Monday, January 05, 2009


Well, I suppose I have to continue with a few more comments before I get started on the next bit. First, the media loves to hype up things much more than the reality. It is for the most part totally normal here and the Gaza war is not affecting our travels in the region in any way right now. Yes, there is increased security but I get the impression that there is so much here normally that it would be a shock to anyone from home anyway. I also think the problem is more political than religious as well, despite what the radicals and media like to make it out to be. Political in that it is all about a few manipulating the masses and a lot boils down to failed leadership on both sides...... Oh yeah, Shean, the fireworks were not set off by dad, he just encouraged it but wasn't around, hehehe, and one of the strangest things for us at the moment travelling in Israel is the set pricing. Everything is so easy and goes so smoothly because we can't really bargain and fight with anyone. The buses run on a schedule that works, they stop at crosswalks for you (this still freaks us out), and even form something resembling lines while waiting. Wow!
Anyway, we left Jerusalem to catch a bus down the hill to Tel Aviv where we were picked up by our host who then drove us to his home in Haifa, the port city in the far north. It's the third largest city in the country but at the same time, really doesn't have much of the big city feel. It has a lot of old people and a mixed ethnic population known to live in better harmony than elsewhere in the country. Talking to our host it sounds like the people are starting to distrust one another again (ultimately the worst affect of the whole war), but the biggest issue for the locals at the moment is whether or not they will be called back to the reserves as it all progresses.
We are staying in an apartment at the top of Mt. Carmel (the whole city is built up the side of the mountain) and have amazing views over the harbor and surrounding landscape. Granted the scenery in Israel is far from spectacular and you really do wonder sometimes why anyone fights for it... Leafy quiet streets are nice to walk along and it is so pleasant to have space on the sidewalk and fresh air to breathe. It is still pretty cold here though so we are constantly wearing our 5 layers of clothes. The security in the city also seems to be relatively non-existent except for at entrances to the transport stations and malls. Very much more laid back than Jerusalem.
On our first day here our host took us for a drive back down the coast a little ways to visit the ruins of Caesarea. It was built by King Herod in 10 BC and it eventually became the Roman capital of Palestine with a population of 50,000 and one of the busiest ports in the region. Later it was a Byzantine city and later fortified and modified by the Crusaders before it was completely destroyed as they were kicked out of the region. Today it is nothing much to see and as far as Roman ruins go there are much better ones in the region to visit, like Jerash, Palmyra, etc.
The following day we made another day trip up the coast to Akko by train. Ok, it was only a 1/2 hr journey but it was the first train we've been on in over a year and probably the last for a while. I like trains. Akko is another Unesco site and has an incredible amount of history. It was the main port in the area for the last 2500 years until very recently when Haifa took over. It is historically most famous as the little fortified Crusader city of Acre and parts of their legacy still remain. The current walls date from Ottoman times and successfully withstood attack by Napoleon. Ah, it's nice to be in a part of the world with some history again... To me the most interesting thing about Akko is that even though it is a world heritage site and should be a major tourist attraction, it wasn't busy and the old city is still lived in. It's not all tourist shops, but has small but authentic neighbourhoods and markets to wander in. It was also nice to just sit by the walls and stare at the sea a bit too. In a way it reminded me of some of the smaller towns on the coast of Lebanon or northern Cyprus, but then, it is the same region isn't it?
As I said before, Haifa is nice to wander around but there really aren't any major attractions here. The biggest site is the Baha'i temple and it's beautiful gardens but they require only a quick visit really. It is the central temple of the Baha'i faith, which I can honestly say I know almost nothing about except that it originated in Persia (where it is currently illegal) and attempts to fuse or recognize all the other major religions. I believe the story is something along the lines of all the prophets of all the religions serve the same one God and brought the appropriate message to mankind for that time and place, thus the similar but varied message of them all. Interesting. I'll have to see what else I can find out.


At 8:08 AM , Blogger The Bear said...

Hey Ammon,
Thanks for the clarification on the fireworks, tell your Dad sorry I yelled. I thought he had lost his nut or something. Anyways, Haifa sounds like my kind of tourist place, quiet not much to do, and a wall to lean against by the sea.
Is the city a well organized as some of the other cities in Israel? I take it there are less hassles and touts as well.

Bear Hugs to all


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