Soaring with the Eagles

Camel shaped ridge which gives the site its name

We had been planning a spring trip up north before the summer heat arrives and all the flowers wilt. Having waited a few weeks for the rains to stop, so the paths would not be muddy, we finally made it out again up north to see the rushing water in the waterfalls, the high level of the Kinneret ( Sea of Galilee) and the abundance of wildflowers. I deliberated a little about which waterfall to visit- should we go back to the Dan, the Tanur or the Snir? But then the highest waterfall in the country beckoned- the majestic Gamla National Park, which we had never been to before.

It’s over 2 hours’ drive to get up to the park from the centre of the country, and we had meant to get an early start. However since we only left home at 8, we arrived there a little after 10.30, having decided to avoid the toll road no. 6. On arrival we were a little dismayed to see a large number of tour buses parked, due to a whole school trip of 10th graders visiting the site. But once inside we found it was easy enough to spread out and avoid the noisy throngs. The site itself boasts several interesting features. Firstly there is the Eagle lookout point, from which one can observe the various kinds of raptors – the griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture and snake eagle. These birds all nest within the park and are looked after by the park ornithologists, who protect the nesting birds and have a breeding program which protects the eggs and releases the newly hatched chicks into the wild. The observation point gives a fantastic view over the valley where the birds nest in the cliff face, and all the way down to the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret). It is an awesome location, hard to capture in my humble mobile phone.

Misty Kinneret

The next site is the ancient Second Temple period town of Gamla, and the ruins of the Christian village of Dir Keruh. There is not a lot to see here, but there is a multilingual audio guide telling the story of the ancient site in a very accessible way, aimed at kids, but quite cute.

From here you can walk to the Daliyot Stream and along the path to the actual waterfall. On the way you pass some interesting dolmens.

Dir Keruh village
Dolmen

The walk to the actually waterfall is gorgeous. There were loads of scattered wildflowers and the air was warm and balmy. It was pretty straightforward at the beginning and mostly flat, although some parts were muddy and involved finding ways around the mud puddles. Then there was a sharp descent to a bridge over the river itself and a bit of a scramble up the other side to the top of the cliff to see the height of the waterfall drop in all its 51 metre glory.

The whole walk was probably only about 4 kilometres, but we took it very slowly and enjoyed it immensely. As we came back down, there was a guy sitting near the bridge who did not want to continue up to the top of the Falls; we told him he was missing out. The sheer drop and the craggy quality of the surrounding cliffs are hard for non photographers to capture. Added bonus was glimpse of the snow capped Hermon mountains in the far distance (too hazy to photograph)

Picture does not do justice to the view

We had thought we would continue on to another waterfall, but we still had a long drive back home and were satisfied with what we had seen. We went down to the Sea of Galilee and walked a little along the shoreline, but the visibility was poor. So after eating our sandwiches and finishing off with a nice ice cream we set off for home. It was a long but very satisfying day. Stay tuned for the next trip.

Austria Part 3- the last leg

Splendid Graz

There is always a point at the beginning of the trip when you feel like it stretches endlessly ahead of you, and then you blink and it’s nearly over. This happened as we sadly left our wonderful guesthouse in Kirschberg and headed towards Graz. We would spend two nights in Graz before spending the last night near the airport, as we had an early flight. Another consideration was getting our PCR test 72 hours prior to the flight home; I figured that being in a city would make that easier to achieve.

Another consideration for staying in Graz was a chance to meet a Facebook friend. Marjorie and I somehow became friends, through mutual acquaintances in the FB English teachers’ community and I thought that having a local show us around would be fun. So we would spend our first day exploring alone and the second day we would meet her. How exciting to meet someone you have only chatted to on the Internet, right? Anyway we arrived in Graz and headed to my first address for getting the free PCR. There was nothing at the address.. nada.. zilch. Ok we’ll head for the next one- a shopping mall called Murpark. After finding the way in to the parking lot we easily found the testing centre. Sadly, though, and contrary to my information, this test was only free for locals, not for tourists. There was a free testing centre, the nice lad said, but it was somewhere downtown, where we would need to pay for parking. Never mind, we decided to get the stupid test done, despite the cost and get it over with. I really wanted to get the result back before we left Graz. The lad very kindly escorted us to the pharmacy where we had to pay, which was in another part of the mall, and waited with us to take us back again. A half hour later it was done and dusted so we headed back to the car park and thence to the wonderful NH City Graz, recommended by Marjorie. Slap bang in the centre of old Graz, and with a half price parking arrangement.

