An exciting Passover jaunt

I had been wanting to visit the Park Hamaayanot for some time, ever since I saw some photos of it online. Despite it being Passover week after a year of lockdown, and knowing the roads would be packed, we nevertheless decided to brave it and hop up to take a look, seeing how glorious the weather is right now.

Pleaes note that the same entrance is for Gan Guru, a sort of Australian style animal theme park, and for Gan Hashlosha. IF you only want to visit Park haMaaayanot you take the right parking lot.

As we are early risers we made it to the park by 9.30, and saw that there were already quite a lot of people but it was not dire. Also, after grabbing a map and heading off to the first spring, we found that many people just descend on the park to picnic right near the entrance; the further in we got, the less crowded it became. The springs are quite spaced out, and you can hire a golf cart or bicycle to get around (if you don’t mind standing in line for an hour or so) but the walk between the springs for us was actually the highlight of the whole experience. The sun was shining not too strongly, the air was fresh, and the colours really stunning. At each spring we saw groups of families picnicking, but in between we largely had the place to ourselves. At some points you walk along the river bank, and at others along fields. There are also parts of the trail designated “wet trails” where if you want you can walk in the water. The water is at a constant 24C so you can bathe here all year round. It all looked clean and lovely.

There are designated swimming areas, and others where you are not supposed to swim, but we saw people swimming all over. Again there are several different sites to choose from- we saw Ein Shokek and some other points on the river, but we didn’t go as far as Ein Muda, which also has a swimming place.

We also observed families of ducks, lots of birds and fish in the water. We decided not to visit all the springs, as it was getting warm, and the park was getting crowded, and we wanted to include the Bet Shean National Park ( which I had already made reservations for). So after a couple of hours we skipped the furthest spring Ein Muda and headed back to our car. This was just as well, as the parking lot was swiftly turning into a jungle. Getting out took a whole lot longer than getting in, and included a few fairly hairy almost- collisions. Fortunately we made it out and proceeded on to Bet Shean, only a 10 minute drive away.

Having the National Parks Matmon pass has been such a blessing. Not only do we get free entrance into all the parks, we also get a reduction on Magnum ice cream in the shop!

The cafe shop of the Bet Shean park has a lovely shady terrace with a fantastic view of the whole site.

This magnificent archeological site, historically known as Scythopolis, was the leading city of the Decapolis, a league of pagan cities. It was of course settled a long time before the Romans even from the neolithic period, and was subsequently inhabited by Byzantines, Greeks (there are some Greek inscriptions in some of the flagstones), the Egyptians and the Hasmoneans (and pretty much everybody!) . It has a huge amphitheatre, several bath houses with mosaics and public latrines, the main Palladius street and a vast array of houses, showing us how sophisticated and extensive the Roman city was.The current amphitheatre is being restored and is used for outdoor performances.

Amphitheatre

Since it was now after midday, and getting rather hot (Bet Shean valley is known to be one of the warmer places in the country) , we gave a miss to the ascent the Bet Shean Tel,with its copious steps, and decided to head home to beat the crowds. We did this in spectacular manner. Presumably as the main highways were all thronged with holidaymakers, our Waze navigator sent us through the backroads of the West bank area of Samaria. We wondered at the beautiful rolling green hills which we had never seen before. There were no villages or settlements, only a few Beduin encampments and lots of goats and sheep. The view was wonderful and relaxing. Then hubby said we only had enough gas for another 25 km or so. We started looking for a gas station (to no avail) . Google maps informed me that the nearest one was at the entrance to the West Bank town of Ariel (11 km away according to the map). We missed the turning (of course) .After another 2km we made a U turn and arrived at said station. All’s well that ends well.

