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Way Off the Beaten Track (and Back On) in Israel

Note: This article does not cover politics, and was written in June, 2014, before the round of violence the following month. Yet, pretty much every person we met was touched by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in some way.

Kfar Rut

Just a few minutes from the Tel Aviv airport, Kfar Rut is an oasis for back-to-the-landers.

We stayed at Ohel Shalom (Peace Tent), an organic olive orchard with a strong children’s educational program and a single very spacious, elegantly decorated room to rent. Rimon and Orna, the lovely couple who run the place, used to be in the commercial rose business before Israel’s rose industry was undercut by Africans who didn’t need to heat their greenhouses and could pay their workers a lot less.

So Rimon, a former engineer, planted the orchard, bought an Italian-made centrifugal cold-press olive oil extractor, brought in free-range chickens who eat organic vegetable scraps, and set himself up in the olive oil and egg business. After pressing the olives twice—first for the exquisite organic gourmet oil, and second, using a heat process to make bars of olive oil-coconut oil soap—they use the waste for mulch. They make their own pitas from a neighbor’s organic wheat.

Wild peafowl keep the snakes down, add color and drama, and during mating season, emit a piercing howl that sounds like a cat with a microphone; I got lucky and caught one of the peacocks doing the full tail-spreading mating dance just as we were leaving, and got a bunch of great photos. And people from all around Israel come with their children for tours.

We were served an awesome Israeli breakfast of some of those pitas, with and without zatar (a well-loved spice mix of thyme, hyssop, sumac, salt, and sesame, common throughout the Middle East) with humous (hummus), yogurt, farm-fresh eggs, salad, and a refreshing mint tea.

A ten-minute walk leads to Hakaveret (http://www.hakaveret.biz), a very popular organic farmstand with a wide range of vegetables and fruits. We bought a wonderfully buttery avocado and a 2-kilo bag of the best dates I’ve ever had. On the way back, we stopped around the corner at Hakaveret’s gleaming honey store, with many kinds of organic honey to sample.

Later in the trip, we found that Rimon is the Hebrew word for pomegranate—very apt.

Jerusalem, Part 1

Then we caught a bus to Jerusalem’s central bus station and a tram to City Hall, which is just a few blocks from the Old City. We stayed two nights at the Chain Gate Hostel, in the very last building before the exit from Dome of the Rock and Al Ahksa Mosque, and just a two-minute walk from the Wailing Wall. This was a great location, but very basic and not overly clean accommodations. Unfortunately, the mosque plaza is off-limits to non-Muslims during Fridays and Saturdays, so after dropping our bags off, we visited the Wall and then spent a few hours exploring the Old City souk (market). After sundown, we wandered into the New City and happened to find a neighborhood on the other side of the Jaffa Street tram from City Hall quite close to the Old City's New Gate, where non-religious Israelis go to party on Friday night. Many taverns and restaurants along

Shim'on Ben Shatakh Street hosted big crowds in front of the wide-screen TVs showing soccer matches (the World Cup was happening during our visit). We found Tel Aviv Kitchen, which makes its own arak (anise liqueur) with a variety of flavorings. The espresso-flavored variety was wonderful; the apricot just tasted like arak. I’d had this drink in Turkey, unflavored and a good deal stronger; it, too, is common in many parts of the Middle East.

Ramallah

Very few Jews go from Israel to Ramallah, the de facto capital of Palestine (administered in part by Israel and in part by the Palestinian Authority). It’s only about half an hour from Jerusalem, but it’s a different world.

We crossed through the Old City to Damascus Gate, found the East Jerusalem bus station, and discovered that the Ramallah buses (numbers 18 and 19) left from another station around the corner. Most of the trip was within Israel. Just before Ramallah, we started seeing the separation wall between Israel and Palestine—a hideous barbed-wire-topped concrete eyesore. Then we snaked our way through the permanent checkpoint in the wall, gawking at the much longer line going into Israel, and drove the few miles to the center of town.

