Monday 20 February 2012

Israel & Jordan - Day 10 (Last Day!)

After getting home from the pub, we started thinking about the logistics of getting us to our rather early morning flight, and decided that the most time efficient plan would be to sleep in a little and then stay up all night seeing Tel-Aviv. As the sole night owl working to morning people hours all trip, this sounded like a great plan to me! 

So that's just what we did, and planned the rest of the day around that. I was particularly excited about the English tour of the Bahai Gardens that was supposed to take place at noon, but unfortunately it was cancelled due to weather (I guess this is our pay backs for the beautiful weather we had in the South). So we did our own little tour, starting up at the Stella Maris Monastary at the top of Mount Carmel. It's the home of the Carmelite order, and most of the complex is off limits to the public, but the beautiful chapel was open as well as the front garden. We were the only non-tour group individuals there and it was a bit of a trick to try and respect such a lovely, sacred spot and navigate the crowds. I did get close enough however to see the cave in which Elijah was said to have spent time prior to many of his miracles, so that was pretty neat. 

Papal arms above the door to the monastary

monument outside the entrance

the main altar - Elijah's cave was just underneath. I couldn't even get close, so you'll just have to use your imaginations.

Tired of being elbowed, we headed over to the Bahai Gardens, which had a small section still open after all the rain. Since it is set on the side of Mount Carmel, the rain makes the many marble steps extremely slippery, so it has to close whenever there is too much wet. But we still got lovely views across Haifa and a bit of a break from the crowds. The gardens are breathtakingly beautiful, and I'm really quite disappointed that we couldn't see more of them, so it's definitely on my list of "must come back to" places.

Looking down on the gardens

another small enclave of the gardens

oranges - in February!

Great views over Haifa

Looking out over Haifa

From there we were getting pretty hungry, so we walked over to one of Branson's favourite seafood places, Jacko's. Super tasty! I had panfried shrimps in a saffron butter sauce and the boys both got whole grilled fish. All dishes were served with at least 10 different kinds of salad (including roasted eggplant in a tahini garlic sauce that was utterly divine) and homemade foccacia bread. 

Totally stuffed, we were very grateful that we had something of a walk back to our car. Though not quite stuffed enough to forego a stop at one of Haifa's best baklava shops. We got a "small" box which (once filled with all kinds of tasty goodness) weighed in at just under 700 grams (1.5 lbs). 

yummy yummy baklava

By this point it was almost 3pm and we were rapidly running out of time to get in any other sites. So we scooted out of town (after paying a parking ticket and then swinging back by the restaurant to retrieve Stephen's credit card that he accidentally left behind - thank you to our lovely waitress for keeping it safe!), and decided to stop in at a winery in a little town of Zikhron Ya'akov. It's one of Israel's oldest towns, being settled in the late 1800s. The winery shop we found first was that for Tishbi, which claims to be the oldest winery in Israel.  We were too late in the day for any guided tastings, and so had to content ourselves with tasting on our own (oh the horrors). We all three had glasses of red (me, the organic petit syrah; stephen, the syrah; branson, the pinot noir), but there was also a sparkling as well as a blush that all looked really interesting. I'll have to see if our wine merchants can get us any.

The shop


Stephen, enjoying his glass of Syrah

We then spent a little bit exploring the little town - small space, but loads of history. Kind of the theme of the trip really. It has the country's oldest synagogue outside Jerusalem and the place where the local variety of wheat was discovered and bred for industrial cultivation. As it was getting dark and many of the shops were closing for the day, we decided to continue on to Tel Aviv to enjoy the evening.

One of the older buildings

a tree heavy with lemons

a tree with baubles

Not much too the town

But you can see why they might want to grow grapes here

We ended up parking down near the beach, and while the seas were still quite rough, they weren't anything like what we saw in Akko the day before. Still, it was beautiful to watch the rollers hit the breakwater on the nearly deserted beach. We also walked through some of the older parts of the city - past the covered market (closed), the old synagogue (also closed), down Sderot Rothschild (where we stopped at Cafe Hillbrand for a warm-up) and Allenby Street, past the new National Theatre complex (stunning piece of architecture), back down Dizengoff Street to the Square and then back to the beach. A brilliant walk that really gave us a nice flavour for the city if at a rather unorthodox hour.

a cool memorial

the house that Escher built?

Sderot Rothschild

The new theatre

stunning, no?

cool urban gardens around the theatre complex

a touch of Gaudi?

The waterfront (deserted)

By this point, poor Branson was utterly exhausted and it was going on 1am, so we decided to head to the airport early and bundle him off on the train. It was hard to say goodbye after such a great trip and it had been so long since our last get together. I think we all three agree that we really must come back soon (before he leaves next year) to finish off the highlights we missed and to keep up with each other a little better. Hugs and only hints of tears, but many many wonderful new memories.

After seeing Branson off, we settled in for the long wait. Fortunately, the airport has free wifi! This let us skype both our parents and do some catching up - like writing this post. It really is sad that our last impression of any given place always has to be airports. They are never ever the best side of any culture, and TLV is no exception. But after three hours of what passes for queueing, we're settled in at our gate and watching the sun rise over the city. Not too shabby, if a bit of a frustrating process (frustrating due to the total lack of organisation rather than anything to do with onerous security, I might add).

Soon it is back to our normal life, but for now I think we'll bask in the holiday glow just a little bit longer (and savour my last tea nana). 

