The splendor of Andalusia Part 1

Plaza de Espana, Seville

This trip was something of a dream, as the places we visited had been on my mind for some time, and originally I had wanted to visit them by train from Madrid. However, with concerns of Covid 19, we opted for a road trip of 16 days, to give each place its due. We flew into Seville, with an 8 hour layover in Zurich (which became a feature not a bug, as our son would say) and spent 4 days there sans car, then picked up the car, and continued on to El Gastor, Malaga, Granada, Cordoba and finished off in Carmona. The timing worked out very well. All these destinations are well worth a few days. So onward!

Seville was charming and everything that we had hoped for, despite (or maybe because of) being invaded by hordes of Scottish and German football fans. The Scots, who at first seemed belligerent, turned out to be harmless, nay friendly! We high fived them and cheered them and it was all good fun.

Scots fan encountered on top of Las Setas

One morning we couldn’t get out of our apartment door for the never ending stream of fans passing by in the narrow street. The only way was to join and march along with them, cheering. It was a fun experience. So in Seville apart from ambling around the ancient streets we visited the impressive Alcazar with its splendid gardens, the not so impressive Triana market, the lovely promenade along the river with the Torre de Oro, Plaza de Espana and gardens, the Metropol Parasol, otherwise known as the Setas (Mushrooms), best viewed towards nightfall for a wonderful panorama over the city. We also attended the obligatory flamenco show (most enjoyable) and sampled our first amazing tapas. Our trip was off to a splendid start and the Air bnb we picked was well placed in walking distance of the Setas.

We then headed for the Santa Justa train station full of dejected Rangers fans, and picked up our car (was supposed to be a tiny Fiat 500) . The car rental people insisted we could not have that car as our luggage would not fit in the boot, and this would result in a fine from the police if stopped. Never mind, we said we will risk it. The upgrade was too expensive. When we went down to the lot to pick up the car we were presented with a massive VW. No, I said that isn’t our car. Yes it is, she said. We don’t want to pay for an upgrade, we insisted. Mismo precio (same price) she said. She phoned the office and repeated this. Okay we said. Got in said car and drove off for our next wonderful destination- El Gastor.

Now I am sure you have never heard of this one. Neither had I till I researched the area around Ronda. I knew I wanted to visit the “pueblos blancos” , the famous white towns clustered around Ronda, of which there are many. It was hard to know which one to pick as a base. Until I came across Lesley and Terry’s “Casa de las Flores“. That had to be the one. You see why.

The lovely Lesley and Terry from the UK met us outside the local church in the tiny two street town, after having sent a map to show us where to park. The place was perfect as was El Gastor, quiet and gorgeous and with friendly people who smile and say good morning. It was the best place to tour around the white towns. I had planned to do some hiking in the gorgeous countryside around, but the temperatures of 35C and over did not really suit. We did visit aforementioned Ronda, as well as Zahara de la Sierra and the incredible Setenil de las Bodegas too. But really there are many options for interesting tours around the region.

It is hard to capture the stunning beauty of each of these places. There are so many white towns you just have to pick a few.

After the three lovely nights in El Gastor we continued on to our next stop, two nights in Malaga. Here we were lucky enough to stay with Pablo de Michael, the charming host at Patio de Arance. Fortunate in that when I was pickpocketed , losing the key to the apartment he came to our rescue in a short time and all was well. He also gave us a lovely map of the city and some recommendations of what to see and do. Despite the theft we had a great couple of days walking along the promenade and wandering in downtown which felt a bit like a Spanish version of Tel Aviv. The beach did not overly impress but we did eat a marvellous curry one night. The highlight was a visit to the Picasso museum of Malaga. Very little remains of the Jewish “Juderia” but there are a few pretty streets of boutiques and restaurants you can wander around.

I think this is the place to take a breather before we continue on our way to Granada, Cordoba and Carmona, all historical heavyweights. Stay tuned!

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.

The Deep South

The lowest art gallery on earth

I have never been a big fan of Eilat- the glitzy, southern town of Israel on the Red Sea, bordered by Egypt to the South and Jordan to the East. It has always seemed a bit like the Israeli version of Southend (with, admittedly much better weather ).