The Ramallah bus station has to be experienced to be believed. Buses pack themselves into incredibly tight spaces, with the help of a dozen or so men who guide them in (and help people find the right bus). It’s noisy, crowded, and the buses are packed so tightly that it can take several minutes for the larger coaches to maneuver out, while the minibuses are captive inside their spaces.

Only Palestinians who live in Israel can go back and forth; those who live in Palestine are cut off. Jerusalem’s holy sites, markets, tourist attractions, and nightlife are sealed away. And Israeli Jews are not permitted to cross the other way. If the locals want to have a peace dialogue, they have to go someplace like Cyprus to hold it.

Our purpose was a meeting with a Palestinian activist (see related article, A Young Palestinian's Plan for Peace. Before and after, we spent about an hour and a half wandering the downtown. It’s a bustling place, with few traffic lights and lots of traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. There was quite a bit of public art, including a roundabout with a sculpture of several stone lions, which seems to be the heart of the city. The shops were mostly about food and fashion, spice, nut, and fruit markets, butcher shops, restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlors, and the most wonderful looking bakeries for sweets, savory pastries, and many types of bread: pitas, wraps, bagels. Some of them had ovens or crepe domes depositing the latest wares right in front of our eyes. And we happened to hit the season when the streets are filled with men in bright red costumes, some in fezzes, selling plastic cups of fresh carob juice out of brass hookahs filled with flowers. I never thought of carob as a fruit that could be juiced. It was quite tasty, but very sweet; it may have had sugar or dates added. Many other fresh-squeezed fruit and carrot juices were also widely available on the streets and in the cafes.

In fashion, the women’s clothes were either very colorful—particularly the headscarves—or very plain, for ultra-religious Muslims. The men’s lines tended toward sharp, expensive-looking suits, priced quite reasonably. On the streets, we saw many women dressed in similar clothing to the store window displays—but I don’t think I saw even one man in a suit. The men were either wearing casual western dress or typical Islamic garb of tunic, skullcap, and baggy pants. A few men sported keffiyehs (Arab headdresses).

Interestingly, both in Ramallah and Jerusalem, it’s common to see mixed groups of women friends, some religious, some not.

From there, we returned to the chaotic bus station and boarded a minibus for Jericho.

Jericho

The ride from Ramallah to Jericho over narrow country roads was stunning, through hills and hairpin turns, enjoying panoramic views of the Jordan River valley and the Jordanian hills as we descended from 800 meters (2600 feet) above sea level to 1300 feet (396 meters) below sea level.

Christians have the Mount of Temptation, which we didn’t climb (it was way too hot). But beyond that, other than the scenery on the way in, or if you’re a serious archeology geek, the main reason to go to Jericho is to say you’ve been to the longest continually populated city and the one with the lowest altitude in the world. Jericho traces itself back at least 10,000 years, which means it had already been around for more than 6000 years by the time Joshua came around with the Hebrews in 1400 BCE.

But the archeological site itself is unimpressive, not that extensive, and minimally captioned. Unless you go with a guide or buy the guidebook, you won’t get very much out of the experience. And you’ll have to deal with the tourist-trap Mount of

Temptation restaurant and shopping center, with lots of pressure to buy various things. Prices are in US dollars, and high.

The road from Jericho to Jerusalem is a fast four-lane limited-access highway, and the border crossing was a quick glance and a wave.

6/15/14

Jerusalem, Part 2

Even though our hostel was literally a stone’s throw away, it’s not so easy for non-Muslims to find out how to see the Dome of the Rock and neighboring Al Aksa Mosque (among the holiest places in Islam). All but one of the ten entrances are closed to non-Muslims; the remaining access is through an Israeli-administered checkpoint with no signage—in a country where the signage is generally excellent (and for most official signs, trilingual).

