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.
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?
The new theatre
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).