Israel's Good Name

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Rosh HaNikra

In Galilee, Israel on August 28, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Continuing on after the duology of Akko posts…

We reached Rosh HaNikra after a tranquil taxi ride up the coastal road, in the quiet stretch between Nahariya – the last of the coastal cities going north – and the Israel-Lebanon border. The taxi took us to the attraction site so when we got out of the car, this was the magnificent view that our eyes beheld – the Western Galilee coastline:

The majestic view of the Western Galilee coastline

We decided to first go see the border and then to ride the cable car. Now, the actual border is not accessible to civilians – an army base stands there, constantly protecting. But there still is a sign welcoming everyone to the border crossing:

Welcome to the Border Crossing of Rosh HaNikra

And there is also a special wall showing the distances to the respective capital cities of Israel and Lebanon: Jerusalem and Beirut. Here’s me, at the border crossing:

Standing just outside the army base

Okay, enough with the border. As we walked back to the staging area for the cable car, here is a “close-up” of the Navy vessel (of which there is always one moored at the border, keeping vigil) and the Achziv Islands. One of the coolest things about the islands is that they are mentioned some 2,000 years ago in the Talmud as being part of the historical border of Israel. I remember learning about the islands that were mentioned and having a discussion in class where we argued that the islands must be referring to Cyprus because, back in Detroit, we didn’t even know that the Achziv Islands existed. Now that I live here… everything becomes so much more clear.

A Navy boat and the Achziv Islands

As soon as we stepped into the swaying cable car, and the little “craft” was filled, the operator released us and we plunged over the side of the cliff. The cable car at Rosh HaNikra happens to be the steepest cable car in the world – dropping/climbing 70 metres at the steep angle of 60 degrees.

Descending the white cliffs

When we “landed” at the bottom, we got out and I photographed one of the two cable cars going back up the cliff:

Looking up at the cable cars

Entering the grottos, the caves and tunnels carved out by the raging seawater, we were greeted by these fascinating views as seen from inside the cliff. Some of the walkways were slippery from the drippy internal climate and the echoing shrieks of bats roosting high up in the cracks were audible through the sounds of the waves crashing inside.

The grottos

The blue-green water entering the grottos

Upon exiting the labyrinth of tunnels carved out in the soft chalky rock, we emerged at a beautiful site where the sea crashed against the blinding white rock:

The white cliffs and the blue sea

As we walked along the rock, the countless chunks of gleaming flint buried in the chalky stone, the beauty of the site constantly flaunting itself with every turn. Here is a view from the walk on the rock, looking northwards to the edge of the army base where constant vigilance in demanded:

More cliff and sea

After finishing the grottos we examined the old British tunnel where the Mandate Government dug through the rock to create a railroad line that connected the Middle East with Europe. In 1948 the Haganah (Jewish resistance group) blew up the bridge that was constructed just outside the end of the train tunnel to prevent the Lebanese from re-supplying the local Arabs who were battling the Jews just after the declaration of the State of Israel. It was a daring operation but it may have helped save the Galilee and Haifa from the hands of the enemy. Today they rebuilt the bridge, no longer concerned about the Lebanese using it, and some of the railroad is still visible in the long gloomy tunnel.

The train tunnel

After trying some sample passion-fruit offered by a vendor selling the crop of the neighbouring village of Rosh HaNikra we entered the light-and-sound show, an audio-visual screening with added sensory features. The video explained the history of the site and the semi-recent Haganah operation, complete with fans and little sprinklings of water to further embellish the story of sea and rock and their timeless dance.

After leaving the site we took a bus to Nahariya and had dinner. Then I took my tour guest back to where she needed to be and headed home. As I alighted the bus near my house I heard the familiar sounds of Kobi Peretz crooning. Seeing that I was not entirely late to his show, celebrating the opening of a new mall just down the road in Ma’alot, I headed on over, checked out the new mall and caught a few songs before retiring to my home to end the long day. Here he is again, Kobi Peretz, forever entertaining the inhabitants of Ma’alot with his music:

Kobi Peretz in concert

Akko (Part 2)

In Galilee, Israel on August 26, 2012 at 5:43 AM

Continuing on with my saga of Akko and Rosh HaNikra, both visited on Thursday, here is the second half of the Akko report:

One of my favourite parts in the Old City of Akko is the Marina and its cheap boat rides of the bay area, something that gives me the same thrill each time. We found a bright pink boat in the Marina that was still loading up – the boats usually carry between 15 to 20 people – and waited for the gaudy sea-going vessel to be untied from the dock. But first, the Marina:

Akko’s Marina

When the boat was full, mostly with vacationing Arabs, we untied and took off, leaving the marina behind as we headed out to the open sea. The captain turned his invigorating Arabic music up to the max, the gaudy boat reverberating as we bounced in the troughs. Here I shoved my arm way out, sitting down for a spell, and took a blind shot of what was behind us:

