Israel, Travel

Jerusalem, Israel: Day 2 – Valley of Elah + Tel Beth Shemesh

Jerusalem, Israel: Day 2 – Valley of Elah + Tel Beth Shemesh

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This marks the first post of my upcoming series of posts on Israel. As I’m typing away and recalling what we’ve done a couple of weeks ago, I’m also savouring the Israeli snacks I bought in Jerusalem at the same time. Sam and I just did ‘We Tried Israeli Snacks!’ video on Youtube last night and you can watch it right here!

So our adventure started off at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv after emerging from the rickety old plane of El-Al Israel airline. I only managed to catch about 5 hours of sleep onboard the night before and that day, we had a full day itinerary planned for us.

1. Our Tour Bus

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Our group is accompanied by a church leader as well as a tour guide from Israel. So it turns out that the tour agency in Israel which our church has engaged with is Sar-El tours. We had Kiki onboard as well as a big burly driver who turns out to be the nicest guy I’ve met in Israel.

We were pretty happy with the air-conditioned bus. It was huge enough to have all 46 of us seated comfortably. It not only has wifi but it also has USB power sockets for us to charge our phones. How awesome!

How was the weather like in March during springtime? It is cooling throughout the day but it can get rather warm if the sun is beating down hard. It’s windy most of the time and in the night, the temperature can drop below 10 degree Celsius. You would need to prepare extra layers of clothes where you can take it off easily during the day.

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2. The ‘Whisper’

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Once we settled in for a bit, our guide handed out the Whisper headsets to us. It is like a personal audio device for us to listen what the guide was saying through her microphone. As such, our guide wouldn’t need to raise her voice while talking to us. How ingenious! I would love to have such ‘whisper’ devices where I could use it for school learning journeys.

3. SAR-EL Goodie Bag

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What comes next is a bunch of welcome gifts given by SAR-EL. They distributed free backpacks, a cap, a selfie stick and a map of Israel to us. That’s a really nice gesture of them. Toda!

4. Our Educational Tour Guide

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Enroute from the airport to our breakfast place, Kiki started sharing with us about the geography of Israel. She even handed down 3D maps, laminated posters and charts to illustrate her sharings and explanations on Israel. It turns out that Kiki was once a teacher so that explains for all those ‘teaching tools’ which she had created.

5. Breakfast in Joppa (Jaffa)

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Breakfast was at the city of Joppa (or Jaffa) where we had a simple but delicious cheese bagel in an eatery along the main road. Jaffa is one of the oldest harbour in the world and today it is still functioning as a harbour for small fishing boats.

We actually visited this place again during the last day of our trip. I must say that it is a charming city to explore and walk about on your own.

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I had no idea what’s the name of this bagel place is called because I can’t read Hebrew. If you do know about this place, do let me know in the comment box below! They sell really delicious Israeli cheese bagels.

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Each of us was served a large bagel toast together with some slices of fresh cucumber and tomatoes. It’s our very first meal in Israel, and it was very delightful. They also served us a small cup of black coffee too.

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6. Tel Beth Shemesh

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Beth Shemesh means the house of the sun. It belongs to the Canaanites who probably worship the sun even though the Bible warns against it. It lies on the road leading to the Valley of Elah where the story of David and Goliath took place. Tel Beth Shemesh was also mentioned in connection to the return of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines in the bible.

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7. Valley of Elah

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The Valley of Elah is the site of the legendary battle between Israel and the Philistines where David fought with Goliath mentioned in 1 Samuel 17 of the bible. It was a glorious battle where David, who was only a shepherd boy, killed Goliath the giant with five smooth stones and a slingshot in the name of the Lord. His faith has kept him well. It reminded us that the battle is the Lord’s – no matter how small or weak we are, we can defeat anything with God standing right beside us.

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Could this stone be similar to one of the smooth rocks which David had picked?

8) Lunch Situation

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Throughout our 9 days in Israel, we had similar Mediterranean-style buffets such as this for most of our meals. It was lovely to enjoy different types of salad each day but after 7 days of eating cold salads with hummus, we all started to crave for warm Asian food. Here’s how our typical meal looks like – some rice, vegetables, potatoes and meat.

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9) Yad Hashmona Biblical Garden

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After lunch, we visited Yad Hashmona Biblical Garden. It is a village enclave run by Messianic Jews and Finnish Christians. They also have a guesthouse there for visitors to live in.

We had a tour of the place there by a lady from Finland. The tour gave us a good understanding of the customs and traditions of the ancient Israelites, agriculture and way of life. We saw an ancient wine press, an olive oil press, a “Mikve” (ritual bath), a burial cave and even an agricultural watchtower there – all of which provided us with a glimpse of how the ancient Israelites lived.

10) Our Hotel in Jerusalem

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Finally, we got to check-in at our hotel, Grand Court Hotel (Jerusalem), which is located along Saint George Street in Jerusalem. We stayed there for eight nights, and this was also where we had our breakfast and dinner at.

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Thankfully, the hotel rooms were generally clean but we suspected that they did not change our towels because there were some stains on it. But bedding-wise, it was all good. The bed and pillows were very comfortable and I was able to sleep comfortably on the beds for the past 8 nights.

The rooms were all air-conditioned but since the temperature usually dropped below 10 degree Celsius in the evenings, we decided to turn off the air-con. We weren’t sure if there’s a heater but we still felt rather cold in the room. Since they do have extra blankets stored in the wardrobe, I took the extra blanket to warm myself up. It really helps.

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Our twin rooms came with a bathtub and all bath amenities were provided, including shower cap and body lotion. There’s also a hair dryer installed in the bathroom.

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They do have a swimming pool, but it wasn’t open that day. According to the map of the hotel found in the lift lobby area, there’s supposed to be a gym in the hotel as well, but we can’t find it.

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Hotel Breakfast usually starts at 7 am, and as you can see, the Olive restaurant is rather expansive because this hotel tends to host large tour groups.

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Food is decent. Occasionally, they would try to switch up the dishes for dinner. For instance, there was one night where they serve french fries and burgers. Another evening, they prepared sushi rolls. Otherwise, their dinner menu is pretty standard for the rest of the evenings.

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For breakfast, I like to eat their warm oatmeal with some fruits and muesli. The breakfast spread is good as they have quite a large variety of breakfast items.

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That’s a typical day for us in Israel during our biblical tour with Sar-El. Do check out for the next blog post as we unravel the other interesting sites in Jerusalem! Or you can visit my main blog post on Israel to have a look at our tour itinerary.

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