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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Israel! Elisse & Dan Do Armageddon! (Plus Haifa's subway, trains & Fine dining!)

On the way from Vered HaGalil ("Rose of Galiliee") horse ranch to Haifa, Dan & I went to Megiddo - Armageddon- a place I hadn't been since I'd toured Israel with my father in 1973! The ongoing archaeological excavations at Tel Megiddo  National Park make it a truly an extraordinary place to visit, and Dan and I were lucky enough to hook up with a great tour guide who let us tag along with his group! (Without a knowledgable guide or a self-guided tour, archaeological sites can often seem like "just another pile of old rocks"; it's REALLY important to have a guide in order to fully enjoy them and get something out of your visit!) Strategically perched above the most important land route in the ancient Near East, Megiddo dominated international traffic for over 6,000 years- from approx. 7,000 B.C.E. through biblical times. As civilizations came and went, succeeding settlements at ancient Megiddo were built on the ruins of their predecessors, creating a multi-layered archaeological legacy that abounds in unparalleled treasures that include monumental temples, lavish palaces, mighty fortifications, and a remarkably-engineered water system- all of which we visited! Megiddo is mentioned in Egyptian writings, and was forecast to be the site of Armageddon in the Christian Book of Revelations; it is one of many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Israel. Tel Megiddo was a key location on the Via Maris, as the Romans called the sea road that led from Egypt to Damascus, and has a long history of upheavals and conquest. The nearby springs and fertile ground drew settlers from the earliest ages of antiquity; it was a city with formidable walls 5,000 years ago. One thousand years later it fell under Egyptian rule; then the Canaanites conquered the city to be followed by King David. King Solomon refortified the city, which reached the heights of it powers under King Ahab around 2,900 years ago. Ahab turned Megiddo into “Ir Rekhev” and built impressive water works. Israelite Megiddo fell to the Assyrians in 732 BCE, and was finally demolished by the Egyptians in 609 BCE. Tel Megiddo's paths lead through the main sites such as the City Gates and the Ivory Palace, where a treasure of ancient ivory objects and jewelry were discovered- the richest Canaanite treasure ever discovered. Others sites include the stables from Ahab’s time, and the waterworks, which include a 25-meter deep shaft and a 70 meter tunnel that leads to springs. The northern part of the Tel has a spectacular view of the Yizre’el Valley, while the southern part has an arbor for prayer. Because of Megiddo's great significance for both Christians and Jews, the site was chosen as the historic meeting place for the historic 1964 visit of Pope Paul VI with Israel's President, Zalman Shazar, and Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, the first visit of a pope to Israel.
Map of the 20 layers of 30 cities of Megiddo (Armageddon)

Entrance to Megiddo

Dan, atop Megiddo

Religious alters at Megiddo


Grain silo, Megiddo

Dan in the ancient water tunnel, Megiddo
Dan with the modern Megiddo waterworks :-)
Charioteer Dan!


From Megiddo we drove to Haifa, Israel's 3rd largest city, a beautiful port city that literally climbs the mountain above the Mediterranean.

Baha'i Temple, Haifa

 Although you can take a cable car to the top of the Carmel, the first thing I wanted Dan to experience in Haifa was the "Carmelit", the famous 6-station funicular "stair-step" subway system built in 1956 that makes it speedy and fun (8 minutes!) to get from the sea to the top of Mount Carmel! I remember riding the Carmelit with my Dad in 1973, and though it's been fully modernized, it's still a fascinating experience to ride Israel's one and only subway! An engineering marvel when first constructed in the 1950s,
1956: Building the Carmelit
the Carmelit was totally revamped in the mid-1980s, and the renewed subway has modern, air conditioned passenger cars that operate on an elevator system. The wheeled passenger cars move on a track and are pulled by cable operated automatically by the central control station!
Dan, Carmelit Station, Haifa

The Carmelit

Dan and I took the Carmelit to the top of the Carmel so we could have a glass of wine and take in the magnificent view from the top at twilight...
Here comes the Carmelit!