Leaving the bay behind

As we went out, passing the domain of the sea walls, our eardrums cringing from the overpowering music – the classic Arabic songs are all the same to me, one man singing and then a chorus of a bunch of men partially repeating what the main singer said (something like this song, blasted at 100 decibels). If you listen to the song at full volume, rock back and forth and splash salt water on your face from time to time, you may begin to feel what the boat ride is like, with the help of a healthy imagination! Here is another tour boat passing us on its return journey, Haifa and the famed Mount Carmel in the distance:

Another tour boat passing us

And then we too turned around and headed back, about fifteen minutes after departure. Here is the Old City as seen by sea, how the incoming vessels – be them for war or for peace – would have seen Akko all those years back, minus the destroyed Templar Fortress:

The Old City from sea

Here we re-entered the Marina, after a 20-25 minute boat ride, and another tour boat leaves for the high seas:

Re-entering the Marina

From the Marina, after disembarking and planting our feet on terra firma, we walked our way back into the crowded streets and found the Kahn El-Omdan and the Clock Tower. The Kahn El-Omdan is an Ottoman-styled motel where people would tie up their horse/camel and belongings in the lower coves and then go upstairs to sleep in the rooms up above.

Kahn El-Omdan

The Clock Tower is also from the Ottoman Period, one of seven built throughout Israel (the ones in Tzfat and Jaffa have been photographically featured on my blog). Last time I was in Akko the clock was out of service but it looks as though someone fixed it. Historically, it has been the clock tower with the most malfunctions, perhaps a testament to the unease between the Jews and Arabs in Akko’s Old City.

Akko’s Ottoman Clock Tower

Emerging from the Templar Tunnels (which we did after the boat ride) having walked/crouch-walked it both ways, we walked comfortably through the quieter residential area of the Old City, mostly inhabited by Muslim Arabs. We found a camel and then found the exit to the sea walls area, the gusts of cool wind refreshing us as we made our way down to the water. Here is the view from Burj el Kashla of the sea wall heading north, with Rosh HaNikra far off in the distance:

The sea wall looking north

Looking south, to Mount Carmel, here is a small panoramic of the corner of the city – the calm area of sea, locked in by the rocks, was where the mighty Templar Fortress once stood:

Panoramic of the area that juts out to sea

As we walked along the sea wall, passing the lighthouse and heading towards the historic Pisan Port, we came across the famous part of the wall where the local youth jump off and into the sea. The scary part is that there are huge rocks in the water so they have to be really careful not to splatter themselves needlessly. Another thing is that they often wear shoes so that the razor sharp underwater stones don’t slice their feet. We watched as several teens dove into the churning sea some 30+ feet below. If you click on the picture and zoom up you can see the youth climbing back up for another leap:

The sea wall where the local kids jump from

After picking up some refreshments in the souk we took a swing north-east and headed for the Land Wall Promenade where the Ottomans fended off the French conqueror Napoleon and his 30-day seige back in 1799. Part of the wall area, protected by cannon and men, was conquered but the second, inner wall held the invaders off and Napoleon was forced to abandon his efforts. In some areas, closer to the sea walls, rusted cannon balls can be seen lodged in the wall from the battles so long ago. Here is one of the cannons that was involved in the fighting:

Old cannon involved in the counter-attacks of Napoleon’s siege

Located beneath the wall, in arched rooms, is the Treasures in the Walls museum (also known as the Ethnography and Folklore Museum) – various collections of historical items and artifacts. There, in compartmentalized exhibits, workshops and offices have been recreated all using period pieces. A shoemaker, a carpenter, a pharmacist and a hat-maker (or as the man referred to himself: casquettier), all these workshops and offices, and many more, were faithfully redone with the finest attention to detail. Also, there were collections of old toys, old matchboxes, old currency (spanning four nationalities in the Holy Land during the last century and a half) and even old sitting rooms of imported furniture from Damascus, Syria. Here, a collection that would befit a palace – wood inlaid with bone and seashell:

”Straight Outta Damascus”

After the museum, which took a good forty minutes, we headed back out onto the Land Wall Promenade and exited the Old City. From there we grabbed a taxi, got on a bus and made our way to Rosh HaNikra, the topic of the next blog post.

