Category: israel

wrapping up in tel aviv

Bauhaus

Our final day in Tel Aviv our plans for a tour of Bauhaus buildings was interrupted by the heavens opening, forcing us to race from cafe to cafe in the few breaks in the weather. We did get to see Florentine and Shabaar two of Tel Aviv’s older more interesting areas – with great cafes and and bars and a denser more layered texture (palimpsest if you must).

Shabaar Palimpsest

To finish off the trip we attended a gig with a few interesting bands. First up (not until 10.30 pm mind) was the Giraffes – political rock (helpfully translated by our friends) followed by some frenetic central european oompa from Goran Bregovic & the Weddings & Funerals Band that had the crowd going crazy – it was fun for a while but a mammoth 2 hr set was more than enough. By now it was already 2 am and our 7 am flight loomed closer but we hung around for a few moments of psychadelic gypsy courtesy of the Balkan Beat Box.

Making our escape at 2.30, instead of catching a few hours of much needd sleep Alex managed to squeeze in one final meal! We popped in to a 24 hr bar (one of many in Tel Aviv that serve quality food all night) and had a mini feast of chicken wings, kebabs, salads,and of course hummous! Replete, and a little late we made a break for the airport – destination London, where in case we hadn’t eaten enough over the past 9 days we met friends for a middle eastern dinner!

road trip – day 2

Mt Hermon

Day two of our road trip took us north towards the Lebanese border. After passing along the Jordan River, and ducking through the edge of the Golan Heights, we ascended to a vantage point right on the border overlooking Lebanon and the Hula Valley, with a snowcapped Mt Hermon Mountain – the source of Israel’s water dominating the view.

Following the border closely (but not too close – the border patrol made sure of that) back towards the Mediterranean we wound through yet more spectacular rocky scenery before descending back to the coastal plain. It was difficult to believe that the site had been a war zone only a few months ago – apart from the razor wire fence separating Lebanon and Israel and the occasional UN post on the Lebanese side everything seemed perfectly normal.
Christmas & Israel 348.jpg

Our afternoon was spent in Akko(or Acre) an ancient city on the coast just south of the Border. We weren’t planning on spending long exploring the old city but were beguiled by its maze of alleyways, lack of tourists and true lived in feel. Akko has a population of Muslims, Jews and Christians and provided a fascinating insight into the character and vitality that the mix can produce without any of the tension of Jerusalem (ahh good ol’ religion). We wandered for far longer than expected with – I kid you not, gasps of excitement as each corner revealed yet more fantastically textured spaces or opened into another magical little public square (we are such architecture geeks). For me at least it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Akko Khan

We capped our exploration with a delicious meal at Uri Buri – one of Israel’s more famous seafood restaurants. The dishes are selected by the chef depending on the season (and his whim) and brought to the table until you can take no more. Salmon in balsamic vinegar with wasabi sorbet, sashimi prawns, a soup of seafood in coconut milk, and delightful sturgeon steaks all tempted our taste buds. As if to prove what a magical day it had been we were treated to an intense sunset from the restaurant, the Mediterranean on fire framed by the ancient roman fort.

Akko Sunset

i want to see the sea of galilee

Sea of Galilee

After an uncharacteristically early start we headed up the coast road towards the north of Israel. Turning inland at the foot of the Carmel Mountains we wound our way up to a Druze village called Daliyat al-Karmel nestled in the hills. Being a weekday not a lot was happening in the old town apart from a few old timers with funny hats, we departed with only a tasty special Druze pita stop from from a road side vendor for our troubles.

Druze Pita Stop

In a manner that was to become quite familiar over the course of the two days we took a side road on the way back in an attempt to find a lookout. We never found the view we were looking for but did drive through some beautiful stunted forests and discover a monastery tucked away in the back woods.

Carmel Forest

Taking further back roads we wound through more gentle mountain scenery with an unsuccessful attempt to have a peek at a kibbutz (with the peaceful background sounds of rifle shots from a nearby army base). Our research for our 2012 Tasmanian commune will have to wait.

With my suspect navigation from a Hebrew map we eventually close upon our target for the day; the Sea of Galilee or the Kinneret in Hebrew. We found a delightful picnic spot high above the lake overlooking Tiberias and tucked into a delicious repast prepared by Alex from Tel Aviv’s Levinski Markets. Surrounding eucalypts gave a very Australian flavour to the scene.

Tiberias

Replete we aimed for more vantage points overlooking the Knesset but our map (or my navigational abilities) weren’t up to the task. Having missed them completely we decided to push back east in search of yet another lookout. Again taking an obscure side road, our luck in the lookout department wasn’t holding and we soon found ourselves on a gravel road that wound its way over the mountain. Along with obscure cemeteries, olive groves and memorials (to a H.C Anderson no less) we were treated with some magical views of the surrounding countryside with a brown tapestry of fields dotted with Arab villages – green domes and minarets piercing the mass of buildings.

