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Israel Four weeks in Israel, March 2019


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Monday March 18

We had to leave Amirim. Our time was up. The cat that visited us twice a day came to say goodbye. He has the loudest meow that I have ever heard on a cat. What a great week we had!

They day started out misty but by the time we left the sun was breaking through. Our next place was only an hour north, up into the Galilee Panhandle. We drove the backroads through the mountains to get there instead of taking Highway 90. We went through a large wine producing area, with big fields of grapes. There were other crops – almond trees in bloom, other smaller trees that looked like nut crops. The road was a bit narrow but there was not much traffic and the hills were beautiful. Everything is carpeted in bright green and yellow.

We arrived at the Hula Valley and first went to the Hula Nature Reserve. This is in the Israel Parks system. It is a large reserve but only a small part is accessible to visitors. They have a 1.5km walk into the marshes on the edge of a lake. We saw many turtles, catfish, those strange water-rat things (Nutrea), and ducks. One egret. A few pelicans but they were not close. Also a herd of water buffalo. We saw some migrating birds in the sky. There were a couple of loud school groups but they finished and then it was quiet.

We had our sandwiches at the picnic tables. Another school group was arriving as we were leaving.

We drove a few miles north to Agmon HaHula, in the same valley, but not part of the park. This was a very different atmosphere. Free entry, no school groups, but more people. They have an 8.5km walk around a large lake. The birds stop here because there are crop fields in this valley and they eat the crops, which was causing problems for the farmers. Now they grow crops just for the birds and they found that the birds don’t destroy all the other crops.

The 8.5km walk is paved and you can walk it, but that would be long and boring (and hot today), or you can rent bikes or electric golf carts. Itamar told us about the golf carts and I said “no way” (I really, really, really hate golf and everything associated with it), but when we got there the bikes didn’t look great and I realized that I had never driven a golf cart and they were electric! So we rented the golf cart and took turns driving. They don’t go very fast, but it was fun.

We saw a field of cranes at the start but we had a better view of them from the other side of the lake. We stopped several times going around the lake, where they had platforms built out into the lake. We saw a group of pelicans at one. At the last one, we walked out to a blind and had a great view of the storks. We watched for a long time. At one point they started flying and that was beautiful to see.

The day was sunny and hot enough (not too hot – only low 60sF I think).

We checked into the hotel around 4:30 (Pastoral Hotel, Kfar Blum, a kibbutz hotel). (@joe was right, it is not as nice as the Ein Gedi Kibbutz hotel.) We walked out to the Jordan River – yes, the Jordan River! It runs through the kibbutz. There is a lovely paved promenade along it and we walked for an hour.

This hotel is used by tour groups. There are several large groups of Americans. One woman I spoke to was here with a group from her synagogue in Connecticut. We had dinner at the hotel, a buffet with a lot of vegetarian options (not labelled, you had to ask). It was a Kosher meat meal and the food was good.



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Tuesday March 19

We had a good breakfast at the hotel. The food here is better than at Ein Gedi, but I like the hotel better there.

It was warm and sunny today. We drove about 20 minutes north to Tel Dan. I could not decide what to do today – there are so many things to choose from – but a local person suggested Tel Dan so we went there. It was fabulous! It is a national park and we almost turned back when we saw all the tour buses. There must have been 10 of them. Several school groups and the rest were organized tours. But, the space is large and frequently it was just the two of us. There are trails through the park, taking you to the different sites. We did the longest trail, which isn’t that long (3 miles) but took a couple of hours because there was so much to see.

The main site is the ancient city which inhabited 7,000 years ago. It was a Canaanite city in the 18th century BC, then it was an Israelite city. It is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. The original tall walls remain, part of the gate and some of the building walls. There is a gate in very good shape from the Canaanite period, Abraham’s Gate. It was beautiful – and so old!

Another site is a ritual site where the Golden Calf was displayed (Old Testament). From that site we walked to a viewpoint on the edge of the park. This was the border with Syria until the Six Day War, in 1967, when Israel took some of the land there. You can see the bunkers the Israeli Defence used during the war. From that viewpoint you see several towns that are in Lebanon.

Another part of the park is all about the springs and the water. The River Dan, coming from these springs, feeds the River Jordan. The name “Jordan” relates to “Dan”. In one spot you walk on stones through the springs area. It was quite wet because there has been so much rain lately and we were walking in the water for part of the trail. It was all so green, with the water flowing from the springs – really beautiful. They created a Wading Pool where you can walk into the water. If the River Jordan is so sacred, then this place is even more so since this is where the water starts. We both walked into the water.