You have to go through the Wailing Wall plaza, exit past the security checkpoint to the right of the women’s section, and immediately make a full u-turn to stand in the unmarked line to the right of the women’s entrance back into the Wailing Wall. At the next checkpoint, you show your non-Israeli passport to Israeli soldiers, then walk through a covered wooden pedestrian causeway several storeys above the Wailing Wall. As you emerge onto the Muslim plaza, a guard will make sure you’re not wearing shorts, and for females, that your arms are covered. A sign before the security checkpoint warns Jews that visiting is the Temple Mount is forbidden by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

And these days, unlike our visit in 1986, nonbelievers can’t enter either mosque, and the interiors are screened at the entrances. Back then, it was much easier to find, accessible through all entrances, and nonbelievers were allowed right into the mosque (after paying an admission fee in Jordanian dinars).

In general, it seems the separation between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis is much more extreme than it was before—other than a few areas where people from any background can mingle, including the Old City (where they all rub shoulders, and many of the shops selling Judaica are Arab-owned), East Jerusalem (where Jews are few and far between, but there are no legal restrictions against mixing cultures), and parts of the Galilee. There have also, of course, been numerous abuses and indignities on all sides of the conflict. We long for the day when Israel and its neighbors foster harmonious living across cultures, and the violence is a thing of the past.

The Galilee

Peqi’in

The rest of our day was spent traveling to the remote Druze village of Peqi’in, near Ma’alot: This involved taking a bus to Haifa, renting a car, then driving up the coast to Naharia with a brief stop in Akko (Acre), where we took photos of a view through the stone window in the city wall—a memory that has stuck with me since our 1986 trip). Afterwards, we drove east for 20 miles or so to our hosts: two among four Jews in the whole village (whom we’re deliberately not naming, to protect their privacy.

Dutch immigrants in their 70s, they’re adventurous, well traveled, gracious hosts, and full of great stories. They live steps away from—and care for—the grotto where Rabbi Simeon Bar Yochai hid out from the Romans for 12 years, surviving on carob from trees that are still alive some 2000 years later. And they have beautiful gardens of fig, pomegranate, cactus, succulents, and many herbs. But at one point they had to flee anti-Jewish riots, and came back fully expecting that their house would have been destroyed. It wasn’t, but only thanks to the intervention of a neighbor who chased away the mob.

They are very sensitive to the source of that anger: abuses including the destruction of more than 500 Arab villages during the 1948 war, the refusal of Israel to let the refugees from that war return to the country.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Servas (our international homestay organization) is the occasional serendipity that makes for a much richer trip (and amazing memories). Our first full day with these hosts was filled with those sorts of special moments.

After a magnificent breakfast of fresh eggs, fresh cheese, fresh fruit, and homemade bread with their own almonds and homemade plum jam, our hostess led us on a walking tour of the village. 6000 people live here: the vast majority Druze (a sect that broke from Islam around 1000 CE), a few Muslims and Christians, and the two other Jews.

She told us that one of them, Margalit Zinati, is the only Jew in all of Israel to be able to trace an unbroken genealogical line within Israel to the time of Solomon’s temple. Unfortunately, she will be the last of her line because she stayed home to care for elderly parents, one of whom lived to be 105—and thus never had a chance to marry. Two carved illustrated stones from the Second Temple are built into the walls of the small synagogue next to her house.

We didn’t get to meet Margalit; at 83, she spends most days at a nearby senior center, and our hosts help care for her garden. Margalit is mentioned in the Wikipedia page about the village synagogue, which is also featured on Israel’s 100 shekel note.

But we did get to meet Salim, also called Abu Rukun—the “King of the Chickens.” He raises the scrumptious free-range organic eggs we’d had for breakfast, driving around the village in a golf cart collecting bread ends and vegetable scraps for his flock. A very gracious man in his 70s, Salim served us cardamom-flavored Arabic coffee in elegant little cups while discussing his life. The self-educated father of nine, he’s had a varied career working on building projects before starting the egg venture. His wife is religious, while he is more secular. His family traces back many generations in this area. Our hostess joked that buying eggs from Salim always included a philosophy lesson.