An explosion of colour

This week’s walk was very different from our previous hikes in nature. We finally made it into the city- Tel Aviv, which we have not frequented for over a year. It is now opening up and as we are double vaxxed we decided to head off to do a self-guided graffiti tour of the Florentin neighbourhood, squeezed between hip, gentrified Neve Zedek and multicultural picturesque Yaffo. Florentin is famous for grunge, garages and carpentry. It is inhabited by many young people, and is well known as the graffiti hub of Tel Aviv. So we signed up for a tour which one can follow on a mobile phone, and comes with maps, audio and video explanations, and walking directions. You can do it at your own pace and you only need one for your group. It was great, as it took us to places that we had never heard of, and would have had difficulty finding alone.

We started off at a park called the Tractor Park,which I had never heard of before. Here we sat on a bench and heard an introductory video about what graffiti is, and what is the difference between graffiti and street art. We were also reminded that as graffiti is dynamic and changing, it was possible that we would find different paintings in some locations. I was amazed not just by the sheer quantity of the paintings, but also the quality and variety of them. As a friend remarked, it’s like being in a free outdoor gallery. It is hard to choose which paintings to show with you ,as there were so many wonderful ones.

Some places had recurring names of artists, which we started to identify. One artist incorporates braille in her paintings, stating that the blind cannot see the paintings, and the seeing cannot mostly read the braille…

Braille above the graffiti

Some areas had more poems and words incorporated into the painting, and some were more visual . At one square, we came to a huge wall painting reminiscent of San Francisco in the 1960s, complete with flower painted cars, and people lounging around listening to music next to a fountain. There were other places where the synagogue had wall paintings with stars of David blended into the works.

We finished off our tour with a meal in a Vietnamese restaurant called Kanu, right next to the wall of the largest wall painting by an artist called Dede and his partner. This work is made of recycled bits of lumber from furniture and is dedicated to women murdered during 2020. From there it was a short walk back our beloved beach promenade, for a quick look at the sea before we headed home. I would happily do another of these self guided tours. WE saw people in groups doing a regular guided tour, and of course the advantage of our tour was that we could stop wherever we wanted and take our time to look at the paintings. You can also do the tour several times during the 14 days it is available, if you like. The company has similar tours in other locations, which I would like to check out. So stay tuned for more walking adventures…

Huge wall art by Dede and Nitzan Mintz, in memory of women murdered during 2020

No crocodiles- only turtles

This trip was to another national park on the coast North of Netanya, known as Nahal Taninim, or Crocodile stream. There is indeed a stream there, and a system of waterways dating from the Roman and Byzantine period, but disappointingly, no sight of any crocodiles. Wikipedia insists that there were indeed crocs there until the beginning of the 20th Century, adding helpfully that “The last crocodile was hunted in 1912, and is part of a German taxidermic collection currently on display at the natural history museum of the Tel Aviv University.. So there we are. The aqueduct was used to ferry water into the ancient city of Caesarea nearby. Anyway it is a very pleasant place for a strolll and a sandwich. You can walk just around the area of the dam. and even walk along the aqueduct, or you can follow the trail along the river itself. WE did this part way, but abandoned it before reaching the beach as it was rather muddy. There are lots of seabirds circling overhead and the place is a very pleasant day trip.

The Aqueduct

It’s very interesting to see the highly developed hydrotechnology they had so many centuries ago, which looks like it would function just fine today. The site is not incredibly large but very peaceful, and easy to walk around. If you have time you can nip down to the nearby beach at Jisr a Zarqr. Stay tuned for more adventures…

Nahal Ayun- four waterfalls for the price of one

After the rains up north, we were anxious to get going and see the northern waterfalls filled up. We picked Nahal Ayun, which is as far north as you can get without going into Lebanon. The site has two entrances, one a bit south of the northenmost town in Israel, Metulla, and a second entrance to the park , right inside the town. We started with the lower entrance, which has a very short climb up to the first waterfall, the Tanur.

Tanur

From there we were going to continue on up The sign said it was 2,000m to the top, but we met people coming down, who confirmed my original plan. The path right up to the top is apparently quite steep and with no waterfalls all the way up. They suggested (as I had originally thought) driving up to the second entrance and then heading down to the other waterfalls from there. So we went back to the car and drove five minutes into Metulla. Metulla is a very nice town, which has the snowy Hermon mountain behind it and lots of lovely flowers and fields around. It would make a fantastic base for exploring the Golan if you felt inclined to stay over. There are plenty pretty guest houses and air bnbs, if you fancy a spot of skiiing.

