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Israel Four weeks in Israel, March 2019


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Tuesday March 12

It is quiet here! In Haifa we could hear the traffic on our street at night. Here, nothing. During the evening we had a cat meowing at our door and then there was a major dog barking festival, but by 11pm it was silent.

Woke up to clear skies and sun. We are supposed to get several days of rain but it does not start until Thursday. Today we drove 20 minutes north to the Arab village of Jish. It takes us 10 minutes just to drive out of our village!

Jish is the only village in Israel with a Maronite (Eastern Catholic) majority. It was settled by migrants from Lebanon in the 18th and 19th centuries. They speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, in their church services. Much earlier, during the Great Jewish Revolt (against the Romans) in 66 – 70 AD (CE), Jish was a Jewish town known as Gush Halav and was the last place to fall to the Romans in the Galilee. This must have been happening when Masada in the Negev was fighting the Romans.

Jish is small, built on a hill, and a bit chaotic. We drove in and found a small parking lot. We were not sure we could park there so I asked a young couple who had just parked. They said it was okay. We got ourselves booted up and organized, then had a problem with the car. Rental cars in Israel have a keypad where you punch in a code and then you can start the car (to prevent theft). Our security system seems a bit touchy and today it would not let us lock the car. The couple we spoke to were returning to their car and the young man works with cars so consulted with Steve. They got it working. The key was to wait to let it reset itself.

We started out on our hike. I had a printed description from Israel by Foot and had downloaded and printed their maps. Plus I had the GPS track loaded into the TwoNav app on my phone. This app works well in Israel. This was my first time using the app and it could not get a GPS signal. I went into Google Maps but could not relate the streets it showed with the trail. So we merrily headed off guessing wrongly which way to go. After climbing to the top of town, and then back down a bit, we found the road we thought we should be on, but then we forked left when we should have forked right and we kept walking and ran into the young couple again. They had driven to this point and were taking their dog for a walk.

I asked if she knew where the Winter Pond was and she said we were on the wrong road. We joined them walking back to their car and not only did they point us to the right dirt road, but we had an interesting conversation. She is from Jish, a Maronite Catholic. Yes, Aramaic is used in church but she doesn’t know it, just like how Latin was used in mass when I was young, but I did not know it. She married an Arab Catholic from Haifa (the car guy with her) and they live there, but were back to visit her parents in Jish. Since they are both Arabs, they speak Arabic with each other. She is fluent in Hebrew because she said you have to speak Hebrew to live in Haifa. And fluent in English (not sure why). We passed an older guy with a flock of sheep and she said he would be from Jish but she did not know him. She loves Haifa because she loves being by the sea.

She pointed out a town in Lebanon that we could see from where we were. We could also see snow capped Mount Hermon which sites in northern Israel at the borders of Lebanon and Syria.

They drove off and we went on the correct way and got to the pond in 30 minutes. A stork flew to a tree on the pond as we arrived. They are migrating now from Africa to Europe. This area is part of the Rift Valley. We had our lunch by the pond and a huge swarm of birds flew overhead. Hundreds of them. I think they were storks. They were very high up. Itamar, our host, said he saw hundreds of storks fly over Amirim the day before. Beautiful!

We did not follow the hiking trail, but we could see where it went. We needed the GPS track for the next part. Instead we took a dirt road up a steep hill, across and down the hill to the Gush Halav valley where we could meet up with the trail.

Going down to the river was very steep on a dusty, stony road and I slipped. I even had a hiking pole. I was lucky – just a scraped knee and a small tear in my hiking trousers – but as I was falling with my knee buckled under me I thought “what is the number for emergencies here? 100?” 100 for Police, 101 for Ambulance. I should record things like that on our itinerary.

We made it down to the river and found our first hiking trail markers. We were now heading back towards Jish. Along the way we stopped at an ancient synagogue from 300 - 400AD when there was a Jewish town here. It is situated in an olive grove overlooking the river below. A herd of goats with bells were on the hillside opposite.

Back to town and it was 2:45pm (we had started at 11:30am). We drove north another 10 minutes to Bar’am National Park (which closes at 4pm) to see another ancient synagogue from 400 - 500 AD (CE). We had to pay to get in the park and we were the only ones there. It is a much larger building than the one we saw on our hike and better preserved. It had a large portico but only the columns remain. The doorways, columns inside and some walls are in good shape. The doorways face south to Jerusalem. One doorway has an Aramaic inscription above it. There was a Jewish village here from 100 - 700 AD.

