Sea of Galilee

Trip Start Mar 28, 2011
Trip End Apr 03, 2011

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Flag of Israel  , Galilee,
Thursday, March 31, 2011

We managed to get packed and check out by 9:15 and by 9:30 we were on the road to Tiberias, a city on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee in the north of Israel. We drove east on Rt 1 toward the Dead sea, stopping for pictures at a scenic spot that demarcates sea level. This was the same route we had take the day before but we were again captivated by the scene that spread before our eyes as we descended into the vast open desert with the Dead Sea lying serene 400m below sea level.

We turned north on Rt 90, a road that runs along the border with Jordan. On our right we could see the dry bed of the River Jordan and as we made our way up north, the greenery and vegetation started to return. A few miles up, we spotted a sign that pointed to the original baptismal site of John and turned off the highway to explore. We had to drive through a fenced off military zone with scary signs that warned us not to go off the road for danger of mines. But a couple of Israeli guards we saw said it was OK to go down and, sure enough, right at the base of the embankment, we saw a little souvenir shop and a little pavilion on the bank of the River Jordan. The river is very narrow here, probably only about 6m wide and we could see on the other side a busload of tourists baptizing themselves. It turns out they were on the Jordanian side and there was an armed guard on the other side... I guess to prevent anyone from swimming across. They were all Americans, so it was fun to yell across and wave to them! After some obligatory shopping at the store, we headed off north again.

It was an uneventful drive with the dry hills of the south giving way to green and well cultivated valleys up north. In about two hours we could see the Sea of Galilee in front of us. Before we left the West Bank we had to go through an Israeli checkpoint and for the first time in this trip we were asked to show our passports.

Tiberias is an ancient city more than 2000 years old and was once the capital city of the Jews and hence considered one of their holy sites. It is also very significant for Christians because Jesus is said to have preached here and performed many miracles. Tiberias is settled on a hillside with a compact marina and promenade along the lakeside with settlements rising up the hillside almost to the top, which rises at least 200m from the water level. The Sea of Galilee itself is a much smaller lake than the Dead Sea and you can see it almost in its entirety from the mountain top. Surprisingly, despite being co close to the Dead Sea, it is a freshwater lake. In fact it is the lowest freshwater lake in the world at 200m below sea level.

The Hotel Astoria is a fairly basic hotel, though it does have a nice pool, bar and dining area. The reception staff was very friendly and we got a trayload of very delicious chocolate cakes as a welcome!

Armed with a map of the area, we drove north to Tabgha, about 10 km away. This is the site where Jesus is said to have performed the miracle of the fish and the loaves. There is a beautiful church that marks the site, and, of course a souvenir shop! A couple of km further from Tabgha is Capernaum, an ancient Jewish fishing village, where Jesus spent much of his time preaching. All that remains of the village are the ruins, but standing out amongst it are the remains of a magnificent synagogue. Also very carefully preserved are the remains of house said to belong to Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus.

Very close to Capernaum is the Mount of Beatitudes, where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. We decided to trek up to the top of the hill because it was a beautiful day and the route promised a fantastic view of the Sea of Galilee and Tiberias. It was a good half hour climb and we had promised the kids a can of Pringles if they reached the top without complaining, so things went very smoothly :-)

In the evening we drove down to the city center and walked along the promenade to see a  light, sound and musical fountain show that takes place daily. It was pretty interesting and depicted the history of the city of Tiberias. The details elude me, but we had a good time and found a nearby restaurant for dinner to round off another very interesting day of our vacation.

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