and osteoporosis. There is not only a lot of salt in the water but many other minerals. Along with soaking in mineral rich water, you are very far below sea level (in fact, the lowest point on earth!) so that you aren’t getting the sun rays that will burn you. For that reason it’s a safe place to lay in the sun and let the mud and salt water work their magic. People come from all over the world on medical trips to help their health, while looking for alternative cures. (view from my window- bathers at sunrise).

The Dead Sea has been rapidly shrinking in recent decades due to the diversion of incoming water from the Jordan River. Large sinkholes have recently started appearing, and while Israel and Jordan are trying to save it, there’s no certainty that it will last for much longer. The sooner you come,  the more water will be here for you to enjoy. The Dead Sea is nothing short of amazing.

If you want to take photos while covered in salt and mud  or floating in the sea use a cheap waterproof camera. I did not have one.

It is a  happy, tiring day ( asleep with an ice cream cone,).

Fly safe,

JAZ

Eating In Tel Aviv With Ron and Josette

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Eating In Tel Aviv with Ron And Josette

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” – Cesar Chavez

Americans don’t prioritize eating together. The average American eats one in every five meals in her car and one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day. Enjoying basic meals with friends and family has many physical and psychological health benefits. In many countries, mealtime is treated as sacred.

I was blown away to discover the food in Israel. It is fresh, innovative and delicious. Israel is now a food destination for me. Ron and Josette are the perfect eating companions and love to cook and eat the food there.

Everyone has a favorite falafel and schwarma place in Tel Aviv.

I’ve tried a few and all are fresh and tasty but this one is the one I like the best.  Ha’Kosem (the magician)  (https://www.facebook.com/pages/הקוסם/120889484655916

I have three favorite lunches in Tel Aviv.

Anastasia is a pretty vegan restaurant and I love their soba salad. (even when it is a 106 degrees in the spring) https://www.facebook.com/cafeanastasia/?rf=659709370778134

The Eggplant Parmigiana at Eataleat is so good for lunch and dinner.

I eat it a lot when I am in Tel Aviv. It is the best eggplant parmigiana I have eaten so far.  https://www.facebook.com/ITALEAT/

Adraba was my neighborhood cafe in Tel Aviv.https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caf%C3%A9-Adraba/333288026736287

The people and the coffee are both great but it is the Greek Salad that was my regular lunch.

Kalamata in Yafo is a wonderful place to go for seafood. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the fish is fresh and delicious and the staff is friendly and welcoming.http://www.kalamata.co.il/

One of my all time favorite restaurants anywhere is Mashya in Tel Aviv.

It is always spot on delicious. Let the waiters help you with their favorites. They are never wrong.

 Ron and Josette were skeptical  that i had accidentally found this amazing restaurant.

They loved it as well.  http://www.mashya.co.il/

 Labneh (yogurt cheese) in Israel is something special.

An amazing place to eat it and to try other Druze specialties is at Nachala Ba’Teva in Zalman Junction by the Sea of Galilee. https://www.facebook.com/nahalabateva/

Shabbat in Israel usually means dinner at home with family and friends. In the afternoon there is a huge demand for takeout and Shuk Ha Karmel is crowded and filled with shoppers finding the best ingredients for their Sabbath meal. 

Shabbat with Rina and Eli

Shabbat breakfast  watermelon, salty cheese  and boreks (my favorite)

Shabbat with Ron and Josette

 

Fly safe,

JAZ

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

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The Western Wall

“Everywhere I look, I see something holy.” Terry Pratchett

We visited the Wall on our first day in Jerusalem. It is the Western Wall of the Second Temple that survived the destruction by the Romans, making it the most sacred construction for the Jewish people.The Wall is the closest place to where Jews believe the presence of God resides on earth.

Our guide Dvir, takes us to the viewing point on the roof of the Aish HaTorah building. I had seen the view before.

You can see the entire Western Wall, as well as the Temple Mount with the golden Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

I looked down awestruck at the presence of history.

Dvir takes us to a  private chapel in Aish Hatorah where we are left with our thoughts to write our prayers for the wall. That was incredible. I spent a long time composing each person’s prayer.