It was an amazing place. It was hard to comprehend all the history and beauty. I will read more about it and get prepared, and we will visit there again.

We had lunch at the picnic tables by the park entrance. More school groups were arriving. We only ran into one or two of them on our time in the park. We ran into a few tour groups and even listened in on some of their explanations.

Next we drove up to the Banais National Park but decided to not go in. It looked like short walks to see a waterfall, and then a drive to another section to see some historic sites, but after Tel Dan I didn’t feel like I needed to see more. Instead we drove to Metulla, a town founded in the early 1900s with the help of the Rothchilds (like Zikron Ya’akov and Rosh Pina). It is the northern-most town in Israel, at the top of the Galilee Panhandle, surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. Hezbollah had built tunnels from Lebanon into the agricultural fields of Metulla, planning to invade the Galilee, but they were discovered and closed recently.

Metulla was a quiet town and did not have an historic center like Zikron or Rosh Pina. It looked nice, with a few small hotels and restaurants. I could see staying here another time. It is above the valley, on a hillside. The hillsides are covered with trees – almond trees, fruit trees. Lots of agriculture here on the slopes and in the valley.

We stopped at an Aroma, an Israeli chain, for coffee. We sat outside enjoying the sunshine. Then back to the hotel and we went for another walk on the Jordan Promenade, along the river.

Terry from SlowTrav and from these forums has friends who live in Kfar Blum and we arranged to meet them for coffee before dinner. We met in the hotel lobby and had a wonderful hour and a half conversation about everything. I learned a lot more about Israel from them. It is such an interesting country!

Dinner at the hotel. Tomorrow we ride into Jerusalem!! Shannon recently posted a clip from Jesus Christ Superstar on Facebook, the song that has the line “when do we ride into Jerusalem?”. Speaking of songs, tomorrow is Purim in most of Israel but it starts Thursday in Jerusalem (because it is a walled city – that make’s sense, right?) and Steve is teaching me the Purim song which he remembers from when he was a kid. “Haman was a wicked, wicked man …”



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It’s such a beautiful area. The pools at Tel Dan evoke paradise to me.

From Wendy & Danny:

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Tel Dan is an amazing site. I haven’t been there since a very hot summer day in 1993 and it was, amazingly, the very day the “Beit David” inscription was found there (look it up). I remember cooling off under water. Looks like you’re there at a better time of year.

We enjoyed eating dinner at “Dag al haDan” (Fish on the Dan) right alongside the river but I’ve heard it’s no longer a good place.

Yes, Shushan Purim, Purim celebrated the following day in walled cities. It’s right there in the Book of Esther. Fun time.



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You seem to be having a wonderful time... I know there is so much to see and you can't see everything, so next time make sure you go to Nimrod's Fortress when you are in the Upper Galilee area. Further north from Tel Dan towards Mount Hermon


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You seem to be having a wonderful time... I know there is so much to see and you can't see everything, so next time make sure you go to Nimrod's Fortress when you are in the Upper Galilee area. Further north from Tel Dan towards Mount Hermon

You are the third person to tell me to go there. We should have gone! Next time!


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Wednesday March 20

We had a three hour drive from Kfar Blum to Jerusalem but we turned it into a full day out. We drove for an hour then stopped at a “rest area”, an Israeli-style rest area. There is a sign on the road with the universal symbols for gas and restaurant and it probably said in Hebrew, next exit. Then the next exit appears with no more signs for the rest area, but we exited because I could see the sign for the Aroma coffee shop. They put a black and red cup on a huge flag pole – you can easily spot them. But I am trying to memorize the Hebrew word for Aroma. At the exit we see a gas station and up behind it the Aroma but with no obvious way to get there. We go into the gas station. No you can’t drive through. We try again and see a very narrow lane uphill beside the gas station. We go up there. It turns into a small and crowded parking lot with no spaces available. We drive through it and there is the big field where everyone is parked. I tried an iced mint lemonade – very good! Not too sweet and perfect for what was turning into a hot day.

Next stop was Megiddo National Park which we drove by on our trip last year but had no time to stop at. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site – the remains of a town on a hilltop with many layers of history starting from the Caananite Period 4000 years ago. They say that more battles have been fought there than any place in the world. And in the bible it is Armageddon, where the final battle will take place. Because of that it is on the Christian tour route and there were a lot of buses. We arrived at lunch time and some of the groups were sitting down to lunches, so it was not crowded on the site.