We settled in to our room and then went out to explore the town. A few minutes’ walk from the hotel we found what D was to refer to as “hot dog square”, the main Hauptplatz, with all the wonderful historic buildings and little alleyways. We found a splendid place to eat dinner too- a little Italian place where we had excellent pizza and pasta, and a fine glass of wine. I don’t remember the name but there are lots of lovely little restaurants just off the main square. It was even warm enough to sit outside.

The next morning we were going to explore some more, before meeting Marjorie for the afternoon, to get our insiders’ view of Graz. We kicked off with a splendid breakfast in the park right behind our hotel, at a splendid place called Das Promenade

Breakfast at Das Promenade

We then decided to head towards the river, which is always a good thing to do in a city. So we walked gradually in that direction, admiring the wonderful buildings all around, till we reached the river, and crossed over a bridge, past the very strange Art museum building, to the area near the Mariahilferkirche. We enjoyed the walk, the views and the whole ambiance. There was lots to see and enjoy- the area across the bridge felt more laid-back, studenty and offbeat than the downtown area near the hotel. We also enjoyed walking across the Murinsel, a strange floating structure in the middle of the river.

We found a little market square and then as we turned back to the river direction again, we saw the incredible sight of the Uhrturm, the medieval clock tower perched up above the town, and knew we had to climb up. Well, it’s only 260 steps up after all, not much to get a splendid view of the town on such a beautiful day, right?

The climb was really not bad at all, with lots of places to pause and revel in the fantastic view.

We had just reached the top when Marjorie texted to say she was on her way over. Perfect timing. We made our way back down (it seemed a lot easier than up) and in 10 minutes we were back at the hotel- D even managed to get his sought after hotdog, in “hotdog square” of course. He pronounced it “okay, but not as good as the Viennese one”.

We met up with Marjorie in the hotel lobby and she then very kindly took us to see some interesting spots around town. First we saw an inscription in Hebrew of a 14th century tombstone ( of the the merchant Rabbi Nissim bar Aharon who died in 1387 ) on the wall of the federal government building.

Tombstone

Next we saw the famous double staircase in the municipal buildings. And then we stepped inside the magnificent Graz cathedral with its baroque interior.

Then we took a lovely walk through the park, which was really lovely, stepping in to a few lovely courtyards along the way. We really enjoyed Graz very much, and can totally see why Marjorie enjoys living there.

We had a short walk around town again the next morning before departing to our extremely odd airport hotel, the Moxy which was more like a cross between a youth hostel and a “house of ill repute” than an airport hotel. I understand it was trying to cater to the young, hispter crowd. I found it loud,both in volume and decor, and the room had some kind of weird mauve disco lights on the side tables and even under the bed, with a huge screen tv, but no telephone, complimentary soap or kettle. In the morning at 6am when we departed, one lift had a “do not use sign ” on it but refused to stop going up and down, whilst the other one refused to move at all. Despite all these faults, it was 800 m walk to the airport terminal, so that was fine.I omitted to mention a slight scare we had on returning our car to the extremely patient Gabor. First we could not find how to drive into the hotel car park where we had arranged to meet him, so I texted him that we would deliver the car in the Billa supermarket parking lot. Then after we found him, D seemed to think he had lost his mobile phone, only to discover after a frantic 30 minute search (in which we BOTH failed to see it) , it was retrieved lurking under the dashboard all along. All’s well that ends well, eh?

Going home

Haifa on the Hill

View of the city from upper balcony of the Bahai Shrine

I have always had a soft spot for this city, which seems to me to combine the best of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It has plenty of history, with a downtown German colony built by the Templars to rival the Jerusalem one; it has a reputation for being a city of cultural harmony, where Jews and Arabs live peacefully side by side, and where lots of intercultural events are put on (The Haifa Film Festival, the Festival of Festivals), it’s the only Israeli city with a subway, the Carmelit, ( actually more a funicular than a proper subway) and it has wonderful views of the sea from the top of the Carmel. Haifa is a city with very distinct parts- the downtown port area, the middle level of the Carmel and the very top – Yefe Nof (literally beautiful view) , where the houses perched on the summit of the Carmel mountain look down over the bay. Bear in mind that walking around the city would involve a lot of going up and down the mountain, hence the subway, which is built on the slope. Now there are also two cable cars to make going up and down less arduous.

We had visited Haifa some years ago right after the terrible fires that raged on the Carmel, when our travel organisation Servas.org hosted a walking tour during the Christmas/Hanuka period. At this time Jews, Christians and Muslims in Haifa celebrate together and there are usually lots of activities going on all over town. It was great fun, ( especially the Santa Claus parade through Wadi Nisnas and the ensuing hummus in the local restaurants) and it left me with a feeling that we would return to the city again. As the summer heat, mostly over 35C during the day, means no hiking for the moment, a quick look at the blissfully air- conditioned Haifa Art Museum seemed in order.

