Touring in the Time of Corona

Sep 22, 2020

Although we are waiting to welcome tourists from abroad, we have been busy touring Israel and are here to share our ‘new world adjusted’ experience with you – as it turns out, it’s pretty good!

Earlier this summer, our family set off to the North of Israel together with several other families, the usual trunk load of swimmers, kids games and snacks plus meagre allowance of adult items, and the still doesn’t feel quite usual pack of face masks and anti-bacterial wipes.  Typically for us, we had a full schedule of activities planned including a guest lecturer, private tour of the Crusader tunnels and halls at Acre, a speed boat ride in the Med, a fresh fish lunch on the sea, a pumpkin painting workshop, plus pool time.  We had booked to stay at Nekarot, a super relaxed low key family resort catering mostly to the domestic market, and were keen to see how the mandatory public health ‘Purple Badge’ system for hotels would work in practice, particularly with a bunch of rowdy Israeli families.

As we set off our expectations were tempered – how would we enjoy a tour when we had to have masks on the whole time?  What would the hotel food be like given the new rules?  How would the swimming pool work?  I am happy to report that we had a spectacular weekend – a refreshing, invigorating, fun and bonding weekend which gave us a much needed change of scenery and a real break.  There were of course some things about this weekend which were different from travel as we know it, but the impact on our experience was minor.

So what was different?

In terms of the hotel experience, there are new formalities to abide by, but these did not affect our overall experience.  We had our temperature measured when we arrived at the hotel gates, and at check in we were separated from the reception staff by a perspex screen, had to provide cell phone numbers and sign a health form.  We wore face masks in public spaces, though not when hanging out in our own little bubble with our friends.  There was a bottle of alcohol gel in our room, and alcogel dispensers throughout the property, every corner of which was spotlessly clean.  Meals were buffet style but we were not allowed to serve ourselves – gloved staff handled all the serving dishes and implements and served us generous portions of whichever dishes we chose.  In the dining room, all tables had pre-allotted guest names on them and large spaces separated the various guest groups or families, so that everyone stayed within their own ‘bubbles’.  Other than that, the experience felt as per normal (though through my industry connection I know that the Purple Badge has meant a huge number of additional operational, logistical, administrative changes for hotels which we didn’t feel).  We enjoyed being away from home, we relaxed and hung out with friends, staying up late chatting and playing games, the kids loved splashing around in the pool and the feeling of being in the midst of a huge sleepover party.

In terms of our activities, these were impacted far less than I had feared and in some cases were actually positively impacted by the current situation.  Being up near the Lebanese border, we invited speaker Matti Friedman address our group on our first evening.  Matti is a Canadian Israeli journalist and author of several books, including the excellent Pumpkinflowers which deals with his time stationed as a combat soldier inside Lebanon and his journey of return there several years later as an undercover Canadian backpacker.  Matti is an excellent speaker, and fully engaged us with questions around Lebanon and freedom of the press.  Aligning with our ‘new world’, we sat outside in a spaced out circle and enjoyed the balmy evening, wearing masks (occasionally pulling them down to sip our beers).  The impact on the experience was negligible.
The next day we travelled the short distance to the UNESCO world heritage site at Acre where we met our guide.  New regulations meant we had to pre-book a slot for our group as the number of people who could enter the site at any one time was strictly limited, and in addition we all wore masks.  I have toured Acre many times, and each time I do so I am impressed anew by how well the Crusader site has been preserved and presented, and by what a rare treasure this site is.  Our guide was excellent (naturally!), and engaged kids and adults alike so after a short period of time we forgot we were wearing masks as hands shot up with questions and people lent forward to hear his stories.  Ironically, this was one of the best tours of Acre I have ever done in part because the controlled number of visitors meant it felt like we had the entire site to ourselves.  Usually Israel’s ‘tick list’ sites can be pretty crowded especially in the summer, and in my mind the pleasant sense of space more than made up for having to wear a mask.  As you can see in the picture above, at the end of the tour my daughter and a friend begged us to let them ‘do the dress up as ancient Queens’ and have their photos taken – no masks required (!) – but plenty of alcogel used before and after handling the robes.  Needless to say they felt very regal and were particularly enthralled by the tiara options.
Lunch time arrived, and we headed to Abu Christo which we like for families as they have both delicious fresh grilled fish for adults and less sophisticated schnitzel, chips and pasta for the smaller people amongst us.  The restaurant has a large outdoor patio directly on the Mediterranean with a wonderful sea breeze, perfect for today’s circulation requirements.  As in the hotel, we had our temperatures measured prior to being seated, there was alcogel on the tables, and we were sat at a large distance from other parties.
Lunch was followed by a speed boat ride for some, and a pumpkin painting workshop for others – both of these activities were pretty unaffected by the current climate because each of them took place in a small contained space (boat or small workshop) just for our group – though the staff wore masks throughout.

In summary, we loved our weekend away.  It far exceeded our expectations, masks and all.

Inspired by our previous weekend’s adventure, last weekend we decided on a half day tour to the fabulous Ayalon Institute, also known as the ‘bullet factory’.  We were four families, and again we had to pre-register for the tour, have our temperatures taken and sign a health declaration form upon arrival, and wear masks throughout the tour.  Our guide was kitted out with a perspex face shield.  The Ayalon Institute is great for adults and children alike – its story is full of secrets, intrigue, courage and daring – and the tour itself is interactive involving movies, reconstructed stages, and an exploration of the original underground factory.  Just as in Acre, once the tour got going and we were sucked into the story at hand, we hardly noticed we were wearing masks, and they certainly did not inhibit the kids from asking numerous questions.  I am happy to report that mask wearing was not mandatory during the inevitable post tour ice cream.

I have learnt first hand that in our new reality, with thorough forward planning, meaningful, enjoyable and rewarding touring experiences are more than possible.  Moreover, as the image above illustrates, in many cases these crazy times are in fact providing us with unprecedented privileged private access to iconic sites.
We are looking forward to welcoming you to Israel, and can’t wait to return to our true passion – hosting you in this fascinating country, together with neighbouring Jordan and Egypt and UAE which is now open to us!!

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