There is a second synagogue but no signs to it. We drove a bit more north and located it. It is outside the main park area, north of the Christian cemetery and accessible on foot down a dirt lane.

Back home to listen to the Brexit news. I am hoping for a delay because I foolishly booked us to fly back right after Brexit when surely chaos will reign. Another hot tub tonight!



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Wednesday March 13

Sunny and warm, almost hot, today. Highs in the low 60sF. Rain is forecast for tomorrow and the next few days, so we wanted to have another hiking day while the trails were dry. We spent some time on the terrace in the lovely sun, then headed out. We did a bit of a drive around the village and found a nice spot where you get a view of the Sea of Galilee (officially called Lake Kinneret). Then we drove on the highway up to a higher viewpoint with the same view. We should have been able to see from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean, but it was not clear enough. Other days we have seen the high rises at the University area in Haifa, but not the sea beyond.

We drove 10 minutes north, just the next valley up, to the Nahal Amud National Park. “Nahal” means riverbed. We paid to get into the park, about $9 each. On other visits we purchased a two-week park pass, but on this trip we have not been to a park that sells one. We parked and talked to the park ranger. They only have park maps in Hebrew but he went over everything with us and showed us a 4 mile walk that is what most people do. We started out at the top of the valley, then walked down to the river below. The downhill was some moderate switchback and some steep stairs. Once at the river the trail takes you out on one side and back on the other.

The river is running and there are pools and waterfalls. The whole area is very green, lots of trees and an abundance of wildflowers. If there was a Garden of Eden this must have been it. This was the most beautiful hike we have done in Israel, and we have done some beautiful hikes!

The school groups were out in force. We saw about five groups of teenagers with their teachers, maybe 30 students in each group. Some had the colors of the Israel National Trail markers (blue, white, orangey-red) painted on their faces. The valley boomed with the sounds of them all talking and singing. As with most teenagers, they were very fragrant! Lots of perfume and hair products in these groups. They clogged up the trail a bit but not much. We changed our route to avoid following one large group and ended up on an empty trail.

At the turnaround point it was only 2 miles and we wanted to walk a bit more, so we continued on. The Israel National Trail runs through this valley and we kept going on it. We only walked out ½ mile, found a place to have our sandwiches, then turned back, but this was the best part of the hike. It was quiet, we were the only people there, the valley opened up and the sides were covered in wildflowers. This isn’t to say that the main trail wasn’t beautiful – it was.

We walked back by remains of flour and wool mills from the Ottoman Period (1800s). The built an aqueduct to harness the water from the river to power the mills. The path followed the aqueduct in parts.

We did the walk back up to the top of the valley with two large groups of kids. We talked with one of the teachers and she said her group were from a city outside Tel Aviv. They had driven out this morning. They did this hike then were going on to the Hulu Valley for a bike ride and to spend the night. She said that most of her kids had never been out hiking. Their parents do not take them hiking and they don’t understand how wonderful it is to be out in nature. They were complaining about the heat and the climbing.

She said they had to change their plan because rain is forecast for tomorrow and it was endless paperwork with three different authorities. Then she shook her head and said “that’s Israel”.

We loved the hike! It ended up being 5.5 miles and we were walking for 3 hours. I read about it on the Israel by Foot website and in this article:

Ha’aretz - The Quintessential Israeli Hike by Moshe Gilad, September 2014
Nahal Amud is how we imagine ourselves looking at our best. Trouble is, there are only a handful of such places left in Israel.

From the article: “Nahal Amud is more than just one more nature reserve that one pays to get into. Whether it is the prettiest or most interesting or pleasing one is debatable, but that’s not the point. The main interest is in the iconic status it has enjoyed for 50 years, as the classic, most “representative” hike in Israel.”

We got back home around 4pm. At 5pm we walked on the trail that goes around the village. We walked part of it the other day. The village is surrounded by a wire fence (most villages are). The trail goes in and out through gates in the fence. They don’t lock, so maybe the fence is more to keep animals out/in than people. The trail was a bit steep and rocky but we were only on it for 20 minutes, then walked on village roads.

There is one small shop and it is very good. Everything is vegetarian! We picked up some fun things – halvah, cookies from Belgium, fresh pesto, almonds, interesting vegan snacky things (hungry after the hiking) – and practical things for making dinner. Our host Itamar whatsapped me to say there is an incredible sunset going on but we were in the shop and missed it!! We walked back up the hill to our house as the light dwindled. Beautiful.

Broccoli soup for dinner.

