Today is the 29th of November, the 68th anniversary of the UN’s Partition Plan for Palestine, which laid the basis for Israel’s independence. The day is known in Hebrew by a mish-mash of Hebrew numerics (with letters replacing numbers) and the Gregorian calendar as Kaf Tet be’November, and is usually marked by Arab agitation in the UN to undo what was done so long ago. Of course if they had accepted that partition plan, and not gone to war in 1948, the Palestinians would have had a state for themselves long ago. But that’s a whole other story.
However with perfect timing for the day, to celebrate the Jewish people’s existence and sovereignty in our own land, here is a wonderful travelogue with beautiful pictures taken by one of my readers.
The pictures and text are by Yves Peloquin, a reader from Canada, who wrote to me earlier in the year asking for suggestions of places to visit when he comes to Israel. I sent him a few ideas, but as you can see from the fabulous pictures below, Yves managed very well on his own. He visited here with his wife during October (just as the current violence started) and had the great fortune to enjoy glorious weather. A week or two earlier it was unbearably hot, and shortly after they returned to Canada we were under floods of water!
Enjoy the pictures of our beautiful country.
I came back from Israel a few weeks ago. I had a great time in Israel. The country didn’t look like any other ones that I saw before.
I spent the first four days in Jerusalem (Arthur hotel), moved to Safed in Galilee for 4 days (www.artistquarterguesthouse.com a great place owned by very nice people), went to the Dead Sea (Ein Bokek) for 2 days and came back to Jerusalem for another 4 days.
The first day, to better understand the size of the old city I walked around the whole wall in about 90 minutes. This is how I came in contact with the Jaffa gate, Zion gate, Dung gate, Golden gate, Lion gate, Damascus Gate, New Gate.
When you turn on the East side of the wall the Kidron valley is between you and the Mount of Olives.
All these small protuberance are tombs. Some people pay up to $30,000 to be buried here.
Some of these tombs are 2,500 years old. Here is the huge tomb of priest Zachariah.
Then I entered the old city by the Jaffa gate. I don’t think any new visitor can truly anticipate what he will find on the other side. There is a whole labyrinth of mostly covered narrow street, packed by a myriad of Arab’s souk, where you have to negotiate your passage among others individual tourists, tour groups, soldiers, and Arab merchants who will never miss the quick look that you will invariably throw in their souk (it then becomes a challenge for this Arab merchant to make you walk in his boutique. How many times did I hear one of these: “Come inside my boutique, Vous parlez Français, English? Where do you come from? I have nice scarves inside for your wife, Come taste my pomegranate juice, Today I will make a great special for you, etc.”) I quickly learned two rules to minimize the harassment; Don’t ask a price if you are not really interested by the item, Never touch something if you don’t want to buy it. And there is only one rule if you want to buy something: Never, ever pay the price they ask. They all love the negotiating game and you quickly realize that every price is inflated.
The narrow street are really something. They are made of stones that became polished by hundred years of usage. You always walk up or down as it is rarely flat. Wherever you go you need to cross dozens of small slippery flight of steps. There are so many thing to distract you that sooner or later you will miss a step. Fortunately they are only a few inches and it is unlikely that you will hurt yourself. I know by experience.
If you are curious and after changing streets several times you finally reach the Western wall. Before my trip I often watched an online webcam that shows the Wall live 24 hours a day so I knew what to expect. But I was not prepare for the relatively small size of the wall (about 30 meters) the solemnity of the site, the religious fervor of the Jews who were praying.
See below in the cracks of the wall the thousands of small pieces of paper containing requests written by believing people.
Here are some other great places I went:
The Solomon’s caves. A gigantic quarry where it is believe that Solomon and many other builders got the huge stone they needed to build Jerusalem. We walked half an hour through beautiful caves right outside the northern side of the Old City wall.
The Jerusalem Citadel with David’s Tower in the back. The tower, which has nothing to do with David, was named that way because at one point people believed that the citadel was the vestige of Davids’s palace.
Then we hired a private guide for a three hours visit of the archeological site of the Old City of David. This is the site that King David captured from the Jebusites. The next two pictures (not from me) show the map of the site and the Zedekiah’s tunnel that we walked through for 40 minutes with water up to the thighs at the beginning. The visit was really worth it.
