One of the benefts of traveling with someone who's familiar with the country is that they usually already know how to get around. Israel is not that big---about the size of New Jersey, in fact---and so it was with some ease that my dad and I were able to see a lot more of the countryside in a rental car.
Our first stop after leaving Jerusalem was Caesarea
, the ruins of a Roman-style city built by King Herod on the Mediterranean between 25 and 13BC in honor of Julius Caesar. Israel is surprisingly full of Roman ruins, and this one included a hippodrome site, an aqueduct, and an ampitheatre that's still used today.
Me getting soaked by the deceivingly powerful Mediterranean waves.
Columns from one of the pavilions, and one of my best shots from the trip, IMHO.
A current resident of the city ruins.
The aqueduct. It was a beautiful day...the air was so much clearer there on the coast, it tended to get a little hazy inland due to the desert winds and dust.We continued north and had a delicious seafood lunch in the fishing town of Acre
(pronounced "Ah-ko"). By this time I'd been in the country about three or four days, and was growing accustomed to the Arabic-style meals that almost always included pickled olives, hummus, and pita. It all is actually quite good. Really!
Apparently the Knights Templar
had fashioned a secret tunnel through some of Acre, which tourists can now walk through. While a little low in some places, it has a boardwalk over the water and is well-lit, so it's really nothing like Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem!
Continuing north, I was struck by how similar the landscape is to California---this wasn't the desolate desert I'd expected! We passed through the Hulah Valley
, a verdant region (more or less man-made, too!) that seems to accommodate every sort of agriculture imaginable. To say that Israel is self-sufficient would be an understatement, I don't think they need to import anything
considering everything that they grow themselves!
By the time we reached our bed-and-breakfast destination outside of Kiryat Shmona
, it was sundown on a Friday, which means Shabbat had begun and everything was closed. It also wasn't just any old Shabbat, it was Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday of Christmas-size magnitude. It was downright creepy how everything shut down...and I mean everything
. Restaurants were dark, gas stations sat empty, grocery stores and convenience marts were locked up tight. I should have taken a photo of how desolate the streets were, but I was keeping my eyes peeled for any sign of life so we could EAT! We managed to find an Arab shopkeeper whose roadside convenience store was open (his door was broken so he had no choice, otherwise he'd have been closed, too!) and we bought some pastries, fruit, pita, and cheese. The few people we did see in the next 24 hours stared at us---it's forbidden to drive on Shabbat, and almost downright sacrilegeous to drive on Yom Kippur, when all the children take to the empty streets on their bikes!
To kill some time before turning in, we drove up to Metulla, a town on the Lebanese border. This sign reads "STOP--Border Ahead!!" Lebanon didn't look much different from Israel, except maybe less green and more desertlike. And the towns we could see from the border all had minarets, something the entirely absent from the northern Jewish villages.
An art "sculpture" on the roadside.
I know, MORE cats, right? These lil' kittens were so cute, they were living at our bed and breakfast!
As we left the Hulah Valley and made our way into the Golan Heights
, we began to see more indications of past conflcts between Israel and its northern Muslim neighbors, Syria and Lebanon.
We found a historic battle site, Tel Fahr, that was miraculously open on Yom Kippur, and of course completely devoid of other tourists.
Me in one of the bunkers at Tel Fahr. The story of this fort is actually quite amazing. It sits on a hill (aka, a tel
) overlooking the Hulah Valley and was once Syrian territory. It was a valuable strategic point for launching offensives into Israel, and in 1967 during the Six-Day War
, a heroic brigade of Israeli Defense were able to capture it, against all odds. The tales from the battle were mind-blowing; the Israeli solders had to struggle up the mine-ridden hill under heavy fire from the bunkers. One Israeli soldier, wounded, laid himself across the fort's barbed wire so his comrades could cross into the trenches...and that is only one of several incredible stories of Israeli bravery in Tel Fahr's capture. I decided right there that I definitely do not want to go to war with Israel. Ever. Hehe.
Tel Fahr trenches.
A Christian church up the road from Tel Fahr. If you're thinking that hole in the wall is from a rocket, you're probably right. This is still within striking range of the Lebanese border.
The interior of the church, with what is likely another rocket-hole in the ceiling. I highly doubt anyone was actually present when this place was hit.
Woah, I couldn't believe we found this! It was just on the roadside in the Golan as we cruised on by... My dad speculated that it might be planted as a memorial of some kind, but it's just as possible that it's real and, besides undoubtedly being diffused, otherwise untouched since it landed. Who knows!
Signs of life in the Golan :D
I'm more certain was NOT planted and probably has been lying out by the road in Golan Heights since some hapless soldier lost it in the 60s.
A view east. Basically where the greenery ends is where Syria begins.
Lol, along with the "mine sign" picture, I took to calling these types of photos "Matt shots," because I knew if Matt (the bf) were to see them as I took them, he'd probably freak out and fret for my safety. Well, knowing him, he probably fretted anyway, picture or no picture. But really, all was quiet on the Western front. I felt as safe in Israel as I feel in California, despite its 'proximity' to Baghdad and mines still littering its roadside fields.
Heading a little more south now. This is the Sea of Galilee
, also called Lake Kinneret by locals.
The Sea was so flat and calm and warm, I could see why so many people were camped out there for the holiday weekend. I kind of wanted to roll out a barbecue and camp out, too!
My dad cooling off.
It was smooth as glass...with teeny fish!
A panorama of the lake.
This is a monastery (SILENCE, the sign says when you enter) on the northern bank of the Sea of Galilee that is also known as the Church of the Bread and Fishes, as it celebrates the site where Jesus supposedly performed his miracle of feeding multitudes of his followers from a single supply of bread and fish.
"Crossing Jordan," hehe! The Jordan River feeds into the Sea of Galilee.
A baptismal site in the Jordan River. Look at all those fish! I dunno if I'd wanna be dunked there...
The Jordan River obviously is significant to the Jewish faith as well. Here Stars of David are carved into a tree on its bank by pilgrims.
It looks so pretty and peaceful...
I went wading in at the baptismal site and almost got EATEN ALIVE BY FISH! This is a picture of me genuinely reacting to having my toes relentlessly nibbled.
On our way back to Jerusalem we stopped at the ruins of the ancient city of Bet She'an
, which was HUGE and really well preserved! This picture is of the city's main street.
My dad on the (other end of) the main street. The Romans really were geniuses. They built all their cities from the same blueprint, so visiting soldiers and merchants couldn't get lost.
You know you're walking on historic soil when you can just reach down and pick up a piece of ancient pottery.
A panorama of Jordan from Bet She'an.
The heating system for the Roman baths. The pool was built on top of these columns, through which hot air was piped to heat the water.
camp in the hills outside of Jerusalem. I didn't get to meet any Bediouin, but I did see a lot of their camels!