Israel's Good Name

Archive for the ‘Haifa’ Category

Israel Railway Museum

In Haifa, Israel on October 26, 2014 at 4:38 AM

To celebrate my two-year anniversary with the IDF, and because I had a convenient ride, I took a little trip to the Israel Railway Museum in downtown Haifa. Having been on my to-see list for several years now, the train museum was even more interesting than I had imagined it would be. Located at the old railway station of Haifa East, the museum incorporates both the remains of the Ottoman train station that was built as an important rail hub in the Holy Land and remnants of the local train history leading up to today.

Israel Railway Museum

Israel Railway Museum

The first local train line opened up by the Ottomans between Jerusalem and Jaffa in 1892. Throughout the next few decades, the trains began to criss-cross the country and offered transportation to cities such as Damascus in Syria, Amman in Jordan and El Qantara in Egypt. At the time, the Hedjaz Railway ran pilgrims making hajj from throughout the Ottoman Empire to Islam’s holy cities Mecca and Medina in the Hedjaz region of today’s Saudi Arabia. Haifa East was a station for the Jezreel Valley branch of the Hedjaz Railway, most of those tracks now lost to history.

Old train station clock

Old train station clock

During World War I, the tracks were used by both sides: the Germans and Turkish to move troops and supplies and then at the end of the war by the British to ferry injured soldiers as the Germans and Turkish were expelled. Interestingly enough, the British actually bombed the Afula station which headed for Transjordan – which brings to mind The Train. After the Great War, the British ran Palestine Railways and luxury coaches were added to the standard passenger and freight trains. In the 1930’s, during the time of “The Disturbances”, Arabs would sabotage the trains and train-tracks in protest of both the Jews and the British. Rolling concrete bunkers were used to patrol and protect the tracks, the British soldiers armed with guns and ready for trouble.

1893 ambulance coach from WWI

1893 ambulance coach from WWI

After World War II, when the Jews struggled for independence the British trains became targets as both military sabotage and then, with the British leaving, to prevent the neighbouring Arab armies from invading Israel via rail (such as the bridge near Achziv). The trains were also used by the British to transport Jewish refugees from the ports and beaches where they landed from sea to the Atlit “Illegal” Immigration Camp. Once independence was established, the train lines were restricted to just safe Israeli stations and as the fledgling country developed and grew, Israel Railways incorporated captured and purchased train cars and engines. Today the trains are a crucial part of public transportation and I myself have ridden the train to all ends, north and south.

Halt!

Halt!

With the Holy Land’s train history covered, I shall now describe my visit. Paying the discounted soldier’s entrance fee, I was immediately directed to Coach no. 688, a British-built passenger car from 1970, where a short film was to be played. Sitting down in a normal coach, I watched a old black-and-white film about the transition from steam locomotives to diesel engines – interesting.

Watching the short film

Watching the short film

Disembarking, I began my self-guided tour of the various train cars and engines, including a 1902 Class 0-6-0 locomotive from Krauss, Germany and an 1893 passenger coach built by Baume et Marpent in Belgium and used by the British in WWI to evacuate wounded soldiers to Egypt. But my favourite train car was the luxurious Saloon coach no. 98 built by Birmingham RC&W Co. of England, used as a day saloon from 1922 till 1929 and then as a night saloon from 1929 till the mid-1960’s.

Enjoying myself in the luxurious saloon

Enjoying myself in the luxurious saloon

From the moment I entered the narrow wood-paneled corridor, I felt like I was living the classic Poirot murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express, albeit all by my lonesome.

British saloon coach

British saloon coach

Stepping outside, I examined the numerous trains on the many sets of tracks of Haifa East. The concrete bunker car from the 1930’s, which I mentioned above, was pretty interesting. Being that the modern train-line runs past the museum, it was interesting to note the contrasts of train types throughout the years. A particularly shiny and new-looking Israel Railways train was “parked” a few tracks over from the furthest museum piece, I wonder when that will enter circulation…

Coming from the east

Coming from the east

There was such a colourful view looking westward over the tracks, with the trains, the trees, the orange rooftops and of course, the wonderfully blue sky:

Heading to the west

Heading to the west

Finished with the outdoor section, I crossed back over the red metal bridge from where I came and entered the museum’s small exhibits building. Within, I saw innumerable documents, photographs, old tickets, stamps, work tools and models. With my father coming for me, I just breezed through, eyeballing only the most interesting pieces in the main room and the two antechambers. Leaving the museum, I spotted the Turkish monument erected in 1905 for the opening of the railroad station just outside the front gate:

Turkish monument from 1905

Turkish monument from 1905

In summary, the Israel Railway Museum is definitely worth the visit, all the more so for children and train enthusiasts.

Army Trip: Mount Carmel & Shefayim Waterpark

In Coastal Plain, Haifa, Israel on September 2, 2014 at 5:04 AM

Back in June, the day after Shavuot our entire battalion went on a little trip, visiting two places: Mount Carmel and the Shefayim waterpark. Loading up on buses in the morning, we drove up the mountain not far from the base and parked at the first site, the memorial for the Carmel Fire – the enormous forest fire in 2010 that claimed 44 lives.

Carmel Fire Memorial

Carmel Fire Memorial

The greatest Israeli natural disaster in modern times, the Carmel Fire spread at an alarming rate and as various security forces and firefighters converged on the site, one Prison Service bus got caught in the blaze and 37 cadets and commanders were tragically killed. The fire spread over the next few days and destroyed all in its path. More than 17,000 people were evacuated and nearly 10,000 acres of forest was burnt. The blaze even came close to my base, at the western foot of Mount Carmel. In this aerial photo I found on Wikipedia, my base is obscured by the fire’s smoke (also visible from space and additionally photographed by NASA):

The smoke from the fire in 2010

The smoke from the fire in 2010

We all gathered at the memorial and the battalion commanders spoke, outlining the plan of the day and informing us that several SPNI guides were to be taking the Mount Carmel hike with us (SPNI – Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel). After respecting the dead and photographing the memorial site, we head out on our mountainous hike – each company starting a few minutes after the previous one. Not much of a herd follower, I meandered around and took my time, the groups passing me by.