She knew almost every village resident we encountered and stopped constantly to exchange greetings and hugs. We were invited for coffee two more times in the 20 minutes or so following our departure from Abu Rukun’s balcony (which she politely declined on our behalf). She also pointed out many homes that were burned in the anti-Jewish riots, or abandoned because a law was passed that makes it illegal to sell property not already Jewish-owned to Jews—as well as the local bomb shelter (topped with a huge sculpture of a coffee pot!) and the adjacent memorial to fallen Druze soldiers.

This particular day, the village (and particularly Bar Yochai’s cave and the old synagogue) were jammed with 10 busloads of kids visiting from various other parts of Israel. At the synagogue, another friend of hers, a young actor named Uriel, was singing Oseh Shalom (Make Peace) and Shir Hama’a lot (Song of the Heights) to successive groups of visiting school children, and telling the story of Margalit and the synagogue. Our hostess gave us a running translation.

Bar’Am

Then we headed off by car with our male host to Bar’Am (Son of the Nation) National Park. This had been one of the northern villages cleared by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) for security reasons in 1948 and 1949. The residents won a court order overturning the eviction, but the villages had been dynamited and the army continues to prevent them from returning and rebuilding.

Since about February, 2014, Bar’Am has had its own Occupy movement, where Christian Arabs maintain a small tent community on the roof of the one building standing: a Greek Orthodox church restored recently when the Orthodox Patriarch came to visit from Lebanon. According to our host, they keep a presence day and night, though that presence may be—as it was during our visit—only a single person. The man we met, Isa Yusef, sitting under a tree just outside the church wearing a polo shirt and a keffiyah, was actually one of those forced out more than 60 years ago. Now 76, he’d been an eleven-year-old boy, but he had clear memories.

He described for us (in Hebrew, as our host translated) how the villagers, who traced their lineage in that village back many generations and who’d faced years of persecution under Muslim rule, were eager at first to live under Jewish Israel—but their enthusiasm soured under a string of broken promises. They were told they’d have to leave for about two weeks, and to leave most of their belongings because they’d be back soon. But his mother told his family to pack whatever they could get on the back of a donkey, because it might be much longer.

And the weeks turned into years, and to decades. The Israelis refused to allow them to return, trumping the court order with a declaration of military necessity. And they have not compensated the villagers, although they did offer recently to let the villagers buy back their own land.

And he told us about one villager who refused to pay the admission fee to the park, because it was on his own ancestral homeland.

Rosh Ha'Niqra

From there, after stopping at a little café called Restaurant Dina at a crossroads in Shelomi, in the middle of nowhere, and getting a picture of Dina the Moroccan-Israeli proprietor and Dina the American visitor, we finished the day with the only part we could have done on our own: a trip to Rosh Ha'Niqra (White Head), where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Israel-Lebanon border. We walked around this beautiful site of white cliffs, grottos, and old salt collection beds, but did not pay the admission to go up on the rocks. Instead, we went a few hundred meters south and took a wonderfully refreshing swim in the warm Mediterranean waters.

We returned on our own a few days later, and this time paid the fee (at 45 shekels, the most expensive attraction we visited). And even though it was pricy, we were glad we did. The grottos are simply stunning. You take a cable car from the top of the cliff to the bottom, see a short film (beautiful cinematography, but a script that was so bad it was funny), and then wander through a series of walkways and steps with lookouts over the rushing waters, hearing the thundering surf. If you could imagine Big Sur or Bay of Fundy National Park from inside a series of caves close enough to the water to be splashed, you have some sense of the experience.

On the way out, we swam at the same beach we’d visited earlier in the week. The road to it is unmarked: turn right from Rosh Ha'Niqra at a place where two roads join; follow the left one for perhaps a mile—or enter the industrial park/shopping area at the first village to the south, turn right on the unmarked road paralleling Route 4, and continue north for about the same distance.

