a different side of Israel

Category: Travel (page 1 of 7)

Travel and tourism to Israel, photos and personal experiences when touring Israel, places and people to see.

Backpacking in Jerusalem

For most young travelers setting out with nothing but their backpack and a dream to stamp up there passport with as many countries as possible, the first places they consider visiting are in Western Europe, Eastern Asia, and Australasia, however this is rapidly changing. World travelers and gap year students are looking for more unique places to visit than just the same old stops, which is what makes a place like Jerusalem, Israel so appealing.

Fortunately for backpackers, they are not the only people interested in opening up the Middle East to more travelers. In 2010, one of the first accommodation options designed to meet the needs of budget travelers looking for a cultural, hospitable, and fun place to stay, opened up right in the heart of Jerusalem. Abraham Hostel Jerusalem was built by its founders, who are also travelers at heart, on a vision to help backpackers and tourists truly discover and experience all that the Middle East has to offer. While many travelers worry about terrorism and their own safety in a place like Jerusalem, staying at a hostel like Abraham Hostel offers a fun and safe environment where travelers can get inside information about the best places to visit in the city. Top Israel hostels are becoming more and more popular as travelers discover how fun it is to stay in a place where they can not only save money, but also can meet other backpackers and experience Jerusalem in a whole new way.

From Biblical landmarks to historical destinations and top museums in the world, backpackers will have no trouble finding great places to visit during the day in Jerusalem. The Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Temple Mount and more are must-sees no matter a traveler’s personal religious views. In the evening however, night life can be a little trickier to find in Jerusalem. Many people suggest just heading to Tel Aviv, which is just an hour away and world-renowned for its night clubs and bars, however with a little effort, backpackers can discover great night life options in Jerusalem. Zion Square offers clubs for dancing and the city center of west Jerusalem is a great place for hip bars and pubs. That being said, the best way to discover music and nightlife in Jerusalem is by just asking the knowledgeable staff at a backpacker like Abraham Hostel for their in-the-know suggestion.

In these unique times of internationalism and the importance of learning about cultural respect, backpackers who are interested in an off-the-beaten track experience can find exactly what they are looking for in Jerusalem.

New: The Port at Night

All Tel Avivians know how pleasant the port is at night. A beautiful waterfront view with great restaurants and shopping. Well, this nightlife is about to spice up a little more. From now on there will be live television broadcasts and advertisements on the buildings.

According to Ynet, NIS 30 million (roughly $8 million) has been invested in the project that was spearheaded by the Atarim company.

Aratim develops Tel Aviv’s tourist sites and is co-owned by the Tel Aviv Municipality as well as the Tourism Ministry.

According to reports, the company will be setting up a night film screening and culture complex in the northern part of the port.

Itamar Shimoni, CEO of Atarim told Yedioth Ahronoth’s economic supplement, Mamon:

“The investment in the entire compound is estimated at NIS 100 million ($26 million), while the film screening complex will cost some NIS 30 million. The first stage of the works will begin in November…The complex is currently being tiled with a wood deck on which the port will hold concerts and multimedia events…This will be one of the biggest recreation centers in Israel. The plan is to hold cultural events, rock concerts, art exhibitions, video-art, etc….We want to turn the complex into a recreation, culture and leisure complex for the entire family. We are interested in bringing more people in the morning and afternoon, and not just as a night compound.”

El Al to Join Up With Canadian Airline WestJet

The unique relationship between Israel and Toronto has taken another step forward on September 12, when Canadian Airline WestJet and Israel’s airline El Al announced a joint move where tickets which are purchased on El Al for Toronto, may now be purchased combining connecting flights to one of WestJet’s 30 Canadian destinations, as well as the Caribbean and Florida.

The official signing of the new contract happened in Israel on September 12 before Elyezer Shkedy, President and CEO of El Al; Dinah Kutner, general manager El Al Canada; and one Gregg Saretsky, president and CEO of WestJet.

Gregg Saretsky travelled all the way to the Jewish Country just to sign this historic agreement. Also in attendance at the ceremony was Paul Hunt the Canadian Ambassador to Israel.

Thus far, El Al already has agreements under a similar structure with a number of US airlines including JetBlue, American Airlines and Virgin America.

Upon check-in, passengers receive their boarding cards to their final destination, whether WestJet or Tel Aviv destinations as a consequence of the Interline Through Check-In agreement that was established between the airlines. (Some passengers can save money when arranging travel plans online.)