The remains are wonderful. An Israelite gate, a palace from the time of King Solomon, a grain silo dug into the ground and lined with rocks with a staircase spiralling down along the side, stables from when it was a major chariot city. It is not that large but we spent an hour and a half walking around. There is an option to walk down stairs into the water system tunnels, and there was a big line of people going down, but we skipped that. From the site you could see cities in the West Bank – Jenin and Nablas I think – and cities in the Galilee – Nazareth, Afula, Mount Tabor. Great views.

We left and headed for a restaurant that I read about in an article (and then marked on Google Maps so I noticed it when looking at our route), in a town south of Zikron Ya’akov where we spent our first night. It was only 15 minutes out of our way and we drove through town, then out to the countryside to find it.

Israel 21c - The best 14 places to enjoy that famous Israeli breakfast
Elchanan Bread Culture, Kibbutz Mishmarot
"At Elchanan Bread Culture in Kibbutz Mishmarot, near Pardes Hanna-Karkur in the Sharon Plain region, it’s all about the bread, as you can probably imagine. Owner, chef and head baker Eldad Shmueli creates dishes that highlight the beauty of the natural flavors of his sourdough artisan breads."

I had forgotten it was a breakfast restaurant and we arrived after 2pm, but they were still serving meals for another 20 minutes. We shared a dish of hummus with bread and vegetables for dipping. Steve got a smoked trout sandwich and saved it for later. The hummus was great! Very light. It seemed like more tahini and less chickpeas. The restaurant was on the edge of a field near a modern town, but it felt like countryside. There were a lot of people there.

Steve did the drive on route 6, the only toll road in Israel (I think), to route 1 and then into Jerusalem. The drive went well but traffic was thick in Jerusalem. I always forget what a huge city it is, the largest in Israel, because when you are in it, in your neighbourhood, it does not feel so big. But driving in through modern suburbs, high rises, highways, you realize its size.

We rented this apartment through Airbnb and it was only a few blocks from the places we rented on our two previous trips. We are around the corner from the Natural Foods shop and a block from a 24 hour grocery (instead of 24/7, it is 24/5 ½ because it closes for Shabbot).

We have a parking space behind the apartment. We have to walk up two flights of stairs, 42 steps, to the second floor (US third), to the apartment, which isn’t bad. We hauled up our luggage, went to the natural foods shop and settled in. I’ve already done laundry and I made dinner, but only because I was so tired that I could not face going to a restaurant.

Jerusalem!! We are here!



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I love the Megiddo photos; volunteered at that dig for three weeks in 2000; hot hot hot but led by two great Israeli archaeologists, David Ussishkin and Israel Finkelstein. Extraordinarily boring work day to day, but for the excitement of being THERE. And going through the shards. Finkelstein has long been controversial for his dating views, but probably less so now than a few years ago. (That's dating pottery.)
Also ---- as it was the year 2000 ---- our t-shirts read "I survived Armageddon 2000".
It's like it was in another life...

Enjoy Jerusalem!


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Thursday March 21

We started out going to Bagel Café for breakfast. Usually we have a bagel and coffee, their Light Breakfast. It is not easy to find places that do something so simple for breakfast. But today I was hungry and wanted to try the Israeli breakfast. We shared it – omelette, chopped salad, home fries with baked haloumi cheese, cream cheese, bagel, juice, coffee. Lots of food – and good.

We walked along Emek Refaim and it felt like we were last there a week ago. It was only a few months ago – we spent 10 nights in this neighbourhood last November. We picked up a few things and the grocery shop.

The apartment we have rented is really fabulous, but lacks a few basics that most Airbnb places have now – dishwasher soap, toilet paper, a good sponge for the kitchen – those kind of things. The apartment is in an older apartment building with three apartments on each floor. We are on the top floor (2nd – US 3rd), no elevator. Nice stone floors, high ceilings, great kitchen (induction stovetop, good sized fridge, dishwasher), washer and drying rack, two bedrooms, two bathrooms. Bigger than we need but it isn’t that big, maybe 700 square feet. Tall windows in the living room, along one wall. Very light and bright. And – no street noise! The traffic noise at our last apartment in this area was too loud for me. Also a small balcony. Views are of neighboring buildings, nothing interesting. Great location just a block from Emek Refaim.

Today is the Jewish holiday Purim. In the afternoon we took the bus to the Mehane Yehuda Market in the town center. There were a lot of people, kids and adults, in amusing costumes. Some men seem to think that putting on a woman’s wig was enough, but we saw some men in complete costumes. A father and son Batman. A guy in a tutu with antlers. Lots of cats and rabbits. The market was packed. We walked down the main streets looking at everything. We stopped and bought a bag of nuts. The nuts here are really good. Then out onto Jaffa Road where there were a lot of people and more costumes. We had fun strolling the length of the road, then back to First Station where we had a long look around the natural foods shop there. Then to the juice stand on the Train line park for pomegranate juice (and espresso for Steve). This is the place we go to frequently when we are here. Steve even has a card that he gets punched hoping for a free coffee some day.

