Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dead Sea/ Eilat

Maors mom was insisting that I had to see Eilat before I left Israel. Isrealis consider it a mini Vegas and a must see. We booked a room at Crown Plaza which was rated a 5 star hotel for a couple of days and drove from the Kryot to Eilat. You can fly but driving only takes about 5 hours and goes straight through the Dead Sea so we chose to drive.

First off, even though we left very early in the morning we were unable to go into the Dead Sea because of the wind. It was marked on all beaches as too dangerous to go in. I was incredibly disappointed but on the up side, it does leave me with something to do next time we come to Israel. Next time Im going to want to spend a weekend just at the Dead Sea with how much there is to...see.

Driving was very interesting in itself. If we hadent been on a schedual to get to the hotel I would have been on a hiking/photographing frenzy. Besides the Dead Sea we passed many interesting sites I would have liked to explore.
Jericho- Sadly, we will probably never go there because its a part of the iffy shared territory.
Masada- The remains of King Herods palace and fort.
Lots Wife- the place where Lots wife was turned to stone.
Fountain of Youth- Im pretty sure this is only for tourist purposes. I would have insisted that we stop if I hadent of seen pictures of Maor and his friends at the exact same spot holding empty water bottles at this deserted peice of desert a few weeks ago.
101- This place we did stop at. Its a hippy town 101 km from Eilat. They have games for kids, food, and a very small zoo.

We got to Eilat early so we did a little shopping and walked around on the beach.

Checking into the hotel was a process. Because we woke up so early we were ready to check in and take a nap around noon but check in wasnt until 3. So we went to the hotel and crossed our fingers that our room would be ready early. It wasnt but they said they would call us when it was ready. We killed some time by getting our tickets for the aquarium early then sat hopeful in the lobby... till 3:30.
Long story short when we asked about our room they said that it might not be ready till we started a mutiny in the lobby with all the other pissed off waiting people and were quickly issued a room to get us to go away.

To be honest we didnt do much in Eilat. We spent a morning at Coral World, were you can see tons of tropical fish and sharks then spent the rest of our time tanning. I really enjoyed myself.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


This shows just how much I love Maor. I went camping, Israel style at Yardenit on the Jordan River.
We happened to set up camp 10 minutes down river from the Yardenit Baptism site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. I didnt go see it but if I wanted to I probably could have swam there.

Israeli camping is mostly like American camping. You have tents, you build a fire, eat a lot, swim, play games, and sleep at some point.
There are a few things that are very different:

1) You set up camp wherever you want. There isnt a camp ground, you dont reserve spaces, and there is NO BATHROOM (hence why I obviously love Maor). You drive around down anything that looks like a road until you find a spot you like. We ended up driving through a palm tree farm until we found a good spot on the river that was a nice place to build the small village we did (6 tents/ 12 people) and watch families flip their canoes.

2) They dont roast marshmallows. Ive actually known this for a while and was promised if we went camping I would get to roast marshmallows even if everyone looked at me like a freak. And I did! I also introduced them to the Smore... using the only close ingredients you can get during Passover, matzah and kosher spreadable chocolate. I call it a Smur, because no one could pronounce Smore right and kept yelling "Hey, make me another smur!"

3) R.O.U.S do exist. While playing poker someone went to grab more drinks and this big thing was smushed in between two tents. We moved the table out of his way and he waddled back out into the woods.

3) Donkeys are Israels squirrels. When they smell food they come out of the woods and look at you like, "Hey, sup? Sooo... you gunna eat that?" They dont just hang around for food, they will come take things when you arent looking.
This morning I woke up to:
"HEY! DONKEY! GO! Shoo! Ahh!!!"
*sound of hoves*
"HEY!! The donkeys trying to eat the guitar!! GO!! AAAAHHHhhhhhh!!"
....10 minutes later, sound of hoves

Monday, April 18, 2011


Passover is the 8 day celebration of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt.

Last year to celebrate passover in the US Maor and I went to dinner at the Rabbis house on the first night where there was a 3 hour dinner then I spent the whole week half trying to avoid bread products, which in the US is not easy.

In Israel there is a lot of preparation before the holiday. Everyone cleans every square inch of their house the week before and goes shopping for new house items, outfits for dinner, and gifts for the hosts.

This morning Maor and I woke up early and went out to buy flowers for his aunt who was hosting the passover dinner. Usually we would drive down town but the roads were a mess. People park wherever they want to get where they are going and everyone was out buying last minute things. Walking to the store I noticed several small fires going on the sidewalk. Very religious people will take any bead left over in their house on the first day of passover and burn it. In the super markets any isles containing bread products or products that arent kosher for passover are completely blocked off by plastic. There is no way for me to cheat now.