Tomorrow rain starts and it is forecast to rain Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. We dashed out for a hot tub after I wrote this but before I uploaded photos. The wind was beginning to howl and it was getting cold. The high tomorrow is to be in the mid 40sF! We have a fire going and the cottage is cosy.



100+ Posts
Just catching up on your trip reports....gorgeous photos and I'm enjoying your wonderfully detailed notes, thanks!


New Member
Excellent report. Love the detail. Will you have a chance to check out Rosh Pina before leaving the area? It’s one of my favorite towns. Looking forward to the next chapters of your trip.


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Excellent report. Love the detail. Will you have a chance to check out Rosh Pina before leaving the area? It’s one of my favorite towns. Looking forward to the next chapters of your trip.

We visited Rosh Pina last year and loved it. I wanted to stay there this year but could not find any vacation rentals with kitchens. This area is really set up for visitors who come for the weekend and eat in the restaurants. The kitchen we have is pretty minimal.


New Member
We visited Rosh Pina last year and loved it. I wanted to stay there this year but could not find any vacation rentals with kitchens. This area is really set up for visitors who come for the weekend and eat in the restaurants. The kitchen we have is pretty minimal.
You’re right about that. We did have dinners out in rosh pina.


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Thursday March 14

It rained all night and we woke up to mist settling over everything. It was about 10F colder than yesterday.

There is a cafe in Amirim, Beit 77 (House 77), that opens from Thursday to Sunday. We walked down to it in the morning. They serve an Israeli breakfast, which is traditionally huge - omelet, bread, cheeses, dips, salad. We went for the light breakfast which is two rolls with butter and jams, plus coffee. This was our first outing in the Amirim social scene :) It is a nice cafe. We bought pita with toppings for lunch - they had a good selection.

We avoided the rain on our walk down the hill but walked back in a drizzle. There was a heavy downpour that lasted only a couple of minutes. We ducked under a tree to avoid it.

While we were out the cleaners cleaned our apartment. We could have had a full cleaning but I asked if they would just sweep the floors.

We were both feeling tired from the two days of hiking, so had an easy day. We drove to Safed (also called Tzfat) in the afternoon. We parked on the road near the top of town. I can’t get my Pango app working (it pays for parking and we used it on the last trip) so we used coins in the machine. The display was broken so you had to guess. We put in a few shekels and paid for two days!

I used my Lonely Planet guide to walk us around. There were a lot of Haredi (Orthodox Jews) on the streets, some women in turbans and flowing clothes (Kabbalists?) and a few other tourists. Safed is supposed to be a Kabbalist Center but I didn’t see much evidence of that.

The old part of town is on the top of the hill. It was cold up there and mist was settling. We walked along Jerusalem Street, the Main Street. Then down steep stairs with narrow lanes off each side. We walked around the neighbourhoods. One covered market street was lined with art shops. Paintings, religious paintings and items. It was interesting to look at.

Everything is “scruffy” as are many places in Israel, but it seems like a thriving town. We spent an hour or so walking around, then stopped for a falafel at a place I read about on the Safed website, Falafel California. The article talked about chips (French Fries) in the Falafel, so I was prepared. But, wow, chips in Falafel! What an odd idea. All the usual stuff - hummus, falafel, pickles, salad, cabbage, eggplant - and a few chips. It was good but nowhere near as good as the one in Haifa.

Home early and we are just hanging about.



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Latest intelligence reports, combined with declarations from Gaza, seem to show that the launch of the missiles was a technical mistake during routine maintenance. Estimates are that there will be no escalation, and that both sides "were surprised".


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Friday March 15

Woke up to thick fog covering everything. It burned off by noon but was still cold. We are high up here, 700m (2300 feet). We left after noon and drove down to the Sea of Galilee. Down there it was sunny and warm! Much warmer.

Today was our day for the Christian sites at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee (the real name is Lake Kinneret – it is not a sea but is a lake fed by the Jordan River). These sites are very popular with tour buses – huge numbers of American Christians see Israel on organized tours.

We started out at Korazim National Park, about 20 minutes from Amirim. This is on a hillside above the Sea of Galilee and is the remains of a Galilean town from the time of Jesus. We drove by and had a great view of the ruins from the road, so we decided to skip going in since we had a late start today.

Next we drove down to the lake and stopped at Capernaum, or what we thought was Capernaum. There was a sign for Capernaum National Park, but there was only a dock where people took boat trips. And you did not have to pay to enter the park.

