Caesarea, Haifa, and Akko

Friday, December 16, 2016

We said good bye to Tel Aviv (well....we will be back there again in 10 days) and headed north up the coast to Galilee.

The forecast said a high of 60 and cloudy, but it was quite chilly and already raining as we left the hotel. In fact, we heard they're setting records for cold weather.  Luckily we're prepared!

Our first stop was Caesarea. This was originally a Phoenician port, but its prosperity as a major port and wealthy city really began under the Roman rule of Herod the Great around 25 B.C. As we entered we were reminded of another Roman city, Volubilis, that we visited at this very time last year in Morocco (click for that post). As we recall, it was very hot and bright that day. Quite the opposite today! Although there were similarities in the architecture and columns and layout, there is very little left of Caesarea (at least from the 5% that has been unearthed so far).

The most impressive ruin is the amphitheater, which could seat up to 4,000 people. It is still used for concerts and performances today. 

 Then there were the public baths with their beautiful mosaic floors.

Additionally, we walked through the remains of the hippodrome--not as well preserved as what we saw in Istanbul but interesting nonetheless.

The city declined in the 7th century and stayed that way until the 12th century when the Crusaders came to the area and rebuilt it. They added a new larger wall (including an impressive moat) to make the city area bigger. The first picture below shows the interior of the wall at the main gate.

We then drove a mile or so inland and stopped at another excavated ruin. This was once the home of a wealthy family, but all that is left is the amazing mosaic tiled floor with many different kinds of animals, but mostly birds. Incredibly, there is no restriction or barrier against walking on it to get great pix, and it is totally exposed to the elements. Here is just a small sampling.

Yes....these are all mosaics. And the stones are the colors you see; zoom in to check out the incredible detail.

Next it was on to Haifa (please don't confuse this with Jaffa!). This city is built on and below Mt. Carmel and is Israel's third largest. Once again, it features a large very active port, but also has a lot of industry. Additionally, in Haifa there is a lot more successful mixing between Palestinian and Jewish Israelis than in other cities across the country--though discrimination is still a sad reality. The  sole attraction for us was the Baha'i Shrine and Gardens. As Wendy and Emily had previously visited here (click), and as it was cold and gray and raining, AND as we were nearing Shabbat, we could not climb the 16 terraces nor see the gardens from the bottom. We could only view it from the top (although from there it was clear how beautiful they are) and take this requisite picture.

You can see the gold dome of the Tomb of the Bab, and the sea in the distance. We learned that all the Baha'i people who tend the gardens are volunteers and that, per the Baha'i council, they can only stay in Israel for two years. Why? They feel that there is enough friction and they don't want to add another group to the mix. Very wise.

Back in the car for the ride to Akko. We first stopped for lunch in the newer part of town. Yuval took us to "the best shawarma restaurant in Israel". Muhammed our driver agreed. Too bad we can't pronounce or translate the name!

They featured massive amounts of beef cooked in lamb fat, so we each got one in a pita, that also was filled with onions, pickles, tomatoes (for some of us) and tahini or mango sauce. YUMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Once again, neither of us was in the clean plate club--though one of us came awfully close.

Afterwards we drove a short distance to the old part of town. Like Caesarea, Akko has a long history of ups and downs under many different flags, kingdoms, and armies. It began as Acre in the Hellenistic period over 3,000 years ago, then declined in importance for centuries. Eventually the Crusaders took over in the 11th century, then the Muslims under Saladin in the 13th century, then down again until the Ottomans came in and built a new citadel (much of which still stands); they eventually fought off an invasion by Napoleon in 1799.

The clock tower, built about 100 years ago has four faces: one with traditional Arabic numbers, one with Roman numerals, one with Hebrew numbers, and the last with modern numbers.

Of course, there was the obligatory walk through the market. Yuval told us that Akko has no great religious significance, and no other real "attractions" (it is primarily a fishing village), so it does not get a lot of tourists. So this is truly a market for the locals. And much of it was dedicated to selling the fish (some of which we've never seen before) that were caught only a few dozen yards away! Strong smells--but not like the market in Saigon.

There were also stalls of spices, veggies, olives, candied nuts, coffee, halvah, and even one for hookahs!!!! Just can't get enough of these markets!

We took a quick stroll through what had been a well-preserved Crusader castle/fortress/community but is in the process of being repurposed into a Crusader museum.  Yuval shared that Akko was the center of the Crusades and a well-curated museum would be valuable--but this museum needs some more work.

Finally we went to the Mosque of El-Jazzar. El-Jazzar is not really the name of the 18th century Ottoman ruler. It literally means "the butcher", so he was obviously not a nice guy if you got on his wrong side. But he was a prolific builder. He built this mosque in 1781, the only one of its kind (Ottoman style) in the country. The courtyard actually contains columns taken from Caesarea!!! Also in there is a gazebo containing a fountain for the ritual ablutions, and his tomb.

Inside the mosque (below).  Apparently, in the pulpit is a vial with a hair from the Prophet's beard.  There is also such a relic in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. 

Touring was over for the day, but we still had a 1 hour drive to our hotel. It is outside of the town of Hazor Haglilit, on the top of a mountain in the Galillee. As we got nearer Wayne remarked that there were still cactus plants this high up. Yuval agreed that the sabra was very hearty. This was confusing as we thought "sabra" was the term for an Israeli-born person, so we asked. Yuval explained that, yes, this was true, and here's why: unlike the immigrants who initially came to settle the land, the children born here were tough and prickly on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside, so they were nicknamed "sabra" after the cactus!

The hotel is called "Bayit Bagalil - The Galilee Estate". It was dark when we checked in, so no pix of the hotel itself. It is rustic yet elegant. After we got to our room they brought us this platter of goodies:

At 7:00 we went to the dining room for a special and massive Shabbat dinner.  By all rights we could fast tomorrow based on the amount of food we consumed.  We sat down to a beautiful challah with sun dried tomatoes and olive tapenade.  Then, presented in rapid succession were:  a green salad with walnuts and sweet vinaigrette; roasted eggplant slices with a tahini glaze; veal carpaccio; St Peters' fish fillet with bell peppers Moroccan style; then zucchini soup. We put in an excellent performance with these warm-up courses, but we felt a little guilty leaving so much.  Next, came our mains (which we got to choose).  Wayne had braised beef with mushroom sauce and Wendy had osso bucco.  We could have selected salmon or goose leg confit but we figured we had blown our calorie count for the year anyway, so why choose the light entrees? Oy.  We finished off with molten chocolate cake for Wayne and fresh fruit with sorbet for Wendy.  We're good to go for at least another eight hours. (Will this vacation eating ever end?  And then Yuval texted us that they found the perfect famous restaurant to take us to tomorrow night.  And this is the trip Wendy decided to diversify her wardrobe beyond elastic waist pants.  What a mistake!) 

Here are some of the courses up front and personal...



Astute readers may have noticed that we have eaten salad and fresh fruit several times. This is because we were told that (unlike many other places we've been) the water is safe to drink here. So we've been taking advantage of normal teeth-brushing and showering, and enjoying the locally grown veggies. So far, so good!

Can't believe we're only finishing Day 2 of our adventure! We also can't believe that this is our third post and we're not even in Jerusalem yet--so much to share. 

Until then
love, w&w....................

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