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Rise into the Golan Heights on a full-day trip from Jerusalem, and take in the scenic landscape of the high, mountainous plateau. Visit border hot springs and a Talmudic village, explore the ruins of a 6th-century synagogue and spot ancient Hebrew inscriptions. Take in views from the top of an extinct volcano above the Quneitra Valley, and get a birds-eye view over one of the Levant’s most contested regions.
It's hard to find words to adequately describe how bizarre and upsetting this tour to the Golan Heights was. First, my husband and I were picked up from our hotel in Jerusalem at 5:50 am and driven at break-neck speed to Tel-Aviv. I don't know why the hurry seeing we were then dropped off at an hotel and forced to wait at least three quarters of an hour until our next driver arrived - all in the freezing rain and wind. The next driver arrived with a very small van and six of us plus the driver were crammed in. Every time we had to get in or out, the seats had to be moved forward or back - I even tripped over at one point. The stated itinerary was not followed and we were instead driven straight to the Mt Bental lookout - the highlight of the trip for us - or it would have been if the road was not blocked and we had to turn back. The bad weather turned out to be the least of our problems.
After visiting Katzrim, we were then taken to an olive oil factory which was not on the itinerary at all. We were shepherded into a small auditorium along with a group of young American/Canadian Jews and forced to watch a marketing film after which we were sermonised by the owner/manager about the duties associated with being good Jews. The four of us of who were not Jews were amazed - we had no idea what was going on or why we were even there. We certainly felt out of place.
After the film, we were invited to buy some of these olive oil products. I had already had some wine-based products from California confiscated on my return to Australia so I said I was not going to buy anything. I was then harangued by both the driver and the owner/manager and practically called a liar after which I walked out in a very upset and emotional state at being treated so dreadfully. If I could have found a way to leave the tour then and there, I would have done so.
We finally left this place and travelled to Yardenit, the baptismal site on the Jordan River. As we entered, one of our group asked to go to the toilet and was told to wait until our driver could show us around all the products for sale. We were then pressured into buying a most unappetising and expensive meal from the on-site cafe. Needless to say, by this time I was in a state of disbelief because I have been on a few tours in Israel over the years and all had been pleasant and enjoyable.
We were then infomed that another driver would take those of us who were staying in Jerusalem straight there instead of returning via Tel Aviv. I was relieved that, at least, we would not have the same driver. However, even though we were loaded aboard a larger vehicle, we were just as crammed in and I spent the whole journey back to Jerusalem sitting sideways squeezed in beside three large men.
A measure of just how dreadful this experience was is that we cancelled a tour organised by the same operator that was scheduled for two days later. Even though we had already paid for it, we were more than willing to lose our money rather than subject ourselves to a possibly similar experience.
Super-aggressive marketing combined with an excess of religious zeal is not the sort of experience to offer to tourists and I'm surprised that Viator did not take much more care in vetting this tour beforehand.
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