Traveling In Israel - The Enchanting Galilee

While we could have stayed days more discovering Tel Aviv and the surrounding areas, we wanted to get the most of our trip and now headed up north toward the port of Akko or Acre, a city that has a reputation for being one of the oldest inhabited sites in the word. 

 

Israel - Akko Fort/Bay

Well used as a major port by the Greeks, it was called Ake then for the Greek word  "cure" since Hercules reportedly found herbs to heal his wound here.

Romans, Crusaders, Turks and British also found the place of substantive value as did Napoleon, who tried to take the city in 1799, but failed. 

 

Israel - Akko - Crusader main hall

During the Templar rule in 1066, it was considered to be, outside of Jerusalem, their most important city.  At that time, the city had the name of St. John d' Acre, and neither Muslim nor Jews were permitted within the boundaries. 

Once recaptured by Saladin, it became a capital of Islam and stayed that way until 1291 when the Marlukes took over the city. 

 

Israel - Akko fortress

Within the old city, the main mosque, reportedly, has sacred hairs belonging to Mohammed, the prophet.

 

Israel - Stained glass - Mosque

A courtyard, outside of the crusader building, which once served as an 1800's hotel for pilgrims, now lies in ruin, but there are supposed plans to revive it.  As we wandered the streets of the market and shops, we met with candy makers and other craftsmen hawked their wares.

 

Israel - Akko - Candy maker in Templar courtyard

The old city is mostly Arab in population now.  For an admission fee of 32 ns, you can see not only the crusader fortress, but the bath house, and the prison room where many Israeli fighters of the Palmach were kept.

 

Israel - cat in Templar courtyard

In fact, as you tour the underground crusader rooms, you can still see the hole in the ceiling where the soldiers, recalling the ancient city beneath their feet, dug themselves to freedom. 

It was also here that the British kept the Baha'i founder, Many Shaykhis was imprisoned. 

Transversing the Templar tunnels, you can see history come alive and can easily envision these passage ways as a means for escape or to cross the city and avoid straying into unwanted territories. Taller members of our party had to duck several times until we exited at the port. 

The remains of Akko's fortress still stands, but time has eroded much of the land and the two pillars, where the entrance to the fort once stood, are now covered in watery remains.

Like with Jaffa and the other ancient cities, the narrow streets are steep and difficult for people with disabilities, but if you make the effort, it's well worth the climb. 

 

Israel - Akko streets

Resting for a few moments just outside the city walls, we had coffee, which to us is more like an espresso, and listened to the afternoon call to prayer as we devoured some of their specialty sweets.  Knapfe is probably the most famous.  A pastry with cheese, it differs slightly from Kataif, another cheesy delicacy.   Some of our group chose to sample the fafallel here.  Made of chick peas in the Lebanon style, which is the most popular in the Middle East, it differs a bit from the Egyptian version with fava beans (which, if you are allergic, can be fatal.)

Watching the sun set into the sea, right opposite the old fortress, we dined at a *unique restaurant run by Uri Buri.  A popular eatery, they specialize in shellfish dishes, but they have a couple of vegetarian offers, as well.  Their creamy homemade ice cream is heavenly.  A regular Santa Claus character, Uri greets everyone who comes with a smile. 

Of you have a mind to stay in old Akko, his  intimate 12 room hotel, The Effendi, is just a few blocks away. Nestled in the ancient streets, it was an abandoned crusader building that Uri had refurbished in the style of an 1800's hotel. The floor plan is complete 19th century.  Have a glass of wine on their spacious patio roof and feel the sea breeze, enjoy their spa or relish in their 400 year old Turkish bath.  Prices here start at $320 USD. 

It was here, outside the city, that the Battle of Hattin occurred. Arabs, putting oil to the grasses and setting them afire, defeated the crusaders who, wearing their heavy coats of armor could not handle the heat.