Akko (Part 1)

In Galilee, Israel on August 24, 2012 at 10:27 AM

On Thursday I took a magnificent trip to both the Old City of Akko (Acre for some people) and Rosh HaNikra. Akko is one of the oldest port cities in Israel and is located in the Western Galilee – between Haifa and the border. Rosh HaNikra is at the border, along the same coastline. As is the custom, I will be relating the journey and it will be a trilogy of posts: Two of Akko and one of Rosh HaNikra. Here goes the first part of the Akko trip:

I began my morning in Karmiel where I picked up my special tour guest, an older woman from Oak Park (where I grew up), and the two of us headed west to Akko. The bus took us through some industrial areas of Arab villages which was atypical for bus routes but eventually we arrived in Akko and took a taxi to the Old City. There, this was the first magnificent site that greeted us – majestic palm trees in front of majestic old walls, the El Jazzar Wall:

Trees and walls

From there we walked among the mangrove trees to the Visitor’s Centre where we looked around at the exhibits and then bought tickets outside, tickets to a whole slew of museums as well as the cable car ride at Rosh HaNikra (massive savings, if anyone is interested in doing both places in the same year). The first place, the first ticket, was the Hospitaller Fortress, a huge Crusader edifice:

Hospitaller Fortress

We picked up audio devices that we were able to activate different recordings for different sites within the huge Crusader complex, those made for a great increase of knowledge during our tour of the fortress. There were so many halls and rooms, all with amazing arch ceilings made of stone blocks – an perplexing amount of work for something that could possibly be conquered in a short amount of time. Entering the complex, we first saw this room, however I do not recall what the official name is:

The first room

From there we entered deeper – I don’t remember the exact order of the halls, as there were so many – but here is the Hall of the Imprisoned. If one is to be imprisoned, I think an arched Crusader hall seems glamorous enough.

Hall of the Imprisoned

And there, in the blinding Mediterranean sun, the Crusaders practiced their deadly deeds – the jousting, the sword-fighting, the archery and the grueling exercises – surrounded by the high fortress walls:

The courtyard where the Crusaders practiced the art of war

And here, the high arched cove just outside the latrine:

Outside the latrine

Now here, the greatest hall of them all, the Column Hall – also known as the Dining Hall – where the leader of the order, the knights and the foot-soldiers all gathered to dine, to feast on bland medieval foods. This hall is truly magnificent and photos do not do it justice, but I took two that I’d like to share, to give an inkling of what it looks like.

The Column Hall (Dining Hall)

The Column Hall (Dining Hall) – wider shot

From there, the glorious Column Hall, we made our way to the Sewage Tunnel which has been uncovered from years of neglect and made into a handy passage way:

Sewage Tunnel

But not all tunnels are meant for sewage. Some time later, after we had returned our audio devices, checked out a ghastly art gallery and wandered down the long Arab souk, we found our way to the Templar Tunnels – a tunnel system that crosses a good chunk of the Old City close to the sea walls. The Crusaders created the tunnel to ease them with transporting supplies and whatnot to the old (destroyed) Templar Fortress – which predated the Hospitaller Fortress – coming from the Pisan Port, or so I believe.

Templar Tunnels

Before Part 1 ends, here is an aerial shot of the Old City for reference – the treed area in the right-centre is the Visitor’s Centre and the El Jazzar Wall, the buildings above and to the left is the Hospitaller Fortress with the courtyard very distinguishable, and the Templar Tunnels can be found in the narrow part in the upper left of the “horn”. In the next post, the Marina, Clock Tower, sea walls and more will be discussed.

Aerial photo of the Old City

Klezmer Festival

In Galilee, Israel on August 21, 2012 at 7:35 PM

As the title might suggest, the famed Klezmer Festival has begun. Every year, for 25 years now, Tzfat (or as it is often written: Safed) hosts the Klezmer Festival, an international music event usually three days long. Thousands of people come every year, from around Israel mostly, but even some of the performing artists hail from the international sector. I was fortunate to have attended some of the 23rd annual festival (back in 2010) and now I had the opportunity of seeing some of the 25th, the current festival. I was already in Tzfat when the festival began, showing some folks around the tourist attractions, so when the sun dropped behind the mountains, with still two hours till the festivities, I was camera-ready (click to enlarge):

The sun sets over the mountains

We descended from the Citadel area and had a bite to eat, the crowds starting to intensify as the festival entered into the pre-show period. With some free time at hand we slowly meandered down the brick and stone streets taking in the sights under the cover of the ink-black sky and the orange-tinted street lamps.

Entering into the festivities

One light decoration, high up on a stone wall side of a building, caught my eye – just one of the many music-themed ornamentations and trimmings that are scattered throughout Tzfat. Here it is, the best my camera can muster for a night-time shot:

Light decorations

Before long, after passing the Kikar Sadeh stage – one of seven outside, we walked through the Artists’ Quarter and sat down at the Gan HaKasum stage before the musicians began. We got decent seats, to the side, and waited for the Ransas Ensemble to set up. Once they began, the lively tunes filling the wedge-shaped amphitheatre, I stood up in the back and took a semi-panoramic photograph – just look at the beautiful setting!

