Pre-Pilgrimage Letter 2
Trip Date: May 23, 2011
Greetings!

It is getting closer! We are all increasingly excited about showing you our favorite places in the world! Things are coming along very nicely. Corporate Travel is doing a great job getting the last details for travel in place.

 

This letter will focus on what you can do to prepare for traveling and helpful tips on what to bring with you.

Weather1Weather Conditions
Many of the pilgrims have questions about weather and what type of clothes to bring. This chart showing Jerusalem's average temperatures, rain and humidity should be helpful.

Galilee tends to be about 10 degrees warmer than Jerusalem because of the difference in sea level. Jerusalem is 3,000 feet above sea level, while Galilee is 800 feet below.
Luggage2Luggage and Hotels
Remember as you are packing, because of the space limitations on the bus in Israel, pilgrims are limited to one suitcase and one carry-on.
 
We will be staying in only two different hotels during our pilgrimage, so you can settle in and only have to pack up and move once between Galilee and Jerusalem. It is always nice to be able to leave your larger suitcase in your room so you can unpack and "belong" for a while.

We will be staying at very nice places, but none of these are 5-star hotels. They are pilgrimage facilities, but they are clean, comfortable and well located. In Jerusalem some of us well be staying at the Ron Beach Hotel, and some at Nof Ginosar.  In Jerusalem everyone will be staying at the Notre Dame, which is directly across the street from the city walls. There are pictures of them on our website here if you haven't seen them already.
Cloths3Clothes and Footwear
The best plan is to bring layers of clothes: a rain jacket to over a sweater to put over a shirt to put over a t-shirt. We will have a few early mornings which may be cooler and later you can shed the outer layers and leave them on the bus.

You will have the same bus during the day so you can always bring a small carry-on bag that can be left on the bus. That way you can leave or grab a hat, umbrella or cooler clothes from the bus during the day as needed.

We would suggest that you bring comfortable walking shoes. Do NOT bring new shoes. Make sure you break them in first. We will not do a huge amount of walking, but we could cover one to three miles throughout some days with lots of ups and downs, uneven ground and steps. Good comfortable shoes are important.

Janet and I pack light with fast-drying travel clothes, socks and underwear that can be washed in the sink at night. They are usually dry by morning. Our hotels also have laundry services that are usually returned to you in 24 hours for an extra charge.

Since we are limited to one suitcase per pilgrim, packing light is necessary. I have a suggested packing list provided on my website. If you haven't looked out our suggested packing list, it would be a good idea to do that now. You can find it by clicking here.

A good hat is also suggested to protect you from the sun and rain and to shade your eyes. As you know from my pictures, I wear Tilley hats. Sunglasses are also a good idea. Gloves might be nice if it gets cold, especially in the mornings and if you hands tend to get cold. A small compact travel umbrella is smart to have in case of rain.

If you plan to swim in the Sea of Galilee-or to "float" in the Dead Sea on the last day optional trip, bring a swimsuit. Towels will be provided. The Dead Sea is 10 times more salty than the Mediterranean Sea. We have been able to swim in the Dead Sea even in the winter since it is so low in sea level and tends to be warm there even if it's cold higher up in Jerusalem. Because of the rocks in the water, and the hot, hot, ground at the dead sea, a pair of water shoes is a very good idea. Flip flops and thongs are worthless as they get sucked off your feet in the mud.  Also, remember not to shave the day before the dead sea swimming excursion since the salty water can sting any irritated skin.
Clothing4Further Notes on Dress
You'll see signs similar to this one at the entry to churches and Holy sites. Shorts are not allowed in holy sites and are not generally worn in Israel. Modest dress is required for entrance to holy sites, which means no shorts, no short skirts, no halter tops or bare shoulders. At the Christian sites men must remove hats, and women are not required to wear head coverings.

At the Western Wall (or any Jewish holy site) men must wear hats or yarmulkes but they are provided at the entrance.

Dress is casual throughout the whole pilgrimage-no suits or ties or dresses necessary. Janet and I wear jeans and casual shoes or sandals and comfortable travel clothes throughout the trip. We want our pilgrims to be casual and comfortable and not have to pack too many clothes.

Priests can wear what they wish. Some wear clerics, some cassocks and other dress casual. It is up to you. For priests' info, with clerical dress you will be treated with great respect by the locals.

If you are a runner, it is very safe to run early in the morning or later in the day--whenever or wherever we are. Bring your running gear along and enjoy seeing the Holy Land in a fun and interesting way - by running through the land, along the sea, around the city walls. I hope to take you on a fun run around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem if you wish.
Electric5Electrical
If you plan to use appliances in your room that use 110 volt, please remember to bring a converter/adapter that will drop the voltage from 220 in Israel, to the 110 used by American appliances and allow you to plug into the European-style outlets.