Snow on the Hermon

From the top entrance to the site we came first to the Ayun waterfall, which was nice but not overly impressive. We then continued down the trail to the next one, which in my view was the most impressive of the falls, the Tachana, or mill. After you pass it you see the disused mill after which it is named. The path is easy and well trodden and the view is outstanding.

As you continue on your way you pass lots of wild flowers and the air is just gorgeous. The final fall is called Eshed and it is very impressive but you have to kind of lean over a bar to see it, and so it’s a bit scary.

Here is the Tachana on the left and the Eshed on the right.

The whole walk is pretty easy and relaxing, if you do it this way, not climbing up to the top and then back down. Apparently there is supposed to be a shuttle that can ferry you between the upper and lower car parks, but in Corona times, it isn’t running. Of course if you were in a party of people with two cars you could easily leave one in each car park. The whole distance is really not that far, so maybe if you are fit you won’t mind starting at the bottom and climbing up and then back down again. In some parts of the trail you just walk along the river bank , which is really relaxing and pleasant. I feel so lucky that we can hike in the middle of winter and enjoy the sunshine. I think we will try and get some more hikes in before it gets too hot. On returning to the car and eating our sandwiches in the parking lot we drove ten minutes to the Dan river fish shop to get our favourite pink trout. We had an insulated box to pop them in, to keep them fresh till we got home. We then drove about 30 minutes through stunning scenery to meet my cousin and his wife, who live in the Golan town of Katzrin, for a most welcome cup of tea in their beautiful garden, and thence homeward. A lovely day indeed.

Fantastic sunset on the way home

Next hike will be posted very soon…. stay tuned, hikers!

It’s red down south!

I had previously heard ( before this strange epidemic) about the wonderful blossoming of the red anemones in the south of the country known locally as Adom Darom ( Red in the South) . Since we have never gone to see it before, and have just come out of lockdown ( 8th February) we thought we would check it out. I came across several possible locations, all around what is locally known as the Gaza envelope, a part of the country which for obvious reasons I have never visited before. We picked a place called Shokeda Forest,which turned out to be wondrously beautiful and green after the rains, and the trip was quite an eye opener. We finished off the day with a gorgeous sunset on the beach at Palmachim, right next to the Kibbutz,followed by home made scones and rhubarb jam at our son’s house. A perfect day indeed.

Obligatory pose with anemones

And so to Shokeda , about 90 minutes drive from home in the Sharon. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the road open, it being a Thursday after the rush hour. We were accompanied by our faithful sandwiches and apples. On arriving at the small road leading in to the forest we were greeted by the chimes of two ice cream vans, a fact I stored in my memory for later. The forest was full of people but not so crowded that you could not get away and find serenity. The further we walked the fewer people we saw, just an occasional group of walkers of all ages or a lone runner. There were trails marked out for runners taking part in the Adom Darom activities. The red flowers were scattered everywhere and the trail in the forest was pleasant. We even saw a flock of sheep grazing.

After some time we decided to turn back as we had no clue if it was a circular route or not. So we retraced our steps to the car, got stuck into our sandwiches and finished off with the ice cream from the truck. After relaxing on our folding chairs under a tree for a while we set off for the beach at Palmachim so as to arrive before sunset (it being winter this would be at 17.25) On the way we saw the concrete shelters next to bus stops built to protect people from rocket attacks from Gaza.

Palmachim belongs to the parks authority so we didn’t have to pay to enter, and the car park gave us a generous reduction because of our Pass, so we were happy. The beach, despite this being winter, was quite full of people, some even braving the water, and loads of pro photographers set up to catch the sunset.

So admittedly we did get stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on the way back but all in all it really was a fabulous day. We shall see how the weather holds out, as we still have lots of hiking destinations to check out. Stay tuned!