Gregg Saretsky of WestJet was heard saying:

“We are delighted to partner with El Al Israel Airlines to make travel across our mutual networks easier for our guests as we continue to expand our partnerships…WestJetters are looking forward to welcoming El Al guests aboard our flights.”

Elyezer Shkedy of El Al:

“We are proud to partner with WestJet…This agreement with WestJet provides various options to our Israeli and Canadian customers and is a continuation of the El Al strategy in expanding commercial agreements, both interline and codeshare, with leading carriers around the world.”

Dinah Kutner of El Al Canada said:

“The agreement expands and improves the network of destinations in North America and the Caribbean, especially to destinations in Canada like Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, as well as for WestJet’s routes including Mexico, Hawaii, Cuba and the Dominican Republic all via El Al’s gateway in Toronto…Toronto is a perfect gateway as Israelis do not require entry visas to Canada and that both airlines operate from the same terminal in Toronto (Terminal 3).”

Starting next week, special introductory prices are available combining WestJet and EL AL. EL AL Matmid Frequent Flyers may now receive an additional 20% points for tickets that combine WestJet and EL AL flights from 1-30 November 2011.

Sinai Not Safe?

My first impression of the Sinai Peninsula in the north of Egypt was a pleasant surprise. I travelled there with two of my comrades in the spring of 2006. We took a bus from our kibbutz in the north overnight through Israel and crossed the border at Eilat. After crossing the Egyptian border check (the Sinai Peninsula was ceded to Egypt by Israel in 1982 with an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty) we entered a Jeep accompanied by European tourists (presumably non-Jews) who drove us through the desert in blistering dry desert heat – the temperature must have exceeded 45 degrees Celsius.

Staying for five nights in the resorts of Dahab and Sharm el-Sheik was great. The tourist complexes were filled mostly with scuba diving enthusiasts from England who opted to spend their holiday exploring the exotic marine life in the Gulf of Aquaba from Egypt rather than Eilat.

Just two days upon our return to the kibbutz in the North, however, CNN reported of a series of deadly explosion in Dahab. The incident happened right at the beginning of Sham Al-Nasseim, the Islamic spring celebration. 80 people were wounded and at least 23 were dead. The al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Last week, the Egyptian army detained al-Qaeda militants in the Sinai region. According to the Maan news agency, al-Qaeda cells infiltrated the peninsula in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution.

The Sinai also connects Egypt to the Gaza Strip. A crucial natural gas pipeline that runs through the Sinai was bombed five times this year, and post-Mubarak Egyptian authorities hold the al Qaeda responsible for the attack.

An Egyptian intelligence general told CNN:
“Al Qaeda is present in Sinai mainly in the area of Sakaska close to Rafah,..They have been training there for month, but we have not identified their nationalities yet…Units from the 2nd infantry division, with support from general security and the border guards…We plan to clean out those criminal pockets around the area of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid…”

General El-Sayed Abdel-Wahab Mabrouk, the governor of North Sinai confirmed that a flier entitled “Al Qaeda Sinai Branch” circulated outside a mosque in el-Arish last Wednesday. The document called for an Islamic state in Sinai and declared that the group is planning attacks on police stations and security forces.

“A security cordon has been placed around the entrances of el-Arish and reinforcements arrived outside the police stations and the el-Arish central prison in anticipation of an attack on Friday…” said Wahab.

Wailing at The Wall in Jerusalem

Placing Notes in the Wailing Wall

Placing Notes in the Wailing Wall

The Western Wall, Wailing Wall or Kotel, is found in Jerusalem’s Old City, at the disputed western side of the ancient Temple Mount site. It is a remnant of the buttress of the ancient wall which once surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard. For this, it is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, that is, beside for the Temple Mount itself. More than half the wall, including the seventeen paths found underneath the ancient street level, dates from the later era of the Second Temple. It was built around 19 B.C. by King Herod the Great. The layers that remained were added from the seventh century on wards. Not only does the name, Western Wall, refer to the exposed section facing a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, but also to the concealed sections behind the structures running along the whole length of the Temple Mount.

For centuries, the Wailing Wall has been the site of Jewish pilgrimage and prayer. The earliest source mentioning Jewish attachment to the site dating from the 4th century. From the middle of the 19th century and on wards, efforts to buy the wall and its immediate area were made several times by various wealthy Jews and Jewish organizations, although, alas none were actually successful.

