Bethlehem to Acre (Akko, Ako) is quite convoluted and requires multiple changes if you choose to make the whole journey by bus/train so I decided to take the easy way out. The easy way was to take a special taxi that is allowed to cross the border between Palestine and Israel without being stopped through a special border crossing, from my hotel directly to the Jerusalem train station. The taxi driver got very nervous when I took a picture of the border crossing from a distance saying that if I was seen they would delete all the pictures from my camera. Cost 120 shekels or US$34 for the 20 min journey. Ticket to Acre 50 shekels, with one change at Tel Aviv, left at 0915 and arrived in Acre at 1230, very easy and comfortable on the train. The train goes very slowly through the hills around Jerusalem and then speeds up for the last few kilometres to Tel Aviv, the rest of the journey is along the coast to Acre with views of the sea.
Walk to the Acre Promenade
The Citadel, this is quite a large complex which has been restored, you can buy a combined ticket to it and several other historic sites in Acre. Turkish Bath and Okashi Museum.
Treasures in the Fort Wall, Old Acre and a tunnel.
Haifa – The main attraction in this city is the Bahai Gardens which are very impressive, maintained by volunteers from around the world. The only way to see these gardens is on a free guided tour that starts at the top. You are allowed to take pictures from the bottom and then you take a bus to the top and join the tour walking down 700 steps to the half way point from where you exit the Gardens.
Nazareth – where Jesus grew up is mainly Arab and Christian.
Acre Prison, where Jewish and Arab rebels (freedom fighters) were held and executed by the British, now a museum.
I travelled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem by bus. You have to take the 231 bus from the Damascus Gate Bus station or it is simpler to catch it at any of the stops along Hebron Road which is what I did. This is a Palestinian bus and runs 7 days a week, it is not one of the Sherut vans but a big modern bus. It follows a roundabout route to get around the wall and takes 40 min, cost 6.80 shekels, buy your ticket from the driver. Bethlehem is located in the West Bank which is administered by the Palestinian Authority and the people who live there have different passports to the people that live in Israel. They also cannot use Ben Gurion Airport, they have to travel to Amman in Jordan and fly out from there. Israeli’s that wish to enter the West Bank need a special permit, this is because of the risk of kidnapping, foreigners are free to travel to both regions. When you leave Israel for the West Bank you pass through a border check point but you do not have to stop, when coming back you have to go through a check similar to an Airport security check. The exception to this rule is if you hire a special taxi which has a separate checkpoint and does not always get stopped. I did this when returning from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and we drove straight through, because I had an early train to catch and did not want to have to change busses 3-4 times with a suitcase, cost 120 shekels.
Shepherds Field – where the angels gave the Shepherds the good news.
Milk Grotto – where Mary spilt some breast milk.
Church of the Nativity – where Jesus was born.
Rachel’s Tomb – mother of Joseph and Benjamin, revered by the Jews. The tomb is located right on the border on the Israeli side which means following a convoluted path and going through security to cross the border and get to the other side. Next I walked to the gate and was told that you can only enter in a vehicle, the guard very kindly flagged down a tour bus that was waiting and I jumped on board for the short ride through the security complex surrounding the tomb. The tomb as it was does not exist, it has been completely covered up for security reasons. Inside no photographs, crowded with Orthodox Jews swaying and praying, some quite loudly.
Jericho – this place is also in Palestine and I got a Sherut from the Bethlehem bus station direct to Jericho for 25 shekels. You get dropped off at the centre of the town and from there I walked to the cable car past the Zacchaeus tree. Cable car costs 60 shekels and takes you to the top of the Mount of Temptation where the devil tested Jesus. A monastery has been built along the cliff face and the stone where Jesus sat is inside.
I visited the Israel Museum, very good, unfortunately it closes at 2 pm (1400) hours on Friday due to the Sabbath. As a tourist this is very annoying and they are even stricter about Saturday opening hours in Jerusalem than Tel Aviv, nothing is open and no public transport either, some shops open at 9 pm (2100).
The City of David is an Archaelogical Park, basically ruins and some very long tunnels. Avoid the drainage tunnel, its about a kilometre long, uphill and slippery, if you are not claustrophobic at the beginning you will be by the time you get to the end. It is very narrow in parts, you have to turn sideways and low in parts where you have to bend to get through hahaha not for weight watchers.
Masada – This is where the Jewish rebels made their last stand against the Roman army in 73 AD. When all was lost they all committed suicide, men, women and children rather than become Roman slaves.
I took a bus from Jerusalem, the bus leaves from the main bus station, either bus 444 express bus (1:15 hrs) or the 486 which is more frequent and stops to pick up passengers at Kibbutz’s along the way. I took the 486 which is more interesting and takes 1:45 hrs. Buy your ticket from the driver on the bus, its cheaper if you buy a return ticket and have a RAV KAV card. This route takes you through the West Bank and there are two IDF check points when you enter and when you leave.
When you get off the bus you feel an instant blast of heat but soon get used to it. There is a cable car and a walking path to the top. The path was closed due to the hot weather. Cable car return ticket is NIS 74. There are toilets and free water coolers at the top so you only need to bring a bottle. A spectacular location.
Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the 405 bus leaves from the Central Bus Station every 20 minutes and takes about an hour to get to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. It leaves from the 6th floor of the Bus station, Gate 607, you buy your ticket from the driver, cost NIS 16. A soldier loads your luggage onto the bus and sits in the front for the whole journey. I have discovered its worth getting a RAV KAV card when you first enter Israel, it costs NIS 5 for the card and you can buy it from the bus driver, then you load various rides onto it as required, the bus driver will do this for you. If you load more than a single ride, for example a return ticket to another city or multiple city rides which cost NIS 5.90 each you get a discount. I loaded NIS 50 of local rides (5.90) and was credited with NIS 62.50 on my card. When going to Masada I bought a return ticket from the bus driver, paid cash which was loaded onto my card and instead of paying NIS 37.50 each way, I only paid NIS 30, so definitely worth getting.
Moovit for Busses
Israel Railways for Trains
Gett for Taxis
Jerusalem – the largest city in Israel, known by the locals as the “Holy City”, population 850,000, of which 200,000 are secular Jews, 350,000 Ultra-Orthodox Jews and 300,000 Palestinians. The Ultra-Orthodox Jews; men wear long black coats and black hats even in the 40c heat and the women are the baby factories of Israel hahaha. You could be forgiven for thinking this is the 51st state because all you hear are American accents, visitors and immigrants. Many of the locals do not speak English and the script is Hebrew which makes reading menus and signs impossible if there is no English version. The Old City which has existed since 2400 BC is packed with religious tourists of all denominations.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the site of the cross where Jesus was crucified.
The Old City, Muslim Quarter
The Garden Tomb – where Jesus was buried
Jerusalem, outside the Old City