We continued down the road. The guidebook says to take the western most of the three entrances to Capernaum, so we drove past the next entrance and then stopped at Tabgha, which is not Capernaum. We had gone too far. There were a lot of people and tour buses so we paid the 10 NIS to park and have a look. Tabgha is the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, a German Benediction church built in 1982 on the foundations of a 5th century Byzantine church, built to protect the rock which was the place where Jesus put the five loaves and two fishes that multiplied.

“Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the five loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterwards, the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children.”

There is an alter over the rock and you cannot get close to it. There are also Byzantine mosaics (some are restored) on either side of the alter. Images of loaves and fishes in front of the alter. Birds and animals to the side. One looked like a stork. This is the area the storks fly over when migrating. On the drive we say another large group of birds flying.

We drove back and took the entrance we had skipped. This was Capernaum! We parked and paid a small entrance fee. I had hoped to find a nice spot by the lake to have our lunch but at Tabgha the one picnic table was in use and at Capernaum there were big signs saying “no picnic”, so we were very British and sat in our car having lunch. There were also big signs saying “do not sit in your car with the engine running”.

The New Testament says the Capernaum, then a prosperous lakeside village of 1,500 on the route from Tiberius to Damascus, was Jesus’ home during the most influential part of his Galilean ministry. Capernaum is mentioned by name 16 times. Franciscian friars run the site. There are remains of a 4th century synagogue of white stone which was built over an older synagogue of black stone. It is called Jesus’ Synagogue but even the black one was built after his time. The synagogue is large and beautiful.

In front of the synagogue, before the seaside, are the remains of the village. A modern church was built in 1991 suspended over the remains of octagonal 5th century church and under that, partly visible, are the remains of St Peter’s House where Jesus is believed to have stayed.

There were a lot of tour buses and tour groups but it was not overwhelming. One of them had a priest with them who stood in front of St Peter’s House and recited from the bible.

You could walk almost to the lakeside here and the lake was looking beautiful. Tiberius is close by on the western shore. To the east you could clearly see the Golan Heights that rise steeply up from the eastern shore of the lake.

Many things is Israel close around 3pm on Friday in preparation for the Jewish Shabbot. These Christian sites did not, but the National Parks all close early. We had planned to visit another National Park on the eastern shore, but it was getting too late. Instead we drove up to the Mount of the Beatitudes, another Christian site that does not close early. It sits on top of a hill above Capernaum.

The Mount of the Beatitudes is thought to be where Jesus did the Sermon on the Mount whose opening lines, called the Beatitudes, start with “Blessed are …”. The setting was lovely, a lush hillside with a view of the lake. Also a very good coffee stand so we had coffee and enjoyed the sunshine, the warmth and the view. The Roman Catholic church with help from Mussolini built a church here in the 1930s. It looks like an Italian church and even has two large cypress trees in front.

After this we drove back to Amirim, less than 30 minutes away, and enjoyed the last of the sunshine and the magnificent sunset from our terrace.



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Saturday March 16

Two weeks today since we left home! Tomorrow we are half way through the trip.

It rained all day today. Light rain and some heavy rain. We had an Israeli breakfast delivered! This is a service offered throughout the village. Our host phoned and ordered it for us. 120NIS for 2. It arrived in a beautiful wood box obviously made for this. Fresh juice (lightly sweetened lemon juice with mint), an omelette each, 3 cheeses, fresh bread, butter, jam, hummus, olives, a few small salads, large chopped salad. This was our breakfast and lunch.

Steve got the fire going and we had, and are still having, a lovely, lazy day. I got the Pango parking app working. I didn’t get my hiking app working but am working on another one now.

The family we are renting from produce olive oil and we wanted to buy some so Itamar did an oil tasting for us at their house. The rain stopped for our walk down there and back. We met the family, which was nice. His parents, probably our age, moved here in the 1970s and planted the olive trees. We bought a 2 litre tin of the stronger oil, 1/2 litre of a very mild one and 1/2 litre of one that was mild but not as mild. 95, 40 (mild oil), 30 NIS To compare with Italy prices, 95 NIS is $26, $13/litre.

Itamar convinced us to not go to Tiberias tomorrow (not a nice place) and have us some info on nearby hikes. We can hike from the village up into the Nahal Park and the top of the mountain above us. There are remains of Phoenician walls up there.

But judging by the sound of the heavy rain as I type this, and the thunder, I wonder if it won’t all be too muddy. Maybe a driving day instead. Itamar said this year the weather has been good for them but not for the tourists. We’ve had more rain on this trip than our first trip last March, and it has made us cut back on the hiking. But the wildflowers have been fabulous.