Ransas Ensemble performing at the Gan HaKasum

We stayed and listened to them for a while, some three or four songs (as well as watching the loud fireworks which were done from the Citadel area). I marvelled at the fast pace of the violin and the rapid toots of the flute so much so that I descended some levels to sit beside the fence, to photograph the flutist. Here it is, raw talent entertaining the masses:

Member of the Ransas Ensemble

After the third or fourth song we returned to where we started, to the next stage in our path – the Kikar Sadeh stage – where Amhia, I believe, was playing. They were a bigger group than the Ransas Ensemble and therefore had a bigger stage, and a bigger audience. Due to my simpleton camera, and the fog machine, some of my pictures come out less than perfect – this is an example of one, but, at least, it gives an adequate indication of what the stage looked like at the time:

Amhia performing at the Kikar Sadeh stage

We stayed and watched them for a bit, pressed against the cool stone wall of an art gallery as the crowd surged by. The music was festive, as it should be, and the “leader” of the group made me laugh at his amusing appearance and dress, but there was oh-so-much more to be seen and we didn’t want to stay out forever (having spent the entire day touring Tzfat). So we continued on, passing the countless vendors of traditional festival foods. One particular treat is the crêpe, made on a hot, flat, circular cooktop and then slathered with chocolate spread or Nutella. The crêpe is then folded into a triangle and popped into a wedge-shaped pocket and is eaten “on the go”. I enjoyed some of my sister’s crêpe at the 23rd festival but did not opt for another go at the overly-sweet Israeli treat. The next stage we approached was the Ma’ayan HaRadom (after passing the Kahn of the White Donkey which was not yet fully set up). There, in a quieter part of the Festival – the quietest we saw all evening – was a small musical group playing more Klezmer music. We stood on an elevated sidewalk and watched from above.

More Klezmer music on magnificent stages

And then we headed for the lights in the sky, the grand stage of the Saraya (Outside). The Saraya is a large stone building that was once the palace of the Bedouin governor of Tzfat and then the administrations building for the Ottomans when they took control of the area. There is a clock tower that juts up on the north-western corner of the structure. The bright lights that poked the sky were seen from other areas of the Old City, where the other stages were scattered about, and when we finally saw the lights, it was very impressive. Again, woe is to my camera for it cannot photograph very well at night.

Outside the Saraya

Here is another shot of the Saraya Outside stage – the colour scheme changed but the same artists were on-stage:

Another shot of outside the Saraya

After seeing just one more stage – the Saraya Inside, these two wildly packed with hordes of Klezmer-loving Jews, we continued on towards the parked car that was to take us out of the city, the hands of the clock pointing upwards – apparently aghast at the late bedtimes of the local children who ran about eating cotton candy and chocolate-filled crêpes. As we walked away from the Saraya we chanced upon the studio trailer of the IDF Radio and they were just finishing an interview. The broadcast was not only heard throughout the country but was also conveniently sounded on speakers just outside the portable studio. Here it is, the army’s own radio station and the soldiers covering the 25th International Klezmer Festival of Tzfat:

Army radio covering the festival

For more info on the Festival: Hebrew and English are both available, just click on your preferred language.

Rafting the River Jordan

In Galilee, Israel on August 8, 2012 at 6:11 PM

Today, we the family took a special little trip to the Upper Galil area, the Panhandle, for some rafting on the River Jordan. Having chosen Kfar Blum as our raft and route providers by buying tickets online in advance, we set out at an early hour (8AM) and got there in record time. We parked and took the shuttle bus up to the “long route” launching area on the Snir Stream (one of three streams that compose the Jordan River). Here, a guide shows us the route:

A guide shows us the route on a big map

As soon as we had gone over the few safety instructions, we donned life jackets and hopped into rafts – two rafts for six people, perfect seating.

Loading onto the rafts and kayaks

The launch went off with a splash and away we went, heading down the Snir. Spinning until we gained control, the water in the early stages was the most choppy, mellowing out as we got further south. At my earliest convenience, and when I felt it was safe to bring out my camera, I took this shot (which came out better than I intended, the branch whipping by overhead):

Quick part in the river

One thing we realised in our craft was that it was more fun and less work to simply let the current throw us around. We just laid our paddles across the raft and bounced around, the cold river water sloshing us every few seconds. I really enjoyed the mild rapids and the treacherous vegetation that attacked us from the shore but I think my favourite was crashing into boulders and springing back with a lurch, large quantities of icy water replenishing the cold sensation in our bodies via holes in the bottom of the rafts (yes, intentional holes).

Rafting with a smirk!

Another perk was the ever-present “threat” of over-friendly people sharing water with us. However, most times we passed by rafts engaged in water fights they paused their watery cavorting and resumed only once we were out of harm’s way. It was the people who were in the water with a special gumption for sharing water with strangers that we had to be wary of – in fact there was one fine young man with a large bucket who insisted that we pass him or else he’d be forced to pass us. When we did gather the courage to pass him, he wielded his bucket with an alarming rate of water delivery, leaving me doused in many, many gallons of icy water that made me feel quite… refreshed.

