Sunday, April 27, 2008

That old coastal port

So this was Jaffa.

I'm surprised they even call it a town. It's a short walk from the centre of Tel Aviv. It's really part of Tel Aviv.

But, it's considered to be an important site nonetheless.

From the hostel, it was short walk. About half and hour.

I was hoping for a nice relaxing place.

Instead I found a horrifying tourist town.

Nothing in this place was real.

It was all rebuilt and artificial. It looked a little bit like one of those "Pirate" themed amusement parks in fact.

Walking through some of the narrow lanes, I couldn't contain my laughter and my smiles. I was reminded a bit of the beautiful little alleys in Akko. But this was the sad, cartoon version of the place.
As I walked back to Tel Aviv, I looked back towards Jaffa.
From a distance, it looked beautiful. Frame by the sky and the sea, I could see why this place was so adored by some.
I felt a strong sense of sadness walking away as well.

That was it for me.

My trip in the Middle East was finished.

I had been travelling through for so long and now it was over. It seemed like only yesterday that I had arrived into Istanbul with the boys. And now.... I didn't even know where they were. I had met so many great people, friends like Kamil and Pete would be people I would hopefully keep in touch with for a long time. The sites I had seen. My eyes had been opened to an entire culture of wonders and delights.

I was dreading the flight back to London. I didn't want to go. I wanted to stay. I wanted to go deeper into Arabia, into Central Asia. I wanted to keep travelling.

Sadly, it was done though. I needed to go and get a grip with reality.

At least I had a stop over in Hong Kong to ease my pain.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Would you like a felafel???

I had been in Israel for a few weeks and I had been subjected to the strange variety of foods this country had to offer.

The huge numbers of Americans means that there is a constant supply of fast food (which I wasn't so keen on) in addition to the local foods.

The most surprising food was the Chinese food though. There is a small Chinese population in Israel intent on supplying the population with noodles and stir fries.

They also serve a very important function as some of the few restaurants that are actually open on Shabbat!!! On the days where necessity dictated that I eat Chinese food, I was always certain to be set upon by the owners. The owners of the restaurant in Haifa were particularly keen on introducing me to their two teen aged kids. Both had been born and raised in Israel and it was a very strange site to see them conversing freely to one another in Hebrew whilst struggling to speak to me in a combination of broken English and Mandarin.

The real foods I wanted in Israel was the Israeli food though!

Hummus in particular caught my attention!

.... again.....

.... and again....

It wasn't long before I was a bit sick of it in fact.

The people eat it as a meal in itself! There are hummus restaurants that serve NOTHING ELSE! JUST HUMMUS!

Don't get me wrong, it's a tasty dish. Smooth, rich and always with bit of a kick.

But to eat it day in an day out. That was a bit much for me.
So when I reached Tel Aviv, I revolted from the hummus. I decided I wanted something more substantial.

With the Mediterranean in sight, I wandered down the beach towards Jaffa and I bought myself a fish lunch.
And no hummus!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tel Aviv

I arrived in Tel Aviv late.

I had missed the train from Haifa because of an over zealous security guard and the result was an annoying wait for the next train.

Thankfully, the train ride itself was very short. Only a touch longer than an hour. It was my first experience of the Israeli train system and I was very impressed. The country has a modern European rail system that makes this small country feel even smaller.

I got out at my station in Tel Aviv feeling tired though. So instead of finding the appropriate bus, I decided to just get into a cab.... the trip was fast, but it was also unfortunately the first (and luckily only) time that I was ripped off noticeably during my travels.

Damn taxi drivers....

Nevertheless, I arrived safe and sound at my hostel, the famed Hayarkon 48. This was a place that I had been looking forward to. I had been told alot of good things about it from fellow travellers.

It was a disappointment. A crowded building with rickety beds. The other travellers in the hostel were loud and as a whole, fairly annoying. It was also one of those fantastic hostels that manages to charge its patrons for every single additional service. So the initial "cost" of the stay that is advertised.... really isn't the true cost. I had experienced this in other places such as the "Wombat" in Vienna, but at the Wombat, those costs were ignored as they were far outweighed by the service, the fun, the friendliness and the benefits that are provided.

Hayarkon 48 was relatively well located though. So I decided to use this, my final city in the Middle East, as a period to just quietly walk around.

Walking up and down the beach, I wasn't too impressed.

Again, I had been told amazing stories about how beautiful the beaches at Tel Aviv were.....

They were nice, but nothing to write home about.

So I headed inland a bit. Up Allenby and onto Rothschild Boulevard.