Misty mountain scenery

Misty mountain scenery

What I had imagined would be a simple, rather symbolic, hike was actually a legitimate mountain hike with craggy footholds and sheer cliff edges. One thing that I found interesting was the fact that many of the blackened trees stand exactly as they had several years back. We walked and walked, and then I came upon one of the SPNI guides giving some background on the region’s fauna. When that came to end, I hurried on ahead and climbed the trail’s rocky path, passing too many littered water bottles.

Up we go!

Up we go!

Eventually, with the howling masses at my heels, I finished the hike sweaty and invigorated. I enjoyed a quick snack and then ditched my M16 with the special vehicle and crew tasked with the job. Sitting beside a friend, we set off for our next destination, the Shefayim Waterpark. As this was my first waterpark, I was excited to have the new experience but rather apprehensive at having the experience with an entire battalion. Within an hour we pulled up at the waterpark, just north of Herzaliya, and we disembarked. Slipping into something a little more comfortable, we had lunch and then headed for the water. With so many choices, but so many lines, I first plunged into the main swimming pool. Then a different pool, and then an interesting tube ride. It was on that tube ride that we capsised at the end and lost track of our other friend.

Shefayim waterpark

Shefayim waterpark

Waterparks being waterparks, I don’t know what more to say – rumour is that the army is taking us to yet another waterpark, thanking us for our hard work during Operation Protective Edge.

Army Trip: The Bahai Gardens & Paintballing

In Haifa, Israel on May 20, 2014 at 3:25 AM

This blog post is about a surprise little trip one Sunday morning a few weeks ago, a trip of educational and fun purposes for our platoon. Our trip destinations were to the Bahai Gardens followed by paintballing, both conveniently located in Haifa. We boarded the base’s army bus and then drove to the other side of Mount Carmel to visit the Bahai Gardens, the huge terraced garden that marks the side of the mountain for all to see from miles away.

The Bahai Gardens of Haifa

The Bahai Gardens of Haifa

I had visited the Bahai Gardens twice before, taking the daily 12 o’clock tour of the first seven or so uppermost terraces, but our trip was to the next terraces down – a section I thought was closed to the public. We entered the gardens and walked down a shaded tree-lined path taking us to a junction with a nice stone house marked “Private”.

Private

Private

We stepped into the particularly hot sun and headed for the Shrine of the Bab, the morning feeling extra-hot, heated from a desert wind known as “sharav” (or in Arabic: “chamseen“). These desert winds, usually coming from the east, can even carry large amounts of sand and smother the country in heat for several days at a time. Despite the heat, the Bahai gardeners were working full steam ahead and there was even one guy working on the exterior of the shrine.

Working on the shrine's exterior

Working on the shrine’s exterior

As I have already written about the Bahai, and their Haifa gardens, as linked above, I will only briefly touch on some of the details. This shrine, the crown jewel of the garden, is a golden-domed tomb of the forerunner of the Bahai faith, the Báb who was born in Persia in the year 1819. The Báb was executed in 1850 and in 1909 his remains were smuggled to the Holy Land and he was buried on Mount Carmel. The shrine was completed in 1953 and the expansive gardens we see today were begun in 1987 and have only been completed and opened to the public in 2001.

Looking up at the Shrine of the Báb

Looking up at the Shrine of the Báb

Several of the soldiers in my platoon entered the shrine, removing their shoes as required. Nearly all who entered were either Muslim or Druze and I didn’t feel comfortable entering – I’m also a little unsure of its status in regards to Jewish Law, although it seems to be fine because it isn’t even a house of worship. I did, however, take a photo through a keyhole but it didn’t come out too interesting looking. We then proceeded to the observation section of that terrace, and then I took this photo as we walked back, looking out at Downtown Haifa (note the yellow haze coming in from the east, the aforementioned “sharav“).

Looking out at Downtown Haifa

Looking out at Downtown Haifa

Sweating buckets, we got back on to the bus and drove over the mountain, heading back to the Carmel Coast. There, we disembarked at the paintballing place outside the Congress Centre, near Castra. I had never been paintballing, so I was justifiably looking forward – itchy trigger finger and all. We entered the site and began donning protective gear: camouflage overalls, imported Russian flak vests and JT X-Fire masks. I made two decisions as I dressed; one, to leave my phone behind and two, not to wear my glasses under my mask. In retrospect, I should have taken a video of the battle that followed but the glasses situation wasn’t as flexible. We grabbed our Tippmann 98 paintball guns and headed up to the final staging area.

Gearing up

Gearing up

The first thing we all noticed was the incredible heat. Then we needed to choose teams – I heard a lot of suggestions such as “Bedouins vs. Druze” but in the end it was colour-coordinated and at random. We loaded up and entered the arena, forefingers caressing the smooth metal trigger. I mourned the fact that my visibility was limited – I could merely see heads and torsos on the far end of the field, broken up by tall dry grass and old oil drums. I spotted an easy target and sent some paintballs to him, not knowing if I had made contact or not. Then, bam! I watched a paintball hit my gun and then ricochet onto the far left side of my mask’s goggles. With the wet yellow paint just resting on my mask, I slithered my way to the next cover, occasionally firing at enemy troops.

Posing before the battle

Posing before the battle

What made the experience so interesting was that it was exactly like “Call of Duty” (or any similar FPS game): there was tall grass, assorted metal barrels and containers to hide behind, the sound of “bullets” pinging off said barrels and containers, and most importantly, a cacophony of Arabic yells – battle cries. The only language I heard during the gunfight was Arabic, talk about realism… I snapped out of my reverie, let loose some more paintballs and leapt behind some cover. I fired more and then realised I was shooting blanks. I turned to the man next to me and saw Ali Na’al behind the mask. “I’m out!” I cried, my voice muffled through the mask. Firing blanks himself, Ali admitted the same and so we sulked back to the last staging ground. I had thought that we were to reload and reenter the fray but I was wrong and the intense battle lasted mere minutes, as everybody ran dry. Examining myself, I found wet paint splattered in two more places, although indirect hits: my left thigh and right ankle. In summary I’d say that paintball is amazing and I’m really glad to have had the chance, but that corrective eyewear is a must, as well as smaller, more organised teams. With that, we shed our borrowed clothing and sat down for lunch before heading back to the base.