One of my all time favorites is the mystical Kabballic city of Safed.  A special sense of history and charm pervades this city and it's well-known for its unique artist/writer colony and isolation.  Other than Jerusalem, this is one of my preferred cities.

 

Israel - Lane in Safed

A fortified place during crusader times, these steep steps of this holy place calls people to meditate on the surrounding beauty and is well known for famed rabbis as Isaac Luria

 

Israel - Art Gallery in Safed - Israel Tourism Photo

It served as a focal point for many Sephardic Jews  escaping the Spanish Inquisition.  Since it's at the highest point in the Galilee, temperatures can be extreme here.   

Already exhausted, we made our way toward Haifa, Israel's 3rd largest city, well known for its intellectual prowess at the University of Haifa and the Technion, Israel's oldest university, which has produced several Nobel laureates.

 

Israel - Ba'hai Gardens and Haifa Bay

Our hotel, the quaint Colony is a boutique 1900's hotel with only 50 rooms that  sits in the historic German colony district of the city (average room price is $195.)  While it has no luxury spa, it does have a nice rooftop swimming pool where you can sun and it's walking distance from the beautiful Baha'i Gardens.  

Situated on top of Mount Carmel, the gardens are one of the famed wonders to see. Because it is a religious place, it is asked that women be dressed modestly - skirts and sleeved tops. 

The Carmelite Monastery on the mountain top sits over a cave associated with Elijah, the Prophet. 

 

Israel - Meggido - Israel Tourism Photo

Just south of Haifa, history buffs will also want to visit Megiddo National Park, the site of numerous battles and layers upon layers of ancient ruins.

There is so much to see in the north of Israel that you have to extend your stay, if necessary. 

To the east out of Haifa, you'll find the Bustan Levona gardens. Levona Grove is not only a beautiful setting where fruit trees of different species from all over the world grow, but is also a memorial to the fascinating story of the Lishanski family, which dates back to the early 20th century and Nili, the famous Jewish espionage network that helped the British in the struggle against the Ottoman Empire.  Families often have weddings and Bar Mitzvahs here. 

The grove overlooks the Sea of Galilee (the Kinnert), near Capernaum. Its slopes overlook churches, the placid water of the lake and the mountains of the Golan Heights, changing colors with the seasons of the year. 

The sea has a specialty fish - The Saint Peter's Fish - which you might want to taste. I'm told it's delicious but as a student there, when they served us at lunch, my portion turned out to be the head. Supposedly a sign of good luck, but when I saw those open eyes still staring at me and the worm still in its mouth…well…let's see my lunch that day was French fries!)

 

Israel - Halavah - a sesame sweet in many tastes

The site of Capernaum is well known for several of Jesus' miracles and preachings and is well visited by pilgrims.  The old synagogue here is worth a visit and you can walk there in Jesus' steps and maybe even hear his words. 

From there, swing over to Tiberias, one of the four holy cities - Jerusalem, Safed and Hebron. Another of Herod's accomplishments, it was a political hot bed during the Roman and early Christian times, but its hot springs are favored by many of health reasons and it is said to cure many aliments.

 

Israel - Mount Tabor - Israel Tourism Photo

Archeological remains abound everywhere in the Galilee dating from Talmudic, Greek, Roman, Canaanite, Crusader and Islamic times.  It's from Mount Tabor, here in the north, where the prophet Deborah and her general Barak conquered Jabin of Hazor, and where Jesus spent a good deal of time. 

Rosh Hanikra's caves and spectacular geological grottoes, in the far north, border Lebanon and can be an interesting experience for the nature lover.   During good times, it's possible to go kayaking along the shores.

 

Israel - Rosh Ha Nikra - Northern most Point - Israel Tourism Photo

One cannot leave the north without a visit to Caesarea.  Built by Herod the Great, is was the center of Roman Judea for many years.  The ancient theatre, where performances are still given, overlooks the Mediterranean.  

I could have willingly spent many more days up here in the Galilee, but we were urged forward and so travelled next to part - the ever wonderful, Jerusalem.

 

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