So I kind of skimmed over the events on Saturday, so maybe I’ll back up a bit …
We got to the Ben Gurion airport at 6:00am to pick up Coralie despite her warnings that we definitely shouldn’t. Anxious to get the itinerary moving, we headed off to Caesarea. As it’s only an hour or so, we were there well before the opening time of 9:00am. That was OK, we were able to start the day with a quiet relaxing and reading on the shores of the Mediterranean. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. Caesarea was no less beautiful the second time around, but you’ll note a lot less pictures (of all the places). That’s just because I figured I already have most of these.
From Caesarea, we headed 30-40 minutes east to the Megiddo, overlooking the Jezreel valley, or the valley of Armageddon. We didn’t tour the ruins, but instead just stood and watched a view that is in so much of the Bible … from battles in the Old Testament between the Philistines and the Israelites … to a coming day when the blood will rise to the horses bridles.
Driving up the Jezreel valley brings one alongside Mt Carmel and up to Acco. Heidi and I had not done Acco while we were here, and it is a definite must for anyone coming in this direction. While the feel and ambiance of the streets is much like the Arab Quarter in Jerusalem or perhaps a typical Arab souk, there were some definite highlights from the Crusader era. Not to be missed are the Templar tunnels that run beneath the city streets, or the Knights Halls that end in an incredibly closed-in tunnel like passageway that again stretches out through the city. The castles, tunnels, and passageways brought one back a thousand years.
Driving northeast from here, brought us to the peak of Mt Hermon for sunset – and I mean the peak. We drove all the way to the ski hill at an altitude of several thousand meters. There wasn’t snow on the hill like last time, but the vista was incredible and the sun setting over Nimrod castle was beautiful.
Sea of Galilee
The Youth Hostel in Tabgha that we stayed at was unlike any other hostel I’ve seen. It might as well have been a hotel with its luxurious accommodations including breakfast, clean and furnished rooms, and a beautiful spot on the side of the Sea of Galilee. Although it stormed during the night, we awoke to a shining sun and warmth radiating through the hills. We started at Tabgha here and were treated to an amazingly quiet scene of two fishermen in a boat casting their nets in the same place of Seven Springs that fishermen have been doing for thousands of years. It was a neat way to start the day. From here, we drove to Capernaum and did the typical quick tour. The one thing we were able to do this time that I had not done before, was visit the Cove of the Sower. I had been told that the acoustics here were especially powerful, but visiting the Cove where the Lord may have spoken from the boat brought a new meaning to the passage. Driving south, we visited the Arbel Cliffs just as the sun broke through a second time and lit up the Sea of Galilee from south to north. We could not have asked for better weather. Driving around the sea and crossing the Jordon river, we came down the eastern side to eat at Ein Gev kibbutz.
Hills of Gilboa
It was a bit of a race to make it down to the Hills of Gilboa for sunset and we didn’t quite make it, but we were able to climb the lookout tower and have an incredible 360 degree panorama of the land from Nazareth to Sheckem. To my disappointment, there were no flowers at all on the Gilboa slopes. I guess the flower season is from mid-December till March. All was not lost. Finding a cave on the way through the Gilboa forests, we stopped the car to do a little cave exploration. Our tools of lighting? The flash from my camera and my Blackberry. Note to self: pack a flashlight.
Last night we slept at a nun’s convent in Nazareth. Needless to say, there was no internet access. 🙂 However, I can now assure you with confidence that the best baclava to be had in all of Israel is just down the hill from the Church of the Annunciation. Mmmmm …
Today brought an incredible three-some of some of my favorite spots in Israel: Qumran, En Gedi and Masada. Qumran was unchanged although I discovered that in my previous three trips, I had yet to stumble upon THE caves of the Dead Sea scroll discovery. The fourth trip was the charm. Merri and Coralie had fun bobbing in the Dead Sea, and no one discovered the "Ow Water" too painful. Thankfully, no heads were submerged. We then climbed up to David’s waterfall in En Gedi and saw lots more conies and ibexes. From here to Masada, we completed the tour. I discovered a few more things here – including a massive water cistern that I don’t believe was open last time. Same views? Incredible views.
Racing against time, we headed south to Eilat to cross into Jordon. You have to understand the time schedule. We left Masada at 4:00pm and we were driving to Eilat two hours south. From here, we hoped to park the car, cram the gear in our sacks, cross the border, and grab a taxi for the two hour ride north to Petra. We were attempting to get here by 8:30pm for a candlelit tour. Do the math on that – not much time. Bottom line was we didn’t make it, but we had a VERY memorable experience. Getting to the border at 6:30, we thought perhaps we would feign ignorance and try to drive across in the car. I hadn’t received anything from Budget telling me not to. It didn’t work. They told us to park the car and we could walk across. Unfortunately, crossing between an Israeli and Arab border crossing takes more like 45 minutes with security, passport controls, and cautious guards. We didn’t get to the taxi till 7:12pm and we had a two hour ride to make with a taxi driver who knew NO English. We were quite concerned that he would not drive as fast as we hoped. No worries there. Talk about crazy? You think the autobahn is in Germany? Nope. Jordon. Driving like a madman, taking the whole of the highway from shoulder to shoulder, we raced at breakneck speed through the countryside. I’m glad our driver seemed to know the road because the speeds we were going (I’ll not divulge in a public forum) on a two lane were slightly short of lunacy. We certainly would not have made it here as fast as we did (if at all given the Arabic-only signage) if we had driven across ourselves. Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.
Well, here we are in Petra. Tomorrow morning starts bright and early and ends with a snooze on the sand dunes. Something tells me there won’t be WiFi tomorrow night. Hopefully, the following morning will still bring smiles as our mode of transport out of the desert will be camels. 🙂