Our entire family unanimously voted for Israel as our short holiday break during Easter time 2014. Right after having landed there we realised how bad the choice was in terms of timing :-). Catholic Easter time almost matches Jewish Passover holidays when the Jewish diaspora from all around the world decides to go to Israel. This results in all historical places being overcrowded, prices skyrocketing and the Kosher food becoming sad reality everywhere. Moreover, shops, markets and most restaurants remain closed for several days in Jerusalem.
We wanted to take some trips throughout the country to see the most important historical attractions. We took the advice of a friend and we contacted the local tour operator Mazada Tours. The selection of this agency was one of the biggest setbacks in our travel records. We booked with them 3 trips i.e. Nazareth, Massada – Dead Sea and Bethlehem and the Surroundings. All of them were organised by other tour companies and Mazada was just an agent. Therefore, I would recommend to book the tours directly with those who organise them directly like United Tours. All these 3 tours costed us, more or less, 700 euro for three people and I must say that it was the acceptable cost given the impressions we brought back home.
The tours to Nazareth and Massada (operated by United Tours) were organised perfectly. There were actually two things which bothered us though. Usually, tour operators in Israel combine two language groups in one bus. Therefore, the guides have to repeat the same statements in two different languages. Moreover, the Israeli guides include some propaganda information in their speeches. We heard for example that Golan Heights have been taken over by Israel due to difficult situation of the local peasants smothered by the Syrian government :-).
The third tour to Bethlehem and Surroundings was a major flop. We were expected to go for a half-day-tour to see the Navity Church, the Shepherds’ hills, the Milk Grotto, the Greek and Catholic churches. One day before, Mazada Tours informed us that the operator changed, however the itinerary remains unchanged. We were quite surprised next morning when we were picked from our hotel next morning 9 AM to the Navity Church and we returned to Jerusalem 11 AM after that with an aim to visit Jerusalem’s Old Town. All complaints to Mazada Tours were rejected.
On top of this, the company debited my credit card for 1,000 USD one year after we returned from Israel. Thanks to the fraud procedure launched with VISA we managed to get our money back. Half a year ago the company contacted me and offered the full return of funds for the trip to Bethlehem in exchange for removal of my respective posts from Tripadvisor’s forum. I refused to remove the posts but I offered to put a new post about the refund. The company never responded to my offer.
Our impressions from Israel stand in contrast to Iran :-). In Israel all tourist attractions and historical places are very well maintained and the service level is overall high. In Iran you meet honest, friendly and helpful people everywhere :-). Seriously, Israelis are very tense, limited in their statements when talking to you, rarely allowing the smile to their faces.
Moreover, our experience from Israel was that we had to watch our pockets quite carefully. Not in terms of pickpocketing but rather in terms of honesty when exchanging the money, receiving the change in taxis etc.
For all those who believe the information published by V-Pay, the ATM cards with this logo clearly do not allow to get some cash from ATM machines in Israel :-(.