Castra & the Atlit ”Illegal” Immigration Camp

In Coastal Plain, Haifa, Israel on April 2, 2013 at 6:10 AM

On the second day of Chol HaMoed, somewhat well-rested from the previous day’s trip to Tel Dan, we headed out in the very opposite direction, destination: Castra and Atlit (just south of Haifa). First site, coming out of the Carmel Tunnels (which feel way longer in a car than in a bus) was the Castra museums. Located within a mall, there are two “museums”: a Doll Museum which, in many display cases, recite the history of the Jewish people, and the Archaeological Museum which showcases the finds of Khirbet Castra’s excavations. Khirbet Castra lays on the western slopes of Mount Carmel and was an important settlement during the Byzantine period. Artefacts found in the area can be traced back to all different periods, due to the great location of the area.

Old ceramic piece from Castra

Old ceramic piece from Castra

Rather small museums, but free of charge, there isn’t too much to share but here is a nice scene from the Doll Museum – the 1967 recapture of the Kotel, a great time in recent Jewish history:

Doll depiction of the 1967 recapture of the Kotel

Doll depiction of the 1967 recapture of the Kotel

After the Castra Mall museums we continued south and took a little stop at my base. We weren’t allowed in, well I was, but it gave my family a glimpse of what some of the army life is like – a glimpse. After the base, we continued on south to Atlit, on a road that I’ve driven on so many times. At the entrance to Atlit, just across from the gas station we fill our trucks up at, is the Atlit “Illegal” Immigration Camp. Being that I pass it so often while army driving, I’ve been waiting and waiting to get inside. With the tour starting shortly, we hopped on in. The first site on the tour, a prisoner transport bus with a British army guard:

Transport bus and guard

Transport bus and guard

To relay a brief overview of the site, the Atlit camp was built in the late 1930s by the British to hold the refugees flooding in from Europe, before, during and especially after the war. After stopping the clandestine immigration ships out at sea, the British would often detain the wannabe immigrants and so the camp at Atlit began its years of service. With new people continuously coming, the British would let people go from time to time. Here is a aerial model of the camp and the train tracks, with the guard towers on the low sandy hill in between:

Model of the camp

Model of the camp

One famous incident took place at the camp. One night, after two days deliberation, the Palmach sent fighters into the camp to release everyone. Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated, was one of the commanders of the Palmach strike force that liberated the camp. With the operation a success, the British devised a detaining method out of the Palmach’s reach – detainment camps in Cyprus. An island off the coast of Turkey and Syria, the British opened up camps and brought the wannabe immigrants in by the thousands. But before the opening of the Cyprus camps, the Jewish immigrants were brought, often by train, to the camp at Atlit. Here is a photograph of children who survived the Holocaust being “transferred” from German camps to British camps in 1945:

Children that survived the Holocaust...

Children who survived the Holocaust…

First thing first when entering the camp. Segregation, showering and delousing with DDT in the shower house:

The shower house

The shower house

An interesting fact, which I learned on Wikipedia, is that some of the German Templars from Haifa (from the German Colony), who supported the Nazis, were detained in the Atlit camp before being deported. I cannot imagine it was very nice for the Templars and the immigrant Jews living together in the camp. Speaking of living, here is one of the surviving buildings from the living quarters:

Exterior of the living quarters

Exterior of the living quarters

And inside the living quarters. In the photo, the restoration attempts, there are just 20 beds, usually there were about 40 and in times of maximum capacity there were 70 beds per building!

Living quarters

Living quarters

And in the corner of the living quarters, an area dedicated to teaching. Mostly there were impromptu instructors teaching the Hebrew language to the immigrants but I’m sure other subjects were thrown in as well.

The teaching corner

The teaching corner

The tour guide took us next to a room with a screen. We all sat down and she stood at a podium and asked us as a group if we knew anyone that spent time in the camp. A woman, sitting beside my mother, spoke up and told the guide to search for a “Shimon Gelles” on the computer. When the search was complete, and Gelles’ face was staring down at us from the screen, the woman announced that Shimon Gelles was none other than her father. There was a murmur in the air and she told us a little bit about his trip, adding that she hadn’t known what month he arrived on the shores of the Holy Land, but now did due to the scraps of info beside Shimon’s face on the screen. When she was done the guide told us the story of one man, a book illustrator, who drew scenes from his trip across Europe, down to the bottom of Italy and onto a clandestine immigration ship. Then there were drawings of the British warships stopping them and then being sent off to be detained. Next site on the tour, the “Galina”, a small ship carrying “illegal” immigrants:

The ''Galina''

The ”Galina”

The rescue story of the ship, if I understood it correctly, was a tale unto its own. In the late 90s the ship was brought from Latvia to England, where it sat for some time doing restorations to make it seaworthy again. Then, in 2006, the “Galina” was towed by a Dutch fishing ship all the way from England to the coast of Israel. It sat in the Tel Aviv port area for a while whilst the Second Lebanon War broke out. A missile struck the factory commissioned to turn the old ship into what we see today and therefore work was delayed. Finally, a few years ago, the finished ship was laid to rest in the Atlit camp. The insides of the ship have been reconstructed into a display piece including screens, models and effects – with very special attention to detail! Here are two nice rooms, the communications room and the bridge:

Communications room on the ''Galina''

Communications room on the ”Galina”

The bridge on the ''Galina''

The bridge on the ”Galina”

At the end of the tour I broke free from the group and took photographs of the guard towers and train cars. Here is one beautiful pictorial representation of both tower and train:

Guard tower and train

Guard tower and train

After leaving the site we drove to the coast, attempting to visit the Atlit Fortress (also known as Chateau Perelin). We got as close as the Shayetet 13 base entrance, where the guards told us that the fortress was inside the base and that we were not allowed in. Being that Shayetet 13 is the Israeli version of Navy SEALs, that makes sense – if we weren’t all allowed into my base, all the more so… So, we stopped at the beach area and spent a few minutes in the chilling winds and the waning sun, the Atlit Fortress silhouetted in the background:

Sunset at the coast in Atlit

Sunset at the coast in Atlit

Well, this may be my last post for a spell. Vacation ends when Pesach does, so it’s in the hands of the army to provide me with blogging content!

