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porcupine Tel Aviv-Jaffa - A travel report by Bryan
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Tel Aviv-Jaffa,  Israel - flag Israel
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porcupine's travel reports

Stuck Inside Israel with the Egypt Blues Again

  12 votes
Tel Aviv is a mix of modern resort and third world middle eastern chaos. It is best utilized as a beach so if you are not into beach life or the club scene it won’t offer you too much.

Modern city on the Mediteranean
Modern city on the Mediteranean
With its art deco architecture, neon signs, and coastal high rises, the obvious comparison is to Miami. Exceedingly more secular than Jerusalem, many businesses do shut down for the Sabbath so be prepared. Otherwise bars are open long hours and there is a busy café and restaurant culture running the length of Dizengoff and Rothschild Streets. While in Tel Aviv, a trip to Jaffa is appropriate. Try to go when the huge outdoor market is open, there is some cool stuff for sale but of course haggling is the order of the day.

Please also see my related article on Jerusalem, otherwise I’m focusing on Tel Aviv and the rest if Israel here. Just north of Tel Aviv are the ancient Roman port ruins of Caeseria. With its miles long aqueduct and restored amphitheater this place is certainly worth seeing. The ruins here are tan colored stone instead of the traditional off white marble. Continuing up the coast is Haifa and Mt. Carmel. The manicured Bahá'í Gardens is most impressive as seen in the evening from the town below on Ben Gurion Street, and the Shrine of the Báb in the middle of the grounds is like viewing an empty carpet store. Don’t waste your time waiting if there is a line. Continue up the hill to the center of Mt. Carmel for sweeping views and some nice restaurants, cafes, and shops.

The city of Akko north of Haifa is probably the best place to go if you can only see one place north of Tel Aviv. This is a walled coastal town that you may know as ancient Acre. There is a big citadel from the Crusader period there, a great mosque, and winding stone streets in this primarily Muslim town.

Favourite spots:
Caeseria Aqueduct
Caeseria Aqueduct
Heading inland from Akko you can take the highway to Armageddon, perhaps written as Tel Megiddo. This is a world heritage archaeological site of a city at the crossroads that was destroyed and rebuilt 25 separate times. Now you know why the battle to end all battles is set there. Not much to see now, but worth a stop.

Continuing east is Nazareth. This is kind of a rough town and the main church is interesting but I wouldn’t describe it as beautiful. It wasn’t my favorite place and there’s not much left of the old city. If you want to explore Jesus territory you are better off going to Capernaum where there are several churches, fishing boats, and other year zero attractions awaiting you.

What's really great:
First snow of the year in the Golan
First snow of the year in the Golan
The town of Tiberias is best if you have some money to spend on spa activity, and if so then save it for the Dead Sea. The Rambam’s (Maimonides) Tomb in Tiberias might draw you there, but believe me when I tell you that it does him no justice. I think it is an unfinished crown, but it looks more like the skeleton of a Bond villain hideout.

The Golan region is beautiful, no doubt about it. At the outset is the road to Tsfat which is winding and offers little besides a fantastic view and one street of shops and restaurants. Mainly it’s a religious town for the Jews so if you aren’t Jewish it may not do much for you. Heading north and back down to the Hula valley is Rosh Pina. Guess what, there isn’t anything there. It’s just a place to stay if you are going to relax or explore the Golan. At this point you may want to get one of the National Park maps. This area is generally best for hiking and biking.

Syrian Rock Hyrax at Nimrod's Fortress
Syrian Rock Hyrax at Nimrod's Fortress
My favorite spot in the Golan was Nimrod’s Fortress up north just beyond the Hermon Springs. You can check out the Banias water fall and springs pretty quickly, but the fortress is a sprawling hilltop citadel with spiral staircases of stone, long underground tunnels, and ruined room upon room that takes about 2 hours to do it justice. There is also a cute wild creature to see called the Rock Hyrax. I didn’t stop anywhere else in the Golan, but there were many hills and beautiful green views as I drove out on the north eastern side and back into the Hula valley heading south. Again, outdoor activity would be the best use of this little Switzerland.

Ancient olive oil press at Capernaum
Ancient olive oil press at Capernaum
The area around Tiberias is Kibbutz territory and maybe the best one to hit is the first, known as Degania on the south west shore of the Sea of Galillee. There is Degania A and B (Alef and Bet respectively). I’m not sure about Alef, but Bet has lodgings, a banana plantation, and an ice cream and chocolate shop. It could be a great way to get some fresh air and sun while in the Galilee.

Bahá'í Gardens of Haifa
Bahá'í Gardens of Haifa
Just south of the sea as you go along the Jordan is the town of Bet Shean with its Roman ruins. Just north of Bet Shean is the massive Crusader fortress ruins of Belvoir in Cochav Hayarden National Park. The ride along the Jordan through the desert is beautiful and you will likely see some camels and maybe even a caravan from the Bedouin the further south you go. Of course no trip to this area is complete without a dip in the unsinkable Dead Sea. I often went in at an obvious spot across the street form the Ein Gedi Springs.

View from Masada
View from Masada
A bit further south you can visit the hilltop ruins of Masada. If you have never seen the mini-series with Peter O’Toole of the same name, I highly recommend it before any trip to Israel. The hike up is steep, but takes less than an hour. You can do it! If not, take the sky lift. The place has a massive new visitor center that I have to say spoils the solitude. It’s like a McDonald’s at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

View of Jerusalem from Dominus Flevit Chapel. Please see my full article on Jerusalem.
View of Jerusalem from Dominus Flevit Chapel. Please see my full article on Jerusalem.
Please note that rental car agencies don’t want you to even drive through the West Bank but there is nothing presently stopping you if you drive east out of Jerusalem towards the Dead Sea. It’s much shorter than going around and I never had any problems. The poor folks in the West Bank are suffering so why not give them some business at a local gas station or pottery stand. At any rate, your politics are your own, I’m just dispensing some travel advice based on experience.

Other recommendations:
Salt encrusted rock at Dead Sea
Salt encrusted rock at Dead Sea
I never went to the resort of Eilat which is the gateway to the Sinai peninsula, but if you like to scuba dive then I understand the Red Sea is among the best places in the world. There are several spots in the West Bank I did not go to and you should monitor the political situation if you want to see Jericho, Ramallah, and even Bethlehem. Since the building of the security fence you can’t exactly stroll into these places. I understand a guided tour is the acceptable way to gain entry, but then you also make yourself a target so be advised.

Published on Saturday April 19th, 2008

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Sat, May 10 2008 - 06:09 AM rating by marianne

another top report

Mon, May 05 2008 - 02:10 AM rating by confusemuse shoulda been my tour guide!! :) hahaha...

Fri, Apr 25 2008 - 04:56 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Another good report

Mon, Apr 21 2008 - 06:43 PM rating by bootlegga

Nice pics!

Sun, Apr 20 2008 - 05:50 AM rating by davidx

Like your Jerusalem report, a mine of information.

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