Then, in the early 20th-century, with the rise of the modern Zionist movement, the wall turned into a source of friction for the Jewish community and the religious Muslim leadership, who were concerned that the wall was being used to further the push for Jewish nationalism to the Temple Mount and to Jerusalem. As a sad result of these Muslim concerns about Jewish statehood, outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall were commonplace and an international commission convened in the year 1930 to determine the claims and the rights of Jews and Muslims in connection with the wall. Then, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the wall fell under Jordanian control and Jews were barred from the site for nineteen tragic years until Israel captured the Old City in 1967, when provoked by rocket and missile attacks by the Jordanian army.

Certainly there are ancient Jewish texts that seem to refer to a “western wall of the Temple”, however there is much doubt whether these texts were referring to today’s Western Wall or to another wall that stood within the Temple complex. The earliest use of the term Western Wall in terms of the wall that is actually visible today was by the 11th-century Ahimaaz ben Paltiel. The name “Wailing Wall”, and certain descriptions such as “wailing place” appeared in English literature during the 19th century. It was known as Mur des Lamentations in French and Klagemauer in German. The term itself was actually a translation of the Arabic term, el-Mabka, or “Place of Weeping.”

Tourism in the Jewish State

If not because of a de facto war with Hamas, then due to the economic crisis, 2009 saw a considerable lull in tourism; while 2008 welcomed 3 million visitors to the Jewish State’s shining shore. Proudly, Israel’s tourism minister, Stas Misezhnikov, announced that Israel received 3.45 million tourists in 2010. A recent record!

According to Misezhnikov, one-fifth of the tourists came from the United States, followed by visitors from France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany. More than two-thirds were Christian and a shocking 3 percent were Jewish.

Meanwhile, entrepreneur and former chief operating officer of EasyJet, Edward Winter, plans to launch a new airline, “Jet Israel,” offering low-cost flights to the Holy Land.

Winter, who recently met with Israeli aviation officials and Stas Misezhenikov, claims he can jump start an aviation revolution in Israel, comparable to EasyJet’s success in Europe.

Winter, as part of negotiations, requested that Israel provide the airline with a safety net. He insists on a financial compensation should the company book occupancies between 70% and 90%. Occupancy above the latter percentage, will not reward him an compensation.

The Israeli Tourism Ministry has already drafted financial models for the new airline and consulted officials of the Finance Ministry concerning the safety net, estimated to reach approximately NIS 100 million (about $28 million).

Winter’s other baby, EasyJet, Europe’s largest low-cost airline, operates flights to Israel from London, Geneva and Basel. It has not managed, however, to offer cheap tickets at the target price. EasyJet will operate flights from Tel Aviv to Basel 3 times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; flights from Tel Aviv depart at 1:40 pm and arrive in Basel at 5:20 pm; flights from Basel depart at 7:55 am and arrive in Tel Aviv at 12:55 p.m. The starting fares from Tel Aviv to Basel are 39.99 euros (roughly $53) and from Basel to Tel Aviv 42 euros ($56).

During a press conference to bid farewell to 2010, Misezhenikov told the press:

“EasyJet is not a low-cost company. Instead of pulling the prices of all the other airlines down, it pushed them up…We need a real low-cost company with truly cheap prices. We are formulating ideas to operate low-cost companies that fly directly to Israel and are examining the subject with Israeli and foreign airline companies…”

Misezhnikov added that he would like to expand the marketing of Israel to destinations such as India and South Korea, both bearing large Evangelical Christians populations.

Abbas Comis?

So often tidbits of news and history become philosophical mind-benders…so as beholders of the Truth, as we at happen to be, we try and leave our stories open to the good rational minds of our readers…that is to say, we respect you.

So here’s the scoop, readers:

Pope Benedict XVI insists on a “great respect” between Catholics and Jews. Here’s a pocket-full of benefit of the doubt for the good Vicar…

The Pontiff is on his way to visit a synagogue in Rome… even as we speak. He says the visit will be a “further step on the path of harmony and friendship between Catholics and Jews,” he says there is a “climate of great respect and dialogue” between the two religions. This Roman synagogue is said to be the spiritual home of the oldest Jewish community in the Diaspora.

