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Israel Two Weeks in Israel, March 2018

We checked out of our vacation rental, took a taxi to Hertz, and were driving out of Jerusalem by 10:30. I used the Waze app to navigate because there are no israel maps for my Garmin. It worked okay but is not as good as the Garmin and it sucked up the battery on my phone. I’ll have to set up my cigarette lighter USB cable to charge while driving.

About 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem we stopped at the Good Samaritan Museum, with mosaics from finds around the country. There were a couple of tour buses there. Well worth a stop.

The drive was through very barren country with no people or towns. As we reached the Dead Sea there was the turnoff for Jericho in the Palestinian Territories. There were some shops there and camels which people pay to ride (after putting on an Arab headscarf).

We turned south and drove along the Dead Sea. There were some date Palm tree plantations but not much else. A very still and misty coloured lake, the Dead Sea, on the right, dry dirt and steep cliffs rising up on the left.

We reached the Ein Gedi Hotel before noon and decided to see if our room was ready or we could leave our bags. It was hot - mid 80sF. I had packed some food so we had lunch in their gardens and then our room was ready. I booked the most expensive room because I read the basic ones were very basic. Our room is lovely with a large balcony and a view straight up Wadi Arugot. Very beautiful!

We had planned to go to Masada first but changed our minds and went to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and hiked up Wadi David. This is an easy one hour round trip walk along the river to a waterfall, then a more scrambly walk to the next waterfall. Ein Gedi is mentioned in the Old Testament twice. It is an oasis with the rive coming from a spring in the cliffs above and the steep, rocky terrain creating waterfalls. The water, the falls and three trees along the river were cooling on such a hot day. Blissful.

Did I mention that we did the hike with about 1,000 rambunctious kids? The trail was packed. The kids were standing in the pools under the waterfalls. The leaders were crying out to keep them together. The kids were running where they shouldn’t run, going off the trails and creating a roar of noise. We would not be seeing the Iberian Ibex today! It was pretty magnificent watching them all have a great time. It never feels like a crowd to me when everyone is half my height.

It thinned out after the first waterfall when the walking became more difficult but there still plenty of them. It must have been a bunch of school trips.

Some parts of the trail were narrow, on rock, but there were handrails (that you burned your hand on if they were in the sun). Some parts went through the water (just a stream). One part went through a dark tunnel. We could have hiked higher up the canyon wall, to the spring, but we didn’t because of the heat.

After our walk we drove down along the Dead Sea, past Masada where we will go tomorrow, to Ein Bokek, a modern resort with several high rise hotels, restaurants and a big beach. We parked, I put my hand in the Dead Sea (warm and slimy), walked along the boardwalk watching people on the beach and floating in the water.

Before dinner we did a walk around the kibbutz. The ticket person at the park said you can see Ibex in the kibbutz grounds at sunset. Cats and dogs, no Ibex.

Dinner was at the hotel buffet dining room. I read that the kibbutz members eat there too, but it didn’t seem like that. The hotel is kosher, so breakfast is dairy and dinner is meat. Since it is a buffet we were able to get vegetarian meals. The food was very good. I had white rice with parsley, mashed potato’s (with no dairy), vegetables, bread. I could have had a big salad too. For dessert there rice looking dairy-free cakes, which we skipped, and sorbet, which we had.

The only downside is that our room has a fragrance, not on the sheets but in the air, but we are airing it out. The kibbutz is a botanical gardens. We’ll take a walk around in daylight when we can see more. It is lovely to be in the dessert. It looks like the area north of Santa Fe, except for the huge body of water and Jordan on the other side.
Yes, the waterfall at Ein Gedi. Somewhere I have a photo of my then five-year-old daughter frolicking under it. And a memory of my eventually walking out barefoot over the painfully rocky stream bottom to encourage her to leave.

In the Hebrew Bible, Song of Songs 1:14
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna in the vineyards of Ein-Gedi.

Watch out for the desert sun!
A few more photos from yesterday.