We arrived before the museum opened so we went for a quick look around the Wadi Nisnas neighbourhood right behind the museum. I had remembered that it was an area where there were various art projects encouraging coexistence, and we saw something called Poetry Lane, and found various art projects on the walls.

The Art museum now open, we returned to take a look. Although rather unimpressive from the outside, the three storey building originally the site of an Anglican Girls’ school, was packed with interesting stuff, and you could use an audio guide (in several languages) from your phone by scanning a QR code. In any case the exhibits were very clearly labelled in Hebrew and English. Some rooms had works by famous artists, such as Yehiel Shemi and Yair Garbuz, and there was even one by Diego Rivera. The current exhibition commemorates 70 years of the museum’s existence, and all artists are in some way connected to Haifa and the North.

Work by Yair Garbuz
Another work I liked, although I forgot the artist’s name

After we had finished at the museum we went up to the top of the Carmel to look at the famous Bahai Shrine and its gardens. Unfortunately the gardens were closed, as it appears it is necessary to register for an organized tour, but the view from the top was as always, spectacular and there was a lovely breeze.

Interesting gate on the way to the Shrine
View of the gardens and the bay

So from the Shrine we zipped up to the top of Stella Maris, another place we love in Haifa. Stella Maris has a 19th century church and Carmelite monastery. The church can be visited ( and even boasts a cave said to be that of Elijah underneath its altar) but we skipped it this time and just strolled around outside looking at the view of the bay and Haifa port. The Madonna statue outside the monastery ,erected by the people of Chile, is rather fine. From here there is a cable car going down the mountainside to Bat Galim seaside promenade.

Madonna statue
The wild boar wandering around are no joke

We finished our fun day by driving to Hof Dor Habonim beach, which is the most amazing beach inside a Nature Reserve, which we had visited before. We were not looking for a walk this time, due to the heat, but just wanted to chill out and have a quick dip in the sea, which was extremely rough. The beach is extremely beautiful and highly recommended. In the winter we will return to walk along the shore and revisit the beauty of the coastline here.

Habonim beach

A bit of culture in Old Jaffa

view from the Promenade

After a couple of months of not going anywhere or doing any hiking, due to the extreme heat (over 30C most days) and it being school holidays in July and August, and overcrowded everywhere, I finally decided it would be a good idea to check out a nice air conditioned museum. Many museums are popular with families making them not ideal when trying to avoid people,( found this out while visiting the new Steinhardt Natural History museum in Tel Aviv a couple of years ago), but I eventually hit on the perfect solution.

We went off to Jaffa, parking in our favourite place right opposite the Etzel Museum and Neve Zedek. From there it’s only a 15 minute walk down to Old Jaffa. Walking along the Charles Clore Promenade there is a wonderful breeze from the sea, and I was only sorry I had not thought of doing this weeks ago. Anyway Jaffa turned out to be just as charming as I remembered, surely a place one can visit again and again.

After walking around a bit in the beautiful winding alleys of Old Jaffa we arrived at the Ilana Goor Museum, right next to the Uri Geller Museum (which I had never heard of before). The main entrance appeared to be closed, but a nice man let us in through the back door, which led us through the almost overwhelmingly packed gift shop. For the princely sum of 25 shekel each we were then treated to a leisurely wander through a magnificent collection of sculptures and paintings, some by Ilana Goor herself and some from her very eclectic collection of artworks, including portraits of her by other artists, and even one Henry Moore.

Suddenly the lady herself appeared from behind a private door, and we had a short chat with her. She was an elegant 85 year old, very gracious and interesting.

Young Ilana Goor Portrait

Many of the exhibits were examples of the way the artist incorporates unusual elements such as animal hides and skulls into her work. The furniture was particularly unusual. I am not sure it was all to my taste but it was certainly interesting. There are several floors and the open balconies and the roof sculpture garden with the view to the sea were especially lovely. You can sit in the roof garden and eat your sandwiches to admire the view. The artist has lovingly restored the old house (one of the oldest houses in Jaffa, which originally served as a hostel to Jewish pilgrims ) and now lives there herself. The kitchen is particularly striking, with its blend of old samovars and modern fridge and sink. I must admit to having taken far too many pictures, which makes it hard to select the ones I will post here.

The views from the window and the roof garden

After enjoying the gallery we went for a little mosey around Jaffa and rounded off the morning with a quick delicious hummus and falafel at Yfrach restaurant.

Highly recommend this area, and I am sure we will be coming back again soon.

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…

“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!

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.