Jewish groups are divided however, due to Benedict’s praise of Pius XII – the World War II Pope. Some say, that this Pope did not do enough to save the Jews of these years from their fate of Holocaust. Now Pope Benedict is moving to Canonize Pope Pius.

In his 1940 encyclical Summi Pontificatus, Pius rejected anti-Semitism and he did protest to save certain Jewish populations from deportation to Poland. Despite this, many are still skeptical. He could not or did not save the fate of one-third of Italy’s Jewish population, who were murdered or expelled.

Jewish skepticism about the current Pope was sparked when it became known his German origins and service in the Hitler Youth program, beginning in 1941. But it became known that the program was compulsory for all German boys, and that the Pope witnessed firsthand, Nazi brutality towards German Catholics.

On one hand, Pope Benedict visited the Park East synagogue in New York City, during the eve of Passover in 2008 – and this came after his 2006 visit to Auschwitz and later Jerusalem and Yad Vashem.

He also visited a West Bank refugee camp during one of these trips, and spoke out about the need for a sovereign homeland for the Palestinian people. Needless to say this left many a questioning Zionist brow…

In 2007, Benedict issued the Summorum Pontificum, which allows wider use of the Tridentine Mass, which includes this Good Friday Prayer:

Let us pray also for the Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us pray. Let us kneel. Arise. Almighty and eternal God, who dost also not exclude from thy mercy the Jews: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Then, in 2009, he lifted an excommunication off of a British Bishop who denies that Jews were killed in Nazi gas chambers.

Me thinks, this guy is about as hard to decode as the Latin language. Nicer then some Popes have been, but tricky, yeah? Does he do it on purpose? Sorry Father, but Israel will not be embracing Jesus any time in the near future…at least, not on any sweeping basis…


Coming Soon: Hittin’ The Links in the Holy Land

How will Israeli work to further entice worldwide tourists, to come over and play? How about warming up to the world of golfers!

The Tourism Ministry and the Israel Land Administration are planning an NIS 760 million grant, for the building of 16 golf courses across the country, over the next 15 years.

The golf courses could see a 20% increase in hotel occupancy and the average amount of money being spent by tourists may double from $1,000 to $2,000. Sounds like a pretty worthwhile investment.

Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov says that encouraging golf tourism will encourage both local and foreign investments. The goal is to get golf aficionados to visit the Jewish Country, every year – helping it to compete with other Mediterranean Basin nations.

The Tourism Ministry and the Israel Land Administration will begin scouting for sites to build courses. So far proposed initial sites are at Eilat, the Dead Sea, Tiberias, Hatzor HaGilit, Savyon and Rishon Lezion.

Well kids…It looks like it’s time to polish the clubs and work the kinks out of that swing.

The Eighth Natural Wonder of the World – Khouloud Daibes

It’s set in the lowest point on Earth, and it’s the saltiest lake on Earth – surrounded by a beach of splendid salt crystals, and breathtaking mountains. The Dead Sea is one of Israel’s natural wonders, and it has been one of the wonders of my life. It is actually one of the natural wonders of the entire world – that’s how the Israeli government feels and that’s why they would like to enter it in the Seven Natural Wonders of the World competition.

dead sea 2009So what’s the problem? The problem, as usual, is the damn neighbors. The State of Israel received a letter from the Palestinian tourism minister, Khouloud Daibes, threatening to withdraw their consent to have the Dead Sea participate in the international competition, because the Israeli company, Ahava engages in activity on occupied Palestinian land. Daibes put it like this:

“I express my objection to promoting the Dead Sea in the competition, alongside products like Ahava, which are produced illegally in the Israeli settlement on occupied Palestinian lands, and promoting the business of the Megilot Regional Council along the Dead Sea’s northern coast at the international tourism fair in London at the beginning of November.”

Stas Misezhnikov of the Israeli tourism ministry disagreed:

“If the Dead Sea wins the competition, the entire region will prosper, and this will help all the involved countries and entities: Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan…the attempt to drag a complicated diplomatic dispute into a competition which is based on honoring the seven wonders of the world does not serve any of the sides. Moreover, intervening in the competition in this manner may lead to the disqualification of the Dead Sea, and we will all be damaged.”

The minister told Ynet:

“It should be noted that 2008 was a record year in incoming tourism to Israel, and affecting the territories as well, which were visited by more than 1 million tourists. If the Dead Sea wins, this trend will grow even more.”

