Saturday, October 17, 2009

City by the Bay

"While Jerusalem prays, Tel Aviv plays... and Haifa works!"

It must be true. Upon approaching the port city of Haifa in Northern Israel, we immediately noticed the "high-tech park": we saw IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Google. Haifa was bustling with activity while Tel Aviv had shut down for the Jewish Sabbath.

Rewind to Saturday. We spent our last morning in Tel Aviv up on the rooftop of the Old Jaffa Hostel, trying to stay cool and digging into a new jar of nutella (we seem to go through them quickly). Mike's cousin picked us up mid-morning by the Old Clocktower, took us to see the beautiful coastal "Israeli Riviera" - a town called Ashdod with gorgeous beaches, and then we had a delicious homecooked meal with his family complete with glasses of port, a spicy Czech liqueur and plenty of good conversation to go along with our gourmet spread.

Following this fantastic meal, we said goodbye to Simon who flew back to Canada Sunday morning. In the evening Mike and I caught a sherut (shared taxi) to Haifa. As we were bearing North we noticed how lush Israel was becoming and we were excited to reach the city which reminds us both so much of San Francisco.

In Haifa there are only 2 directions: up and down, as the city is built into the slopes of Mount Carmel. With the help of the locals we made our way to Jaffa Street and checked into the Port Inn Guesthouse. We were not expecting too much but we were thrilled when we settled into the dorms. The place is very nice, well maintained and super clean! Expensive (75 shekels a night, about $25) but it is the most comfortable dorm I have stayed in so far.

Mike and I fell in love with the city immediately. After dropping off our packs we set out and climbed up to the top of Mount Carmel to look down at the glittering city by the bay. It only took an hour or so (ack - so many stairs!) and we were comfortable in the cool night breezes. We treated ourselves to McDonalds once we reached the top and at around 10 PM we got back to the Port Inn.

I slept very well last night after a hot shower and was ready to go this morning to see Haifa's famous site: the beautiful Bahai Gardens - the faith's second holiest site containing the Shrine of the Bab. Getting there required another hike up Mount Carmel which was significantly less comfortable than the previous night - considering we were now climbing in the heat.

We explored the beautiful gardens and learned about the Bahai faith with 2 of our friendly roommates from the Port Inn - Bram from Belgium and Evzen from the Czech Republic. Afterward Mike, Evzen and I picked up a rental car from Avis and stopped at a local sandwhich shop in the German Colony neighbourhood to eat dinner. If you are ever here, stop by the Big Bite on David Ben Gurion Avenue to try one of Shafez's delicious (and inexpensive) creations! I had the salami while the other two had duck.

Following our dinner, we hopped in the car and drove about 45 km East to Nazareth, where Jesus lived. We dropped Evzen here and explored a bit, but aside from the shops, bakeries and churches we didn't find much here and eventually came back to Haifa.

At the Port Inn, we met up with a small group of people (a Canadian, an Australian, a Kiwi and an American) who are completing a 7-week hike through Israel. They are literally strapping on their packs and walking from the North of the country all the way South to Eilat. At first I thought it was the craziest thing I'd ever heard but sure enough I remember Mike's cousin telling us about the famed Israel Trail hike starting North, passing through the Golan Heights, and continuing down through the Negev (presumably around Gaza and the West Bank) spanning almost 1000 km due to the winding nature of the trail. Once I got over my initial shock I was actually quite inspired though I'm not sure I could really tough it out as well. Maybe something to consider in the future in New Zealand, Portugal or even Bulgaria/Romania? There is a 46-month trail down the East Coast of the USA but I am pretty sure I wouldn't get the time off work :P

I am not sure what our plans will be for tomorrow, but hopefully I can get some pictures up soon!

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