I met with Efrat and Jeff in Paris Wednesday morning (14 June) and we all flew together to Tel Aviv. We were sitting seperately but a nice gentleman, probably not wanting to cope with Efrat and I talking over rows for the whole flight, moved so we could sit together. We caught up and talked about what we would be doing, while enjoying the views below of the French Alps and the Mediteranean. We arrived in Tel Aviv, one of the most beautiful and immaculate airports I have ever seen, and were met by Yoav, Efrat's uncle and her brother Dan. We stayed most of the week with family in Rishon le-Zion, not far outside of Tel Aviv. That evening we went to dinner with Dan and Ophir at Nafi's and I got my first taste of many of hummus and ful and the best pita bread I have ever had. Later we met up with Whitney, Dan's fiance, who had been teaching that evening while were at dinner.
We began sightseeing early Thursday morning. Yoav took us to Caesarea, Daliat (a Druze Village), Akko, and the Sea of Galilee all in Northern Israel. It was a long day with a lot packed in but we were able to see most of the places we had hoped to in the North. There is so much history to all of the places we saw, I am not going to go into much detail about it. I absorbed so much but fear I wouldn't be able to present all that I learned adequately, so I will mostly just share pictures from our time there.
Jeff, Efrat and I in front of the Roman aqueduct in Caesarea dating back to around 22-10BC.
Statue of Elijah (the Prophet) at Muhraqa Monastery. We stopped here briefly for a look at the views.
Views from the monastery.
The restaurant where we had lunch along the market shops in Daliat, one of the Druze villages. I managed to buy my fill of Hebron glass here, with a lot of bargaining help from Yoav.
Ruins and the Mediterrean Sea at the coast in Akko.
One of the many ferrel cats roaming about the cities throughout Israel. I was told it is considered somewhat strange to keep cats as inside pets, but they are seen everywhere roaming the streets, more like wild animals.
Side Street in Akko.
The Templars Tunnels in Akko. These were a little disappointing in that you just walk straight through for about five minutes and then you are back out. There is futher exploration planned, though and when you remind yourself that they were part of development and construction built by the Templars in the 12th Century it becomes pretty impressive.
Along the edge of the city in Akko.
The food market in Akko. I loved the stands with various herbs, spices and nuts, colorfully arranged.
Some of these poor fish were still alive and flapping.
The Sea of Galilee towards the top of the descent.
Sea of Galilee
Thursday night we freshened up from the long day and went to the Carmel Winery in Rishon le-Zion. They have a meal with all you can drink wine and live entertainment that mostly consists of traditional style folk/dance music. Here is the group at the winery, before the loads of food and wine was brought out.
Once the music got going and the wine was flowing, everyone was soon dancing and singing along.
Yoav clapped and sang along with the music.
Meanwhile, as would be typical of most parties in my family, the kids crashed, regardless of the noise, while the adults continued to party. These kids weren't with our group, though.
Friday we took it easy and had lunch and did a little shopping in town (Rishon). Friday evening we went to Yoav's to have the Shabbat meal with his family. I felt priveledged to be able to be present for their weekly family traditions and enjoy in the amazing meal. I definitely never went hungry in Israel and there was always plenty for my vegetarian appetite. After spending time with the family, Efrat's cousin Ophir took us bowling. Efrat and I were both wearing sandals so we wore bowling shoes with no socks- lovely. Here is Ophir attempting to beat us all in bowling. They were all stuggling to keep up with me, though. ;-)
Saturday we spent the day with family, visiting first with Shula, Efrat's Aunt and her sons (Efrat's cousins). In the afternoon we spent some time with another uncle and family and then headed to Jerusalem to meet up with Shoshana Efrat's mom.
Approaching Jerusalem by sunset. We tried to get a couple pics but it was difficult by car. It was so beautiful the way the setting sun was hitting the various houses and building along the hills as we came into the city. We met with Shoshana and went with her tour group to dinner. The meal itself was very good but the service was a mess and it was a bit stressful to be surrounded by upper-middle class American tourists throughout the entire restaurant.