The last time we visited was in 2009. It is the stuff of shiny tax-free shopping, people frying themselves on the beach and then retreating to their package deal hotels and swimming pools before they hit the noisy nightclubs. Definitely not my thing. But then last year it was arranged that there was to be a reunion of WUJS , the movement that brought me to Israel back in 1979. The members coming from abroad would stay at the Ketura Kibbutz guest house, a 20 minute drive from Eilat, and would come together for various activities and meetups. We all booked rooms hoping that Covid would be over by November 2021. And then it wasn’t. Tourism only opened up here on November 1, by which time the overseas attendees had cancelled their rooms. But we kept ours, since the hosts in Ketura, Avigail and Noah , are great friends of ours, whom we have stayed in touch with over the years. So we decided not to cancel our booking and to spend a couple of days down south. On the way down to the Kibbutz I wanted to stop off at the Dead Sea, a bona fide tourist spot, being the lowest point on the planet, boasting unique geological features and a strange climate said to be good for various ailments and thus popularised by health tourism. It’s another place I don’t visit often.

We drove down to the Dead Sea, wondering as the scenery changed from our Sharon green, with its citrus groves and then through the green wooded hills of the Jerusalem area, and suddenly morphing into the desert scenery south of Jerusalem, before the true biblical desert area around Kalia, our first stop at the Dead Sea.

Our first point of call was the so called minus 430 Gallery, which is not exactly an art gallery in the traditional sense of the word. The self declared lowest art gallery on Earth is actually an impromptu gallery of graffiti art, on a bunch of abandoned buildings. Originally these buildings were barracks of the Jordanian army, which abandoned the buildings after the Six Day war, and were then occupied by Dead Sea Industry workers. They too abandoned them, and various artists moved in to decorate them. And they are actually rather fetching I think.

Each artist has a different style and message, and the stark contrast with the blue sky and the desolate landscape is really quite striking. I assume that, like all graffiti, these images are constantly changing. In any case it was all rather interesting. We met a pair of Austrian tourists on their way from Bethlehem to Jericho, and chatted a little with them, since we had just returned from 10 days in Austria, and discovered that coincidentally, one was from the Kitzbuhel area and the other from Graz! (see previous post)

As one heads on down south, the mountains tower over the road in ever changing strange shapes and caves, including the Qumran caves where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found. You can see all manner of strange figures, including the supposed shape of the Biblical Lot’s wife, turned into a pillar of salt. The Dead Sea area is constantly changing, and the sea is shrinking. In recent years the salt deposits have formed strange mushroom shapes in the sea, very popular among the Instagram crowd. We stopped off at the beach behind the Herod’s Hotel, which has a large free beach with sunshades and chairs, and also showers and toilets. The whole area has many more hotels than last time we were there, and has a nice promenade running the length of the northern part of the sea.

Herods beach

After spending a peaceful few hours sitting by the Dead Sea and reading we continued on to Kibbutz Ketura to check in and meet our friends Avigail and Noah for dinner in the kibbutz communal dining room and chat at their place over tea until bedtime.

Next day we got up and set off for Eilat and the Red (not Dead) Sea. We decided to go to the Coral Beach, which is part of the Nature Reserve and therefore requires sign up but doesn’t cost any money entrance if you have your Matmon Nature parks card (which we do). The beach is very quiet and has a lifeguard and shaded areas, free plastic chairs, toilets and a kiosk. There is a roped off area you can swim and snorkel in without disturbing the coral.You can also do diving courses nearby. It is apparently a very famous place for snorkelling and diving (about which I know very little). It is rather cool to see the mountains of Jordan opposite. We even saw a Jordanian flag in the distance.

After spending a very pleasant day on the Coral beach, we wandered around in Eilat town. If you are so inclined you can rent a glass bottomed boat, or visit the Underwater Observatory, or even swim with dolphins. We did none of these but we did book a place in The Last Refuge fish restaurant, recommended to us by Noah, and very splendid it was too.

The next morning after meeting Avigail for breakfast and saying goodbye, we checked out and headed for home. But on the way we stopped off at a kibbutz called Neot Smadar, which I had heard of and even seen a documentary about. The documentary had made me most curious, but I understood that the current kibbutz is now completely different to what I had seen in said documentary. The place now houses about 200 people, who mostly do art and make cheeses and wines. The arts centre is open to the public for a small fee. You cannot just drive in though. You have to call a number from the gate and fill in a payment form and then you can enter. I think they just don’t want strangers barging into their kibbutz, which is fair enough. They also do various residential art workshops. The place was quite extraordinary and very photogenic. We had a guided tour of the Arts centre complete with short video explaining the history of the place, the winery and saw the goats. It was very enjoyable.

We then drove home “tired but full of impressions” as the Israelis say. The deep south was certainly interesting.

Stay tuned for our next adventure, now the summer heat has broken and rain is on the way…

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

Lazing around in the heat

Kinneret

On the 1st September, having booked what is locally known as a “zimmer”, or guest house, up in the Galilee, we jumped in the car and headed north at a staggering 7 am. The date picked was of course the day when families with kids would be packing their offspring thankfully off to school. As a retired teacher, I am now free to go off on a jaunt, to places which up till today have been heaving with large, noisy families. We hoped to find a quiet retreat and some respite from the heat. We were not disappointed.