“To the lonely sea and sky”

My late father used to love that poem “I must go down to the sea again” so I shall dedicate this to him. This trip started out a little weirdly but soon sorted itself out and became wonderful fairly quickly. I shall explain. I had booked slots at the Habonim Dor National Park ,as we had been there before some months ago, but as we only arrived after 2pm that had left us only two hours before sunset and we decided to drive on and catch sunset over the sea and leave this park for another time. So this was the other time, where we would hike the length of the coast and see all kinds of wonders .However when I punched Dor National Park into our Waze, we were directed to Tel Dor National Park , which confusingly is a different park . First we drove around all kinds of bumpy muddy trails which looked all wrong and then came to an unmanned park entrance which had a national parks sign but nobody checking passes or tickets. Odd, we thought. Maybe this is a new entrance that has not been opened yet, we thought. There was a nice new building with a shop and toilets, all locked up. Okay we thought , this is not where we were meant to be, but hey, it’s on the beach, we can walk, who cares.

So we approached the beach and found a red trail marked as per instructions .We walked a little way northwards, and then back southwards, and found lots of really gorgeous views, deserted clean beaches and then came upon a lovely paved way for wheelchairs, that ran parallel with the beach allowing descent to the beach at different points along the way and glimpses of all manner of fantastic rock formations.

The path then led up a hill giving us a breathtaking view of the remains of Tel Dor historical site, the ancient royal city of Dora, apparently inhabited by Canaanites, Sea Peoples, Israelites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans .The view was quite stunning.

After some time the path swerved down to the beach and led us through the back of a kibbutz and then back to the beach again. We came upon a very sheltered cove with a few surfers, opposite the Nachsholim hotel. This being December there was no lifeguard, but the beach was extremely inviting.

At this point we sat down to eat a sandwich and I got a message that friends who live nearby at Zichron Yaakov were coming to meet us, so we headed back the same way we had come, to the car park which apparently is the car park of Nachsholim cemetery. The beach walk continues on both northwards (the blue cave) and southwards ( Dor beach and Maagan Michael) , and we will definitely be back to explore further in future. But before we headed home, our friends took us to the fishponds nearby where they said they had previously seen flamingos, so we went to see if there were any. There were, but it was hard to get close to photograph them. This is the best I could do.

This really is a stunning part of the country and we are really fortunate that it is an hour’s drive from our home. Today is V (Covid vaccine day) so I am hoping that in the near future we can travel perhaps back to Tel Aviv and museum outings and dare I say it, even farther afield. Wish me luck!

Slip slidin’ away in the Jerusalem Hills

In this hike I nearly killed my husband. Not intentionally you understand. But we did get a bit more of an adventure than we had bargained for. We set out for Nahal Katlav, a hike near Bet Shemesh near the Jerusalem Hills, a circular hike of moderate difficulty, supposedly around 7km in length.No problem, we walked over 21km a day sometimes in Japan, easy peasy we thought. The trail starts next to the Bar Bakfar restaurant just near Bet Shemesh. As we parked we were worried that there were so many people in the car park it would be crowded. But it turns out this is the starting point for a number of trails, including some really easy ones for kids around American Independence Park . As soon as we got on our black marked trail we saw few people. All went well at first, a reasonably easy descent towards the wadi, slightly muddy and slippery in places, but we took it slowly. A red marked trail branched off to our left, but my instructions said to continue following the black path along the side of the valley. The views were spectacular, even though occasionally the path was rather narrow and the drop too close to me for comfort. All around were lots of wooded slopes, pine, oak and olive, and yes also the smooth red arbutus (Katlav) that gives the valley its name.

