Monday February 27 we set out on another adventure taking the train for the first time in Israel and going one hour north to Haifa. This is Israel’s largest port and third-largest city. Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel and spilling down to the port area and beaches has led to comparisons with San Francisco. It is also the site of Elijah’s cave where he took refuge while wandering the wilderness for 40 days, as such it is a holy site for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Haifa is also the world center for the Bahà’í religion which was founded in Iran in the 19th century. This center is a world heritage UNESCO site and is the most striking and beautiful part of the city. There are 18 immaculately maintained terrace gardens coming down the mountain with a gold domed shrine of the Bab on another terrace in the center. At the bottom of the garden the German colony surrounds beautiful Ben-Gurion street as it continues down the slope to the port.
We disembarked our train and walked up Ben-Gurion street admiring the German Templar buildings. Most of these have been renovated and house restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk, retail outlets, hotels and hostels. It is one of the cutest streets that we have seen yet.
While walking up Ben-Gurion street one has beautiful views of the Bahà’í gardens up ahead.
We stopped for a late breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and a yummy salad accompanied by 7 side dishes of cheese, pesto and spreads. Jim’s “best breakfast yet”.
This wonderful breakfast made us five minutes late to the free noon English tour of the upper gardens and they would not allow us to join the tour late but they did suggest that we could get into the gardens by taking the 1:30 tour in Hebrew. While admiring the gardens from above we ran into two American Jewish girls from Springfield Massachusetts and New Jersey. They had both recently completed their Birthright heritage experience and were also late for the tour so we suggested that they join us for the Hebrew tour.
The 1:30 tour was all English speakers so it ended up being given in English. We descended nine of the nineteen terraced gardens while being given an explanation of the Bahà’í religion. It seems to be the perfect solution to world disharmony as it teaches the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people. The gardens are stunningly landscaped semi-circular terraces with groomed hedges, perfectly mowed grass, fountains, gravel paths, urns of red geraniums and marble chutes of cascading water. The Bahà’í also have three classical Greek administrative buildings in the garden as well as the gold domed mausoleum bearing the remains of its founding fathers.
At the end of the tour we were with our new friends Lauren and Caitlyn when a local taxi driver/tour guide Chaim talked us into a tour of the rest of the city. He drove us to the small church of the Carmelite monastery, the Carmelite order was founded here. The church is small but beautiful with a small grotto at the end of the nave which is traditionally associated with Elijah.
We also stopped by the Jewish cave of Elijah which has separate sides for men and women.
Chaim then took us by a beautiful sculpture garden with many bronze sculptures done by a German Jew Ursula Malbin.
We completed this tour by being treated to the “best falafel in all of Israel” by our guide.
Before taking the train back to Tel Aviv we had a beer with Lauren and Cait, having a great time getting to know each other better.
While walking from the train station in the morning Sandy saw a beautiful gown in a shop window which she thought would be perfect for our daughter Jennifer’s wedding in June. On the way back to the station the store was open and Sandy went in, tried on the dress and purchased it although it was too big and we will have to return to Nazareth for a tailors fitting and alteration. The train ride back was another adventure as about 20 minutes out of Haifa at a stop everyone got off of the train after a long announcement in Hebrew. We had to wait 20 minutes for the next train which was a very slow local, now jam packed. The train was slow and stopped inexplicably a few times. We did not arrive home until 11, a very late cocktail hour for us.