Tsfat (Safed)

The area around Tsfat (usually spelled Safed for some reason—I’ve used the more phonetic spelling) is one of the core areas of Israel’s ultraorthodox revival—and has been for hundreds of years. Hilly Old City Tsfat is a picturesque collection of narrow, arched alleys and stairways filled with art galleries, 19th century artisanal cheese shops (at least two), Torah scribes, Judaica shops, and of course, eateries.

Secular Jewish-looking visitors under 30 or so can expect to be accosted by religious people eager to recruit you back into the active practice of Judaism. This was true in 1986 during our last visit, and it’s still true.

It’s well-worth going on one of the walking tours, which is pretty much the only way to see the beautiful ancient synagogues of the Old City and know anything about what you’re seeing (and at times, the only way to get in at all—most were padlocked during our visit). The oldest (the Ari) dates back to the 13th or 14th century; the most beautiful is the Abuhav, and the oldest that didn’t need to be rebuilt after 18th or 19th-century earthquakes is the Alsheich; these and several others nearby were centers of the Hassidic spiritual revival and Jewish mysticism even back hundreds of years.

You’ll find a good self-guided walking tour of Tsfat at http://www.safed-home.com/walking-tour-of-safed.html.

We finished the day with our hosts, doing an evening hike through, the ruins of an old Crusader castle. This trail offered magnificent scenic views, as you can see if you click the link.

Sea of Galilee

After warm goodbyes, we started the next day with a short hike near Peqi’in, then drove to the shores of the Sea of Galilee (more of a lake, really; Lake Champlain, on the border of Vermont and New York, is more than seven times as large). First, we crossed into the edge of the Golan Heights (part of Syria until annexed by Israel following the 6 Day War of 1967) to swim at the Mishushim Hexagon Pool. This involved a steep, hot 1 km hike down to the canyon, where we were rewarded with deliciously cool water, a pretty waterfall, and some unusual basalt formations. A large group of American kids doing internships in Jerusalem were there when we arrived, but once they departed, it was very quiet. We saw only a few hikers on our way back up.

From there, we thought we’d stop for lunch in Capernaum, but that plan didn’t work. It’s an archeological site requiring paid admission, and it was mobbed with tour buses. So we left without going in and went instead to Tiberias.

Like every place we’ve revisited from our 1986 trip, Tiberias has grown huge. The northern section seems rather depressed, but a line of hotels going way up the hill seem to be thriving, and the waterfront has experienced some recent and well-done urban renewal. We had lunch in a real-people neighborhood just west of the touristy waterfront, enjoying falafel the Israeli way—stuffing fat pitas full of a wide range of salad bar items—at a neighborhood stand, then crossing the street to get fresh fruit and vegetable juice at The Juice Man. Itzik, the warm and friendly proprietor, also threw in a sample of a wonderful banana-strawberry smoothie.

Finally, we drove to another scenic hilltown, Mattat, where we stayed with a large extended family in a house the father built himself. This community is so small that our directions from his wife were “go to the village and ask someone where we live.”

Nechal Amud and Gush Halav (Jish)

The next day’s big adventure was a hike in beautiful Nechal Amud National Park, near the junction of routes 89 and 866. Once again, a (longer and easier) walk down to the canyon—but this time, many parts of the canyon were as lush as a tropical rainforest, complete with massive wild fig trees (and wonderfully cold water in several pools along the way. This was my favorite of all the hikes we’ve taken in Israel, both this time and 28 years earlier.

Following a few hours of very enjoyable hiking and swimming, we took our host’s advice and lunched at Baladna Native Cuisine in downtown Gush Halav (an Arab Christian village also called Jish). At this elegant and interestingly decorated restaurant, the proprietor, Tony Elazar, prepared wonderful dishes to order. Many of his dishes had familiar names: lubia and fattoush, for instance—but his were quite different than the same dishes elsewhere. His lubia were made with green beans rather than white beans, and delicately flavored with a mint-thyme tomato sauce. His eggplant dish (a bit smoky for our taste) had a lot of lemon. His grape leaves were tightly rolled little cigars with just a hint of cinnamon, garlic, and tahini. And his fattoush was much less bready, and topped with grated cheese. The portions were ample, he was personable, and the price was quite reasonable.