Rowdy children splashing passersby

At one point, still on the Snir, we disembarked and swam around in the shallows. There was an interesting calm in one part of the stream while just a few feet further the current swept boats and people away… With my life jacket still on, I entered the current and enjoyed the ride, hurrying to break free before the next little waterfall. I cannot stress enough how absolutely frigid the water was, and being that it is August, I don’t think one would be able to enter the water in any season other than summer – it’s just too cold. At last, after a good half hour spent splashing about and re-riding the current loop, we got back in our rafts and continued. Here is a shot of the other boat (containing my parents and my little brother) as they paddled through the deep, cold water:

Come hell or high water…

Soon enough we reached the junction where the Snir, Dan and Hermon streams morph into the Jordan River. The water a little ways back and then after the junction is relatively calm, we just drifted along – spinning slowly and occasionally crashing into the banks with little consequence. For a while we tied both rafts together and just drifted in the alternating sun and shade, chatting and snacking. Here it is, the gentle Jordan River:

The Yarden (Jordan River)

As we neared the end, approaching the “large” waterfall just after the bridge, we aligned our rafts to face forward and prepared for the fall/ride. On the banks, dozens of families picnicked and frolicked in the lazy (but still cold) waters. The lone man on the two inner tubes who whistled his way by us some hour before was nowhere to be seen, although I would have enjoyed seeing him go over the falls – would he have kept whistling?

After the falls, which weren’t as severe as I had suspected they might be, we regained the calm of the river and drifted towards the end of the route. With us was a migration of Kfar Blum rafters, the other rafting companies having ended long before us.

The migration to the finish

At the end our boat was dragged up onto the ramp, our bodies still inside. We climbed out, our legs slightly wobbly from the two to three hours “out at sea”. We removed our life jackets, returned our paddles and made our way up the the exit.

The end

On the way to the exit we found a little station where we could purchase prints of a photo that was taken of us at the waterfall – I had forgotten that they do that and thus my facial expression is not one to be lauded over. The other boat’s snapshot came out magnificent so we just bought the both of them. There is supposed to be a way to get a digital copy but when I tried that I ended up just signing into my Facebook account to have them “like” their page for me and award me a token air freshener that I am supposed to hang in our car. (When I got home, Facebook made me change my password and verify my identity because they sensed suspicious activity on my account, hmmm.)

Anyway, after a short little lunch where all those families were picnicking we headed home, the early stages of sunburn setting in… But we had gone rafting on the River Jordan so all the sunburn in the world won’t ruin the great experience!

Jerusalem Woodstock Revival

In Israel, Jerusalem on August 3, 2012 at 6:50 AM

Thursday, the day that was yesterday (and the last day of my trip), revolved around one special event: the Jerusalem Woodstock Revival. The fourth one as of yet, these revivals have attracted local musicians who have great interest in the music of those days. On the evening’s program seven acts were listed, covers ranging from Neil Young to Jimi Hendrix to The Grateful Dead. As soon as I successfully managed to find the Kraft Stadium, the venue, I found that I wasn’t late as I suspected but that the performances were just beginning.

Jerusalem Woodstock Revival IV poster

Up first was Maya Johanna Menachem with Shai Tochner and friends. Performing a range of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and others, Maya sang and Shai strummed (occassionaly also treating us to simultaneous guitar and harmonica music). Sadly, many of the songs that she sang were unknown to me so I couldn’t tap my feet along. I guess it is my fault for having neglected these musical masterpieces, the hits of the 60s and 70s. Regardless of the lyrical content, Maya has a great voice and it was a really good, low-key opening act – as a teaser to open the eardrums for the heavier rock yet to come.

Maya Johanna Menachem

It was during the first act that the place began to fill. I was surprised at the diversity of the attending crowd; from the old people who may have actually been at the original Woodstock, to the young adults who grew up listening to this music and the children who mostly came for the activies, picnics and social camaraderie. It was a great blend, something that really made it interesting.

The crowd starts to build during the first act

As the crowd grew, and I was closed in on all sides, the sun’s daily setting procedure began to quicken in our eyes and the shadows grew long over the stage. Michael Greilsammer came onto the stage with his band members and began to belt out some Led Zeppelin. Starting with the raucous song “Black Dog” I began to actually “come alive” with the music. Listening to the original version now as I write, I must say that Michael was great, his voice seemed really well-trained in the exact vocal nuances that made his cover seem so authentic.

Michael Greilsammer

When Greilsammer was done, the crowd roared in cheer and someone announced that this was the first Led Zeppelin concert they have ever been to – possibly the greatest compliment one can give to a cover band. Following Michael’s enthralling performance was the biggest star of the evening, Geva Alon. Having played at the first Jerusalem Woodstock Revival, Geva was more than welcome to come treat the crowd with his covers of select Neil Young hits. I know very little of Neil Young’s work but I could appreciate the solo effort Geva made as he entertained the crowd on his lonesome. I really enjoyed his guitar riffs, done on a plugged-in acoustic.