After about an hour or so we met up with the blue trail, as instructed. Here things got a little complicated. The trail got narrower and narrower, and in some places we had to scramble up and down rocks, which we did with the aid of our bottoms. WE got muddy. No matter. But then… at one point we scrambled up an almost vertical rock face, and … the trail markers disappeared. WE could not see where we were meant to continue! Straight on there seemed to be no path at all. On our right a sheer drop into the wadi. On our left a rock face. WE climbed gingerly up it but could see no path whatsoever. There was nothing for it but to go back. Having gone back a couple of metres, we did find a blue path leading down still further. But at this point we had a feeling that this was all taking longer than it should (our pace not being that of spring chickens) so we decided to go back the way we had come. We had been walking for more than two hours, meaning going back was probably going to take another two hours, and this being winter, it gets dark before 5pm.

So we retraced our steps, by which time my knee was aching. But the view was stunning, we were out in the fresh air, and no people in sight. We made it back to the car totally exhausted and very muddy. An exhilarating experience. We shall go back and do the other end of the trail another time.

Down to the desert

On the way to En Avdat

Threatened again with yet another lockdown before Hanuka and it being our wedding anniversary and both of our birthdays round about now,we decided to spend a couple of days down in the area of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel’s modest answer to the Grand Canyon. Having persuaded my better half that it could not be done in a day and we would have to spend a night, I discovered that all the decent accommodation required TWO nights. By “decent” I mean not in a tent with no proper electricity or proper bathroom facilities, something I am not prepared to do at my age.

Our first destination was Ein Avdat, a canyon just south of Sde Boker, in the Negev. The canyon sits just under the ruins of the ancient Nabatean city of Avdat, and the wadi is apparently the largest dry riverbed in the Negev. As you walk along the canyon you come to a series of waterfalls and pools which make a striking contrast to the surrounding desert rocks. There are basically two possible trails here, one very short and easy and one a long and demanding hike. Guess what, we did the short easy one. But it was indeed very beautiful and photogenic.

From Ein Avdat we continued on down Road 90 into Mitzpe Ramon but passed the turning into the town to cross down into the floor of the huge crater, 14 km wide, and 40 km long. The views from the car on the winding road were stunning but there were few places to stop and take photos, and when we saw such a place it was usually after we had just passed by. Once you have driven through the hairpin bends of Maale Haatzmaut you come to a number of interesting sites where you can stop and admire the view of the canyon. The first we saw was called the Coloured Sand park (pretty self explanatory) , a short walk around it and you see the most wonderful views of the canyon, hard to photograph except with Panoramic mode. The site is actually a restored mining site now preserved. From here you can either hike or drive to the next spot, called Minsara (signposted “Carpentry” in English) where you can climb up a wooden walkway and see an interesting rock formation, which has produced some strange geometric shapes, hexagonal stones which are so regular as to appear man made.

As it was getting colder, and sunset is ridiculously early now (16.45!) we decided to drive back into Mitzpe Ramon and find a good place to watch the sunset before hitting our accommodation. There was a sort of balcony just on the edge of town near the visitors’ centre that looked good but apparently doesn’t face the right direction for sunset. We popped into the centre and asked the nice lady there where would be the best place to catch a good desert sunset. She suggested a place called Har Gamal ( Camel Hill) , gave us a map and told us how to get there. So we drove exactly 7 minutes (Mitzpe is a very small place) and found said hill and got ourselves a lovely sunset. We got out our thermos of tea and our beach chairs and enjoyed the show.

Be advised that when the sun sets in the desert the temperature suddenly plummets dramatically. So during the day it can be 22C and suddenly it will be around 9C and you quickly put on your sweater and coat. Since all the coffee bars and restaurants are currently closed, we headed for our accommodation, which proved to be quite nice. It had a nice balcony which we decided would do just as well as Camel Hill for the following day’s sunset.

Our Accommodation (with kitchen and balcony)

The next day I had a surprise for D, as I had reserved a two hour jeep tour on a sort of buggy called a “razor”. The tour was self drive (meaning HE would drive ) around the top of the canyon , and hopefully we would get some good views of the area. The office where we picked up the jeep was very close to our b and b, and on the way we passed through a part of the town known as the Spice Road Quarter, which in normal times would be full of shops, galleries and restaurants but which of course now is all shutttered. I did find some good street art there though.