View of Haifa Bay, from the Carmel

Haifa at twilight from Mt. Carmel

Wine bar on Mt. Carmel

Back on the Carmelit!
Carmelit Station

Haifa is also a living, functioning symbol of outstanding co-existence and tolerance between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and the World Center of the Baha'i Faith with its golden dome and gardens is a focal point of the city. (The Baha'i originated from the Bab sect which separated from Iran’s Shi’ite Islam in 1844). Atop the Carmel, holy to Christians, is the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery, and in the monastery’s church is a cave considered by Christian tradition to be the grave of the Prophet Elijah. Israel’s only Ahmadi Muslim community is based in Haifa, as well; the Ahmadiyya is an Indian sect of Islam, founded in the late nineteenth century, which promotes peace among nations and opposes religious coercion.

World Center of Baha'i Faith, Haifa

Dan, holding up the Temple...

Arriving with no reservations, we were lucky to find a guest room at the lovely historic Colony Hotel at the foot of the Baha'i Gardens in the city's  charming German Colonyfounded in the nineteenth century by Christian German Templars. The beautifully restored Colony Hotel dates from 1905, and it was a splendid, quintessentially Haifa place to stay!

At The Colony Hotel

Morning coffee at The Colony...

That night we took a cab down to the port area and had a truly amazing gourmet dinner at HaNamal 24- truly a world-class culinary jewel. This was a dinner that was So good I took notes! You want to drool? Click on the link and look at their menu! This was truly one of the "great, good meals" of life...
Salmon ceviche on fruit salsa, soy ginger sauce, and cream of bell peppers
Liver pate brioche and liver pate-filled ravioli with toffee sauce
Beef fillet on pureed peas, with red gnocchi, with a Bordelaise Sauce and Parmesan cheese
Fillet of Mullet on pear risotto, with a pear stuffed with goat cheese, cardamom and saffron.
Pear filled with chocolate cream, an almond roulade filled with Marscapone
Vanilla panna cotta and citrus caramel, and a berry soup
Accompanied by Israeli wine, of course! Unreal!!!!

Enjoying a Wonderful dinner!

Mullet fillet... 
Beef fillet...

A happy Chef Dan!


Luscious deserts!

Looking up at the Bahai Temple,
on our return to our hotel...

The next morning after breakfast at The Colony
we went to the excellent Israel Railway Museum- NOT easy to find, even with our trusty map, and damn near impossible to get to, but we drove around and around and up and down, and Finally figured out how to get in! And it was truly worth it- this was one of Dan's favorite places in Israel! Located in the old Turkish-era railway station of east Haifa, the museum  offers a tour through the past with the sight of modern trains passing by, and provides an historical overview of railways in the Holy Land and their part in the development of the country, from the first line between Jaffa and Jerusalem opened in 1892 under Turkish rule, through two World Wars, the British Mandate, right up to the revitalized Israel Railways of the 21st Century!
The refurbished main exhibits building of the museum was once the locomotive shed of the famous Hedjaz Railway which carried Muslims making the Haj pilgrimage to the cities of Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia, back when it was also possible to travel by narrow gauge steam train from Haifa to Damascus in Syria and to Amman in Jordan. The main building houses historical locomotives, coaches, wagons, and displays, including the last authentic steam locomotive to survive in Israel: 0-6-0T No.10 built in Germany in 1902 for the Hedjaz Railway!
The docent was kind enough to make us coffee (and invite us to his home for Passover Seder!), and as we were the only ones at the museum that morning we had it all to ourselves!
Israel Railway Museum, Haifa

1922  Birmingham RC&W Saloon Coach, used by David Ben Gurion, The King & Queen of Belgium, and Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia

Dan peering into the Saloon Coach Kitchen

The last steam loco in Israel: 0-6-0T No.10, built in Germany in 1902 for the Hedjaz Railway

Brake Van 1419, Built in 1939 by La Brugeoise, Belgium
 for the Egyptian State Railways.
Captured  by Israel in the 1956 Sinai War.

From Haifa, we drove to Tel Aviv to see Sol Baskin, whom I hadn't seen in years, and take him to dinner...

Next: My Jerusalem! Home!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Israel! The Galilee: Nazareth Village, gourmet dining, & soaking in ancient Roman hot springs!

