We woke up the next morning and leisurely got our things together for the drive up North to Haifa and environs. Because Stephen drove South, we decided in the name of fairness I should do the drive back North and so that he could oogle the Dead Sea Works. First things first, we drove up to the observation point (more dirt roads) which overlooked the entire operations with the evaporation ponds in the background. It also featured a pretty cool piece of random sculpture - a metal beam which looked as if it were constructed out of the ground itself. We took quite a few pictures and then settled in for the long drive.
In the process we got to watch the landscape change from dusty, rocky desert to something very closely resembling Western Oklahoma (dusty agriculture) to beautiful, verdant green rolling hills - all of which we missed doing the original drive in the dark on our first day. Our drive also corresponded with a massive storm front moving through which resulted in sand storms during the more arid portions of our drive and rain storms by the time we got up to Haifa. Not the easiest conditions to drive through, but the roads were well kept so the it went pretty smoothly.
We got to Haifa just before 2pm and so went out for lunch, intending to eat at a place called Fatoosh in the German Quarter, which Branson had been talking up the entire trip. Getting there, however (through rain coming in sideways), we discovered that they were closed for rennovations. Which will be good for them once they reopen, but not so good for us being wet, cold and hungry. Fortunately the place across the street was open (called Garden) and served us up a piping hot and pretty tasty meal. We took our time, hoping that the gale force wind & rain might subside a little bit, before heading to the Keshet, Russian market, the only store open past 3pm on Shabbat.
Then back to Branson's apartment for the boys to cook for the dinner party later that night and me to take a nap. Branson made his fantastic flourless chocolate cake and Stephen made tea nana (black tea with spearmint that is ubiquitous in Israel, and probably most of the middle east). The dinner party was nominally a celebration of 2 of Branson's friends' birthdays, but really mostly an excuse for their circle of friends to have a good meal and enjoy each other's company for the traditional shabbat meal. The party also had a hat theme, where people were supposed to wear hats decorated according to some kind of pun (for example Branson's hat had a picture of an icepick & a row of four trees - a reference to The Lorax). So that was a fun diversion. We really enjoyed meeting his local friends, who are an amazingly diverse group of mostly expats, but also some locals and others who come along from time to time. We had a great time and are hoping that our paths cross with some of this crew again.
So a relatively light day in terms of sightseeing, but a great insight into the landscape and also some of what Branson's life is like here in Haifa. The rest of our trip looks like it is going to be at the mercy of the weather, so we'll have to wait and see what's reasonable for us to do while this storm blows itself out.