Geva Alon

During Geva’s performance I had the brilliant idea of getting my program sheet autographed by the performing artists. I confronted Maya first and she was more than happy to sign her name. Michael has already gone so there was only Geva left and he was still onstage…

Maya Johanna Menachem signing my program sheet

When Geva was done he was also pleased to add his name (it is more like a scrawl than a legible name) to my proffered paper. After Geva’s signature I actually abandoned my quest in getting more signatures but at least I got two! Maybe one day it’ll be worth something…

Getting back to the festivities, the fourth act was The Elevators playing Grateful Dead music. Now, I know Grateful Dead but I didn’t know the music that I heard – and I am not really sure why not. With an indifference to my poor association skills regarding oldies, the crowd seemed to really liven up and the inner Deadhead seemed to come out of scores of hopping/dancing people. Photographs of crowds never come out good for me, but here you can see some excitement is involved:

The crowd getting lively with the songs of the Grateful Dead

The Elevators gave a long performance and the crowd didn’t seem to tire a bit. With a half circle formed around the stage several people thick, the barefooted revellers swayed and hopped and swung themselves around languidly. I guess the large quantity of cold beer that seemed to flow like water must have helped fuel the dancing stamina…

Aryeh Naftaly from The Elevators

When The Elevators reluctantly stepped down, the next band was announced: Crystal Ship. Named after one of The Doors’ songs, Crystal Ship was set out to cover none other than The Doors. Since my knowledge of The Doors is about as it as it is with Neil Young, I wasn’t tapping my feet along with the rhythm. But, other people did find themselves aligned with the music – throughout the concert I saw countless attendees just bobbing their heads lightly to the music, their eyes squeezed shut and their lips mouthing the lyrics along. I’m not that guy at the concert – I’m a listener. But, sadly, I couldn’t stay and listen forever – I had to get back to Tel Aviv and I wasn’t ready to wing it with the night-time bus routes.

Crystal Ship

I stayed for two songs from Crystal Ship and then reluctantly made my way out of the stadium. One thing that I didn’t mention before, simply because I don’t remember at what point in the concert it happened, was that I bumped into an Israeli guy who I met some two or three months ago on a bus headed for Meron. I was on a trip in either Tzfat or the Kinneret area (there is a blog post about it in the archives) and he was with his friends getting ready to hike Mount Meron. When I asked him if he’s been hiking there lately, it dawned on him and we both had a good time recalling that interesting bus ride. Such a small world!

Unfortunately for me, I was unable to hear all seven acts of this year’s Jerusalem Woodstock Revival. I missed half of the Crystal Ship act and then two full ones: Libi and the Flashback (playing Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin) and Ummagumma (playing Pink Floyd). I would have liked to see those… Perhaps at Woodstock Revival V or VI, or maybe VII, when I am out of the army. Until then, I’ll be forced to listen to recorded 60s/70s music.

Thus concludes my four-day trip “down south”, I hope you enjoyed the daily accounts.

Exploring Tel Aviv-Yafo

In Israel, Tel Aviv on August 2, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Wednesday (Day #3) was dedicated to Tel Aviv and Yafo (Jaffa) so it was intended to be a somewhat relaxing day, free of transportation woes. What transpired was a long day of exploration and enjoyment, however there were transportation woes as well. I had in mind to join the free walking tour of Yafo at 10:00 AM but the bus that was supposed to take me there decided not to show… so my plans were changed. When I did make it to Yafo, my first notable stop was this marvelous antiques store, with so many things I wanted to buy (including a typewriter and a banker’s lamp):

Antiques for sale!

Beyond the store, heading for the Old City of Jaffa and the Mediterranean Sea, I came upon the Jaffa “flea market”. I don’t like that name – it was more like a “awesome old things market”. I did make a small purchase there, and received a cup of cold water as well.

The Jaffa ”flea market”

From the market I reached the famous clock tower, what used to be the centre of town, and took a few photos of it. It is interesting to note that there are a few of these clock towers all built by the Turks and scattered around Israel, one of them in Akko (which oddly never works no matter how often they try to fix it…).

