I've never been but considering a trip to Israel, possibly March, Apr or May, just for a week or so, just to see some of the major Judeo/Christian spots. Considering a small pension or monastery. Could I see most of the majors with day trips from Jerusalem, or is another place better to stay? Safe for a woman on her own? What's the best way to schedule tours/day trips?
March, April and May are all good months to visit Israel. March weather is pleasant, rain is infrequent, and temperatures are mild. Hotel and flight prices are lower then than later. April's warmer, even less chance of rain, and days are longer (EST begins at the end of March). Do not plan to come during Holy Week/Passover (in 2014, April 14-22); that's high high season, and very, very crowded. May is dry and warm, but without the extreme heat of summer.
Yes, it is safe for a single woman to travel alone, just take the same precautions you would anywhere. Accommodations in Israel are relatively expensive. Abraham Hostel in the Old City of Jerusalem seems to be very good value. The Franciscans run the Casa Nova guest house in the Old City. There are others.
The major Christian sights are in and around Jerusalem and in the north, from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. There are big bus tours that go from Jerusalem to the north. There are organized walking tours of Jerusalem and there are day tours to the Dead Sea, Abraham Hostel offers a budget one.
A friend of mine has written a free, non-commercial "personal trave guide" based on his many visits here. If you send me your email by PM, I'll be happy to forward it to you in pdf format.
Lastly, for more information on everything, go to the Israel Forum of Trip Advisor. There are several very active locals there and several long-time visitors from the U. S. who are always happy to answer questions and give advice.
Thanks for your good advice, very encouraging!
Mary, if you are OK with simple lodging, I highly recommend the Franciscan Casa Nova. I stayed at their houses in Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem a few years ago (traveled with Franciscan Pilgrimages organization, which was a great experience). Wonderful locations. Depending on your interests, you might like their house in Bethlehem--what I loved is that it's attached to the Church of the Nativity. When I was there, the side door opened for the priests a few hours before the public door opened, and by getting up really early, I'd have an hour or two by myself in the Grotto of the Nativity before the church opened to the public.
You can see most sites from Jerusalem, but might also want to stay in the Galilee area if the Christian sites are of particular interest. I found Capernaum to be very moving. However, I'm not sure how easy it would be to do Gallilee on your own without a car; that would take some research. I also really liked Caesarea Phillipi/Dan/Banias (or Banyas), which is several hundred km north of Jerusalem (in the Golan Heights area, near the Lebanese border); it might be challenging as a day trip. It's where the aquafers (sp?) from Mt Herman exit, forming a source of the Jordan River. I visited in May, and it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been--beautiful streams, waterfalls, incredibly lush vegetation, pleasant walking paths and some more ambitious hikes. Kind of like the best parts of Yosemite, without the crowds.
I can't comment on safety traveling alone, since I was with a group. However, i've traveled in other areas of the Middle East alone and felt safe (although very noticable, and sometimes was touched/grabbed; that was annoying and offensive but not really dangerous). Israel felt very Western, and therefore more safe as a woman.
I would add that internet is not really a necessity in your hotel room. There are lots of places to find free wifi. The last 2 or 3 restaurants I went to in Jerusalem had it, you just have to ask. I don't eat out that much, but it does seem to be the new trend here.
Thanks, Sherry and Chani. You're right, Chani, as far as I'm concerned internet will not be a necessity, I like to keep everything as simple as possible.
Thanks for you good advice, Sherry, esp re the place to stay. Do you have a source where I cd find more info on the Franciscan pilgrimages?
Mary, their website is franciscanpilgrimages.com. Sorry but I don't know how to do a live link. I was very pleased w my experience w them, and after investigating a number of companies in recent weeks, I'll probably travel w them again this fall. returning to Israel and adding St Catherine's monastery. They are very clear it's a pilgrimage, not a tour--exactly what I want. Last time there were 3 Franciscan priests leading about a group of about 20. Most of the lodging was in religious guest houses, which were in perfect locations for the Christian sacred sites. Good spiritual guidance, beautiful liturgies, some quiet time, and a very nice group of people.
Although I usually prefer solo travel, I decided against that. It seemed that regularly crossing the Israel/Palestine border could be time consuming on my own, and I don't really have the time/energy right now for a lot of logistics.
If you have specific questions, feel free to send me a private message.
I'm not sure where Sherry went that required multiple crossings in and out of Palestinian territories. The only major sight I can think of that would involve a crossing is from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and that's quite easy with a local bus or taxi (it's about 4 miles from the Old City to Bethlehem's Manger Square).
Chani, thank you; that's good to hear. It was a crossing near Ramallah that I remember as being most difficult and to a lesser extent, Bethlehem; it's good to know it's usually a non-issue... There were some things going on when I last visited, but it was still wonderful, and the security made it very safe.
Okay, got it. The Christian tour buses sometimes go through the Palestinian areas between Jerusalem and the north (Nazareth, Sea of Galilee). An independent tourist wouldn't take that route.
One more question - what's the best (most economical) way to get from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (Franciscaine Srs. convent)? And can you recommend economical tours from Jerusalem?
Take the "sherut" (shared taxi) from the airport. It will drop you at the guesthouse. It may take a while  for the taxi to fill up and  because you may get a "tour" of Jerusalem - the driver chooses the route to drop people off, you are not likely to be first, but also not likely to be last.
I would recommend being a little wary of booking a sherut. When we booked, we were told to be outside of the taxi office at 5:45am sharp. We were there early and after 25 minutes, the sherut still had not shown up. Depending on where you end up staying, it may be better to take the tram to the central bus station. You can then take bus 947 to the airport.