Big lightening just now!



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. Itamar said this year the weather has been good for them but not for the tourists. We’ve had more rain on this trip than our first trip last March, and it has made us cut back on the hiking. But the wildflowers have been fabulous.

Indeed, there has been flowering this spring that has not been seen in many years. The rain has not only been above average in many places, but also spread out nicely over the winter-spring months. As you say, not so good if you want to be outdoors, but when you are, you are lucky to see such blooms.
Even in the desert there are places that are putting on flowering displays, the likes of which we have not seen in decades. Not everywhere - in the southern desert the amounts have been pretty dismal - but a short drive away and Mother Nature puts the term "the greening of the desert" to shame....

I agree that you shouldn't waste time on Tiberias...


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Sunday March 17

Saint Patrick's Day doesn't seem to be a big thing here :)

We had planned to go hiking but it rained hard all evening. We had huge lightening and thunder too. We woke up to sunshine but it was still cold and windy up here, where we were going to hike. We changed our plans and did a driving day to explore the area east of the Sea of Galilee. Most of this is in the Golan and we also went up into the Golan Heights. At one point we were 20 miles from the border with Syria. The UN runs a DMZ between Israel and Syria and we saw a UN jeep on the roads. Other than than you would not realize where you were. The main road is not near the border. We could see towns on hills in the distance that were in Syria.

We drove back down to the Sea of Galilee where we were yesterday but continued on around the lake. Our first stop was Kursi National Park, the site of the miracle of the swine, where Jesus exorcised demons from the body of a man and put them into a herd of swine who then raced into the Sea of Galilee and drowned themselves. In the 5th century a Byzantine monastery and church were built to commemorate the spot.

There was a tour bus in the parking lot and a group of people dressed in white robes (over their street clothes) saying mass in an area beside the ruins. Other than them there were only a couple of other people on the site. The remains of the monastery are beautiful and there are some good mosaics. We climbed up to more ruins part way up the hill. The site is just off the road along the edge of the Sea of Galilee, where the hills start to rise up steeply to the Golan Heights.

Our next stop was Sussita (also called Hippos), remains of a Greco-Romano city on a hilltop looking at the Sea of Galilee. We say things from this site in the Hecht museum in Haifa. We followed Israel by Foot’s notes for this drive but we would have had to go down a road that clearly said we should not drive on it, so we parked and walked a mile down the road. The site was much further down and we think we saw it with our binoculars, but are not sure. A few cars drove by, ignoring the signs. Next time we will hike up to it from the road along the sea.

We continued on, driving along the large plateau which is the Golan Heights. There were occasional towns and lots of agriculture. It was windy up there. Our next stop was Ein Keshatot, the remains of an ancient village and synagogue. It is also called Umm el Kanatir. The synagogue was built in the 6th century after the destruction of Jerusalem when the area was ruled by Byzantine Christians. The center of Jewish life at that time was in the Galilee and this Golan village was connected to the Galilee.

The synagogue and village were destroyed by an earthquake in 749. The remains were mostly untouched until excavation started in 2003. They numbered every stone and used a computer model to determine how to rebuild the synagogue. It is beautiful and is in a beautiful spot on this hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The site is very good with a modern visitor’s center and signs in English and Hebrew for the sites. Good walking paths around. There is a spring where they think flax was made in the village.

We had hoped to continue to the Gamla National Park but the last entry is at 2pm and it was just after. So we drove back, stopping in Rosh Pina. We had been there a year ago, just for a few hours. I had forgotten how built up this area is. It was quite a shock after the peaceful day on the Golan Heights with little traffic and few people to be on Highway 90 in thick traffic driving by a large American-style mall. Yikes! We went in but it all looked modern and boring and busy. I was ready to call it quits when we saw a parking space. We parked and then went to explore. Lots of shops that I did not recognize. A United Nations looking group of people walking around. Traffic. But Google Maps told me there was a Hummus place and we found our way to it. It was a falafel place, not hummus. A little shack like place behind a huge hedge on the side of a busy roundabout beside this huge modern mall. It was probably there before the mall. We had the second best falafel of the trip! First prize is still Haifa, but this was really good. We were hungry because I had made only simple sandwiches for lunch.

By now it was 4:30 so we drove home.

Now it is time to pack up. Tomorrow we head a bit further north for 2 nights. The weather is looking very good for this week, but it says we will have several days of rain starting next weekend when we will be in Jerusalem. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. So far, even with the rain yesterday, the weather has been cooler than I expected but has not been that bad.


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