According to a Dutch Socialist Party website, the foreign minister of Holland intends to investigate if Ahava products, which bear the label, “Made in Israel” are actually made on occupied land.

The Dead Sea made it to the list of Natural Wonders of the World last July, along with 27 other sites, among them:
The Grand Canyon, Matterhorn, The Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon rainforest, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Galapagos Islands, the Mud Volcanoes of Azerbaijan, Lebanon’s Jeita Grotto, Ireland’s Moher Cliffs and the Black Forest of Germany.

Giving Good Hanukkah Gifts

Jordan river pendantCalling out around the Tribe are you ready for a brand new beat? Winter’s here and the time is right for shopping online! Want to find good quality unique Hanukkah gifts for the whole family, without having to leave the office? No, I am not lazy, just busy – maybe some of you can relate.

I’ve always been pleased with the gear that I bought at and since I am so thrilled that I just filled my shopping cart up there and therefore Hanukkah Harry is 84% done with his preliminary holiday duties – I thought I’d brag to you, dear blog readers, about some of my scores. The item which I picked up is a little something for my mother-in-law, it basically has her name written all over it.

Jordan RiverI allotted to “mom” a $100 budget and found for even less – The Jordan River Smiling Heart Pendant! For under $100, I will be in my Bible-pounding mom-in-law’s heart for an unconditional eternity.

The one that I got for mom was green Peridot – however they are also available in orange, blue, clear crystal or purple Amethyst. And here is the kicker! The glass pendant comes filled with either Jordan River water or a parchment with a personal blessing.

Since I give my mother-in-law blessings in other ways I ordered mine filled with the Jordan River water – a place that she cherishes most on earth.

These Flames Are Eternal

Francesco HayezLast Wednesday a collection of coins burned and charred from the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, were displayed for the very first time. Altogether 70 coins were found in an excavation site near the Kotel.

Gabriela Bijovsky, an antique coin expert from the Israel Antique Authority said:

“These really show us the impact of the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century…These are a very vivid, dramatic example of that destruction… The most important coins we have are from those last four or five years of the rebellion against the Roman army, and one coin we found was actually minted very close to the destruction of the Second Temple.”

MIDEAST ISRAEL RARE COINSThe Jews of Judea rebelled against the Roman Empire in A.D. 66, when they kicked Roman forces out of Jerusalem. In A.D. 70, after Roman legions had won many important battles throughout the country, they breached the city walls. They went through the streets of Jerusalem killing Jewish civilians regardless of gender or age and finally destroyed the Temple, Judaism’s holiest site.

The coins were found in an excavation site of an ancient street below the Temple Mount. Archaeologists sifted through debris and boulders which was thrown off of the Temple Mount during the raid, when they found the road and the hoards of coins.

The coins are part of a larger exhibition at Jerusalem’s Archaeological Garden. They are cased in glass. Some are melted down to unrecognizable chunks of carbonized bronze; the damage is from the flames which destroyed the Temple.

Also featured in the exhibit are other coins found in the holy site at Jerusalem, in the last three years from Europe, North Africa and Persia. The display testifies to the wonderful eclectic and international character of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago; minus one Holy Temple, things have not changed so much.

From Trash to Treasure – Israel Turns Landfill into Garbage-Fueled Park

HiriyaJust where Route 4 turns into Route 1 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, right at the juncture rests a 46-year-old mountain of garbage. Last Sunday night, that garbage became something of a power plant. The switch was flicked on at the dump, now Sharon Park, and lights illuminated the night. But these were not just ordinary lights. These were garbage-powered.

Sharon Park, a gargantuan 8,000-dunam space of urban reclamation ranking among the biggest worldwide, used to be the site of the Hiriya garbage dump. Hiriya was impressive, be it in a gross, festering sense, in that it featured a 200-foot high mountain of trash at a hefty 565 million cubic feet of decomposing wretch rumbling from 46 years of dumping underneath. The dumping stopped in 1998, and 9 years later in 2007, they finally decided what to do with it.
Now the wretch, after being cleaned of hazardous material, is powering the park’s very own electrical grid. Somebody must have figured if it smells that bad, it’s got to be powerful enough to do SOMETHING useful.

But here’s more: The body of the park itself is being built with its very own trash. Discarded building materials are being converted into sidewalks, pathways, and buildings, saving the government tens of millions of shekels in disposal costs.
The park is scheduled to be completed around 2015-2020, though hiking and bike paths are already available, as well as a zoo and a recycling museum.