Saturday 18 February 2012

Israel & Jordan - Day 9

We slept in a bit both as a result of getting back in late from the party and also in the hopes that the weather might improve a bit. The latter didn't quite happen, so we lounged about with a leisurely breakfast (oatmeal with apples & date syrup - yum!) and some blogging again in the hopes that the weather would improve. About 10am we decided that something mostly under cover would probably be a good plan for the day, which led Branson to suggest heading up the coast slightly to the ancient city of Acre, now called Akko* to wander around the Old Town.  

For 27 NIS we got a ticket to the Citadel/Knights' Halls, Okashi Musem, Templars' Tunnel and Treasures of the Wall Museum. We started at the Citadel, which was built over the Fortress of the Order of St. John (aka Knights Hospitaller aka Knights of Malta, though they were in Acre first). Some of the original stone work is still visible, but most of it dates from the 18th and 19th centuries when it was the headquarters of the Ottoman Pasha & British Mandate respectively. During the period of the Mandate, it was used as a prison where many members of the Jewish Resistance were held. 

Cool sculpture outside the Knights Hall

The entrance to the Knights Hall

The main hall (now underground)

In the tunnels where the jail cells were during the Mandate


Right around the corner was the Okashi Museum, focused on the works of Avshalom Okashi who spent much of his productive life in the city. The museum is housed in his old studio, which was a beautiful example of the local architecture in and of itself - vaulted ceilings, narrow rooms made out of the local stone. It also had a short exhibition of works from modern Israeli artists inspired by a children's book called "The Bats of Akko". Pretty cool. What impressed me the most about Okashi's work was how different it all was - he used a huge variety of mediums and styles to capture best the subject at hand. Most of the works in Akko's museum were dedicated to his portrayals of the city. Some reminded me very much of early Kadinsky works, others were dark, abstract pieces, still others were pen & ink sketches of the Arab quarters of Akko, including a lovely whimsical little portait of an old man selling spices in the souq. A real gem of a painter and one whose works I'll be keeping an eye out for in future.

No photographs inside, but the sign was cool!

From there we walked through the Souq, which wasn't quite as dynamic as it usually is due to it being Shabbat & raining cats and dogs. Still, we managed to find a great little hummus/falafal place for lunch (hummus with pine nuts, falafal, lebnah with zatar, "vegetable salad",  garlic paste, chili paste and chips with fresh pita bread) and then wandered back to a sweets stall to buy a huge chunk of nougat (Stephen got an extra piece for helping to translate on behalf of some German tourists). 

Going to market

Stephen and Branson also

Inside the souk

a shop sign



inside it's busy - and that was a very good sign

Then, it looked like the rain was going to let up so we decided to brave the city walls along the harbour, walking through the winding backstreets. This was both a fantastic and disastrous idea. The seas were very heavy from the storm, swirling and crashing against the rocks at the base with surprising force. It was one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen. . .and then one of the waves completely drenched Stephen, ruining his camera (brand new, a present for Valentines Day before we left) and leaving him freezing cold. Fortunately, we had an extra piece of nougat to restore some of his energy stores. Because the seas were so high, the lighthouse was closed, but I did get some really fantastic pictures of the ocean - always being very careful to stand well back. 

The sea!

at left, the ill fated wave that soaked poor Stephen

but it was mesmerising, watching the waves crash against the old city walls

standing well back

brave tourists


and a random chicken

At this point it also started raining again, so we ducked into the Templars' Tunnel, which while not very exciting in and of itself (except in so far as secret tunnels are always a little bit exciting), but it was out of the rain and included in our ticket. A fun thing to explore. By the time we got out of the tunnel the rain had stopped again, so we made our way towards the Treasures Museum, but along the way we stopped to see the Mosque al-Jazzar, built by one of the Ottoman governors of Akko in the 18th century. We even got a little private tour by one of the local guides who explained much of the symbols used inside the mosque.  A good site with a 360 degree image can be found here. The text in blue is a single sura from the Koran (and I can't now remember which one), the names in green on either side of the dais are the names of Mohammed & Allah, and in the four corners of the main worship space are the names of the four successors of Mohammed. This apparently is typical of Sunni mosques. The other unique feature (according to our guide) is that it is one of the earliest examples of mosques that uses a layout similar to a synagogue, where the men worship below and the women worship in galleries above. The outer courtyard was beautiful and contained the graves of Jazzar Pasha and his successor Sulyemon Pasha.

street sign for the mosque

the mosque's entrance

outside the mosque

inside the mosque

showing some of the detail, including the blue text

the old student quarters (pre-Mandate, the mosque had one of the most prestigious religious schools in the entire Middel East)

By the time we finished with the mosque, we were too late to see the Treasures Museum, unfortunately, since it closes early in the off season. But we got to have a brief wander around the land wall where Jazzar Pasha's forces resisted Napoleon's attempted siege in 1799.  

The land wall, where Napoleon was resisted

rather less exciting these days

As it was also now getting on towards sunset, we decided to head back to Haifa for the evening.  Current plans are to meet up with the same crew from last night's party at The Bear, one of their favourite local pubs, for dinner and more socialising. Should be great fun!

But this leaves us only one day left, and the weather forecast is not promising. I had hoped to visit the Bahai Gardens, but these are closed when it's raining and windy (like today and yesterday both), so it's possible instead we'll head into Tel Aviv for more museum-ing. Wait and see!

*Somebody remind me when we get back to London to count up the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites we've visited this trip, because I think it may be a record.