Dinner at home tonight. We are both a bit tired out from I don’t know what because this has been a pretty slow trip, but are thrilled to be in Jerusalem.

When we were on the bus near the King David Hotel, the traffic was stopped and a black limo followed by about ten black SUVs and accompanied by police went by. A guy beside us on the bus said “the Prime Minister”. When we were walking back past this point a couple of hours later there were still police and they were blocking some traffic. Tonight I read in Ha’aretz that Trump’s Secretary of State, Pompeo, is in town. It must have been him. He went to the Western Wall.



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Friday March 22

Well Purim ramped up today. Yesterday must have been pre-Purim. Officially Purim started at sunset yesterday and ends at sunset today, when Shabbot starts.

Today many people were in costume. I saw a kid dressed as a hot dog with mustard. People dressed as firemen, policemen, a team of flight attendants, brides, super heros. One guy had his shirt half open showing his muscular chest, which was a plastic insert. Dogs were in costume (but not cats – and there are many cats here). People were singing and dancing. One guy sashayed down the street with a music box playing Rod Stewart (Maggie May) and singing loudly. Families, groups of teenagers, adults – all ages were taking part.

We saw a man dressed as a Saudi prince, a Jew dressing as an Arab. I think we saw a few more like this. Sometimes it was hard to tell - is this someone in their normal religious garb, or is that a costume for Purim?

Many people were carrying presents and it looked like they were heading to friends/relatives apartments. We were on a very crowded bus filled with young people in costume (who immediately gave up their seats to us) heading to the town center. One of them was dressed as WhatsApp – with emojis pinned to his clothes. There was a party going on in the square by City Hall on Jaffa Road. We watched for awhile.

Even walking around our neighbourhood, German Colony and Baka’a, the streets were filled with people in costume. We walked out in the morning to get challah and have breakfast at the Grand Café (sitting outside people watching). Then we took the bus into the city and got another bus to take us to Lions Gate into the Old City. Today was our Catholic day. We started at Lions Gate and found the first nine stations of the cross (called Via Dolorosa – road of pain). The last five are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and it was too crowded, so we skipped them. We did them on our first visit and maybe we will go back next week and try again.

It was crowded as we walked along. We were just ahead of the large Friday afternoon procession led by Franciscan monks. And behind several large tour groups. But we made our way along, finding each station, reading about it. The first station is in an Arab school and is usually closed. The guidebook says they let people in from 3 - 5pm. We were there at 3pm and they opened the gates. We followed the crowd going in to a viewpoint. Then I pushed my way to the front (two nuns motioned me to go ahead of them) and it was a view of Temple Mount, the holy Muslim site that you can get into but there is always a big line and opening hours are limited. Recently there have been protests going on there, so we were not going to try to get up there. Now we had this incredible view of it. The first station is where they condemned Jesus, which happened in the courtyard.

I loved eavesdropping on the American Christian tour groups, many complaining of the long walk, the stairs, the heat. (Well at least you didn’t have a crown of thorns stuck on your head and were carrying a huge cross.) Enough bitching – it was very moving walking along the stations. You see where the city ended 2000+ years ago and the last five stations were in the countryside, which is now part of the Old City. The church is built into the hill of Calvery, so that it covers where Christ was crucified.

We made our way through the narrow souks (markets) which were crowded but I’ve seen it more crowded and out to the fresh air and freedom of Jaffa Gate. We bought cobs of corn from a vendor (good but not great) and ate them while looking at the city walls.

Then a nice walk home towards the end of the afternoon. Shops were closed or closing. One deli on Emek Refaim was still open so we got olives, almonds, artichokes, cheese, crackers – and it cost a staggering amount. No wonder he was stretching out his business day. Fewer cars on the road, everything getting quiet, distant sounds of religious men singing.

It is 9pm now and I can still hear singing from outside. This morning as we were leaving for the bus, a group was coming up the stairs to our downstairs neighbour. The man in full Haredi dress, including the big round fur hat, wife, about five children all in costumes (one girl was a bride). They were carrying flowers and food and gifts and came up the stairs as a solid group, saying happy holidays in Hebrew to us and smiling and nodding.

Steve is starting to say a few things in Hebrew and he is getting better with reading. I am still on the fourth letter of the alphabet.



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Interesting! Why the costumes? (Excuse my ignorance). What a nice experience to walk the stations and see that view of the temple mount!