After visiting an Internet friend and his family in the Christian Arab village of Mi’llya, we then proceeded to the final and most rural of our homestay hosts: Nehama and Niko, co-founders of the Transcendental Meditation village of Hararit.

We’d thought about renting a GPS when we picked up our car, but decided against it. Throughout every other place we’d been in Israel, we felt like we’d made the right decision. Even very remote villages are marked with big, white, easy-to-read trilingual road signs. However, the turn off the main road to Hararit, in the village of Arrabe, is an unmarked urban intersection; we missed the turn and had to call for instructions. Once out of the village and at the top of Mount Netofa, there was the usual sign, and another couple of kilometers brought us to this tiny, peaceful, and beautiful village of 80 families.

Nehama led us on a lovely walk through the Lavra Netofa monastery adjacent to the village, a place of even deeper peace and great scenic vistas all the way to the Sea of Galilee (and according to this website, on a clear day, the Mediterranean). The signs label it Benedictine, but the nuns and monks we met (with whom she conversed in French) seemed to be Franciscan. Only a few people live there, most without running water.

Although signs in several places asked that we respect the silence, several of the nuns chatted with her, and one in particular was obviously a close friend. We got to visit the amazing underground chapel that is the spiritual heart of the monastery, built from a water storage cavern that dates to Byzantine times. The small gift shop was closed during our visit.

Niko, who has recorded three CDs of meditative New Age and classical music that have achieved some fame in Israel (his Youtube channel is https://www.youtube.com/user/nikolevy), has an extensive herb garden and a small mixed orchard that provides fresh fruit at almost any time of year: one lemon tree, one pomegranate, one apricot, one fig, and a few grapevines.

Nazareth

In the morning, Nehama took us first to a book party for Tamar, a neighbor who’d just published a book, and then to We Are Free, a family memorial for the reggae-loving grandson of one of their friends who was killed in one of the Lebanon wars. The family lives in Hararit, and the memorial is close by. They’ve turned an olive orchard on a remote mountaintop into a celebration of the boy’s life, and a peaceful place for hikers to enjoy the magnificent views and a few minutes in a hammock. Then for humous in the bustling village of Arrabe, in a very atmospheric little cafe, straight out of the movie, “Casablanca.” Blue Formica tables, fluorescent lights, and a big crowd of people enjoying humous with various toppings (including falafel—normally in Israel, falafel comes with the option of humous, but this was the other way around).

While she returned home, we drove about 40 minutes to Nazareth. Oddly, the streets were jammed and traffic crawled until about two miles before the Old City. But then it broke free and we sailed right in.

To my delight, the place was NOT crawling with touts and souvenir shops; they were confined to a small stretch right near the Basilica of St. Joseph (as in the husband of the Virgin Mary) and the small souk. I was less delighted but totally amazed that we couldn’t find a single tourist information kiosk, especially since we’d managed to leave our guidebook back in Hararit.

So we did a mapless, brochureless self-guided tour centered around the church complex, which had several interesting parts: a gallery of wall hangings from around the world, each representing the culture of its country…the relatively simple and beautiful upper chapel with its frescoes and vividly colored stained glass…archeological digs of the Jesus period and later excavations of a Byzantine church..

Most of the downtown is lined with fashion shops, mobile phone stores, and falafel bars. And other than the traffic that turned off before we got into town, the whole place was amazingly uncrowded. I was grateful for the lack of commercialism and able to tune into Nazareth as a place of power.