Boarding the Esmeralda

In Haifa, Israel on October 3, 2012 at 1:59 PM

With only a few weeks left till I start army service, Chol HaMoed Sukkot provides an excellent opportunity to grab a few more trips to blog about. This post is about our family trip to see the Chilean Navy ship, the Esmeralda. The longest sailing ship in the world, the Esmeralda came to Haifa Port last week and was used to host an Israeli Navy celebration. I happened to be in Haifa that day, meeting an old friend of mine, and was at the train station watching the party ensue on-board.

Esmeralda and stormy skies

Being a “fan” of the Israel Navy Facebook page I was alerted to the fact that this was a Chilean Navy ship and that it was open to the public for a few days before moving along. Despite the fact that we arrived before the public visits start there was still a very long line and it took a while before we made it into the first section of the port. There were four waiting stations, as I like to call it and at the latter ones many good photos of the port and the ongoing maritime activities were taken.

Industrial port

Later on-board, when I asked one of the sailors where they’ve been, he informed me that they had just come from India and were heading next to Turkey. Being that yesterday was the last day in Haifa Port, the Esmeralda is cruising the Mediterranean now, headed for Turkey.

To the ship!

For a bit of historical trivia, the Esmeralda is the sixth Chilean Navy ship to bear that name, a tradition of sorts bearing back to 1820 when Admiral Cochrane of the Chilean Navy captured the Spanish frigate Esmeralda. The Esmeralda that we visited in the Port of Haifa was built back in 1946 and is used for training and circling the world, visiting various international ports and opening up for the public. In the same port area that we were in, the Israeli Navy stores its ships. Here is the INS Hanit and the INS Eilat, both Sa’ar 5 corvettes:

INS Eilat and INS Hanit

It should be noted that the INS Hanit, on the left, was nearly sunk during the Second Lebanon War when a Hezbollah anti-ship missile struck it. And while speaking about navy ships, the Chilean Navy actually possesses three Israeli-made Sa’ar 4 missile boats, naming them the Chipana, the Casma and the Angamos. Returning to the Esmeralda, here is the greeter that ushered us up the gangplank and onto the ship:

Chilean Navy sailor

On-board we were allowed to roam about and take pictures of everything, including the Chilean sailors who enjoyed saying “de nada” to me after I thanked them in flawed Spanish for their time and smiles. Here the Chilean Navy makes a few pesos selling Israelis various products from their homeland:

Selling Chilean products on-deck

And here I posed with Chilean sailors Moises Abad and Pedro Apablaza (I want that surname!). Moises Abad wasn’t sure if he was Jewish, but his name sure sounds judío.

Posing with Chilean sailors Pedro Apablaza and Moises Abad

Here is a nice picture of what it looked like on-deck, the spiffy sailors and officers dressed in stark white, the tall masts with the eternal mess of ropes and rigging… all against the cloudy sky:

On-deck

On the starboard side of the ship there was a table selling souvenirs and I got a t-shirt that commemorates the Esmeralda “circling the world” tour. Even though it was labelled size M, Midshipman Evelyn Mora was certain that the shirt would fit me… so if it doesn’t I know who to complain to.

Midshipman Evelyn Mora packaging my t-shirt

In the centre of the ship, after the table selling shirts, mugs and posters, there is the superstructure and the various control rooms. After listening to one-too-many Clive Cussler audio-books I now know what these nautical “terms” look like in person. Here is the superstructure and one of the four masts:

Looking up beside the superstructure

After thoroughly examining the 371-foot long ship we headed for the gangplank to walk the plank off the ship… and back onto the dock. On our way we marvelled at the line which got bigger during the hour and a half that we were on the ship.

Long lines on the docks

But before disembarking the vessel I poked my hand into one of the ports and took this photo of the kitchen. The crew’s lunch was cooking and, I must say, it didn’t smell good.

Inside the kitchen

Aside from the unappetizing-smelling lunch, the visit to the Esmeralda was very interesting and unique and the sailors and officers very courteous. If you, o’ reader, would like to board the Esmeralda I’d suggest you fly to Turkey ASAP or arrange something with the Somalian pirates… in which case the Chileans wouldn’t be as courteous. Or, better yet, maybe they’ll come around to Haifa next year.

 

 

Pesach (Part 1)

In Galilee, Haifa, Israel on April 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM

This is the first of two blog posts about the week of Passover (Pesach) that just passed us. Pesach started on Shabbat but the blog-related fun began during Chol HaMoed, starting with Sunday. Late Sunday morning we headed out to Keshet Cave, found along the Israel-Lebanon border and just a few minutes away from the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve already been to Keshet Cave, and even wrote a small post about it, but this time we went as a whole family. To reiterate, the Keshet Cave is actually a large natural arch over a shallow cave and dropping down cliff-like to the forested land below.

Keshet Cave's natural arch with the rappel rope dangling

Both times we saw Extreme Israel groups doing some sort of rappelling action. They have the easy drop to the cave floor and the scary swing under the arch rappelling which we did not get to see – had we gotten there some thirty minutes earlier we would have seen screaming people as they swung under the arch. Other than the great view and hiking trails down below, there is not much to do up on the arch, unless you are doing extreme sports – but there were tons of people. Here is a panoramic from the cliff edge – looking down on the lovely green forests:

Panoramic from the cliff edge

On Tuesday we took a longer and more extensive trip, to Haifa, with the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art as our first and foremost destination. Part of Bank HaPoalim’s subsidized Pesach trip plan, the Tikotin museum was just one of the many museums and attractions free for all to come and see. So, along with thousands of other Israelis, we took to the road and sought out free attractions. I didn’t think that the Tikotin museum would be very populated, mostly due to the fact that it is a specialized museum and isn’t a hotspot for children.