The trees along Rothschild Boulevard gave the street a nice serene feeling.
I strolled along for a while until I reached Sheinken Street, which I had read was THE place to be seen in Tel Aviv. It was apparently where all the best cafes and shops were located.

Again... I was in for a disappointment.

The cafes and shops may have been nice relative to what was in Tel Aviv, but were again nothing write home about at all.

All Tel Aviv did successfully, was make me miss Jerusalem.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

In Christ's City

The next day, we headed to Nazareth.

This was the supposed birth place of Jesus so we had high hopes of what we would see there.
Aside from some nice side streets and alleys, it was a massive disappointment.
This was quite clearly a tourist town.

It had been a tourist town for a LONG time as well......

The churches that were there all had a manufactured feel to them. Most of them also appeared to have been built relatively recently.

The main church was enormous.

A huge building that had apparently been built in the 60s.

It definitely had that 60s feel to it, with lots of exposed concrete, sharp edges and a complete lack of any real emotion.
Even the other churches in the area that were reported to be older felt a touch too sterile.
Further up the hill, there were some nice views. But aside from that, there really wasn't that much to the place.

It was the down season after all. So with few tourists, there were few other people there. There was evidence of shops and vendors everywhere, but thankfully they were closed, thus saving us from the screams of the hawkers.
As the day came to a close, I said my goodbyes to Adam and Jesse.

They were heading onto Galilee, while I had to head back South towards Tel Aviv.

Travelling with them had been fun, with Adam's biting sense of humour particularly entertaining.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

This Coastal Fortress

I really like Akko.
It's such a beautiful place.

After having walked along the waterfront and then through the tunnels we decided to embrace the true tourists inside and we paid to go into the citadel. It was actually very worth it.

I also got to see Adam in all of his sarcastic glory as he unleashed on the people who thought that they could push in at the tickets counter. It was an indirect spray that was well worth it!

Walking through the streets, it feels like at any moment, a Templar Knight could suddenly appear from around the corner.

The three of us made our way up the walls of the city and found ourselves a nice place to just sit and look at the view.

We were full of the sites and sounds of the place... as well as a fair bit of roasted lamb.
So it was in a happy mood that we left Akko and slowly made our way back to our hostel in Haifa.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


This is a lovely place!

Coming here in the low season also means that I've avoided all of the rush that I have feeling would make this place unbearable in the Northern summer.

But now.... it's lovely.

Walking through the narrow lanes and the cobbled streets makes you feel like a Crusader who has just entered the city.

The cool winds bring the smells of the ocean as well as the smells of the markets within the walls to you.

And as you walk further, you start finding the historical buildings.
Where the traders used to bring their camels!

And the tunnels beneath the place.
Amazing stretches of underground networks that allowed the Crusaders to move from one part of the city to another undetected.
And then you see the more recent influences.

Much like the rest of the Middle East, you see the contrasts and the combinations of culture. It's particularly true in Akko. The old Templar structures are still there, but throughout the city you can see the stamp of Islam.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Crusader Port

Standing at the top of the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa, you can see all the way across the bay.

On the other side, you can just see what appears to be a small white city. It's as though it's gleaming in the distance.
Jesse, Adam and I woke up early one morning and found ourselves the Sheruts that would take us there.

We were heading towards one of the most famous places in the Crusader world!

The port city of Acre!

Now renamed "Akko", it was still well known. A place famous of it's beauty and history.

After a short trip of only about half an hour, we found ourselves in Akko.

The place is small. But stunning.

It is surround on three sides by the ocean. The waves crash against its walls.
Standing on the high walls, we could feel the cool winds of the Mediterranean.
We were all impressed.

The combination of natural beauty and imposing ruins is perfectly married in Akko.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ummmmm.... what else?

So, Haifa.

It's a relatively small city. Only a few hundred thousand people.

It has a stunning location too. Mountains in the backdrop, hugging the pristine waters of the Mediterranean and with the Baha'i Gardens drapped across it, cutting the city in half.

This city should be crawling with people.

But strangely enough, I found the place to be very quiet. There's something seriously lacking about the place. Aside from the Baha'i Gardens, there isn't much to the city.

The ocean is there, but an ugly port facility takes the beauty away from that.

And as nice as the Gardens are (I know I harp on about them....) the rest of the city is surprisingly ugly. Alot of run down, dirty buildings. They're not even old. Just poorly kept.

So as a whole, though the Gardens were magnificent, Haifa was disappointing. I'm sure it would be a nice place to live, with the serene atmosphere and the calm, cool feeling to the place.... but as a place to visit?

Not so much.

At least the Gardens are there though!
Aren't they beautiful?
They are completely worth the visit.... even if the rest of Haifa isn't!