Jaffa clock tower

Beyond the clock tower, on a little hill, is the Old City of Yafo. A picturesque little town, similar to Tzfat (Safed), offers extreme heat and humidty… and old buildings too, as indicated by this nice man:

Welcome to the Old City of Yafo

Having been in Be’er Sheva the previous day, the humidity levels were shockingly different. I was feeling assaulted by the harsh elements, as was, no doubt, everyone around me, so I took shelter in the visitor’s centre. This cannon, “parked” outside, is from the Ottoman Empire times, somewhere between 1515 and 1917:

Historical cannon

Here is a photograph of the peaceful side alleys of Yafo’s Old City, nearly identical to those of Tzfat:

Tzfat-like alleys in Yafo

After exploring the shaded alleys, I headed out to the port area and was greeted with more heat and humidity – but also great gusts of cool air coming in off the water. Here, taken beyond the port, rounding the corner of the “cape”, is Tel Aviv and the green-blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea:

The green sea and the buildings of Tel Aviv

Climbing back up towards the Old City, I found a place to do a short panoramic shot, which came out just a tad askew:

Short panoramic of the view from Yafo

Back on the road I came across something rather peculiar. It is a large abandoned building with arched ceilings and a large population of giant fruit bats. To add more peculiarity, these humanoid statues made from palm pieces… and weird sets of wings swinging from the ceiling. I was really curious, and wanted to go inside, but the gate was locked and the bats flapped and screeched out of my reach:


As soon as I had seen just about everything there is to see in Yafo, I headed north and found the Etzel Museum. Dealing for the most part with the Jewish resistance and defence operations in the area in the late 1940s, the location of the museum directly ties into the stories and exhibits inside. The museum, built on ruins from a neighbourhood that was the site of the historical battle for control of Jaffa:

The Etzel Museum

Once inside, cool and refreshed, I indulged myself with historical data – the battles, the operations, the hierarchy and the strife with the other Jewish groups. Those times must have been quite trying!

An Etzel trainee

After the Etzel Museum, I found HaTachana, the really old train station that has been converted into a complex of restaurants, gift shops and exhibits – a popular place for tourists and locals alike. I prefer the historical aspects but they have been mostly redone and have lost some of their antique appeal. Built in 1892, the train station was the beginning of modern transportation in Israel.


After HaTachana I entered the chic Neve Tzedek neighbourhood and strolled around. I sat down on a bench and studied some maps, the sound of music emanating from a dance studio across the park. After a little while, duly exploring the area, I chanced upon this cute stencil graffitti. It reads, in English: “This is not you, it is me” spoken by the Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, with a sly grin on his face:

Street art

My next stop was the Shalom Tower where, according to one of the information pamphlets I picked up, I could watch the sun set from an observatory. The guard informed me that the observatory has been closed for some time now and that I would not be able to watch the sunset from way up high. So, in a seemingly mindless manner, I found a redeeming feature in the tower – a photographic collection of the area in the 1920s and 30s (my favourite era). Here is a old photograph of the photographer, whose name slipped my mind, sitting on the beach with Yafo in the background.

The olden days…

After seeing the collection, a gem hidden in an obsure building, I headed for the water to see the sun go down. I found a pleasant area with rocks breaking the surf, and settled in for the show. Here, in the middle stages of sunset, a wind surfer takes to the waves, giving me a pretty nice picture:

Wind surfing at sunset

With the sun gone and the full moon making its presence, I took my travels to the Allenby and Rothschild streets – getting one of the last buses back to my hosts’ quarters in Ramat Aviv. All in all, a long and eventful day of exploration, research and travel – a success story.

Be’er Sheva

In Israel, Negev on August 1, 2012 at 7:03 AM

Today, the second day of my much anticipated trip, I headed way down south to the Negev city of Be’er Sheva. Having never been further south than Bet Shemesh, this was a true change is climate and landscape. When I got off the train and met my friend Ofir, who was my local guide for the day, I couldn’t help but notice the extreme dry heat that gusted from every direction like an oven. Outside, we passed by Bedouins, native of the Negev, who dressed very differently than the Muslim, Christian and Druze Arabs that I see all the time in the north. Sadly, I didn’t get any photographs of them. But I did get a picture of this street that, to me, was marvellously reminiscent of Miami – but in the old Turkish town area known as the Old City:

Street in the Old City of Be’er Sheva

As we walked through the Old City, the crumbling Ottoman-era stone walls visible on nearly every corner, Ofir pointed out all the places of interest, including this – water in the desert:

Running water in the desert city – the marvels of ancient engineering

After a little while spent roaming the streets in the blazing sun, with temperatures clearly surpassing 100° Fahrenheit, we ducked into a little café by the name of Lola where I ordered an iced coffee. It was fun because I never, ever, go to coffee-houses. Shortly after our coffee break we headed back outside and found ourselves in front of Beit Ha-Ful, a restaurant. Both of us hungry, we went on in and Ofir promised to get me this special food – I wasn’t quite sure what he intended at the time. The man behind the counter did some deft scooping and arranging-within-the-pita movements and then surfaced, asking me if I wanted lemon and charif (spicy – a generic term for something paste-like, spicy and made from peppers). He spooned in a little salt, much to my curiousity, and then added the lemon and charif. Next, to further propel my confusion and curiousity, he mashed up everything inside my pita. Then he asked if I wanted salads in my sandwich as well – I chose some chopped cucumber (somewhere along the line hummus was added in too). I took my completed sandwich from the man, waited for Ofir to get his and then took our mysterious culinary loot to our table. I examined my pita, noting the contents, and took a bite. What I was eating was beans and hard-boiled egg that had been mashed into one lovely, smooth, lemon-y and spicy entity. Here is what it looked like before I started eating:

