We’re in a routine now. Getting up, heading to breakfast about 8:30 and meeting Moshe in the lobby of the hotel 9:00. Oh wait, though, this is Saturday, so let me backup a bit. We’re staying in the Hilton in Tel Aviv, which is about as American as you can get, including American price gouging (did I mention it costs $22 a day here for wireless Internet per computer – we have three with us, don’t ask and $6.50 a minute for calls to the US? Oh and prices are given in American dollars). Anyway, we stay here because we got two rooms for free for five nights and we get free breakfast and cocktails included with that. So, at 8:30, we meet in the Honors lounge (now on the Mezzanine level because of hotel renovation), have breakfast and then go.
So at 9:00 we piled into the van and were off. We were heading up the coast today, with plans to stop in Haifa at the Bahai Gardens, Akko at the Crusader fort and Caesarea at the ruins of Herod’s Roman city. Of course, all good plans… actually, we stuck to it pretty good except we bagged Akko and decided to stay in the car a bit further and head up to Rosh HaNiqra on the border of Lebanon (don’t worry Mom, everything was fine). Actually, Rosh HaNiqra was on our original plan but when we decided to stay in Tel Aviv rather than have a single overnight in Haifa, we bagged it as being too far a drive but Moshe thought it worthwhile, and I had never been. Since he was willing to drive it, we were willing to ride it.
One thing I want to note about Moshe, well really, he could be an entire entry alone, but one thing, is when we’re in the car, he gives a running commentary of things to see. The history in this area is so prolific (from Jaffa a city that existed 8000 years ago), to the recent (a battle during the 1967 war), there’s really always something to learn or to keep us engaged (well, except for Sammi who sits in the back of the van and has taken to bringing her computer with us and playing Sims because her DS died – they can’t be charged here).
As we were nearing Haifa, about 50 minutes into the ride, we heard from the back, “Are we there yet?” so rather than drive straight up to Rosh HaNiqra and working our way back, we decided to stop in Haifa first to break up the drive and visit the Baha’i Gardens first.
From what I understand (and I’m not taking the time to do some research now) the Baha’i are a relatively new religion, started in Iran (aka Persia) who believe in beauty and something else that escapes me at the moment. Let me tell you, they ain’t kidding. Those gardens are some of the most beautiful, most perfectly manicured, I’ve ever seen.
View of Haifa from Baha'i Gardens
After snapping many photographs (yes, that’s only a glimpse), we got back into the van and headed down to the shrine area. The shrine is to the founder of the movement, and is covered in gold but unfortunately, right now, covered in cloth for renovation. Luckily though, we were still able to enter the area around the shrine.
Gardens Around the Baha'i Shrine
Gardens Around the Baha'i Shrine
By the way, days like today though, leave me wishing we had more time because I could have spent an entire day in Haifa (maybe more) just exploring the gardens and the city. I could have spent longer at Rosh HaNiqra and Caesarea too – just a thought.
Okay – so now we hop back in the van and drive down to the bottom of Haifa (it’s built up a hill overlooking the sea). Here we hop out of the van for a moment to admire the gardens from the bottom as opposed to the top.
Baha'i Garden from Bottom
We’re back on the road again heading toward Rosh HaNiqra. This reminds me, I have some video I should upload – oh wait, almost forgot something.
Along the way to Rosh HaNiqra we make a bathroom pit stop. There’s a tiny supermarket attached to this gas station and what do we find inside? Tim Tam cookies. Those are the great cookies Becky brought back from Australia, so you know we bought a couple of packages (and had to sample them in the car for freshness).
Anyway, back to Rosh HaNiqra. These are grottos along the northernmost coast of Israel (yes, we actually see the Lebanese border), where the sea fills pockets under the rock. Totally beautiful and totally crowded but not with nematodes, but Israelis spending a beautiful Shabbat out with the family. The grottos are low, obviously along the water, and we park high, so we take a tram ride down a 60 degree angle to the bottom. The tram is small (holds a maximum of 15 people) and only takes about a minute or so to complete its journey. It’s the only way down. Anyway, that video I mentioned is of us riding down to the bottom and then later, back up, with some amazing views. But for now, see some pictures.
View from Atop Grottos at Rosh HaNiqra
Cable Cars at Rosh HaNiqra
Once we’re down below, we walk through the caves, admiring the colors and sounds. Luckily, all the caves are open, though in rough weather they do close because they can quickly fill with water.
Once we exit the caves, we walk along the outside of the rocks, but low down, admiring the views, funky shapes, and fossils.
From Rosh HaNiqra we pile in the car and head south (as if we had a choice). Hunger has hit some of the crew so we pull into this roadside place, which would be described as a truck stop in our country, for lunch of kebabs, falafel, hummus, and some sort of veal dish that Chris gets. They put out so much mezze (appetizers, and little salad plates), we are completely full when we leave and will end up having a very light dinner in the hotel lobby/bar later on. Anyway, the food was fresh, delicious, plentiful and cheap (maybe 150NIS for the five of us) and I would never be able to tell you where it was or how to get there – so apologies.
We hit the road again, riding along the coast to Caesarea, arriving about 15 minutes before they close the entrance to the Amphitheatre site, and luckily Moshe talks his way in.
The ruins are much more extensive than I remember from our 1987 visit. I do not know if that’s my memory or if they’ve excavated more out but either way, I could have easily spent more time here wandering around.
Mosaic Floor at Caesarea
The place is hopping with Israeli families that, like Rosh HaNiqra, came here to spend a beautiful Shabbat afternoon. There are restaurants now, cafes and stores for both tourists and some high-end artists (here’s where I found the long sought after Tallit clips).
After we spend some time walking around and shopping, we hop back into the van for one more stop in the vicinity, to see part of the 17 kilometer aqueduct that Herod built to bring water to Caesarea. Did I mention that Herod built this city? Okay – well, he did as a port for all the goods coming from the east. It was quite the feat of modern engineering at the time because he created a harbor where there was none. We arrived at the aqueduct just as the sun was setting.
Sammi by Caesarea Aqueduct
Sunset at Caesarea Aqueduct
From here we drove back to Tel Aviv, sitting in some traffic along the way. It was by far the longest day and left us all a bit tired. As I mentioned, we ended up just having dinner in the lobby bar because we were all pretty full from lunch and Chris wanted a martini. So Sammi and Becky shared a pizza, I had a bowl of soup and Chris had some pasta with vegetables. Nothing fancy but it did the trick.