Armed with a large paper map kindly provided by the hotel, I set off into the early morning city of Tel Aviv. The end of term back at school had been frantic, and this was one trip where I had uncharacteristically not done much pre-reading, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I discovered over night that the hot sand on the beach must have been hotter than I had realised and the formation of a large blister on my right foot meant that I had developed a slight limp, but that wasn’t going to spoil my morning of exploration. Eighteen years of Perth summers and I’ve never properly burnt the soles of my feet at the beach but coming from winter must have meant that they’d gone soft over the previous months.

Carmel market allegedly opened at 7am, so this was the time I duly arrived at its entrance. Colleagues had already warned me about Jewish Mean Time and I should have taken their advice more seriously, as it quickly became clear that 7am might be when stall holders start to think about arriving at work, but there were certainly only three or four people ready and waiting to sell and the allegedly ‘bustling’, ‘crowded’ marketplace consisted of only me and one local who looked as though he might have still been up from the night before. My mind wandered and I decided that the situation must be similar to Midland Gate on a Saturday; it may technically ‘open’ at 8 o’clock, but there is little point in arriving then, as the shops don’t actually open until later.

There were cats everywhere. I think they were stray cats, but they looked pretty happy and well cared for, so this might not have been the case. I spent a very pleasant morning wandering; I like to do this in new places. And although I lack any sense of direction whatsoever, my hotel was a very tall one and therefore relatively easy to navigate back to from wherever I ended up. Jaffa old city, the beach, back through the shuk and to the hotel in time for a light breakfast. Online reviews had complained that breakfast was not available at the hotel in question, but I maintain that fruit and pastries and nuts made a great meal and decided that some people are just too miserable and critical to travel and should stay at home.

A happy coincidence meant that whilst going down in the lift to check out of the hotel, I met up with one of the other educators on the JNF trip and we were able to travel together to meet the rest of the group at the bus station. The plan was to drive to Teveria, stopping off at some of the JNF projects on the way. The Field and Forest Education Centre at Lavi made a lovely stop, with music and singing to greet us and a good spread for lunch. I quickly realised that I was going to have to be careful that I didn’t spread too much during this trip, if the food was going to continue to be this plentiful and fabulous. Jordan River Village was our next stop and we learnt about the Paul Newman-inspired program which gives children living with chronic or life-threatening illnesses access to overnight camps.

Before setting off on this study tour, I knew that the JNF fund-raised for tree planting projects, but visiting Israel was clearly going to show us exactly how many other areas of life here had benefited from the generosity of the JNF. 260 million trees planted by hand is no mean feat and the forested areas which have resulted from this massive afforestation effort were evident wherever we drove. But this is only a small part of what the JNF has achieved and our next stop was at Jordan River Village, an inspiring place providing camps away from home for kids with serious illnesses and disabilities. It was great to hear of the wheelchair access to the flying fox and all sorts of examples of children who would otherwise never have been able to enjoy activities confident in the knowledge that they were safe and well looked after.

Driving to the hotel in Teveria through the beautiful countryside was brilliant and not at all what I had expected, with beautiful, vast swathes of land seemingly uninhabited by people. We ended the day with a brief talk and opening ceremony on the rooftop of the hotel, overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). It was clear that this tour was going to be amazing.