Christmas & Israel 321.jpg

Our attempts to push further down the other side of the mountain were aborted when the Golf bottomed out for the third time (I hope your mum isn’t reading this Alex) so we turned tail as the afternoon waned and – with some judicious technical driving from Alex – headed for our evening’s accommodation. Thanks to today’s technology I’ve gone back and found where we were on google earth – see the image below.

mountain climbing in a golf

We stayed in Rosh Pinna one of the first Jewish settlements in the region. It contains some interesting old buildings populated by a slightly hippy crowd. A few whiskeys over a couple of games of backgammon (our new board game of choice) in front of a roaring open fire provided the perfect cap to the days activities.

Rosh Pinna Gate

jerusalem

jerusalem alley

After a slow new years day (as expected after a 6 am finish) that never got much past café grazing the next stop on our itinerary was the holy city. My day started with an early rise and a pleasant paddle on the Yarkon River (about as much of a river as the Torrens in Adelaide) before we set off.

Jerusalem Church

We took a slightly more political route to Jerusalem in lieu of the main freeway that connects Israel’s two biggest cities. Our diversion took us through yet more stunning rocky scenery before cutting through the West Bank close to the dividing wall erected by Israel. For much of the journey both sides of the road were fenced, Palestinian territory bisected by the road we were travelling on. It gave physical reinforcement to the impression of Israel’s divide and conquer strategy in the West Bank that is highlighted by this map.

Yad Veshem

Our first stop in Jerusalem was Yad Vashem the Holocaust Museum, a combination architectural/historical visit for us packed full of disturbing reminders – almost too much information to absorb. The building itself is much less powerful than the Holocaust museum in Berlin, however the exhibits integrate much better and come to the fore, although they are more about the human face of the tradgedy rather than giving a more political background.

Yad Vishem Museum Detail

The two most striking elements for me were the comparison of numbers of Jews in the countries of Europe pre and post holocaust, and particular the way in which many German Jews managed to escape, as they had a gradual escalation, but those in countries invaded like Poland were completely decimated. The other element was a quote which escapes me now, but with words to the effect that those who allow atrocities in their midst are as guilty as the perpetrators themselves, for which the appropriateness to contemporary Israel and indeed for participants in the War of Terror, seemed so evident if not acknowledged.

Before we left the site we walked through the children’s memorial – easily the most powerful element of the whole site. In a vast dim room full of mirrors and candles that seem to reflect forever the names of children killed in the holocaust are read out – an incredibly moving space.

jerusalem

The old city of Jerusalem was next on the itinerary (after a close examination of Jerusalem’s slightly hairy traffic system). Entering into the Armenian Quarter through the Jaffa Gate, we soon lost ourselves amongst the maze of alleyways in an attempt to escape the tourists and associated souvenir shops. The most interesting part of our wanderings were when we were deep in the Muslim quarter surrounded by Arabic graffiti and hordes of kids running past wielding toys guns. We stopped for a falafel and shoama (or yiros or kebab depending on the country of origin of your local takeaway proprietor) and some coffee deep in the Muslim quarter to gather an authentic taste of Jerusalem (and tourist prices apparently).

Jerusalem - Muslim Quarter

Wending our way back into the Christian quarter past a series of Churches and monasteries, we visited the ornate Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and then with a tip off from a travelling companion discovered a fantastic hidden well with amazing acoustic properties deep inside a Coptic monastery.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Heading into the Jewish quarter past the watchful eyes of the Border Patrol we took in the views over the Western Wall to the Dome of the Rock.

Western Wall & Dome of the Rock

Past yet more security and with paper yarmulka somewhat precariously fixed to our heads we ventured up to the wall (separately please – Chhay squeezed into the packed quarter that the women use while I luxuriated in the other three quarters reserved for the blokes – see the photo below). Aside from a blessing from a particularly devout orthodox chap (who was more interested in extracting my money than saving my soul I think) I escaped unscathed.

Sexual Equality at the Western Wall

We were lucky enough to squeeze into a tour of the tunnels of the Western Wall. Despite an overly enthusiastic Zionist tour guide it was quite interesting to pass along the base of the Western Wall from many centuries ago; several meters below the current street level that has built up over time. Emerging in the middle of the Muslim quarter after dark security guards were apparently required to escort us back to the safety of the Jewish Quarter!

We finished our time in Jerusalem with a vist to the German Colony for a light meal before heading wearily back to Tel Aviv to ready ourselves for a road trip to the north of Israel.

dead sea drowning

Negev Landscape 2
We now know how Noah felt. Heading into the Negev desert towards the dead sea, one of the driest areas of Israel and we were followed by almost constant rain. It was obvious from the harshness of the terrain that the rain was a very rare event but that didn’t help our exploration a great deal.