At the office of Ramon RZR we met the genial Daniel, our guide, (who explained what to do) and another couple, Americans from Neve Daniel. WE were to drive one after the other, no overtaking and no bravado. The buggies had all been thoroughly sterilized, and we got bandanas and goggles to protect us from the desert dust. We had a lovely tour where Daniel pointed out by walkie talkie, a few things en route that we couldn’t hear over the noise of the buggy (one was the Mitzpe Ramon Observatory) and we didn’t take photos as it was too bumpy. But at the end Daniel stopped to take our pictures and to make us lovely strong Turkish coffee . All in all , it was a lot of fun.

Next we drove to a place called Ein Saharonim, where there is a hike to another desert spring. It’s only about 10 minutes from Mitzpe and the hike is supposed to be around 7km circular route from the campsite at Khan Saharonim to Parsat Nekarot and back . However it took us longer than we thought, and we got a bit worried we would get stuck in the canyon at nightfall, so we upped our pace somewhat, the last part of the hike being a steep climb up.

The route was interesting and had we not been pressured for time we would have enjoyed it at a more leisurely pace. The route passes through narrow canyons of polished white limestone pitted with little holes.

Parsat Nekarot

When we staggered back to the car it was about 30 minutes before sunset, so we quickly picked up a pizza and ate it on our balcony with a beer as we watched another desert sunset. On the way back to our place we glimpsed some desert ibex nonchalantly wandering around in the road. They had eluded us in the desert, but apparently they hang out in town where the food is.

Our last morning would be different as we left the Negev desert and headed back up north by way of Habesor National Park and Ashdod beach promenade. I found the park a little disappointing. It seemed rather neglected, and I was happy that our National Parks Pass had allowed us to have a free visit, as it didn’t seem anything to write home about. There is a small stream running through it, picnic tables, and an old railway bridge left over by the bridge. The mosaics from the Byzantine church that were supposed to be there apparently now residing in Australia. ( something to do with the ANZAC forces who fought here. )

Ashdod has a lovely new promenade, the beach was clean and pretty deserted (no lifeguard) and made for a relaxing end to our trip. We found a restaurant selling takeaway Georgian food, which we ate while contemplating the lovely Mediterranean. I wondered at the marvel of sitting on the beach on 2nd December in brilliant sunshine. And so ended another lovely trip around our beautiful country. Stay tuned for the next one…

Ashdod Kshatot beach

Going all Crusader

This trip was supposed to be a long hike from Montfort castle down to Nahal Kziv and back again and then on to Yehiam Fortress. But I underestimated the difficulty of the hike down into the wadi and also it turned out to be an 8 or 9 km round trip. So we ended up doing only the hike down from Mitzpe Hila Car Park to Montfort and back up again. This, although only about 3 km took us an inordinately long time, but we still had time to press on to Yehiam for lunch and then catch the (early winter) sunset on the new promenade at Nahariya before we headed home. In any case there was no water in the stream so we will leave it for next time.

Montfort is really quite impressive as you suddenly glimpse it from the descending trail, as it is surrounded by lovely wooded hills and the Mediterranean sea can just be glimpsed on the horizon. They really knew where to put their castles in those days. The trail down to the castle is a bit steep and strewn with rocks, tricky for those of us with knee concerns but fine for the younguns. The path is gorgeous and with every twist and turn we see the ruins from another angle. If you do continue down toNahal Kziv you can apparently climb back up on a circular route by following the black trail. But all along the way we met fellow hikers who wanted to know how far it was and how steep the path was. So we were not the only people who hesitated whether to press on or go back up. In any case the views were just stunning and the air perfumed with pine and fig.

After a bit of clambering around on the ruins, and ascending to the top part,where you get a stunning view all around, we headed back up to the parking lot and thence to our next stop Yehiam castle, next to Kibbutz Yehiam. This is a national park so requires preregistration and payment if you don’t have a membership. It has a lovely picnic area with lots of tables where you can consume your sandwiches. The lady at the ticket booth told us there is a short video at a quarter to of each hour.

