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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Humans Of Israel

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Humans of Israel

“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” Elliot Erwitt

On my way back to Israel. I hope i run into them again.

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

 

Mea Shearim: The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem

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Mea Shearim, The Ultra Orthodox Of Jerusalem

“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” Jon Stewart

Walking into Mea Shearim is like walking into a shtetl (village) in pre World War Two Eastern Europe. When you walk through this community they expect you to be respectful of their way of life and dress appropriately. There are signs in English for that.

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Tzedakah boxes are posted all over to give money to the poor.

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For religious Jews, giving is not an option. It’s a law.

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Information is controlled by the chief rabbis of the different communities. The important information passes to the public, after being filtered, and hang as Pashkvil – street posters.

There are a couple of newspapers though not everybody purchases them. There is supposedly no internet and there are signs about that also.

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There was something nice about seeing the large families all together, the fresh bakery smells and hearing the language of my childhood. It was a simpler time.

Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts.

For men, traditions in dress code include black frock coats and black hats. Long, black beards cover their faces, and many grow side curls.

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Women and girls are urged to wear modest dress – knee-length or longer skirts, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders. Married women wear a variety of hair coverings, from wigs to head scarves.

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The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, as opposed to the Hebrew language spoken by the majority of Israel’s population. The only use of Hebrew for residents is in prayer and religious study, as they believe that Hebrew is a sacred language to be used only for religious purposes.

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Most of the men spend their days studying Torah, living off a meager stipend, government aid and sometimes their wives salaries. Some go to work. They are exempt from paying taxes and the mandatory army service that all Israelis have to do to.

As with all closed societies, the extremists set the tone. The gulf between secular Israelis and the ultra Orthodox is getting wider. There are more similarities between the extremist Islāmic and ultra Orthodox communities. Most stay in their community only leaving to go to the Arab Market and pray at the Wall.

The Orthodox have their own unregulated school system which does not prepare their children for the modern world. Religious schools don’t teach mathematics, science, or English; only the Bible. All day, every day. The men are expected to continue that Bible study for the rest of their lives. It’s all funded by the taxpayers. And the taxpayers are… secular Israelis.

It appears that secular Israelis are moving forward to global life into the modern world and the orthodox are moving backward to a more observant God driven one.

It looks like no one understands both sides and the situation seems to be getting worse.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Maktesh Ramon, Israel

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Maktesh Ramon, Israel

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”  Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince

The drive from Tel Aviv to Mitzpe Ramon was fairly smooth thanks to Waze which was invented in Israel. The majority of it was through the barren Negev Desert.

We checked into our rooms at the beautiful Beresheet Hotel which is located right on the Maktesh (Crater). I had done the research. I walked out on the terrace and stood in awe.(sunrise)

Even knowing about it, the beauty just snuck up on me. The rich, vibrant colors, shapes, layers and textures were beautiful and peaceful. We looked out over the vast expanse and soaked up the natural splendor of the Maktesh.

There are only seven formations in the world like this, with all of them being located in Israel and Egypt. The Makhtesh Ramon is the largest and best known of all.

A maktesh is a geological landform with steep walls of resistant rock surrounding a deep closed valley which is typically drained by a (river).

We wandered around the hotel grounds. Rooms and cottages, all fashioned out of stone, are scattered around the main building that houses the restaurant and spa.

There were two swimming pools, one indoors, and a Turkish hammam at the spa.

Carefully designed to fit in with the desert environment, Beresheet Hotel was built using local materials and designed with a desert theme that includes bright colors and wood crafted furniture.

My two and a half-year old god-daughter is happily exploring with me. “Good life?” I ask ( a question that is usually reserved for when we are eating dessert) “Good life. she replies.

The next day we take a half-day jeep tour and descend into the crater.

Our guide builds a mountain with sand, showing us that the outer layers were composed of hard limestone, while the peak and the bottom layers were soft sandstone. Then he flattens the mountaintop and scoops out a bowl instead. Wind and water have scoured away at the soft sandstone for millions of years.

It is not a crater caused by a meteorite. It is technically a maktesh which is an erosion crater.

I loved the solitude.

There was nothing but us. The Negev Desert just seemed to sprawl endlessly out away from civilization.

Maybe it is the extreme quiet, the vast emptiness and loneliness that comes with being in a wide open space.

I don’t know. But I do know I love the sensation.

Maktesh Ramon is surprisingly colorful inside and we have a plan.

The next day we drive on the two lane road through the crater to gather different colors of sand to make our own sand art.

And by we I mean the women.

There is one place in the maktesh where they allow you to do that. We were on a mission to get every color.

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We head to the alpaca farm. It’s about five minutes from the town but we are driving on a small side road through empty desert. It definitely felt longer.

It was not a busy day, the alpacas and llamas were hungry. Even in the middle of the Negev desert, it felt like every animal farm, I had gone to with my kids.

We stop at Jinkys in the center of Mitzpe Ramon for some delicious falafel and hummus.

I am looking for a small industrial park built decades ago to provide work to North Africans and later Russian immigrants. It now houses art galleries and boutiques. The Faran organic cosmetic factory and store is located there and I buy camel soap- a perfect gift from Israel.

We drive back tired and relaxed. Whatever little problems we had before we came, the desert stillness had driven away.

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Fly safe,
JAZ