A view of Jerusalem from the hotel at sunrise.
After a not so good night's rest on the floor of the hotel room, Efrat and Jeff do their best to look chipper as we loaded up on the tour bus and joined Shoshana's tour group for the day. Most of the day was spent in the Old City of Jerusalem. Again, I learned so much and had so much history put forth that I could never repeat it all adequately.
The view of the Old City and surround from Mt. of Olives.
One of the original main streets from Roman Era.
These guys were on a tour as well. I think they are police rather than army. They are looking at a recreation of a Byzantine Era mosaic map of the Old City, Jerusalem.
Near the market in the Old City, there were numerous men relaxing with their narghiles (hookahs).
While the tour group shopped the market, we took a little rest in the shade.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
The architechture and art inside was impressive. The ceiling and many of the murals were all done in mosaic tile.
Where Jesus was believed to be buried by some Christians. There is a little room in this shrine you can go into but we did not do that. There were quite a few people for whom it was quite a holy experience which made me feel like a little uncomfortable at times, like a spectator.
The Western Wall; the portion that most people go to for prayer.
We went into the tunnel systems as well where the original Western wall continues (It dates back about 1900 years). Along the small holes in the rock there are various prayers that people leave.
This was a wedding occuring just outside the wall.
We got a taxi back to Rishon Sunday night and had some pizza before crashing from the long day. Monday morning we got a rental car and drove out through the Negrev (desert) and to the Dead Sea.
We stopped for a picture at Sea Level, before heading down to the Dead Sea. The sign on the right indicates this spot is at sea level, although it's hard to see.
The Dead Sea is below and the mountains in the hazy background are Jordan.
Yes, you really do float. And don't get it in your eyes!!!
There were camel crossing signs along the road driving through the Negrev.
Efrat spotted some camels and stopped so I could get a few pics.
Monday night we went to Yaffo, which is a beautiful town near Tel Aviv. It has been used as a significant port for over 4,000 years, so there are lots of ecavations sites throughout the town. Dinner was lovely and afterwards we strolled through the town a bit. Most shops and things were closed, but it was almost nicer to walk the streets while they were so quiet.
During dinner we could here the Muslim Call to Prayer. That is one of the towers used to the left and to the right is the lights of the Tel Aviv skyline.
The restuarant, Aladin from the outside.
Tuesday we got ready and went to the bris of Yoav's grandson. The ceremony occurs 8 days after the baby's birth and he is named at the ceremony. The hall were it was held was beautifully landscaped and is also a location for many weddings and other ceremonies. The environment was like a typical wedding reception, lots of food and the kids running around and dancing on the stage. The amount of food was insane. We arrived to a buffet of various appetizer type foods, followed by a course of fish, followed by a main course which was steak or chicken (sweet potato ravioli for me) and potatoes and then dessert and coffee). The ceremony was after the meal. The picture above is the only picture I took at the bris. I wanted to observe rather than have a camera plastered to my face during the ceremony. I got a little emotional standing there with Efrat and Jeff and all of Efrat's family, feeling incredibly priviledged that they all had made me feel so included, like part of their family. I did not see any of the actual circumcision of the child, just his face, and I am glad for that. :-) Afterwards Efrat's uncle Yakkov gave me a sort of blessing and told me I'll be married in a year. I told him I've still got to meet the guy first! Afterward's there were lots of emotional goodbyes and I even started crying a little. In the evening we had a few family visitors over to Dan and Whitney's and had a nice, relaxed last night. Yoav took us to the airport very early in the morning and I again got a little teary saying goodbye to him and to Efrat and Jeff. I am so glad I was able to join them for this trip- it was an unique experience that can never be duplicated. But, I hope at some point I will get to go to Israel again (and more of that area of the world) to have more experiences like it.
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