Follow by Email

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!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Israel! Horseback Riding in the Galilee, Pomegranate Wine, & Tiberias!

Horseback riding in the Galilee - Vered HaGalil
During our amazing month in Israel, thanks to Ben Gurion University of the Negev, one of the places I had to take Dan (and finally experience myself!) was Vered HaGalil ("Rose of the Galilee), the magnificent (and first) "American-Style" horseback riding ranch in Israel!

View from our suite's balcony
Vered HaGalil

When I was is the Israeli Army (1984-1986), Sol Baskin, who I had met through the late Major Zohar Levkovitch, told me that someday I Must visit Vered HaGalil! I was a military illustrator and graphic designer in the Israeli Army, and Sol Baskin is an artist; Major Zohar Levkovitch, the IDF historian for whom I was illustrating books, and who became a dear friend, introduced us so I could meet one of the founders of the State of Israel. Sol, a highly decorated WWII US Army Veteran of Anzio and Monte Cassino, immigrant to Israel, "Mahalnik", (a Volunteer from Overseas in the Israel Defense Forces), a founder of the Israeli Armored Corps, became a dear friend of mine, as well, and when I had my NYC gallery for contemporary Israeli art I gave Sol the first US retrospective exhibition of his extraordinary paintings, most created during 5 wars: WWII, the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, 1956, 1967 Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel and my hero since childhood, wrote the forward for the catalog for Sol's exhibition, as Sol was his officer during the Israeli War of Independance in 1948... A native of Chicago, Sol was friends with Yehuda Avni, who had also immigrated to Israel from Chicago, and who had, in what was then "the middle of nothing"- acres full of giant boulders and thistles, with nothing but a magnificent view of the Galilee- created, with his Jerusalem-born wife Yona, an extraordinary "American style" horse riding resort! This trip was my golden opportunity to stay at Vered HaGalil and ride horseback thru the Galilee with Dan- and finally meet Yehuda and Yona Avni!
Elisse, with Yehuda & Yona Avni,
founders of Vered HaGalil

Dan & Kitty, Vered HaGalil

A Very sexy room!
A view of the Galil from our jacuzzi at Vered HaGalil!

Sunset in the Galilee...

Our horseback riding guide
at Vered HaGalil

Night view of the Galilee from our balcony
Vered HaGalil

Yehudah Avni with the "Chicago Book"
Our Suite at Vered HaGalil was truly romantic & beautiful: our bedroom had a jacuzzi tub with windows overlooking the Galil, and the balcony view was nothing short of fabulous! We were welcomed with a bottle of wine and a bowl of fresh fruit, and Dan was totally delighted by our visits from the resident kitty!

The first thing I did- while we were booking our horseback riding tour- was pick up the phone and call Sol in Tel Aviv to tell him I'd finally made it to Vered HaGalil! I hadn't spoken to him in a number of years, and as he's 89 (like my mom) I was more than a little nervous. He was so shocked and laughing so hard when he heard my voice that he had to put down the phone! My heart literally leaped in my chest: I love and respect Sol more than I can ever say; he is the person I would have wanted to be, had I been born in 1922. Happily, I was not only able to give his warm regards to the Avnis, but Dan and I got to spend an evening with Sol at his apartment in Tel Aviv, sit in his living room and drink his homemade cherry vishniak brandy, and take him for a wonderful steak dinner. Dan thus got to meet the man who, for me, personifies everything fine and noble, hard and soft, heroic and average, about my country- one of the people who literally made the State of Israel a reality...

Banana groves in the Galil

Our first day in the Galil, Dan & I drove to see the 2000 Year Old Boat, known as the "Jesus Boat", at the nearby Yigal Alon Museum of Man in the Galilee! This extraordinary, one-of-a-kind 2000 year old archaeological find from the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) was discovered in 1986 by two fisherman brothers, Yuval and Moshe Lufan, following a prolonged drought that lowered the Kinneret's sea level. It was amazingly saved and restored in record time (it was in immedaite danger of deteriorating beyond repair), and it is an extraordinary thing to see it up close and personal! Yigal Allon, for whom the museum is named, was a native of Israel and the Galilee, a founding member of Kibbutz Ginosar, an active participant in the pre-state settlement movement, an officer in the Palmach (the precursor of the Israel Defense Forces), and an Israeli government minister.