It was bright sunshine early this morning so were up earlier than usual and at Wadi David when they opened at 8am. There were only a few people there and we were the first ones out on the blissfully empty trail. We only walked to the first waterfall and back. We were looking for Ibex and we found two of them on a hillside near the entrance. One male and one female I think. The male had looked no horns but not as long as I see in photos. Someone working there said that they don’t come down this time of year because the females are giving birth on the tops of the cliffs.

We drove to the next canyon, Wadi Argon, that we see from our terrace and walked out and back for an hour. No Ibex. But the canyon is beautiful. Not as stunning as Wadi David and the trail is not paved, but there are beautiful rocks along the river.

We did all this before breakfast. The hotel kosher breakfast room is the same place you have dinner but now is a dairy buffet (no meat). Dinner was kosher meat, meaning meat dishes but no dairy. I wish one of the kosher options was vegan! If you eat vegan or vegetarian you are always kosher (never mixing meat and dairy in a meal plus a lot more food rules). The buffet was really good - toast, breads, sweet things, egg dishes, cheeses, fruits, even fish (herring). I had an interesting dish of eggs baked in tomatoes (also available cooked in spinach). I’ll look up the name of this dish.

Next we went to Masada. What an amazing place! There is a big visitor center with underground parking. The cable car runs every few minutes, even though it says every 15 minutes, and we went both up and down in uncrowned gondolas. You can walk up or down on the Snake Path, and pay less for the gondola, but today was too hot to contemplate that. It was just under 100 NIS for the two of us round trip. The ride takes only 5 minutes or so.

There were at least 30 tour buses parked at Masada but it did not feel crowded up top. It was hot. We had our bottles with us and there were taps for refilling, but no other food or drink options. As in Ein Gedi, they ask that you not bring food to the site. Also as with Ein Gedi, they provide a very good map and guide when you buy your ticket.

Speaking of tickets, we bought a Nature Park pass which lets you into any one for two weeks. We’ve used it now for a few entries to Ein Gedi and for Masada. We could have used it for the Good Samaritan Museum but I forgot to ask about the pass (you buy it at the Nature Park, but not all of them sell them).

Masada has an incredible history. It is on a Mesa and was completely walled. They had a water system that let them grow crops. A community was up there before the Romans came. King Herod, who was in charge when the Romans were here, built two palaces on Masada. The most famous event was in the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 70AD when 1000 Jews held off 10,000 Romans for two years. The Romans built eight camps around Masada, then built a ramp of dirt up to near the top, then built a tower (and the Jews built a tower), then entered and took Masada. Now Masada is dry and dusty with the ruins of the walls and palaces. It was incredible to walk around and look at everything. You can see the ramp the Romans built and the remains of their forts.

After Masada we went to the Ein Gedi Spa on the shores of the Dead Sea, or where the shores were 20 years ago. The Dead Sea is shrinking because water from the Jordan River that feeds it is being diverted. Sink holes have formed along the shore. From the Ein Gedi Spa you take a bus down to the shore. The Spa is not that great. You get free entry if you stay at the hotel, but it is just a shop selling Dead Sea body products (with added chemicals that no one needs), a snack bar and a swimming pool. We looked around and left. It was too hot to wait around for a bus to go to the water.

We went back to the hotel and had a very nice lunch in their cafe, sitting in the shade of the trees. Flies and cats, but not to many of either.

A nice rest in the hot afternoon, another futile try at seeing Ibex at sunset. We drove all around the area because some guy posted a video on YouTube showing a bunch of Ibex running along the park roads at sunset. Oh well, maybe on the next trip. And I do have a plan to see the bigger Ibex in northern Italy in May.

Dinner at the hotel kosher buffet restaurant was very good. Tonight the dry winds are blowing. Walking back from dinner in the warm night with the wind, through the very lush botanical gardens made us remember all those wonderful trips we did to Hawaii. It takes a lot of water to create a Hawaii memory in this desert.

Our rental car squeaks when you turn a corner, squeals when you break, has a warning light on indicating low tire pressure, and has such bad visibility that Steve almost backed into a pole (Honda Civic). I am a back seat driver and sometimes drive Steve crazy with me thinking he is backing into something, but for once I was right!