Pope’s Visit Anticipated Amid Property Disputes

Pope Benedict XVIThe arrival in Israel of Pope Benedict XVI on May 14 is already being prepared for in earnest by Israeli and Catholic Church authorities. The visit of the Pontiff will include a formal call to Israel President Shimon Peres at Beit Hanassi, and to the Beit HaShoah Holocaust memorial as well as the usual holy places in the Old City and elsewhere. Benedict’s visit to Yad Vashem will be the second by a reining Pontiff following Pope John Paul II ‘s historic visit there in March, 2000. Being of German descent, and due to his membership in the National Socialist Youth Movement as a child, his visit to Israel and to Yad Vashem takes on an even more significant aspect.

The visit will not be without its problems, however, as the Catholic Church is presently in dispute with the Israeli government over the ownership of some church properties in Jerusalem and other locations, including the building on Mt. Zion which is known by the Church as the Coenaculum, where Jesus and his disciples held the Last Supper. Other disputed properties include the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Church and Gardens of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Monastery on the summit of Mt. Tabor; and the Church of the Multiplication, which is located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee

Church JerusalemPresident Peres, in a gesture of good will is trying to persuade the government to abide by the Church’s requests (demands?), hoping that this will enable more tourists and pilgrims to visit Israel and the Holy Land. So far, however, the government including the Interior and Tourism ministers are not ready to give these places up. As was noted to a Haaretz reporter by Tourism Minister, Stas Misezhnikov, “If we were certain this great gift would bring millions of Christian pilgrims to visit here we would have good reason to agree to these demands. But since we are not certain this will happen, why should we give out gifts?”

A considerable amount of Christian church property is in the control of various religious denominations, but these particular properties have been in dispute for some time, especially ones located in East Jerusalem since the Six Day War of 1967. The Pope’s visit in itself will be a logistical challenge, and some protests are being planned against the temporary closure of some of the holy sites he will visit, including the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth and the Kotel or Western Wall in the Old City.

Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2000 had hoped to bring millions of pilgrims to Israel, due to it heralding the 2nd Millennium. But not only did this not happen (less than 100,000 actually came) but the Second Intifada broke out in September of the same year. Many people wonder now what will be the outcome of this papal visit, taking the current political and security state of the region into account.

Touring the north of Israel

Sea of GalileeThose fortunate enough to go on sightseeing trips to Israel’s far northern region during Pesach must have been impressed by the sheer beauty of areas in Israel’s northern Galilee and “panhandle” regions. On the last day of Pesach, we drove north, passing landmark cities such as Nazareth and Tzfat, as well as the Kinneret or Sea of Galilee. Being early spring, the entire region is still carpeted with green and covered with an array of wild flowers. The area this time of year is a far cry from what it looks like in mid to late summer the lush greenery of spring has turned to more somber colors of gold and brown.

We arrived in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona where we turned right on highway 99 to reach our first objective, the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, located east of Kibbutz Dan at the northern edge of the Hula Valley. The Reserve, covering 480 square dunam (120 acres) is well known as the source of the Dan River, one of the three sources of the Jordan. We took what is known as the long nature trail, which traversed part of the river in several places, and is a virtual paradise of plants and animals; many of which are not found anywhere else in Israel. The river, really a stream, was in its full glory with rapids and gushing of what appeared to be water fresh enough to drink from. The lush undergrowth almost hid the remains of a nearly disastrous fire which almost destroyed large sections of the reserve less than two years before. A number of small springs, which feed into the Dan were everywhere, and many of then literally appear from nowhere and disappear into “sinkholes” in the ground. In the middle of the nature trail is a large hollow tree which is known as the “pooh bear tree” as it resembles the home of the Winnie the Pooh children’s character.

Tzfat IsraelTel Dan contains remains of some of the oldest civilizations in Israel, some dating back more than 7,000 years. The area was home to both Canaanite and early Israelite settlements, including some connected with the House of David. In fact an inscription on a piece of tablet, from the 9th Century BCE, contains a victory message by King Hazael of Damascus “over the King of Israel and descendents of the House of David”. An excavated Israelite town, complete with entrance gate, is located there as well. From a lookout point, we could see a large section of the Hula Valley, and would also have seen Mt. Hermon, still capped with snow, had weather been permitting. We saw sections connected with later Greek and Roman settlements, including an altar for making ritual sacrifices.