Inside the Tikotin Museum

But I was wrong, the museum was pretty full and there were even free tours being assembled (in Hebrew) for further explanation and description of the museum’s collection and history. In my opinion, the samurai sword collection was by far the most interesting exhibit in the museum, the paper fans, prints, paintings, ceramics and artwork were less interesting but displayed elegantly. The museum itself was partly designed by a Japanese architect with shoji screens as walls and doors leading to the outdoor garden courtyard. Interestingly enough, the Tikotin museum is the only Japanese museum in the entire Middle East, with a collection numbering over 7,000 pieces. There is also an extensive Japanese library but that wasn’t open during the time we were in Haifa. After our museum visit, we walked over to the Louis Promenade (just minutes from the museum) and basked in the glorious view. But our experience was hindered by a suspicious package that made the police shut the area down. We had to wait for the bomb-disposal team to come out and secure the suspicious package. It wasn’t long before the expert verified that the package was simply an abandoned backpack and the area was reopened to the public. Here are two pictures of the ordeal – just look at that view!

Police removing suspicious package

Bomb disposal one-man team

After we finished at the Louis Promenade we continued on over to the Haifa Zoo, another place I have already been to (and wrote about) but for the family it was new and special.

A coati in the Haifa Zoo

The zoo was far too populated to properly view the animals in their habitats but we tried and covered about 40% of the zoo, passing through the throngs of joyous people, some clutching children, some clutching lunches and some clutching the cages, trying to coax the animals into action. When I took my solo trip to the zoo back in January the zoo was nearly desolate but I had missed one area and that was the waterbirds:

Haifa Zoo waterbirds

As we tried to make our way to the exit, escaping the milling, exhausted crowd, we happened upon the Bank HaPoalim mascot. We saw another one at the Tikotin Museum but this individual was more willing when it came to photography.

Posing with Nissim and the Bank HaPoalim mascot

After the harrowing escape from the zoo we headed back to the car and enjoyed some lunch: rice cakes with cheese, honeydew, potato chips, Coca-cola and popcorn. That is a concise summary of our first two outing days. The next post will address Wednesday and the experiences had on that day.

The Bahai Gardens & Madatech

In Haifa, Israel on February 14, 2012 at 11:56 PM

On Monday I went, once again, to Haifa for my Tourist Israel gig. I had two big destinations, the Bahai Gardens and Madatech National Science, Technology and Space Museum. I had to drop off a letter at the City Museum so I made my way towards the gardens going up the German Colony. I feel like I know that particular area of Haifa better now that I may never get lost there again – getting lost can have its upside… Anyhow, I found a hapless pilgrim of the Bahai faith and mercilessly interrogated him on the bus routes to the main gate where the Bahai Gardens’ official tours are given. He gave me what I needed and I released him. I waited at the bus stop for what seemed to be an eternity, constantly checking the time because the last tour is at 12 o’clock noon and it was already 11 something.

Bahai Gardens - Shrine of the Bab

At last the bus pulled up and I climbed aboard. I settled down and noticed a couple holding an English Haifa city map so I asked them if they were tourists. She was, he wasn’t. They told me that they too were headed to the Bahai Gardens to I told them that I’d tag along. On the bus the young woman, a Brazilian visiting Israel with an Israeli male companion, decided she’d have a little snack. She took out a nut with shell intact (not sure what type of nut it was but it had a pretty tough shell) and placed it on the floor of the bus, then she stepped on it. The crunch was loud and her male friend look horrified as everybody watched her messy up the floor with shards of shell and crumbs of nutmeat. She later resorted to manual cracking of the nut and was thus spared of any further embarrassments. When we reached the upper section of the gardens, where the free tours are given, we got off out bus and took pictures at the upper observation terrace. Turns out that when I was on the Louis Promenade some weeks back I was only several hundred feet from the Bahai Gardens’ main gate. Here is a panoramic picture I took of the bay and land down below (click to see it enlarged):

Panoramic from the Bahai Gardens

After the picture taking and the gazing-out-at-the-view-whilst-chatting, we headed over to the tour group gathering area and were signed up and checked for weaponry. I was included in the young lady’s party so the guides think I am from Brazil and the couple thinks I am an undercover journalist – whatever! We started the copious walking that is the tour while stopping every once in a while to listen to the guide tell us about the Bahais and the gardens that was built on the land bought by the early Bahai followers. Today there is an amazing 7 million Bahais and they aren’t even allowed to live in Israel, their holiest place on Earth. The good thing about the Bahai is that they are respectful of the wishes of Israel, knowing that Israel doesn’t allow missionaries and thereby forbidding it amongst themselves. That’s a kind gesture in the world we live in today. Anyway, on the tour we passed by the large and impressive structure that is the Bahai Archives Library, I was wondering what these buildings were when looking down at them from the Louis Promenade – now, thanks to the tour guide, I know.

Bahai Archives Library

After the 45 minute walking tour there was a 20 minute video offered but I declined. I had to leave my new friends behind as they stayed for the video. I then exited the gardens, following the guards directions, boarded a bus and got off near my next destination: the Madatech National Science, Technology and Space Museum.

The Madatech building

The Madatech building is what used to be the old Technion building, built sometime in the 1910s. Even Albert Einstein came to visit back in 1923 and planted a palm tree which is still outside the building to this day. In the 80s the museum was established in the building and it is a magnificent structure. However, once inside, I was a bit puzzled about the Madatech Museum. The bottom floor exhibitions, just beside the front desk, seemed lonely and small. I couldn’t help but wonder why the admission fee was so steep (75 shekel for adults – but just 10 shekels for olim chadashim within their first year in Israel) for such a museum. However, when I continued on up to the first floor I was pleasantly surprised to find much, much better exhibits. One of my favourite on the first floor has got to be the Einstein Hall (Ilan Ramon Exhibition) where personal belongings of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, were found after the tragic disaster of the Columbia space shuttle back in 2003. Included in the finding were CDs given to him by local Israeli artists, remnants of his Israeli Air Force flag, a page of his diary which miraculously survived and other small items. Another notable room on the first floor is the Green Energy exhibition where pressing buttons turns on solar power, wind power and water power, each activating its perspective energy source and illuminating small lights to show how the power is generated. The second floor was even better with exhibits such as Magical Science – scientific breakdown of classic magical tricks (yes, I enjoyed having my weight distributed on a bed of nails), the Optical Illusions room and the Aviation Hall. Here is part of the Aviation Hall:

Madatech - Aviation Hall

The Dark Room was also of particular interest to me because I found the phosphorescent wall and the plasma ball to be exquisitely entertaining. And of course, who can resist the mirrors in the Mirrors Hall? After some two hours spent inside I found out that there was an outdoor area as well. I had not been mentally prepared for this museum’s enormity as I thought it was supposed to be “not as big as one would hope.” Needless to say, it was plenty big for me. Once I’d made my way to the outside Noble Energy Science Park I found several interesting items. One was a retired Israeli Air Force F-21 Kfir warplane, another was a helicopter-like creation that requires pedaling and pumping to “take flight.” I was a tad too large to comfortably pedal – my knees were trying to crush my rib-cage. But shortly I was assisted by a worker of the museum who showed me his “flying” skills and then led me to the next activity. This one was called the Boyo – a human yo-yo – and he showed me how to hold on, pull while dropping to one knee, stand up and let the recoil of the rope pull one up. I attempted to reach the 4 metre (13 feet) launch but I wasn’t experienced and I landed on an angle, losing the necessary force to reach the top. I tried over and over and he tried helping me but my arms got kinda sore so I gave up.

Boyo (Human Yo-Yo)

The museum guy also took me to another of Madatech’s features, the Sports Science building with all sorts of energy-sapping activities to be experienced. There I karate-chopped a foam block measuring the speed of my chop. I got 90-something kilometres per hour but I’m guessing I could have gotten more but my arms were a tad sore from the Boyo bouncing. I also raced wheelchairs but the empty seat beside me put no effort into the race so I stopped racing and relaxed instead. When I was done in the Sports Science building I realised that I was at Madatech for nearly 3 hours and wondered why there wasn’t anywhere to nap… After leaving I meandered around the area, dropped some change into a street musician’s case as he broke out into a oldies (1920s-40s) tune – putting a skip in my step, and then boarded a bus to the Cinemall where I got a falafel and a train to Nahariya. At Nahariya I hopped on a bus and arrived home. To Haifa again next time, or elsewhere?

(Thanks again to Boruch Len of Legacy Photography for Adobe CS5 picture touch-ups!)

Haifa II

In Haifa, Israel on February 8, 2012 at 2:59 PM

On Monday I went to Haifa again. The reason I have been frequenting Haifa is for this nifty little gig I got writing for Tourist Israel, and Haifa is being covered by myself. I still have future trips planned for that large coastal city so be prepared to know a lot about Haifa. Once I had alighted from the train at the Mercaz HaShmona station next to the Port of Haifa I walked several blocks until I reached the German Colony of Haifa. The German Colony is a small area nestled between the Baha’i Gardens and the Port of Haifa. It was built up in the late 1860s by German Templars – not the Templar Knights who ruled Castles Monfort and Yehiam back in the times of the Crusaders. One of the old buildings, this one the historic Templar Community House built back in 1869, now houses the City Museum of Haifa.

City Museum

Within the walls of the recently restored building I found interesting content – not what I had initially expected for a City Museum. This museum was filled with everything of Haifa’s cinematic past, from old film reels to ticket stubs to blueprints of Haifa’s early movie-houses. I am a bit of a cinemaphile so I found it fascinating to see what played at the Armon Theatre’s opening night (The Merry Widow, an Oscar-winning musical comedy from 1934). I enjoyed examining the old tickets, seeing how the currencies changed over the years to what we know now as the New Israeli Shekel. Sitting in the small mock-up theatre watching old Israeli movie commercials and trailers from old classics brought me back in time to the Golden Age of the Silver Screen. After I had thoroughly browsed all the old letters, showtimes, invitations and pictures I bid farewell to the museum’s receptionist, gathered up my papers and headed outside.

Armon Theatre

Next stop walking up the German Colony was meant to be the Baha’i Gardens but when I asked a pair of American pilgrims they showed me that public visiting hours were only until noon and I had spent too long in the City Museum. So, I stopped into the Haifa Tourist Board office and asked for bus directions to the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum, found directly below Elijah’s Cave (as previously mentioned in my first “Haifa” post). I got directions, hopped on a bus and made my way to the museum. Now, I have already been to the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum but it was still a treat going again. Easily my favourite Israeli museum as of yet, the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum has fascinating exhibits both hands-on and the traditional artifacts-in-a-glass-case kind.

Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum sign

When I got to the museum the tinted glass door was locked. I was dismayed as it was clearly opening hours and I could think of no reason why they should be closed. As I was about to turn away in frustration I heard a key in the door and two guards emerged. One asked me for ID and I handed over my Teudat Zehut (Israeli ID card). He examined it and looked under the card suspiciously so I asked him why the heightened security. He answered that it was coming from the Ministry of Defence and yes, his uniform said “Ministry of Defence” on it. I thought it was strange as the Navy runs the museum, can’t they find some able-bodied seamen to guard the museum door? The guards let me in and I paid my admission fee. I stowed my coat and extra stuff in the designated spot and found the used book stack, books mostly revolving around military offered for sale to visitors. The first book I picked up surprisingly was exactly the type of book I like; Israeli forces in their constant struggle for peace in this wartorn region of the Middle East. Not only was this book, Israel vs. Jibril, the ideal book for me, it was also signed by the author, Samuel M. Katz, as a personalised gift to retired Major-General Ami Ayalon (previous head of the Shin Bet and the Israeli Navy). I quickly gave the book to the soldier behind the desk, even though nobody was likely to buy it in my absence, and continued into the museum.

Communications Room on the INS Mivtach

After reading about all the fascinating war heroes of the Israeli Navy, including the Squadron 788 and their patrols of the Kinneret under Syrian MiG fighter jet and artillery fire was almost too much to bear at once. I reckon I could spend several days in the “History of the Navy” exhibit. Outside, there are dozens of naval guns, missiles, torpedoes, old ship parts and several intact boats, ships and submarines. Available for internal exploration are the INS Mivtach missile boat, the INS Gal submarine and the “Af Al Pi Chen” immigration ship. The Navy did an outstanding job on the recreation of maritime feel with commands and authentic noises found on such vessels.