I am sun burned, my clothes are covered in dust, I have bandages on my feet for blisters because I am not used to walking on pavement, my plantar fasciitis has come back (I tripped a month ago while wearing wellies in the mud in Dorset) and I have to wear a compression sock (and do my exercises), I have an unsightly thing on my jaw where the NHS over zealously removed some not serious thing from my face - I’m a mess! - but am having one of the best vacations ever!
I am so glad you're enjoying the Ein Gedi area! Happy to see so much water in the pools--the last time I was there it was very dry, your photos look like it did the first time I was there, in 2002. I only saw ibex there once, mostly just a lot of hyrax. And yes, the Dead Sea is shrinking at a heartbreaking rate. Some of the beach areas are quite nice, others are awful. And speaking of water, Israel does incredible things with desalination and water reclamation for its water needs.

BTW, the egg dish you liked is shakshuka. A favorite in my house for any meal. Many recipes online.
We are in Haifa with a decent internet connection. Here are yesterday’s photos.

We are in a fabulous apartment in Haifa, in the Carmel Centre neighbourhood. And the internet is good.

We did a last walk around the Ein Gedi Kibbutz this morning before leaving. It looks like a beautiful place to live, but the summers must be brutal and they are far away from any town or city. Today was hot - mid 80s with a strong sun.

We drove up highway 90 along the edge of the Dead Sea. Jordan was visible across the water. We were going back the way we came, but once we passed highway 1, near the West Bank city of Jericho, we were in a new area for us.

The boundaries of the West Bank are confusing. Highways 1 and 90 pass through the West Bank but the Palestinian Authority does not have control of the highway. You pass through a type of border though, entering (just north of Ein Gedi) and leaving (just before our destination of a Beit Shean). Going in we were waved through, but leaving we were stopped.

The road and area was rougher driving north with the Jordan River on the right and dry empty hills on the left. We drove through a few scruffy towns, saw two large herds of sheep walking near the road, saw several date palm plantations and other agricultural fields. It is one lane in each direction (I was driving) and drivers were aggressive, tail gating and passing. The road was bumpy. It reminded me of our early days driving in Italy.

We were stopped as we left the West Bank area. The young woman at the checkpoint stood on the passenger side and asked for passports. She opened mine, said “Kenny”, looked at me and handed it back. She opened Steve’s, said “Cohen”, then looked at Steve and smiled, back to the passport and said “Stephen David Cohen” pronouncing the first and middle names the way a French person might, then smiled at Steve and said “what a beautiful name” and gave him his passport back. Steve was thrilled. It is a very good name for this country.

Once we were past the checkpoint we stopped at a roadside coffee shop. The woman working at the gas station snarled at me when I asked if we were parked in the right area saying “I don’t speak English”. Finally, this is more what I was expecting. They park like Italians - ignoring lines.

Soon we got to Beit Shean, the best Roman Ruins in Israel. It was lunch time and the site was nearly empty. We spent two hours in the hot sun walking around these incredible ruins of a large Roman City. As we left tour buses were arriving.

Driving across the southern Galilee area we encountered more traffic and some delays. The area was flat and agricultural. We saw Nazareth on hills in the distance. We passed Meddigo, ruins that relate to Armageddon (but we had no time to stop), and finally came into Haifa. The Waze app worked well but it drained my iPhone battery and we arrived just as the phone was dying. I tried plugging it into the car USB but that made the sound stop working. I’ll have to look into that.

We checked into the apartment, walked out to the Carmel Centre shopping area, got groceries and had dinner at home.

Another fabulous day. Beit Shean was fabulous. It is cooler here, which is nice.

It is hot again today, even in Haifa which is on the Mediterranean. 86F.

Today we drove 30 minutes north to Akko (also called Acre). It is an Arab town with a walled historic center. It was like a smaller and less crowded Jerusalem Muslim Quarter. We walked the narrow alleys lined with food shops and restaurants. The old town is right on the water. We came out into the port area which was quite lively. Lots of people but only a few other Americans/Brits. Arabic music was blasting from boats that take people for rides in the sea. One time caught my attention and I realised it was the Puerto Rican song Despacito at full volume. Popular even here!

We had a very good falafel lunch, explored some more then drove back to Haifa.