During our marvelous month in Israel, thanks to American Associates of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, we spent several days at the beautiful Vered HaGalil "Rose of the Galilee" horse riding ranch in the mountains of the Galil- a place I'd longed to visit since I was in the Israeli Army in the 80s!
After a morning coffee on our lovely balcony, we drove to Nazareth- via Craaaaaaaaazy Cana, a town with The Most Insane Traffic In The Known Universe! According to Christian tradition, Jesus performed the miracle of the wine there, when he went to a wedding of a poor couple and turned water into wine. We, however, got to experience Another miracle in Cana, just getting thru the traffic in one piece! As we were mired in nutty bumper-to-bumper mayhem for a LONG time, with cars literally pointing in every single direction (& with Elisse hyperventilating at the thought of our rental car getting banged up!), we got to not only enjoy the antics of wacky drivers, fearless pedestrians, and a Complete And Total Lack of Signage, but to enjoy the myriad sights of Downtown Cana, including such stores as the "First Annunciation Souvenir Store" and "First Miracle Coffee Shop"...

Cana: First Miracle Souvenir & Coffee Shop
Cana: Stuck in traffic!

Some researchers identify Kafr Cana with the Kana mentioned in the ancient Egyptian Amarna letters (from about 4,000 years ago), and in the center of the village are a few remains of ancient buildings and burial caves. During the Roman-Byzantine period (1000-2000 years ago), there was a large Jewish community here, but by the Mameluke period (about 800 years ago) most of the residents of Kafr Cana were Christian, although there was still a Jewish community. Today the majority of the residents of Kafr Cana are Muslim.

Once in Nazareth, we found Nazareth Village, a living museum of Galilee life 2000 years ago, and spent a fascinating day enjoying and learning about life as it was lived at that time. Nazareth Village offers a unique synthesis of historical, archaeological, and ethno-archaeological science applied in reconstructing a First Century Village in the natural landscape of Nazareth, preserving the ancient landscape for future generations to learn from and enjoy. Archaeology proved the land had been quarried and farmed in the Late Hellenistic- Early Roman Period (2nd Century BCE to 1st Century CE), and discoveries included 3 ancient watchtowers, a wine press, stone quarries, farm terraces and a spring-fed irrigation system carved from bedrock. We visited the weaver, turned the olive press, hiked up the hillside watching the animals graze among the spring flowers, and stomped a little in the wine cellar! Dan, who is Christian, truly enjoyed exploring this place, and I loved sharing this facet of my amazing little country with him... It would be such fun to be able to return and participate in the grape or olive harvest and the making of olive oil and wine in the ancient way!
Dan, the 2000 year old carpenter!

At Nazareth Village

Spinner/Weaver, Nazareth Village

Dan, grinding!

Elisse, grinding!

Nazareth Village

Nazareth Village

Dan, with a Very old olive tree
Nazareth Village

Elisse: Barefoot in the ancient wine press!

Nazareth began as a small Jewish village about 2,000 years ago, and became a stronghold of Christianity in the Byzantine period, just a few hundred years later. Nazareth is the cradle of Christianity, the city where, according to tradition, the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the place where Jesus is said to have spent his childhood and youth. Pilgrimages led to the building of the city’s first church- the Church of the Annunciation at the traditional site of Joseph and Mary’s home. Many more churches were built throughout the city, and were destroyed and rebuilt with the changes in Muslim and Christian rule over the centuries. In the 19th century Nazareth attracted renewed interest and Christians returned to live in this city and rebuilt churches and monasteries. Today Nazareth is the largest Arab city in Israel and has about 30 churches and monasteries, as well as mosques and ancient synagogues.

Walking around Nazareth with our little tourist map, we found the Basilica of the Annunciation, and strolled thru their wonderful art-filled courtyard and archaeological site. On the lower level of the church is Mary’s Cave, where, according to Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary was visited by Archangel Gabriel and told she would give birth to Jesus.The first church was built by Jerusalem’s Deacon Conon during the Byzantine era, approx. 427 C.E. Many churches on this site were built, destroyed, and rebuilt; the current basilica was erected in 1969, designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio (1893-1982), leader of the "Novecento Italiano" architects, and most famed for "Ca' Brutta" in Milano, and built by the Israeli company Solel Boneh; it remains one of the grandest churches in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, Nazareth has now been taken over by Muslims, who have erected
hateful, anti-Christian signs, literally in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation.
To say we found this disturbing is an understatement.

