Yesterday we got back from a two week trip to Israel and Jordan. This was a particularly fascinating trip and there is so much to say but I will stick with my major impressions.
- It is rather sad, but from a first hand look I think it will be a very long time before there is peace here. In Jerusalem it was very evident the bitter hatred Jews and Muslims have against each other there. We stayed at the American Colony Hotel, which is a very nice hotel situated in an Arab area of Jerusalem. While we had no problems there, our relatives were very scared to visit us (or even pick us up) there. When they would come, they shied away from contact with any of the employees of the hotel. From the heavy military presence and security we saw there, this is a time bomb waiting to explode. I think the worst part is that arabs and Israelis have virtually no contact with each other, with the exception of security personnel. The fact is each side has very little first hand knowledge of what the other side is really like.
- Israelis are very passionate people. Our relatives in Israel gave us a king's welcome and saw to our every need when we were in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I have never received such hospitality before and they are the main reason we will likely return to Israel in the future. Our relatives there explained Israelis as such - generally Israelis are "me first" people, cutting in front of you at any opportunity. However, if you are truly in need a stranger will bend over backwards to help you. From what I saw this seems true.
- Customer service is abysmal in Israel and we were treated by strangers so rudely that if we did not have relatives there this would have been the worst vacation ever. We had numerous problems with hotel staff and establishment owners. Of the 26 countries I have been to so far, Israel ranks the worst in customer service. Among issues we had there was the hotel not wanting to find someone to look at my wife's broken toe, someone trying to take our table when we had two children and my wife was limping, and a hotel (considered to be the best in Israel) refusing to honor a hotel reservation when they had plenty of rooms available (a threat from one of our relatives was the only way we fixed this).
- Jordan was the complete opposite in terms of service and was a very friendly country. Petra was truly amazing and deserves to be listed as one of the New Wonders of the World (though I disagree with other selections). We spent two days at Petra and I'm glad I did because the day tours do not get to see very much. Petra by night was particularly stunning.
- Our kids were embraced by Jordanians, who constantly gave them snacks, and of course by our relatives. Although Israeli service was poor, we experienced no issues with children in Israel. Sadly, we were again reminded about how anti-child friendly the US was by an older American couple sitting in front of us on the way back who complained every time our kids said a peep. Of the ten hour flight, our kids cried about 15 minutes combined which I consider very good. This is why sadly we still strongly prefer to travel abroad than in the US.
- In terms of sites, the most interesting places were Petra, the old city of Jerusalem, and Masada.