Passover dinner is a lot like Thanksgiving... if you have to read the whole story of how the pilgrims came to the US and met the Indians first before you could eat anything. Last year at the Rabbis house the whole dinner took 3 hours because the actually eating goes in between parts of the story.
This year at Maors aunts house the dinner took about an hour. People got impatient waiting for food so as far as I could translate everyone pretty much decided they knew the story well enough and got down to eating.

One part of the dinner I didnt get to see last year was Afikoman because its for children. The leader of the dinner takes a piece of matzo and cuts it into a weird shape then hides it when the kids arent paying attention. After dinner the kids have to go find it and the first one that does gets a prize.
Im not sure what the prize was but it took the kids a good hour to find the afikoman because someone hid it in the bushes outside.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Caesarea was first built in 22 BCE by Herod, a Roman as a deep sea harbor. It use to be the largest deep sea harbor. It had tons of stores, baths, a massive roman temple, ampathearter and hippodrome which is a massive gaming area.

Over a very long period of time the harbor was destroyed by earthquakes, rebuilt, taken over and modified, destroyed again and taken over again, and then just flat out deserted after one last earthquake took out the city.

Now its been turned into a national park. It cost about $10 per person to get in during the day. There are a few restaurants and little overpriced shops. During the summer they also have diving tours where you can see ruins from the harbor.

The excavations of the baths are incredible. Marble floors were just built over so you can still see the colors and detail in most of the areas. In one part something is written in the mosaic floor. I cant read it but Im sure it says something like "No running in the baths."

Half of the theater is still standing. Its been rebuilt and still hosts shows. Maor says the top row goes for 400 shekles which is close to $150.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


We finally went to Jerusalem!

The drive from Haifa to Jerusalem is about an hour and a half. Maor says it use to take three hours before they built a highway that made it a straight shot instead of driving from town to town to get there.

We parked at the Jaffa gate. There are eight gates to the old city. No matter were you park you pretty much have to go through a ton of bazaar type streets and endure people trying to get you to buy things to get to where you want to go. We bought a few rosaries, a jewelry box, post cards, and Maor got himself a bracelet.

From the Jaffa gate you can get to the dome of the rock or swing to the right and go to the Western Wall. We didnt go to the dome because Jewish people really arent welcome there.
To get in to see the Western Wall you have to go through security (I wouldnt recommend buying any souvenir knives before you go there because as one British guy found out, they wont let you keep it even if you did just spend $200 on it). We watched a little of a mass Bat Mitzvahs then went up to the wall. When you are facing the wall men are on the left and women are on the right. There is a huge size difference between the mens side and the womens side. I think they should have made it equal because the womens side seemed a little crowded when we were there and it was jam packed later in the day while the men could have spun around in circles with their arms out and never hit anyone.
I did put a wish in the wall, which wasnt easy because just about every crack is filled with paper. I also figured out very quickly that if you want to look like you know what your doing dont just turn around and walk away from the wall, walk backwards till you get back to the ramp and try not to run into anyone.

We wanted to go straight from the wall to the under ground tour but the only openings they had were a Hebrew tour at 4 and English at 6 so we bought tickets for the Hebrew tour and went to go kill some time by looking around.

I really wanted to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher so we headed out in kind of the right direction, asked for directions, were given very good directions, then were "lead there" by some kid who came up to us and said "I'll show you." even though we said we didnt want him to show us he proceeded to walk with us saying he was going that way anyway then ask for money for "being helpful". I wanted to kick the kid. People pull the same thing in Egypt all the time and get really insulted when you get fed up with it and say "Get the hell away from me!"
Anyway, the church is very interesting. When you walk in you see the stone that they prepared Jesus for burial on, then if you walk around counter clockwise like we did you see the crucification site (the most lavishly decorated part of the church) on the second level and on the first level is the crack in the stone which is supposed to be from when they put him up on the cross, then you can go downstairs to the Church of St. Helena where Helena found the original cross, then back upstairs there is area that looks like someone tried to set on fire (actually it looks that way because the Romans did set it on fire at one point) that is supposed to be where Jesus was in prison, then you get to the tomb. You can go in the tomb but you dont want to go in if your claustrophobic, if you arent sure you will figure it out really quickly. There are two tinny rooms inside. The first one has part of the stone that was blocking the burial site when Jesus rose again and the second even smaller room has the tomb. Its really pretty but you have to look quick because there is a very angry priest that will try to stuff you in like sardines and hurry you along. If you want to pray practice ahead of time...maybe write it down like an Oscar speech and read it like the band is playing you off.

After we walked around a bit and took pictures. Maor and I killed time in the archeological site by the western wall where you can see the different levels of excavations for the first and second temple. You can see where there use to be shops, purifying baths, and main streets.