Within the INS Gal

I must say, if one lives in Israel (or is coming to visit), and one has not yet been to the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum, it is well worth it. I am reluctant to reveal all of the many unique features of this museum as I truly believe everybody should visit it at least once, to better understand the miracles we experienced as a people in the last 60-something years here in the Land of Israel. After the museum, some 2 hours after I was admitted, I walked to a bus stop and boarded a bus in the direction of Hof HaCarmel, the beaches of Haifa. Monday was a very windy day but there were no waves, oddly enough. When I had navigated the maze of underground tunnels and passages, I made my way to the beach and nimbly jumped my way to the far end of the rocky pier outcropping jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea.

Me on the rocky pier

Also on the pier was an overly-friendly cat that was very eager to befriend me, trying to cull some food out of me as his end-game.

Feline friend

Of course, no post is completely satisfactory without a panoramic picture:

Panoramic of the Coast looking South

As a final word – a joke, as quoted from an old British napkin now held in a glass case in the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum;  “Old sailors never die… they just get a little dinghy.”

(Thank you to Boruch Len for photo editing – Mr. Len is a fabulous photographer whose pictures can be seen here. Also, for those inclined to learn more about what there is to do in Israel, please visit Tourist Israel’s website here – you may even stumble upon a page that I wrote up!)

Haifa Educational Zoo

In Haifa, Israel on February 1, 2012 at 9:49 PM

Yesterday I went to Haifa and I had one of the best times yet in that large coastal city! At first I stopped off at Kiryat Motzkin to interview someone for an article I am working on but before long I was back on the train headed for Downtown Haifa. When I got off the train at Mercaz HaShmona I had to walk swiftly through the light yet very cold rain to get to Paris Square, the lowest stop of the Carmelit Underground Train. When I set eyes on the little subway I immediately loved it.

Carmelit Underground Train - Paris Square

For me it felt like an amusement ride, going up the mountain in a snug tunnel sitting in a retro-looking train car with luridly painted tiles decorating each stop. No expert on subways, this may have been the first time I have ridden one, I delighted myself watching the stone walls of the tunnel whip by mere inches from the window. At one point I got a little queasy as I was watching the wall but looking downward. When the tiled floor of the next stop came rushing up at me a wave of confused nausea swept through me and made me look away. As I looked away I remembered my wonderful time in Orlando, FL, at the Universal Studios Amusement Park. Eight minutes after the tiny train left Paris Square we reached the end of our ride and I rode up the escalator to find myself in earshot of my next destination – the focal point of the day, the Haifa Educational Zoo.

Lion - Haifa Educational Zoo

I purchased my ticket and entered the world of exotic animals, the joyous laughter of the security guard trying his broken English on me mixing in with the noises of the animal kingdom. It was a slow day at the zoo, winter and rain attributing to that, and I was mostly alone as I peered at the animals in their habitats. I felt like a little child, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the animals. I was fascinated at the immense size of the sleeping Bengal tiger and wished that the Nile crocodile would move some instead of dozing in the water. At one point I heard someone singing and when I got closer, and into view, I saw a zookeeper singing softly to a huge white cockatoo. The bird loved it but the man stopped when he say me and told the bird to go ahead and dance. The bird followed the man’s instructions and danced gaily on the trees inside his enclosure. Other birds didn’t seem as friendly – one large eagle owl stood still and watched me walk by, his wise head turning slowly to a point where most chiropractors would have fainted away.

Eagle owl

One part I really enjoyed was the lemurs. I had just examined the capuchin monkeys as they leaped around and was surprised to see the lemurs adopting a sunning position. They broke away from the huddled line that kept them warm in the chilly winter breeze and began to sit with their arms spread out.  Then they each did something amazing. Each one turned his head to make sure he was not blocking another lemur’s sun-rays. It was fascinating. Several minutes later I bumped into two zookeepers who were heading to the lemurs to feed them. I asked if I was allowed in and they agreed, even though the official lemur visiting hours were already over. At the gate one of them said that I was a rabbi and I told them that no, I am not a rabbi. That was interesting. Once inside, among the chipper little lemurs, I asked them if they liked there job and they said that even though they spent 90% of the time cleaning, this was the best job in the world.  They looked like they meant it.

Lemur eating lettuce

After the lemur feeding I continued alone along the path. I was amazed to watch the lions eat – they had some huge leg bone or something – especially when I heard a bone crack. The male lion looked shabbier than the two female lionesses but after four weeks of rain and mud – this January being Israel’s rainiest recorded month, who can blame him. It made me laugh because to me he looked like a sad clown with his black lips and his eyes all muddy. After the lions came a huge Syrian brown bear in a huge enclosure but he was feeling sluggish so I kept going. The wolves, Israeli wolves also known as Arabian wolves, were having a good time howling and playing with one another.

Israeli wolves at play

Along with the wolves there were numerous foxes and other animals found locally in Israel such as camels, ibexes, wild boars, caracals, porcupines, jackals and the rare Persian fallow deer which I saw once during a hike in Nachal Kziv. Also found in Israel, the Griffon vulture, a huge bird that some people may recognise from The Jungle Book movie. Towards the end of the path, after the reptile building which I will explain shortly, there was a humorous sight. In one habitat there were dwarf mongooses and a large desert tortoise. The mongooses sat on top of the tortoise and even took their food up, sitting on the tortoise and using its shell as a table/chair combo. It was cute. Now, the reptile building, a climate controlled structure with places for lizards and snakes including pythons, vipers, boas, anacondas and a Nile monitor lizard. I was surprised at how big the anacondas were even though the ones in the zoo were far smaller than the behemoths that exist out there.

