For years, I have seen the list of best agents in the magazine but had never thought about using that resource. I went to the website, looked for agents, found Susan and emailed her immediately. She responded quickly and we set up a telephone call.
From the first call, I knew I was in the hands of a professional who has lived in Israel and travels there, and to Jordan, routinely. She asked about the three of us, our interests and expectations, enabling me to share with her that as academics and serious readers, we wanted a tour that introduced us to the complexity of Israel—we wanted to visit sites of significance to all three religions, historical sites, cultural interactions, and different parts of the country. She developed a draft itinerary, with lots of details, and then we honed in further to finalize an agenda.
Although I have worked with travel agents in the past, this was the first time that I had chosen to use a private guide, and quite honestly, I questioned whether we should do so. Finally, I trusted Susan's wisdom and I cannot tell you how much of a difference having private guides in both Israel and Jordan made to our experience. They had been prepped that we were travelers who wanted a true learning experience with details and depth. Elad in Israel and Audi in Jordan were engaging, knowledgable, sensitive, flexible and highly organized. In addition to the depth of our learning afforded by having these two guides, we also were able to learn about daily life in each country. They managed everything, including the traffic, finding parking in tiny streets, and making sure that we ate incredibly well. Susan picked terrific guides and we were sorry to say goodbye to them!
She arranged all of the transfers, which worked smoothly. There is nothing like having that kind of assistance when you're dead tired from a long flight. Our hotels, the Carlton in Tel Aviv, Pastoral Kfar Blum, and Dan Panorama (Jerusalem) were all excellent. She arranged our stay at the Dan on a executive lounge floor; the lounge became our spot for a late afternoon drink, snack and relaxing reflection on the day.
One really amazing trip was an off road, 4 X 4 trip guided trip through agricultural fields in the Galilee. This was not something most tourists would even know to do but we had a great time learning about water, agriculture products, the kibbutz movement historically and today, and life in the area so close to the Golan Heights. Standing on top of the Golan Heights at Mt Ben Tal allowed us to truly experience the closeness of countries in the region, helping us understand more about the flash points of the middle East.
I had wanted to go to Petra, and didn't know if it was feasible. Susan made a plan that included flying to Eilat (saving lots of time), had all transfers arranged for the border, and enabled us to have a wonderful time in Petra at the Movenpick (a stunning hotel). She scheduled us so that we were there for Petra Illuminated, when we quietly walked into the Treasury along candlelit paths. Amazingly, it was even a full moon and what a magical experience. Susan had been to Petra early in the year and visited Petra Kitchen, where we worked to prepare our own dinner with Jordanian chefs. What a fun evening with delicious food and recipes to bring home.
Our son needed to fly back to the US after two weeks at which time we went on to a conference in Tiberias. Susan had both transfers arranged, and Brian departed for the airport, where he safely boarded his flight. After our conference, we decided to return to Jerusalem a night early, emailed Susan, and she made sure that we got into the Mamilla one night early and got us safely back to the city. The hotel was outstanding, location perfect for lots of exploring on our own this time.
We returned with a continuing desire to learn more about Israel, Jordan and the Middle East. Susan created the trip of a lifetime, and we are grateful for her passion for Israel, her knowledge of the region, her ability to listen to our needs, and the wealth of resources she has on the ground in Israel and Jordan that made our trip wonderful.