The Old city of David is on the south site of the wall near the Dung Gate. Just on the left there is the Zion Gate and south of it a cemetery with a very well known occupant (thanks to Steven Spielberg)
Just after visiting the Old City of David, I came by the entrance of the 2,000 year-old fortress of the Chanukah villain Antiochus Epiphanes, while the workers were leaving for the day. At first they didn’t want me to have a peek but in the end, because I was a tourist, they let me in for a few minutes. (I didn’t know that the site was link to that monster Antiochus Epiphanes until I read Anne’s post about it).
At the Beit She’arim National Park (in the Lower Galilee), recently added to UNESCO’s world heritage sites, we visited an old cemetery and its 30 rock-cut Jewish tombs. All the tombs were carved out of soft limestone. An amazing site to visit.
We went to Nazareth and drive up Mount of Precipice. The view of Mount Tabor and two small Arab villages was really great.
In the Zippori village we had a private tour of an olive plantation with the owner. No need to say that all we saw was quite new to us.
The guy uses an electric tool to comb the olives tree branch and dislodge the olives. The olives fall on a net at the bottom of the tree. From a conveyor belt the olives are drop under a stone wheel and the oil is extracted.
Next a view from Tel Megiddo site.
Tel Megiddo, site of Armageddon
Next we went on a private tour on the lake of Galilee with a great guy. A beautiful day,
A quick swim in the lake (the Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee). The water was perfect. In the background, a view to the magnificent Arbel Cliff which we climbed down next morning.
The original thing with the Arbel Cliff is that you start at the top and go down for a three hours hiking. The views are quite spectacular.
We then stopped at a banana plantation, nobody around and we visited by ourselves (near Ginosar on road 90):
At this stage bananas are as hard as an apple is.
Next, we visited Korazim national Park.
Next, after a short visit to the church of Beatitudes we found that view on our way back to Safed. The picture doesn’t do justice to this great landscape.
Next, returning to the Jerusalem area, we visited Beit Guvrin Maresha National Park (a newly added UNESCO world heritage site). Could you guess what are these niches carved in the wall? (The wall is part of a huge cave found several feet under the soil.
Next we travelled to the Dead Sea. We found an impressive view of the Dead Sea near Ein Bokek.
Following that we spent one hour in the Negev Desert on a camel. (As usual I am following in the back, it has been like that since the wedding. I am sure she told the guide to put me there.) :-)
Next stop: Going down Masada after a few hours exploring the site.. We climbed it up early in total darkness (before 5h30 AM) with flashlights to see the sun rise.
We then returned to Jerusalem and visited the Israel Museum. We saw a display of an altar:
And here are beautiful cylinders used to keep the books of the Torah in a synagogue.
Next, we went to the Shrine of the Book, on the Israel Museum site, It was built to hold the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts.
Inside the Shrine the manuscripts are displayed to the public:
This next picture was taken in Jerusalem on the corner of Malchei Israel Street. and Yona Street on a Thursday night. It is the heart of the Orthodox Jewish life.
Two days before leaving: Going up to see the Dome of the Rock.
And view from Mount of Olives taken a few days before:
In spite of the violence in the news we were never afraid wherever we went.
In the first week single soldiers were a common sight everywhere. I went to the grocery store one night and the guy in front of me was with his girlfriend. He was holding a bottle of water in one hand and his rifle in the other. Once you have seen this you don’t mind them any more. But in the second week they were never alone.
So I am back. My wife bought enough Olive oil for a year, she now washes herself with soap made of camel milk (yes I still have to sleep in the same bed), she brought several small bags of mud from the Dead Sea and so far, my daughters are still unaware of what their mother plans to do with it and with them (poor girls). At the airport of Tel Aviv she bought two bottles of wine at the Duty Free. We had to switch planes in Toronto with only 40 minutes before boarding for Montreal. Guess what? you cannot bring more than 100 ml of liquid in a plane in Canada, a bottle of wine is 750 ml. Because of the security we missed our plane and had to wait two more hours for the next one. My wife is better not to be seen drinking that wine while eating her Friday night pizza.
And to conclude:
In Israel cats are everywhere. Nobody owns them and they go everywhere.
Yves, this has been the most enjoyable post that I’ve posted in a very long time. Thank you for all the work! Your photos are fantastic, so clear and beautiful, and your little comments brought your visit to life. I’m so glad you enjoyed your visit and I hope you come back again soon. I also hope your pictures will inspire other readers to come and visit.
I should note that indeed, most Israeli cats wander free, but not all. My own cat was once a street cat but is now house-trained and living a very pampered existence with me and my family. :-)
And lastly – your last paragraph had me laughing out loud! :-D