Actually Yehiam is chock full of history, because as well as being a Crusader, Ottoman castle it is also the site where battles were fought by the first pioneers who inhabited the fledgling kibbutz at the establishment of the state in 1948, 42 of whom were killed while defending the place during the War of Independence. The short video was nothing to write home about but maybe good for kids..

We then drove the 20 minutes to the city of Nahariya which boasts a splendid Tayelet or Promenade along the sea front complete with fishermen and ice cream shops, the restaurants and bars being unfortunately closed due to covid. The ice cream was great as was the sunset.

Ancient Caves and Olive trees- Bet Guvrin

Olive groves around the site

This week we visited another National Park and UNESCO Heritage site, the Caves in Bet Guvrin the ancient town of Tel Maresha, just south of Jerusalem. The last time I had been to this place was to attend a concert in the largest cave, the Bell Cave ( in the days when we still had live music concerts) when we still lived in Jerusalem, and I didn’t actually visit any of the other caves here . All I remembered was that the site was quite extensive, and the acoustics inside the cave were fantastic.

Map of the site

So we set off to visit the caves, unfortunately not getting off to our usual early start. After hitting a huge traffic jam on the way we arrived at the park (reserved online ahead of time) at after 11.00. The map we got from the ticket booth showed us the different caves spread out at the site started with Parking Lot Alef through to Heh, in other words, 5 parking lots. Since we only remembered the Bell Cave at the last parking lot we decided to start with the first lot and work through, thinking that we could always come back on another day if we didn’t see them all (since we are currently tourists in our own land.) In the end we saw pretty much the whole site except for the Amphitheatre at Parking lot Heh. WE drove from one lot to the next, although if you wanted to you could hike the whole thing, At the end of the first lot there is a path leading you to the next one, and so on. But you would need more time and stamina than we had available. Note that the whole site closes at 4pm in winter.Walking between the caves is very pleasant as you have lovely views over the whole area.

The first two caves were called the Polish and the Columbarium caves. In both you could see the niches built to house the pigeons used by the inhabitants for various purposes, from ceremonial to sources of foods. It was tricky going down some of the stairs, but everything was well lit. Columbarium is obviously because of the pigeons or doves but why Polish cave?

“During World War II, Polish soldiers from General Wladyslaw Anders’ army – which was loyal to the Polish government in exile in London – visited this cave. They carved the figure 1943 (the year of their visit) into the pillar, along with an inscription: “Warsaw, Poland” and an eagle, the symbol of the Polish army.” ( From https://www.israel-in-photos.com/bet-guvrin-national-park.html)

From here we continued on to the next parking lot and the Olive Press Cave, where we saw how the olives were pressed to extract the precious oil.

The next caves were the villa and the Maze caves. The villa is not that impressive but the Maze is crazy, like being inside an Escher drawing. The steps go up and down and twist around, and at one point there is a pool you could theoretically walk through but the water didn’t look very tempting to us. The cave is far bigger inside than I realized as we went down.

Maze cave

The last caves which were really impressive were the Sidonian and the aforementioned Bell Cave. But first we were going to stop and eat our sandwiches. However, when we reached the two Sidonian caves there was a large cavalcade of cars of a group travelling together and no place to sit. So we continued on to the Bell Cave, first having our sandwich break. The Bell Cave is massive and seems to be inhabited by a large number of birds and bats (which I could hear but not see) This cave is the largest, has limestone walls, and is the only one which is easily accessible. The hole in the roof was how the quarried rocks were removed.

We then doubled back to see the Sidonian burial Caves, one of which was unfortunately closed, but the one that was open was really impressive with wonderful paintings (restored in 1993) These were used to bury the Greek, Sidonian and Edomite inhabitants.

It was now 3.45pm and the park was closing in 15 minutes, but we had made it, and seen the whole site except for the Amphitheatre, which we shall leave for another trip.

Hope you enjoyed it, see you on our next trip……