Some of your travel appliances may already accommodate voltages of 100-240 so be sure to take note of yours.
Activity6Strenuous Activities
There are times when some of the events are more strenuous than others. For example, the walk up to the Church of the Visitation can be challenging to those not prepared to walk uphill for 15 minutes. The Via Dolorosa can also be difficult for some who have trouble with uneven paving stones or slippery surfaces (especially when wet). We will always warn pilgrims in advance of the degree of difficulty so they can decide if they prefer to sit out a given activity.

We've had to deal with several injuries on our trip. They were all due to people not being careful where they walked. The Holy Land may be holy ground, but it is not even ground. It is rough in places and slippery when wet. We will remind you constantly to watch where you are walking and to be careful. We don't want you to spend your days in a hospital!

If there are injuries or illnesses, we can assure you we have access to good doctors and hospitals. We strongly encourage everyone to get the recommended travel insurance which has been indispensable if injuries and illnesses occur.
Medicine7Medicines and Other Crucial Items
It is not uncommon for the airlines to lose a suitcase or two. They are usually delivered to our hotel in short order.

One time a lady packed her medicine in her checked suitcase which was then lost. It created an emergency. So, PLEASE PACK YOUR CRUCIAL ITEMS IN YOUR CARRY ON.  It is also smart to have a few items of clothing too, just in case your luggage is lost.

If you have questions about what you can carry with you on the plane, please see the information sent to you by Corporate Travel. You can also check the Transportation Security Administration website at www.tsa.gov. Any other questions can be answered by calling Suzanne at Corporate Travel (800-727-1999x121 ) or the airline on which you are flying.

Motion Sickness? If you have a tendency to get car sick, please remember to bring some non-drowsy formula Dramamine or the wrist bands made to minimize motion sickness. If you get it bad, check with your doctor about the patch you put behind your ear.
Internet8The Internet, Cameras and Video
All of the hotels have internet-connected computers for use in the lobby, and some of the hotels have wireless internet in the lobby and even in the room. The wireless availability can be spotty, especially in Jerusalem. However, the hotel staff is very helpful and normally can get guests connected.

My wife Janet and I will be taking pictures and videos constantly during the pilgrimage and also discreetly during the Masses (yes, the celebrating priests have been given a heads up about this). Why do we film the trip? First, I minimize your need to take videos, especially during the Mass. Second, my pictures and videos are taken to produce the nightly Virtual Pilgrimage videos which I upload to my blog. Third, we use the pictures and videos for our final keepsake DVD (usually about 90 minutes long) which you will receive in the mail thirty days after you return home.

Most pilgrims bring a camera or camcorder of their own to document their adventure. If you want to share links to your photo albums online when you return home please let us know and we will add it to the Past Pilgrimages page.

Make sure you let your family, friends and parish back home know about the daily Virtual Pilgrimage videos at www.CatholicConvert.com so they can share the pilgrimage with you as you travel.
Alarm9Alarm Clock
We automatically arrange a "blanket" wake-up call for each morning. BUT, there are times when a room is missed by accident. PLEASE bring a portable alarm clock of your own as a back up. This is very important - since we are very prompt in the mornings and want to make sure you don't miss anything.
Money10Money and Credit Cards
The local currency of Israel is the New Israeli Shekel (NIS) but you will not need to change money unless you want to. Everyone speaks English and will accept US dollars, though they are becoming less appreciated with the drop in the value of the dollar. A few years ago the exchange rate was $1 = 5 Shekels. Today it is about $1 = 3.5 Shekels.

It is smart to keep a handful of small bills in your pocket for lunches, drinks, souvenirs, etc. It is good to have exact change during lunch to speed up the process. Also you will need a few shekel coins (30 per shekel) in your pocket for restrooms, but other than that you can use dollars and credit cards just about everywhere. There are also ATM machines scattered about, most of which will dispense dollars or shekels as you choose. One is near our hotel in Jerusalem. Both hotels will change money for you (into dollars or shekels) but there will be a small exchange rate charge.

Be aware that there are areas prone to having pickpockets. We have never had anyone pickpocketed before because we will warn you about places where the risk is highest. Some vendors and little children can get very pushy and come very close. We do very good at protecting you from these situations, and we will talk more about it later.
Safety11Safety
We know that many of your friends and family are concerned for your safety. I know it won't do any good to tell them that it is perfectly safe in the Holy Land, but once you get there you will be delighted with how safe, beautiful, friendly and quiet it is in Israel. It is not the way it is presented on CNN! There are trouble spots in a few areas (e.g., Gaza) but we stay far away from them just like you stay away from downtown Detroit or New York alleys at night.

We've led many groups to the Holy Land and they always amazed at how peaceful and friendly it was in Israel. You will not at any time be worried or concerned. You will have a great time. We are very careful and will never put any one in harm's way.
You can Expect one more Pre-Pilgrimage Letter
So far you should have received:
Letter #1 which focused on important documents you will receive. If you missed it please let us know so we can get it to you.
Letter #2, this one, which dealt with preparation and packing.
Look for Letter #3 to arrive soon. It will introduce people you will meet and what to expect when you arrive in the Holy Land.

May the Lord bless you as you prepare for the pilgrimage of a lifetime!

Sincerely,
Steve & Janet Ray