Negev Landscape 1
The desert landscape in the south of Israel was absolutely breathtaking – incredibly bare hills only sand and rocks sculpted into some amazing formations and colours. Despite the barrenness of the terrain there was quite a lot of settlement in the desert the neatness and heights of Jewish settlements (6 storey apartments in even the smallest of towns) contrasting with the semi-permanent shacks of the Bedouin shanty towns.

100 meters below sea level

After descending below sea level to the lowest point on earth (-418 m and falling aparently) and catching our first glimpses of the Dead Sea;

Dead Sea View

our first stop was the mountain fortress of Masada. Our original plan was to tackle the 350 m climb on foot but the inclement weather and lateness of the day forced us into the cable car (well that’s our excuse anyway). The fortress was originally constructed by Herod and now contains plenty of historical significance for the locals as the site of a significant resistance to Roman rule. The top of the plateau contains lots of interesting ruins to explore and would have commanded great views over the Dead Sea if it wasn’t for the pesky precipitation.

Dead Sea from Masada

Having received our fill of archeological exploration we headed for the aim of our day’s travels. Light was fading fast and the sea proved to be a little larger than anticipated, so our planned beach was already closing when we arrived. Despairing of ever reaching our elusive goal we continued northward as the light grew dimmer and the West Bank drew closer. Eventually we found a beach where we were allowed in for a few minutes to at least touch the oily salty water (if not to float in it) and collect a good dose of dead sea mud to track around for the next few days.

dead sea shore

Next door to the beach past some abandoned Jordanian barracks we had a Moroccan feast in an elaborate restaurant resplendent with carpets, cushions, samovars and hookahs before heading back into Tel Aviv somewhat nervously through the West Bank.

negev landscape 3

jaffa

Old Jaffa

We are back in the UK now – our trip was a bit too hectic for blogging. I’ll try and update everything chronologically, although it may take me a little while.

We visited Jaffa a couple of times. It is the original Arab town outside of which Tel Aviv was founded. It has a great cosmopolitan feel and a significant Arab population which makes it and interesting place to explore. Our first experience was a packed hummous place as described previously with a hummous nazi to rival Seinfeld’s soup nazi.

We then wandered (well staggered is a more appropriate description) through Old Jaffa – the ancient part of the town that dates from the roman era. It is a quirky little place of tight alleyways and traditional Arab construction, although it was somewhat controversially cleared of its Arab population and is now occupied by artists their studios. After absorbing the views back over Tel Aviv from the top of the hill in Old Jaffa we investigated the popular flea markets and grabbed a coffee in a fantastic little café with multiple levels, great décor (most of which was for sale) and some very happy smells. Alex forced us to try a central European beef stock jelly which not even the waitress would recommend.

We returned to Jaffa for part of New Years Eve – a party in an old Arab building with great vaulted spaces. The music was trashy but enjoyable (especially after we had worked over the all you can drink bar). Our final trip to one of our host’s favourite areas of Tel Aviv was for dinner on our final night in a great restaurant set in an internal enclosed courtyard of you guessed it… an old Arab building.

tel aviv

Hotel Cinema

We are now quite well settled in Tel Aviv – locals according to some people! The city has been great fun thus far – it is an interesting place – chock full of fantastic cafes (highlighting to us the dearth of similar establishments in Glasgow), cute little bars (and entertaining pick-up bars too), and a fantastic urban texture full of white rendered International Style Bauhous apartments on tree lined avenues.

The journey here was a little entertaining – on arriving at our boarding gate in Vienna for our connecting flight to Tel Aviv we were asked if we spoke Hebrew, and then if we were married! With negative answers to both these question we were ushered to one side and given a thorough questioning – our recent somewhat itinerant lifestyle not helping matters! In addition to dragging our bags out of the hold to search they also went to the extent of calling our connections in Israel (one of whom we had yet to meet although we are staying at his funky pad in central Tel Aviv) to confirm our story! Satisfied we weren’t about to blow up the plane we were allowed to board about 10 minutes after the last passenger – and presented with metal cutlery for our meal!! The applause upon landing was also a little concerning. After another solid bout of questioning at passport control we were allowed into the country at last.

The food has been absolutely amazing, we have been continually full since having hummous for breakfast on our first day at one of Tel Aviv’s more famous establishments (see below) this is not a recommended strategy apparently – although delicious.

Hummous for Breakfast?

Our time in the city has been spent wandering between meals – absorbing the atmosphere and meeting friends of friends who have all been very welcoming. Even strangers have been keen for a chat. Our tourist endeavours within Tel Aviv have been limited to architecture – it has been a nice change from our usual Lonely Planet box ticking. I am a big fan of travelling without a guidebook – although local knowledge obviouly is a great help and I think we would have struggled without it!