The last thing we did was the tour of the western wall under the city. Very cool! They give you a nice visual history about King David buying the land, building the first temple, destruction of the first temple, exile, building the second temple, destruction of the second temple (where the Romans did a really REALLY good job of taring everything apart until they got to the western wall where they apparently got tired and said "aww the heck with it, good enough, lets go"), exile, and then Mohammed coming in, and today. Then you move on to where you get a really nice view of Western wall under the city and you can see where the Romans tried to build a spa. You get to walk all along the wall under the city (you cant be claustrophobic here either)where you can see the western gate which is sealed but its the closest any Jewish person is going to get to the Holy of Holies which is the place that Ark of the Covenant was held in the first temple. When they show you a model during the beginning of the tour you can see the Holy of Holies isnt even close to the wall but I guess its the best they can do right now.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Haifa seems to be a difficult place to visit. Nothing is actually open when its posted it will be.

Today we went to Baha'l Shrine & Gardens. There are supposed to be hourly tours and open self guided tour times but none of that seemed to be happening so we found one open gate where we were able to look around the top two levels of the gardens. Its a great view. Its even better if your patient and you wait between tour buses to go in. I was a little disappointed that we couldnt go down to the dome because my handy dandy guide book says the dome has the tomb of the Bab which is an awesome sight to see. According to Maors mom, no one gets to go in anymore because too many kids were destroying the place when they went to visit. I could see that being true because the one security guard was having a heck of a time chasing around little kids in just two levels trying to get them to keep off the grass.
We got a lot of good pictures and were yelled at by security for kissing. I re-read the rules on the way out and didnt see anything about kissing. I think he made it up.

We also went to Stella Maris which is a collection of buildings with a really nice view. There is a light house with what use to be a church attached but is now an Israeli base. Across the street from the light house is another church which has the site believed to be the cave that Elijah hid in.

When we were walking back to the car I noticed an overgrown path next to the lighthouse/church/army base so I started walking down it, cause Im nosy, and found a really nice viewpoint and another chapel down the path. The walk to the point where you notice there is something to see isnt that long...unless you have someone complaining behind you. For example, this was our conversation all the way down the path-
Maor- "Where are you going?"
Me- "I want to see whats over there."
Maor- "There isnt anything over there."
"Yes there is. There is a well worn overgrown path here... that means something is there."
"Your too close to the base. The army will get you!"
"Thats ok. Im American, I can play dumb."
"That sign says 'Watch out for mines'!"
"No it doesnt."
"I saw a snake!"
"No you didnt."
"Arent you supposed to take me camping this weekend you sissy?!"
Then we get to the nice view and Maor yells, "Ohhh...EMMA! DIANE FOUND SOMETHING NEW!"

 The chapel use to be a windmill but was converted in the 60s. Now its closed but I took a picture of the inside by sticking my the camera in a hole in the door. It looks like it use to be cute. It would be a nice place to have weddings. The view is much better there away from all the traffic.

Hammat Gader

Friday night we packed up the car and headed for Hammat Gader around 4pm. Its located around Tiberias right on the boarder of Syria.
Its only about an hour and a half away from where we are but it took us a bit longer because Maor got confused with some of the roads that have been built.  His sister and mom tried to back seat drive and were both certain  and loud about their very different directions being right. Besides the screaming I really enjoyed driving there. Israels countryside is beautiful.

I should have read about it in the book my dad gave me before we went. Hammat Gader is a natural hot spring that has been turned into a resort/spa. I noticed a lot of old buildings around and in it that have pretty much gone into horrendous disrepair but looked like they were at one point pretty impressive. The guide book says that most of the older buildings are left over from the Roman spa city built in the 3rd century A.D. I knew I should have taken a picture of them but they are being used as equipment storage so I felt a little silly pulling out my camera in front of Maors family. Another building I noticed was covered in graffiti and looked like it was being used as a dumping ground, the book says that is an old mosque.

There are three areas to the hot springs. There is an outside where the water is around 90, an attached area under a giant gazebo where they have massage jets everywhere where the water is around 100-115, and a separate indoor area where the water is 120. We didnt go to the indoor one because we felt we were cooking enough outside.

I had a lot of fun with Maors family. There were 16 of us all together. Everyone brought something to eat so we have quite the buffet going. We would go in the water for 10 to 15 minutes then come out to have chicken, salads, cake, coffee, ect. We left around 10pm. Maors mom was worried that I had been bored because 90% of the conversations were in Hebrew. She didnt have to worry. I really enjoyed myself and Im getting a lot better at understanding Hebrew, even if I still cant say much.