The areas near the Dan River stay cool all year round, even during the hot summer months; which make the area very attractive place for visitors. We were not permitted to wade in the stream, however, and smoking or throwing of litter is strictly prohibited. After refreshing ourselves at the park’s guest facilities (which have plenty of ice cream, and other things attractive for kids) we proceed on to our next stop, passing the Banias Nature Reserve at the entrance to the Golan Heights. We stopped to photograph a spectacular waterfall on Nachal Hermon (Hermon Stream) from which the Banias gets its main water source.

We had lunch in a well known restaurant, located in an area where many Golan Druze residents sell their agricultural products (olives, cheese, fruit etc.) and went up on a lookout position to see the Hula Valley and Kiryat Shmona laid out below us. We could see the ancient Crusader fortress of Nimrod’s Castle located above us, and the site of fierce battles during both the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars. Returning to Israel proper, we hoped to see yet another water fall located on Nahal Iyun, below the entrance to Metula, Israel’s furthest town. Unfortunately, the park was already closed, so we had to be satisfied with seeing the falls (which literally cascades from a rocky cliff) from afar.

Metula is a very quaint town and very different from most other towns in Israel, It’s Challet- style houses and pension hotels give it an appearance of being somewhere else, and I can see why it is often known as “little Switzerland”. After taking some photographs of the border with Lebanon, which runs virtually along-side the town, we proceed south and climbed western ridge of Galilee mountain, to Kibbutz Misgav Am, located virtually on the border with Lebanon. Walking to the top of an observation point, we had one of the spectacular views of both Lebanon and the northern Hula Valley available in Israel. We could see cars moving on roads in the Lebanese town of Al Aldissa, which lay directly below us, as well as the Christian town of Marjayoun, off in the distance. The area seemed so peaceful it was hard to believe it was at war less than three years before.

We took what is known as the “Northern Road”, Highway 899, which runs literally along Israel’s border with Lebanon, almost to Nahariya, Israel’s northern city in the Western Galilee. On much of the road, we were often the only car, and could see the Lebanese border in many places. Again, the peacefulness of the area made it hard to believe that so much fighting and destruction from incoming Ketiusha rockets occurred there so recently. It appears that Mother Nature seems to have a way of repairing herself, even after such occurrences.

While the area is still clothed in greenery , as well as being “quiet”, from a security point of view, a trip up there is well recommended, especially if you haven’t seen this part of Beautiful Israel yourself.

Strolling along the Tel Aviv Boardwalk

For those who are not aware, Tel Aviv now has a smaller version of Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk. Located at what is still known as the Tel Aviv Port, this actual boardwalk contains a number of attractions, including popular restaurants and pubs, boutiques, and more recently a mobile unit for the Channel 24 music TV station.

The place has been exceptionally busy during the current Passover holiday, with people of all ages enjoying the Spring weather to come out to enjoy themselves, have a meal, or just hang out in front of the station booth and watch the people inside performing, as well as enjoying the live music. Those who have small kids can let them play in the large sand box on the sea side of the station, and even get an added treat by getting to see themselves on TV. A number of musical and other entertainment acts have also been performing on an outside stage, also courtesy of Channel 24.

Those who want to experience a rickshaw ride can do so with those red shirted guys whose shirts are stenciled with the words “Ask Me” boldly printed in English. Kids with bikes and skate boards also can have a blast in a section that seems specially designed for them to do various exercises on – as long as the place isn’t too crowded.

Even fishermen seem to like the place and you’ll find several of them throwing their lines out from either the boardwalk railing or from the old port jetty that is still in place from the times the place was an actual port. It might be interesting to add that what used to be old decaying warehouses for the port have now been turned into all kinds of businesses including shops, restaurants and even offices.

Parking is usually not a problem (depending on when you decide to show up) and plenty of free parking is available in the large Reading parking lot, only about a ten minute walk away. The Yarkon River, which runs by the eastern part of the port, has been made into a river walk, and worth a leisurely stroll.

The Port is in fact becoming so popular that for many things, it is even more of an “in place” than the promenade along the Tel Aviv beachfront. The rejuvenation of what was once a very seedy area, and frequented by not so pleasant people, has now become a Mecca for leisure time activities and even has a football pitch and large grassy area for various gatherings.

So, whatever strikes your fancy, there’s plenty to do at the Tel Aviv Port.

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