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Interesting! Why the costumes? (Excuse my ignorance)

I was taught several reasons, the main one being for a reminder that in the Book of Esther, Esther hides her Jewish identity when she is married to King Ahashverosh. Another reason is since one of the Mitzvot (commandments) of the holiday is giving charity, everyone dresses in costume to erase the distinction between rich and poor and so avoiding embarrassing them.


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Saturday March 23

The news from the UK is making me scream (almost)! At least now it looks like the March 27 deadline is gone so I can stop freaking out about arriving at Heathrow two days after Brexit in all the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. I was considering getting my vegetable box from Riverford delivered a few days before we get home just in case shops are being emptied by panic. I can’t believe this is the country we happily chose to move to!

Back in Israel today was Shabbot with no cars on the street, so we took out our car and went for a drive (not much traffic). Our apartment is a block from a main road so we didn’t have far to drive through the neighbourhood where people like to walk in the middle of the road on Shabbot.

We drove to Herodium, a Roman-era palace on a hilltop deep in the West Bank. First a note about that. The West Bank is divided up to areas A, B and C – decided by the Oslo accords. Area A is under Palestinian control, Area B is shared and Area C is under Israeli control. Israeli citizens are not allowed, by the Palestinian authorities, to go into Area A. Tourists can go (we went to Bethlehem last year) but you cannot drive your rental car there. Jerusalem is surrounded on three sides by the West Bank and this is where many settlements have been built by Israel on Area C (considered illegal by some). So when you drive around the north, east and south sides of Jerusalem and you see brand new, shiny towns, they are probably settlements. And the roads go in and out of the West Bank.

There are roadblocks on any Israeli controlled roads where they enter the West Bank. Last year we had to show our passports at roadblocks for two of the hikes we did. The hiking area east of Ein Karem is not in the West Bank but highway 60 that is the fastest way to get there goes through the West Bank. The hike we did last year in Wadi Kelt was in an Israel National Park that was in Area C, so we had to go through a roadblock and then drive through a settlement to get to the park.

Today’s drive was on a highway that is in Area C, but is a thin line through Area A. First we drove out through Jerusalem. We are staying in the eastern side of Jerusalem, near the road that goes to Bethlehem (Area A). Then we turn onto a highway that heads into the West Bank. We went through a roadblock (they hardly ever stop you going into the West Bank, it is only people coming out that they are interested in). All the side roads off our road had huge red signs saying it is Area A and Israeli citizens cannot enter. There is no way you would drive into Area A by mistake.

The road took us to the Israel National Park of Herodium. The park is surrounded by Area A. From the hilltop we could see nearby Arab villages, a large settlement, and then in the distance Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was worth it just for the drive and the views.

The park was not busy. No school children because no school today! Only one tour bus with a group of Eastern Europeans. This is not a Christian site, so it will never get all the Christian tours like you get in the Galilee.

Herodium is the remains of Herod’s Palace that he built in the third decade BCE. They built the palace on top of a hill and towards the end of his life he had them surround the palace with dirt to make it looks like it had been dug out of the hill (at least that is what the signs said). From the parking and entrance you walk up to the top of the hill (not far), then down into the palace remains. It was all spectacular. Big walls remaining, columns, part of a tower. Deep tunnels and cisterns for water. We walked through them. I am nervous in closed in spaces like this but there were no other people and the stairs were solid and ceiling high enough, so I could do it. There is a theatre on the hillside and the tomb where Herod was buried. Below the hill is lower Herodium and you get a clear view of it.

Herod died in 4 BCE, before the time of Christ. In 66 AD (CE) there was a Jewish revolt against Roman rule and they used Herodium as a base, so there are remains from this. They turned Herod’s dining room into a synagogue. They used the tunnels and built more tunnels. The first Jewish revolt was conquered in 71 CE. The Bar Kokhba Jewish revolt in 132-136 CE used Herodium as a key center for the rebels.

The weather was warm, not hot, and mostly overcast. That is all we did today – drive out, spend a couple of hours, then drive back. It was to have a mostly quiet day reading. I wanted to go to Herodium last year but it is not easy to get to unless you have a car. I am pleased that we got to see it.



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I was taught several reasons, the main one being for a reminder that in the Book of Esther, Esther hides her Jewish identity when she is married to King Ahashverosh. Another reason is since one of the Mitzvot (commandments) of the holiday is giving charity, everyone dresses in costume to erase the distinction between rich and poor and so avoiding embarrassing them.
Thanks Amy! That's interesting! I had no idea they dressed up for Purim, but these explanations make sense. :)

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