Ful in a pita at Beit Ha-Ful

If you think this sounds kinda gross… trust me, it is remarkably tasty. Here my sandwich is again, in an advanced stage of its short life:

Partly devoured ful in a pita

After we finished our pitas and the complimentary falafel balls given to us, we took ourselves back into the afternoon sun and kept looking at cool things. The two museums in the area were both closed, in fact most things in Be’er Sheva worth visiting are being worked on now. But, the old WWI-era British cemetery was open. The final resting place for probably hundreds of soldiers who died for the British Empire is just smack in middle of a residential area in Be’er Sheva. I had fun imagining the British great-grandchildren of some of these fallen soldiers telling someone that his/her great-grandfather died during the Great War and was buried not in France or England… but in southern Israel. Makes for a great story, I suppose.

WWI-era British cemetery

After seeing the cemetery we went up to Ofir’s apartment for some cold water and relaxation in the coolness of man-made shade. Ofir checked the times for our next stop, the Israeli Air Force Museum “just outside” of Be’er Sheva and we headed out for the bus at the appropriate time. Getting off the bus in what would seem to be wilderness if not for the large presence of military buildings and the planes flying circles over our heads, we made our way to the museum.

Welcome to the Israeli Air Force Museum

Having paid admission, we were let in by the IAF soldiers and we started our exploration of the museum. Obviously revolving around aircraft, most of the museum is actually outdoors – parked planes “on the tarmac” or in open hangars. The “Old to New” jet fighter exhibit has 150 different warplanes order chronologically – from the WWII-era Spitfire which Israel used in the 1948 war to the modern-day F-15 which is still in use today.

An Israeli F-4 Phantom

Part of the experience outdoors, other than the relentless desert sun, was made 0h-so real by (1)the IAF training planes circling overhead, and (2)the IDF/IAF gunfire in one of the bases just across the main road. The sounds, together with the visuals, really helped create an experience – that and the fact that my friend is an avid plane enthusiast. Getting back to the aircraft, some of the stories behind the planes were known to me from books. This Syrian MiG-17 has a story which almost sounds too “unfortunate” to be true:

A Syrian MiG-17 which accidentaly landed in Israel

Accidentally landing in Israel and then having to surrender the plane must have been very nerve-wracking for the Syrian pilot. But then again, simply flying one of the older planes in the IAF’s history is probably nerve-wracking as well, presenting the biplanes of old:

Old propeller planes in a hangar

Some of the planes, a very small percentage, are open for sitting in but the ones that looked interesting had long passed by when I noticed the discreet ladders offering their services at the sides of the planes. Blame it on the heat and the sun. I did, however, sit inside the helicopter that hosted Begin and Sadat, leaders of Israel and Egypt respectively, as they flew to a military command centre in Be’er Sheva to sign the peace treaty in 1979. That was interesting.

Old Israeli fighters that have been decommissioned

On of the other interesting findings was the hang glider that was used by a Syrian-based terrorist to fly into Israel, in the Golan, and raid an sleeping army base in the dead of night. I had read the story in the book I bought from the Navy Museum in Haifa back in February (as can be seen here, in this old post: Haifa Again). Now knowing the story, it was both fascinating and chilling to see the exact hang-glider sitting in a hangar seemingly detached from the blood-drenched history that it helped make. If only aircraft had the power of speech…

The bulk of the aircraft on display

Towards the end, we climbed into a dormant Boeing jet and watched a short film about the history of the IAF – with the comforting air conditioning cooling down the plane’s interior. It also should be noted that this museum offers extremely cold water on the far end of the main display lot so, should you go visit, you’ll know ahead of time to be liberal with your water. So, after about two hours of so, we had seen all the aircraft there was to see and had read about more incidents then we could remember and so we headed out, back out to the main road. The training planes had ceased for some time, and apart from the sporadic staccato of gunfire, it was hot and silent in the great desert expanse. Back in Be’er Sheva, I said my good-byes and thank yous to my friend, Ofir, and continued on to the train station where I boarded a train for Tel Aviv. As a parting shot, the perfect indication of a day growing old, here is sunset from the train, hastily photographed as the well-tended crops below whip by the windows:

Sunset from the train

Now that was a nice day trip. It’s good to have finally entered into the vastness of the Negev, if only just to see a city. Hopefully one day I will visit all that there is to be seen way down there (including the famous Ramon Crater and Eilat) but for now I have Tel Aviv to focus on. Until tomorrow!