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(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's Pessah, the unofficial start of the tiyulim season. The weather is usually at its best during the spring and with the kids on vacation and parents often working shorter hours during Hol Hamoed, it's a great time to enjoy some time out with the family.
Starting off in the South, the Air Force Museum at Hatzerim near Beersheba provides a wealth of fun and interest. The outdoor museum, with its rows of old airplanes, tells the story of Israel's air force from the single pre-state plane through the IAF's latest acquisitions. You can take a seat in an old Boeing and watch a film of some of the IAF's most daring exploits.
Special Pessah activities include "flying lessons" for children aged 4 - 8 (they earn wings and a certificate) and Pilot-for-a-Moment, where children can have their photos taken next to a plane while wearing a child-sized pilot's uniform. There are also workshops in which visitors can make their own model planes; a special program called "In the Footsteps of Ilan Ramon" commemorates the astronaut's IAF career before he joined NASA to become the country's first astronaut; and musical performances by the Air Force Choir. More information is available on the Web site www.iaf-museum.org.il.
Also in the South, the Negev's Eshkol Park is perfect for a picnic, offering 875 beautiful acres of lawns, walks, picnic area, shallow wading pools for children and a picturesque river for fishing. There's also a large overnight camping area. Use the park as a starting point on the Besor scenic route, and for extra fun follow the trail to the long suspension bridge, which children always love running along. (http://www.parks.org.il)
Spring is the best time of year to visit the Dead Sea area, and the Ein Gedi nature reserve (08-658-4285) offers something for everyone - individual hikers and families. This lush oasis with its four cooling waterfalls features a variety of well-laid out paths, some of which are suitable for families with strollers and toddlers and some of which are more appropriate for experienced hikers. While hiking, keep an eye out for the animals native to the area: ibex, Syrian hyrax and hyena. Across the road is Kibbutz Ein Gedi with its spa resort, a perfect way to relax after a long day out.
Leaving the desert and heading for the Jerusalem area, Mini Israel near Latrun portrays all of Israel in miniature. Visitors can find tiny replicas of important historical, religious, and tourist sites, created exactly to scale, complete with tiny moving figures and sound effects. During Pessah, Mini Israel will hold many special activities, including a trivia competition, inflatable trampolines and - if the weather permits - inflatable water slides. Arts and crafts will also be on offer. (www.minisrael.co.il)
The Neot Kedumim biblical landscape reserve in the Ben Shemen Forest shows what daily life and agriculture in the time of the Bible was like. On the tour (either with a guide or independently), visitors can see hyssop plants like the one Israelites used to paint the blood on their doorposts before leaving Egypt and enjoy the fragrance of the Hill of Spices and the Valley of the Four Species. On Sunday and Monday of Hol Hamoed (April 12, 13) special guided tours and performances about life in the time of the Mishna and Talmud are scheduled, as well as creative activities for children. Entrance for these two days will be free (courtesy of Bank Hapoalim.) (www.neot-kedumim.org.il)
Moving toward the coastal plain to Tel Aviv, locals as well as out-of-town visitors can enjoy a day at Hayarkon Park (Ganei Yehoshua). There, you'll find lawns and paths for games, picnics, barbecues and leisurely strolls or power-walks. To get around faster, visitors can rent bicycles or carts, and kids enjoy riding on the mini-train. There are boats for rent for individuals or pairs to take out on the river, and adventure playgrounds, wall-climbing, pony rides, and a "Tzapari" (bird safari). Hayarkon Park offers terrific fun for a few hours or the whole day. (www.parkfun.co.il)
In Rehovot, the Clore Science Garden at the Weizmann Institute of Science provides outdoors, hands-on science activities that demonstrate the laws of physics. Special Pessah activities on April 12 and 13 include learning about the secrets of the pyramids, why Moshe's basket floated on the Nile, a scientific discussion of the four cups of wine, and a "creative corner" in which visitors can make Egyptian-themed optical illusions. (www.weizmann.ac.il)
Meanwhile, Beit Halomotai (Dreamland) near Kibbutz Givat Brenner is pure bliss for children, with 2,000 meters of game rooms filled with puzzles, toys, dolls and crafts; tarzan slides, mazes, ball rooms, computer games, play-stations and vast outdoor area with water slides, waterfalls, pedal cars and train rides. Warning: parents may have difficulty getting their children to leave. (www.dreamland.co.il)
Heading North up the coast, visitors to Caesarea's port can drop into its multimedia center. A film presentation takes you through the area's history and introduces some of Caesarea's famous residents (Hannah Senesh, Salah a-Din, Rabbi Akiva, Baron Rothschild). The Time Tower provides a computerized version of how the areas outside the center's window looked centuries ago. After leaving the media center, visitors can tour the city's national park and see the ruins of Herod's palace and Caesarea's magnificent amphitheater. (www.caesarea.com)
Further North, visit Acre's new tourism center. Tour the ancient city's fortress, the Templar Tunnel, the knights' halls - and don't miss the audiovisual performance that accompanies a tour of the old Turkish bathhouse, "narrated" by a bathhouse attendant. Take a walk in the Old City and the Jewish Quarter. Walk along Acre's walls overlooking the sea, and if you time your visit right, you'll see an unforgettable sunset. (www.akko.org.il)
For the more adventurous, northern Israel also offers the Manara Cable Car. This 740-meter trip up the Manara Cliff, on the main road to Kiryat Shmona, offers a stunning view of the surroundings and a wealth of heart-stopping activities at each of the three stations on its route: rock climbing, rappelling, mini-jeeps, bungee jumping, a long mountain slide, climbing wall, and - for the younger members of the family - craft activities and inflatable trampolines and slides. (www.cliff.co.il)
The northernmost point on the country's coast, Rosh Hanikra is also well worth a visit. Take a short, steep ride down the cliff in the cable car to the sea-level grottos and feel the sea spray on your face as you wander in and out of the caves. Inside the old train tunnel, which once served the main Damascus-to-Egypt route, you can see a film about the history of the area. During Pessah the site will be offering guided tours, train rides along the coast and special bicycle activities on bikes built for two, three, four and eight people. (www.rosh-hanikra.com)
Wherever you live and wherever you travel, there's a wealth of fun and interest to suit everyone in the family. It's just a shame that the Pessah holidays are so short.