In the evening, we took in a wonderful concert in a wonderful nearby venue: Ohel Yael (Yael’s Tent), an outdoor concert space furnished in imitation Turkish-style rugs, mats, and cushions (the mezzanine had western-style folding chairs) and the music of Diwan Saz, an international world music ensemble including Jewish, Arab, and Persian performers—accompanied this night by an all-star collection of guests artists, from the charismatic Moroccan-born 70-year-old Israeli world music pioneer Shlomo Barto the Bedouin Arabic singer Hamoudi, already a powerful and popular singer at age 14.

Several of the songs were built on classic Jewish liturgical texts, but done in Arabic, Turkish, or Persian styles. At one point, guest artist Rabbi David Menachem even asked the Arabs in the audience for permission to sing a song based on a Hebrew prayer.

Caesarea

Caesarea, the grand port built by King Herod starting in 22 BCE, was located in a place with no natural harbor and no fresh water supply. Construction took 12 years and involved massive engineering, filling the harbor with huge caissons and then filling those with ash; when the ash went into the water, it solidified into concrete.

Approaching on the north road, the historic city gives this oddly corporate vibe, kind of like Johnson & Johnson’s massive campus near Princeton, New Jersey. This is not at all true of the southern approach, which is unkempt and frankly a bit sketchy. Whichever approach you take, don’t be put off by it. Continue to the old harbor and the gate to the national park.

Once you arrive, you’ll be offered a choice of a 14 shekel or a 40 shekel option. You want the more expensive one, which includes access to the ruins. The cheaper option gives you little more than access to the stores and restaurants. While you’ll definitely want to visit Cesarea Glass, a really lovely Judaica and glass gallery run by a lovely craftsman with reasonable prices, you’ve come all this way—you should see the ruins.

They’re nice and compact, over a span of perhaps a half-mile from end to end, and include magnificent sea views as well as glimpses into Roman life around the beginning of the Common Era: the hippodrome for chariot races, various theaters, Roman baths, etc.—and the signage is reasonably good. While the brochure they give you offers self-guided itineraries of up to five hours, that would be for serious archeology geeks. We found it took about an hour to walk around. You’ll also want to drive a very short distance north for a quick look at the aqueduct, which is all by itself

Bring snacks; food choices at Caesarea are limited and overpriced.

Masada

If you are going to climb Masada, it’s best to do so at sunrise to avoid the heat. Unfortunately, the first bus from where we were staying didn’t arrive until 8:30 am, but we persevered anyway, going up when most of the tour groups were coming down. The weather was hot, but not unbearable and the hike only takes about 45 minutes. There’s a cable car if you don’t want to hike, but then you miss the views and the sense of accomplishment. It’s steep, but relatively straightforward—no rock scrambling, but no shade either—and from the bottom, you can pretty much see what you’ll have to do. Just make sure to bring a lot of sunscreen and plenty of water.

At the top you can find many ruins from the ancient Roman city, which later became the last Judean stronghold during the Roman invasion. In fact, the Jews there made a pact to kill themselves before allowing the Romans to conquer them. Only four women were known to survive. Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, a marvelous historical novel, recounts that story.

Jerusalem, Part 3

Our last couple of days in the country were mostly spent exploring West Jerusalem at a slow pace—or else stuck in a van in massive traffic jams on our way to a family event about 30 miles out of town: two hours of bumper-to-bumper driving. So glad to have returned the car!

We found art gallery neighborhoods around King David Street and King George Street, and the wonderful Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, my favorite of all the markets we've seen. Fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts…a tahini/halavah manufacturer using grinding stones to create a whole series of flavored tahinis—ranging from chocolate to pesto—and halavas (including a wonderful coffee variety)…and none of the crazy-pressure-hype madness of the old city.

And for some US health food nostalgia as we prepared to head back home, the Village Green restaurant, 33 Jaffa Street, which actually had tempeh and tofu items on the menu—and many vegan choices.

Shel Horowitz, editor of Global Travel Review, is working on ways business can solve problems of hunger and poverty, war and violence, and catastrophic climate change: http://business-for-a-better-world.com D. Dina Friedman is the author of two young adult novels: http://www.ddinafriedman.com


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