This trip was supposed to be centred around water spots, since daytime temperatures are hovering around the mid 30s Centigrade, so it is really too hot to do any hiking. I therefore decided to go to the Magrase Nature reserve (otherwise known as Daliot, where one can walk through waist high water to cool down. However the morning we were due to arrive there, the Parks Authority website informed me that it, and a number of other hikes involving water, were all polluted. When I phoned them (on our way up North) they told me that the site was not closed to the public but that walking in the water would be at our own risk. We of course decided not to brave any bugs that might be lurking there, and proceeded to Lavnun Beach on the Kinneret. The Kinneret, for those not in the know, is the local name for the Sea of Galilee, which is not a sea at all but a large lake, and the focal point for most summer recreation in this tiny country. Once we arrived and parked, we quickly found a shady spot underneath the eucalyptus trees, and were happy to see that there were no more than about a dozen people spaced out along the beach. The water was lovely and warm, and we spent a good few hours relaxing in the water, eating our sandwiches and reading.

Kinneret, with early morning mist

Check in time at the zimmer is 15.00 so around 14.30 we packed up our chairs and headed up to Moshav Shefer (no relation) to settle in. I picked the place because it is up above the Sea of Galilee, which is rather warm and humid. Up in the hills the temperature is much more refreshing, and has the added attraction of wonderful views down the valley. Our zimmer consisted of four chalets set in a beautifully maintained garden, and a shared pool. Since we were the only guests on the site it was also quiet and private. The owner, Penina arrived when I called her and showed us how to use the a/c and ostensibly the television, which refused to comply. She therefore called her son who was on his way home from Hadera and whom she said would arrive and fix the problem. Meanwhile we relaxed in the capacious chalet, which had two floors, a jacuzzi and a small kitchenette.

After resting we headed out to look for dinner. WE drove around the Druze village of Rame and failed to locate the restaurant recommended to me by Google maps. We tried to ask locals some of whom did not speak Hebrew, and others who just did not know of any restaurant. Driving around Druze villages by the way requires quite a lot of competence, as the roads were mostly constructed for donkeys and not for two directional traffic. Anyway we eventually found a wonderful little place called Snobar (meaning Pine cone) which served us a huge green salad and tortillas filled with spicy chicken breast and vegetables, all for the princely sum of 90 shekels for both of us. We tipped the charming waitress generously. On the way back to our room we picked some pomegranates from the tree outside our chalet. There were also tons of lemons.

Next day we decided to head for Achziv National Park but first I wanted to check out a place I have heard of but never visited before. It is called Keshet (Arch) cave and is not really a cave at all. It is located in the Galilee, and has a wonderful view of the area, once you have braved the hairpin bends to the top of the hill. It is also a popular spot for daredevil rappellers, not of course for yours truly and her fear of heights. The drive up to the top was breathtaking and also gave glimpses of a number of caves. It was impossible to take any pictures on the way up so you will have to take my word for it. On the path leading to the Arch there are memorial stones commemorating Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser, and other soldiers killed in the Lebanon War.

Brave lads waiting to descend

The walk up from the parking lot to the arch is really short and wheelchair accessible so it’s a fun activity for everyone. From there we continued along the Northern Road (which is the most northerly road in Israel hugging the Lebanese border. It’s odd to look over to your right and see Lebanese towns and villages up close and personal. The view is stunning, and I really think it’s one of my favourite places in the country. After about 20 minutes we got to Achziv park, having first gone by mistake to Achviz public beach, which is only a couple of kilometres further on, but requires a U turn to correct one’s error. The entrance to the Achziv Park costs a bit extra despite my brandishing my “Matmon” Parks card because, as the nice lady explained, there’s the beach. And what a magnificent beach it is too. The site has a few archeological curiosities, and a campsite, for those so inclined, who can go to sleep and then wake up to this glorious vision:

Achziv National Park

After the customary ice cream in the cafeteria ( a family tradition on visiting National Parks, due to us getting a card holder’s discount) we headed down to the beach, which has rock pools where you can wade under the watchful eye of the lifeguard. The water was gorgeous except for the horrid little fish which kept trying to bite me (but then I am also inclined to bite fish when I can too, so I suppose it’s only fair). There is a huge sunshade set up on the beach and it was not difficult to while away several hours there. The site closes at 5pm so from there we headed into Nahariya to get something to eat and watch the sunset before heading home.

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.

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!

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……