israel tiberius valleyPHOTO: The Israelis have created a rich, lush greenscape in the middle of the desert.

To visit Israel, the Holy Land and tour all the Biblical sites from the Sea of Galilee to Cana to Mount Tabor to Jerusalem, is incredible. To follow it up with three days in Rome at the Vatican, Coliseum, and Trevi Fountain is icing on the cake. But to see both with Nuovo Tours is an experience never to be forgotten.

It was a stalwart, hearty group from Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St Agnes parish who joined an equally stalwart group from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and beyond, all under the guidance of Peter and Raj, the father son two-thirds of Nuovo Tours….Peter’s wife Angie, makes up the triumvirate ….at JFK for a flight to Rome and immediate transfer to Tel Aviv and arrival at our hotel in Tiberius, home for the next three nights.

Weather delays put us in the hotel long after the planned dinner hour, but an affable hotel team nevertheless provided sandwiches and beverages in each of our rooms that evening, a charming welcome after a long flight and a night’s sleep before meeting early in the morning to go to the Sea of Galilee.

Traveling with three priests made it easy and poignant to be able to attend mass daily, each offered in a different church or area marking the location of events in Christ’s life 2000 years ago.

Then it was on to the Bethlehem Hotel on Manger St. in Bethlehem for another four nights and an introduction into the disagreements between the Palestinians and Israeli citizens. After staying in the Palestinian state which includes Bethlehem and journeying into the Israeli state every day to visit Jerusalem and surroundings, it’s easy to see that putting politics and government aside and encouraging the Palestinians and Jews to talk to each other as they both talk with visitors, peace could be a possibility between these warring nations fighting over the most fertile, but also most historic space in the desert.

Not sure how the system works, but Israeli citizens are not allowed into the Palestine area where Bethlehem is located. So daily, our Israeli guide, Hillel, said a warm adieu just before we went through the checkpoint to be back to the hotel. AND EVERY MORNING, Hillel got back on the bus just after we passed back into Israeli territory.

Palestinians can work in Israel with a special permit, and many do, showing their papers at the checkpoint and returning home in the evening. Some guides and bus drivers can visit most states in their work, high fences and winding, gnarled barbed wire reminding bus passengers that wandering from the roadside is not a good idea.

Ask a Palestinian over a glass of wine about it, he’ll laugh, be courteous and joke, “oh, so you want to talk politics again!” But he quickly changes the subject and you never get a response to any question about the divisions.

We arrived in Jerusalem at the Damascus gate, one of seven into the walled city, just days after a reporter was shot there. We left the day before the report of an American tourist shot at the same place. There is a heavy military presence at the Damascus gate, busiest of all the gates and military men and women carrying weapons are not an unusual site anywhere in Jerusalem. For Israeli citizens, three years of military service for men, and two years for women, are required of all teens before college and studies that lead to many making their mark in the worlds of science, technology, medicine, philosophy and religion. The system seems to work…Israelis are hardworking, intelligent and craving and appreciating education. Their medical facilities and medical genius are up there with the best of them, I personally learned about and appreciated. But that’s a story for another day.