Green Python

Close to the reptile building I found the Prehistory Museum which I thought was a separate entity but it isn’t, it’s part of the zoo’s educational experience. Inside I found mostly run-of-the-mill findings from excavations such as skeletons and broken pottery pieces but there was one thing that did stand out. Some years back divers did underwater research uncovering submerged villages off the coast of Haifa and Atlit (just south of Haifa). In one place they found a freshwater well and divers entered the well to explore. This photograph shows the diver entering the well:

Diver entering well off the coast of Atlit

After leaving the zoo I made my way to the Louis Promenade, a beautiful, serene place to be alone with the fantastic view of Haifa, Haifa Bay, the Krayot, Akko, Nahariya and Rosh HaNikra off in the far distance. On clear days one is able to see Mt. Hermon in its snowy splendour. Here is a panoramic shot of the view:

Looking down from the Louis Promenade

As I looked down I was tracing a small dark object far below as it made its way around the little seawall and into the port. The wake was odd and I know the Israeli Navy’s submarines are docked in Haifa port so I think it may have been one of Israel’s Dolphin submarines. If it was, cool, if not, it was still cool. If I would have had a telescope or a pair of binoculars it would have been better but I think that the view from the Louis Promenade is the best I have seen in all of Israel. So here’s to Israel, the loveliest place in the world!

Haifa

In Haifa, Israel on January 10, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Today I had the obligation of being in Haifa, at the beckoning of the IDF. I left my house, travelled to Haifa via bus and train and attended my meeting. Afterwards, I decided to go on a little adventure… Here it is, a textual and pictorial account of my small journey down Mount Carmel. First, the bustling Haifa Port as seen from the Memorial Park next to the Iriya (City Hall) and the IDF Recruitment Centre:

The Port of Haifa

After snapping some shots of the park and the port down below I popped on over to the Iriya. There I was told to head West down the mountain if I wanted to see museums and such. I did so and on my way, walked by the old District Courthouse of Haifa established back in 1932:

The old District Courthouse of Haifa (1932)

From there I continued westward, slowing going down the the mountainside. After exploring a small “artists house” filled with modern-day small-time local artists’ work, most of them paintings, and then finding a historical house called the Gefen House, I found this unique act of nature:

A tree growing out of a wall at the Gefen House

Continuing on my way, I noticed a beautiful little garden with a bunch of small orange trees filled with bright oranges. I was wondering why there was a tiny little garden midst the large urban area and then, some twenty paces later, I saw the rest of the garden… the famous Baha’i Gardens. I figured I’d venture over and have a look so that’s exactly what I did. This marble fountain was quite peaceful and I knelt (oops) to take a picture of it:

Baha'i Gardens marble waterfall

As I went up to the next terrace I found a disappointingly tall metal fence with a locked gate. I waiting until one of the guards came up, with a tourist in tow, and unlocked the gate for her. I asked the guard if I too could explore the locked area and he said no, you are not a pilgrim. And no, I am not a pilgrim, so I left… but not without taking a picture of what the pilgrim what going to see:

Baha'i Gardens looking up from the lowest terrace

I then found the Tourist Information Centre and went inside, eager to learn more about the places available to a casual tourist like myself. There, a kind middle-aged woman helped me map out the next part of my journey and, after extensive talks, gifted me with an oldish map of the Coastal Region from Binyamina to Rosh HaNikra. The map was printed in 1990, the year I was born, and it reminds me of an old National Geographic in style and colour tone. After I had thanked the lady, having a definitive route penned out on another map, I headed down the long Allenby Street. After buying a water bottle, I passed by this interesting building, obviously quite a modern one:

Interesting building with Canadian and British flags waving outside

From that building onward there was not much to photograph, save the oddly placed red VW Karmen Ghia with the special licence plate and an “auto” sticker from Denver. Twenty to thirty minutes after I had left the Tourist Information Centre I reached my destination: Elijah’s Cave (the cave that Eliyahu HaNavi hid in and used during his “duel” with the worshippers of Ba’al). Unbeknownst to us at the time, we had been just minutes from the cave when we visited to wonderful National Maritime Museum sometime two years ago. Here is one of the welcome signs, this one situated on the road where a series of staircases takes one up to the cave:

Welcome to the Cave of Eliyahu Ha'Navi

When I had reached the complex of old stone buildings built in and around the cave I was greeted by a kind old man who blessed me. I then went into the cave where donors have turned the place into a special location for prayer:

A section of the cave

After exploring the cave I turned around to leave and this is what I saw, a wonderful view and even better in person:

Looking down from the cave to the Mediterranean Sea

And here is more of the complex, exactly what is in the buildings eludes me:

More of the Cave complex

Descending the mountain, the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum’s outdoor displays become more and more visible. Here is a small ship retired from the Israeli Navy (the ship is open for touring within the museum – admission free for olim in their first year):

An old Navy ship from the Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museum

I then headed for the water and walked along the Bat Galim Promenade enjoying the damp sea breeze and the hot Mediterranean sun. Of course, as have been evident in most of my recent blog posts, there was a feeling of need for some panoramic footage. Here are two panoramics, taken as I stood in one spot, looking from side to side of the visible Mediterranean Sea (click to enlarge):

Looking West

Looking East

On the rocks that form a mini-seawall stood fisherman with immense fishing rods. I had the pleasure of watching one of the fishermen catch a fish, the myriads of huge beach cats lounging around just waiting for a snack. Here is one of these fishermen, sadly he did not catch anything while I was there:

A man fishing with the huge cargo ships in the distance behind him

When I had left the Promenade I continued to hug the coastline, walking along the beautifully shaded streets, and came across the official land entrance to the Haifa Port. Here it is, in all of its humble importance as the main gateway to the Holy Land by sea, the Haifa Port entrance (where a guard carrying an automatic rifle whistled sharply at me to not take any further pictures):

Welcome to Haifa Port

When I had successfully snuck away, camera in hand, I tried to find the Bat Galim train station to get back home. I ended up going the wrong way, consulted a passing soldier as to the current route and was shown, with much enthusiasm, the right way to go. I made it to the train station where I sat and “bugged out”, waiting for the train. In my idleness, I decided to snap a picture of the train on the other side of the tracks, being boarded for a Southbound journey, and to claim this as my train that I took (creative licence being taken advantage of here):

Taking a train home

The ride was pleasant and before too long I was home. ‘Till next time!