Since we were in the car we thought we would drive around Haifa. The population is just under 300,000 but it feels like a big city. We drove by the port and along the water to a neighbourhood called Bat Galim, on the water. We walked along the seaside promenade. We were near the gondola ride that goes up to the Carmelite Monastery. The area was a bit rundown considering it is on the water. Streets of low rise apartment buildings. A few people were swimming.

Back home in the late afternoon to relax on our terrace which has table and chairs, plus an outdoor sofa and chairs. Also a view down to the water. Later we walked out to a good fruit and vegetable shop a few blocks away. Dinner at home.

The driving here is a bit intense for us. Lots of traffic. Steve drives and I use Waze to navigate. We did okay today but the combination of the heat and the driving have made us change our plans for tomorrow. It is going to be hot again - 88F. We were going to have a day of driving around the North Galilee, to the Zippori Roman ruins, with a stop at an organic olive oil producer in Zippori village, on to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, then to Safed where we had planned to stay but we changed to Haifa. It was going to be around 4 hours of driving and we can’t face it. I am disappointed but most likely we will be doing another trip and then we will stay in that area. Meanwhile we get two full days, one hot and one moderate, to see Haifa.

Haifa is much different than I expected. The city is on several levels. The downtown and port are along the sea. The German Colony and the Arab section Wadi Nisnas are higher. The Baha’i gardens spill down a steep hill to the German Colony from Carmel Center at the top. The university and the hiking area are higher still, I think. I haven’t got the lay of the land yet. Today driving to Carmel Center from the highway along the water was a steep, long uphill drive. When you come into Haifa you see rows of high rises going up a steep hillside.

One last thing. In Akko we were walking along a lane of shops and a group of Arab boys walked past us, then threw a plastic bottle at Steve’s back. I guess if you look like a Jew or an American, or both, you get hassled by the young boys, as happened to us in the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem.

The guy who made my fresh pomegranate juice for me (yes!!) spent the whole time trying to convince us to have lunch in the restaurant next door. Isn’t it enough that I’m buying juice from you?

Still, Akko was fabulous!
Also, the Hecht Museum at the University has fabulous archaeology exhibits. Or maybe you could trim your Galilee excursion a bit so it won't be quite as long a day? It is a gorgeous area.

I had picked that out to visit because they have an old fishing boat, older than the one that everyone visits on the Sea of Galilee.

I need about another month here.
Pauline, Dado beach in Haifa is nicer if you're looking for some beach time, there are also cafes, shaded areas and a promenade. As I recall, people gather there on Shabbat for drumming and Israeli dancing.. You may enjoyCarmel National Park or Hai Bar for walking. Carmel Park--Hai Bar Carmel And a visit to the Bahai Gardens is nice, if only for the view. Bahai Visit Schedule

My guidebook calls it Carmel Beach but I see on google maps it is also Dado. We drove by it today and I thought that area looked nice.

Thanks for the hiking suggestions!
Zichron...Ramat HaNadiv just outside Zichron is a pretty garden for some respite from the heat. Oh, and do go to Caesaria! And I just remembered an interesting site to the east--Tzippori Park, there are excavations, mosaics, and walking trails.
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Zichron...Ramat HaNadiv just outside Zichron is a pretty garden for some respite from the heat. Oh, and do go to Caesaria! And I just remembered an interesting site to the east--Zippori Park, there are excavations and walking trails.

We leave Haifa Sunday morning to drive to Tel Aviv for 1 night. We fly home late afternoon on Monday. On the drive down we will stop in Ceasaria.
FWIW, that specific package of coffee does indeed have cardamon in it....

The Makura farm and surrounding area is indeed a beautiful corner of the country. This specific farm are veteran organic growers and make a fine oil. There is another well-established organic farm quite close by in the moshav called Ofer. This farm is called “Har HaPracheem” (“the mountain of flowers”), and I believe they have a nice small market of their produce (and other organic products) on Fridays until twelve noon. They grow a large variety of vegetables.
A nice spot for a panoramic view is Mitzpeh Ofer, not far from the moshav with the same name - the sea and coastal moshavim and farms are spread out below you to the west :
Kerem Maharal is another moshav that is worth passing through - it is at the mouth of a small lovely valley and also has some interesting volcanic tuff formations nearby.

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