Art at the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
from around the world
Beautiful art at Church of the Annunciation...

Archaeology beneath the
Church of the Annunciation
Archaeological dig beneath the church

Chuch of the Assumption, Nazareth

We then had a splendid dinner of "Nouvelle Nazareth" cuisine at the elegant and beautifully restored Al Reda Restaurant, 23 Al Beshara St., just up the street from the Church: Lamb Shoulder with Artichokes and Fareeka (local wheat that is picked green, specially dried, and cooked like rice in the traditional manner); local Nazareth Sausages; Kubeh, and Bedouin Coffee! After dinner Ahmad Darawshi gave us a wonderful tour of the gorgeous rental apartment (Tel: 04-6084404) above the restaurant in this 120-year old building, with a balcony overlooking the city and the Church of the Annunciation next door; this is truly THE place you want to stay if you are going to Nazareth!

Dan, in front of Al Reda, Nazareth
Kubeh & Israeli wine: Al Reda, Nazareth

Delicious, traditional "Nouvelle Nazareth" appetizers!
Al Reda Restaurant, Nazareth

Bedouin Coffee:
a wonderful finale to a delicious dinner!
Ahmed & Dan, on the balcony of the rental apt. above Al Reda

The lovely rental apt. above Al Reda Restaurant
THE place you want to stay in Nazareth!

Dan on the apt. balcony:
what a view!

Our next adventure in the Galil was another one I'd wanted to do for decades: soak in the ancient Roman hot springs at Hamat Gader! Hamat Gader is above the south-eastern shores of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and includes a 40 acre tropical park, spa, crocodile farm(!), and restaurants, as well as the ancient Roman Baths, the hot mineral water pools with wonderful water jets that relieve neck, shoulder and back tension, a luxurious bubble pool, and a hot water waterfall! We spent a few blissful hours soaking in the pools, and then enjoying the gardens and archaeological park...
Elisse in the Hamat Gader hot springs pools

Ruins of the Roman Baths, Hamat Gader

Do I look happy?! I'M HOME!!!

Roman Baths, Hamat Gader

Fascinating White-Floss Silk Tree at
Hamat Gader gardens
Close up of the fascinating Silk Tree

To get to and from Hamat Gader, we had a beautiful drive thru the Galil, driving totally around the Kinneret! We stopped at the ruins of Korazim, at the Korazim National Park, which we'd seen from afar on horseback...
Korazim is an ancient Jewish town comprising approx. 25 acres; it's first mentioned in sources from the Second Temple Talmudic period, which extolled the town for its good wheat. In the 16th century, Jewish fishermen lived there. The beautiful synagogue at Korazim, built at the end of the fourth century, is made of black basalt, and is still used today for Bar Mitzvah ceremonies and weddings! Also discovered there was a carved basalt seat for the community's most respected members, known in the ancient sources as the "Moses Seat", bearing an Aramaic inscription. The ancient Jewish mikveh (ritual bath) has been reconstructed near the synagogue, along with two large homes and an olive press. Korazim is mentioned in the New Testament as a city where Jesus is said to have preached, and which rejected him.

Dan, Korazim

Elisse, at the Synagogue at Korazim

Dan, under the arches, Korazim
Dan, Korazim: millstone



Bottlebrush Tree!
I want this at the Elkhorn Inn!

Kibbutz HaOn

Kibbutz HaOn

1914 Memorial to Turkish Airmen, HaOn


Kibutz HaOn

With two maps- one in English and one in Hebrew- in my lap, we often went looking for unusual things along the way; driving through the lush kibbutz banana fields of the Galilee, we found the Turkish Pilots Memorial  in HaOn, a monument commemorating two Turkish pilots whose plane crashed here on Friday, February 27, 1914.
Next: Armageddon (Meggido) & Haifa!