We walk through security and metal detectors and go our own ways to the wall.

Dress modestly.There is a separate side for men and women.

I find a place against the crowded wall and put my hand on it. I can feel the humans who have been there before me. Women are praying, rocking, bobbing, reading and chanting close to the wall.

The woman next to me is praying and sobbing uncontrollably. I try not to pay attention. She says something to me in Hebrew that I don’t understand. She asks me for a tissue in English. I had left my purse with Dvir and I never have tissues. I reach in my pocket and there is one thing – a tissue. I give it to her and now she is holding on to me and praying. I am forced into the present. Old and new come together.


As is the custom, I have quite a few prayers to put in the wall. Papers are stuffed and folded in every reachable crack.

The flecks of blue, yellow, and peach post-it notes, white paper with red, blue and black pen, scraps of graph paper and lined paper are all rolled into balls, wadded, curled, folded, and stuffed together in-between the rocks pressed in place by thousands of hands. I find a perfect place for each of them.

It’s hard to focus on prayer or a spiritual moment. There are so many women praying. Kids are running around.

A troop of Israeli soldiers are dancing and singing loudly.

Tourists are photographing, talking loudly and taking selfies. It is hard to feel the past.

But then I realize that women have prayed here with children running around for thousands of years just like this without the cell phone photos. I understand at that moment that I am as much a part of the history of the wall as the stones are. I feel incredible amazement at this connection.

Special thanks to Dvir Hollander, for his knowledge, insight, humor, non judgmental world view and kindness. If you are going to Jerusalem, I highly recommend hiring him – not just for the food, but for how much you will learn and experience. He has the unique ability to figure out just what you want to do and then he casually adds in what he feels you are missing. The trip was perfect. Contact him at Hollander2000@gmail.com.

Fly safe,

JAZ

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

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The Temple Mount, Jerusalem

“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.” John Lennon

Jerusalem is a symbol of three great religions but is also a city filled with hatred. The conflicts are mostly between the Muslims and the Jews but also with the Ultra Orthodox.

The Temple Mount is in the South East corner of Jerusalem’s Old City surrounded by date palms and cypress trees. It is the most holy place in the city, with major significance to all three religions.

It is thought to be Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.

For Jews, the Temple Mount was the location of the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BC to house the Ark of the Covenant (which held the Ten Commandments) It’s the most sacred site in Judaism.

For Christians, the Temple Mount is significant because the Jewish temple located here was where Jesus prayed daily and later preached with his disciples.

For Muslims, it is the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The rock under the dome is where the Prophet Muhammad left Earth to visit heaven on a winged horse in the 7th Century.

The Temple Mount is a controversial and culturally significant place.

Israel took control of the Old City in 1967, but Muslims continue to manage the site.

However armed Israeli soldiers patrol inside. It’s a regular flash point for protests and violence between Jews and Arabs.

The entrance for non-Muslims is at the Mughrabi Bridge (an enclosed wooden ramp) near the Western Wall. Tourists can usually visit the Temple Mount, but there are restrictions.

It’s a religious site, so modest dress is required. (blue cover ups if you are not dressed correctly)

You must pass a security checkpoint with metal detectors, and certain religious artifacts are not allowed in (Bibles, crosses, Star of David, etc.)

There are only certain times that non-Muslims are allowed to visit.

It is quite different from the staircase in the wall that we used to go back and forth many years ago.

Tourists can walk around the plaza taking photos, but are currently not allowed inside the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque after a fire was set inside the mosque  by a Christian extremist many years ago. You are able to peek inside Al-Aqsa from a window on the side of the building.

Jews can visit the Temple Mount, but they can’t pray openly. Only Arabs are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.

Some Orthodox Jews feel the site is too holy to even walk on while others believe they should be allowed to pray there. The chief rabbis have posted a sign forbidding Jews to pray there.

There is definitely tension in the air, but it didn’t feel dangerous.

The world is a big place and three religions are fighting over a plaza of stone. We are supposed to respect each other’s rights and freedoms.  None of this feels God like to me.

Fly safe,

JAZ