Dan & the 2000 Year Old Boat
Restoration of the boat

Modern sculpture garden
at the Yigal Alon Museum
Ancient Galilee Mosaic
Yigal Alon Museum

2000 year old pottery & nails, discovered near the boat; Yigal Alon Museum

The Flautist: modern art with sheep
made by children at the Yigal Alon Museum

We had a wine tasting of delicious pomegranate wine and jam from the Rimon Winery at the museum, and (naturally) bought some wine and jam to take home! Rimon wines are 100% pomegranate, without any added sugar, and the wine is truly delicious: light, fruity, smooth, and not cloyingly sweet! The Rimon Winery is at Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra in the Upper Galilee, and as we didn't have a chance to visit, I'm SO glad we got to taste their delicious products at the museum!

We then drove to Tiberias, (Tveria in Hebrew), the ancient city named for the Roman Emperor Tiberius, and had a yummy lunch of  fresh, local fish on the sea-side Promenade ("HaTayelet HaYeshana") at the Galei Gil Restaurant! We walked along the seashore, fed our bread rolls to the fish :-), strolled around Tiberias, and found Roman ruins, including mosaic floored baths! We dug thru the archaeological "junk pile" of discards and plucked some ancient souvenirs to take home: 2000 year old pot shards and urn handles! On the way back to Vered HaGalil we stopped at the Tomb of Rachel, Rabbi Akiva's wife, and I made another prayer for health and security for the State of Israel...

Dan, at lunch: Galei Gil Restaurant
Tiberias Promenade on the Kinneret

Fresh fish lunch: Galei Gil, Tiberias

Art Studio/Gallery, Tiberias

The old and the new: Dan in Tiberias

Elisse, on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Tiberias

"Ancient" tour boat on the Kinneret

Hassidic family enjoying the view: Tiberias

Dan, Tiberias

Modern art on an ancient theme, Tiberias

Modern Art: the Tiberias Hebrew Aleph-Bet

Tiberias: the ancient road, made modern

Tiberias: the ancient road, still in use...

Tomb of Rachel, Rabbi Akiva's Wife

Rachel's Tomb

Roman ruins: Tiberias

Elisse: Roman ruins, Tiberias

Herod Antipas founded Tiberias in 17-22 C.E., naming it after his patron, the Roman Emperor Tiberius. In the second through tenth centuries, Tiberias was the largest Jewish city in the Galilee, the Jewish People's political and religious hub, as well as the center of Jewish spiritual creativity. A few years after its establishment, around 30 C.E., Jesus Christ is said to have moved his base of activities to the northern shore of Lake Kinneret, where several well-known miracles are said to have taken place, including his walking on the waters of the lake. As Christianity grew, many churches were built in Tiberias and the surrounding area. Tiberias has been continuously inhabited, and various buildings and ruins from various periods are well-preserved. In the Old City, built during the Crusades and the Ottoman Empire, a number of early sites are visible, including Daher El-Amar's 18th century fortress, a Jewish ritual bath, the black basalt remnants of the city wall, and the Church of St. Peter, constructed on the ruins of a Crusader church. Tiberias is also dotted with the burial sites of Jewish sages, making it one of Israel's holy cities; Jewish pilgrims flock to the tombs of Rabbi Akiva and his wife, Rachel, Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakai, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess, and the great philosopher and sage Maimonides.

Next: More Galilee Adventures! Nazareth Village, Nouvelle Nazareth Cuisine at Al Reda, & soaking in the Hamat Gader Hot Springs!