Day 13: Korazim,Nof Ginossar,Hammat Gader,Hula

Trip Start May 14, 2008
Trip End Jun 17, 2008

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Flag of Israel  , Galilee,
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

This is our last day in the Galilee and we have reserved this day for selected sites near the Sea of Galilee, or the Kinneret as it is named on maps and sometimes referred to.    There are many more sites than what we'll have time for.  We need to allow time for us to get lost and also our wandering, slow pace through them.  I have the driving map spread out on the coffee table in our cabin and with the guidebooks as reference, we are reviewing the possibilities, letting our curiosity and what sounds interesting today guide our choices.  
Before heading out, we phone Atef from Sunday's group in the Golan at Gamla.  We had tried to email the group photos, but the email was returned; fortunately, we have his phone number so we can get the correct spelling and get the photos to him.  Harvey speaks with Atef who is once again so friendly and talks about what their group had done after we left them.  He assures us that we would really have enjoyed the cherry picking at the Golan kibbutz and their barbeque with goat and all the fixings.  They didn't head home until 10 PM!  We had been hesitant to join them, not being comfortable that the invitation had been genuine; after all, we just casually met them and had joined them for lunch.  Could it be that we were really welcome and not being intrusive by joining them for more of their activities?  With hindsight, we realized that we had missed out on a special experience and had let our own cultural frame of reference color our choice.  We remembered an experience on our honeymoon in Greece where we were driving in a very remote area and pulled into a tiny village.  Our car was surrounded by a group of teenagers and small children.  At the time, we were afraid and withdrew.  After talking about that at the time, we had decided that if that ever happened again, we would get out of the car and embrace the possibilities.  So, here we are again, thirty-seven years later and still learning!  Sometimes it's a stretch to let a situation develop with people who act or think differently than ourselves.  It's so much easier to stay in our comfort zone. But why go to all the time and expense to travel to stay in that comfort zone?  We agree that if we ever meet another Atef, we'll accept the invitation.

Our first stop is the Korazim National Park.   It's another hot sunny day and we note little shade as we park our car at the entrance to the remains of this Jewish town where Jesus had spoken.    We put on our hats, backpack with water bottles, and with cameras dangling from our necks, we approach the park entrance.  We use our national park pass and Harvey notes that we have saved 36 NIS; we're still keeping track of our savings with the pass.  It's definitely been a good value based on our itinerary!   It is a little embarrassing, but really enjoy saving a few shekels here and there.

There are enough remains of the town and the synagogue that it is easy to imagine the place when it was active and lived in.   We enjoy about ten minutes alone at the site, when a tour group arrives and joins us where we are exploring.  We listen and saunter along with them to the next spot; Harvey asks the guide if it's okay to listen.  The guide is agreeable and standing in the synagogue, we really enjoy his reading from the Bible and his dramatization of the dialogue of Jesus with synagogue members, this involving the participation of the tour group members.  The synagogue has a stone chair called a seat of Moses.  The guide put one of his tourists in this chair at the beginning of his presentation.  Apparently Jesus has referred to the seat of Moses, but few are remaining.  This is a great example and only exists because it was stone.  There was also a circular stone in the synagogue that was used by a speaker as a platform.  Harvey speaks with the guide later, mentioning that the torah is handwritten, and the guide says that not in Russia where he is from, that people can't afford them!    

Walking away from the group, we notice several animals that look like a large bunny rabbit scampering from rock to rock.  This is our first wild animal siting in Israel!  As quickly as I can, I change out the lens to a long range telephoto, step on one of the rocks, balance myself and try to locate one of them through the camera lens.  They are camouflaged beautifully and it's only in their movement that they can be noticed.  I am so excited when one moves again that I lose my balance and fall backwards on the ground.  And this is when I learn that dry wild wheat can offer a soft landing but also can be prickly and stick to your clothing like Velcro.  Of course with all the laughter, the animals are long gone but I have lots of wheat souvenirs on my pants, shirt and arms.  We ask at the park office what animal we saw and the attendant whips out a long list of plants and animals, informing us that it is a Hyrax, which is a relative of the elephant.  This is an example of the amazing trivia you pick up while traveling.  How can an animal resembling a large bunny rabbit be a relative of the elephant?  We shrug our shoulders and note that some day we may find out. 

Our next stop is Kibbutz Nof Ginosar and the display of the ancient Galilee boat dating back 2014 years!  It is housed in a beautiful modern building next to the Sea of Galilee.  The short movie and displays detail the discovery, the excavation, and conservation process.  This boat is the type referred to in the Gospels, in use among Jesus' disciples, as well as used by Jews against the Romans in the Migdal battle, and also by fishermen.  As we are watching the film, we can actually see the boat in another section of the large room.  One woman is on her knees praying in front of the boat.  The subdued lighting and the hushed voices of a few other visitors create an atmosphere of reverence.  As we approach the boat, a man walks up to us and tells us that we are very lucky that one of the kibbutz members who actually found the boat is here in the room.  As that man walks by, he tells us that of course we want to take a photo with him.  He says in a whisper that finding the boat changed his life.  We can only imagine the thrill of the discovery and the process of feeling a personal link with an object so ancient.  This is one of those times, when we appreciate how it is possible to see something in detail through the lens of a camera.  We see the different types of wood, the grains and how the boat was assembled.  We feel thankful to be here.

Back in the car, we locate our next stop on the map, Hamat Teverya National Park, known for its hot springs and the well preserved mosiacs of a 4th century AD synagogue floor.   To get there, we drive through the city of Tiberias whose busy streets are full of so many double parked cars that it feels like an obstacle course to find a lane that is clear of cars and people.  With relief, we navigate through the city and locate Hamat Teverya, right on the main shore road and find a parking space on the opposite site of the road.  The sun is now at full strength and with no wind, it is HOT!  We walk through this small park, with very little shade, and see the mosaics which are beautiful.  Fodor's describes these mosaics as among the finest ever found in Israel.  We comment that although they are so well preserved, if someone is not a mosaic aficionado, if someone had gone to Caesarea (or other places that have mosaics) then these could be bypassed without a concern that you've missed something.   We then look for the hot springs and see concrete foundations and piping with warning signs of the hot water.  Surely we have missed something here, but we're wilting and we decide to go. 

And here is where we get ourselves into trouble.  We're hot and a bit tired from the sun.  We need a break.  We had two possibilities lined up from earlier in the day:  Ein Gev and Hamat Gader.  Kibbutz Ein Gev, on the lake's eastern shore, is described in our Frommers guide as one of the loveliest places in Israel.  That might be a good place to have lunch and relax for the remainder of the day.  We look at the map and think that it's quite a ride there and then back later in the day.  So, we opt for the other possibility, Hamat Gader, which is much closer.  Hamat Gader is known for its hot springs and surely they will have a restaurant there, and it doesn't look far.  The road veers away from the lake, into a steep hillside. We start to notice guard posts and see barbed wire fences, so we check the map and see that we are near the Jordan and Syrian border.  In front of us is a big sign announcing Hamat Gader and in the valley, very close to the border, is a large parking lot with only a few cars.  We walk up to the entrance gate and learn that the only way to eat here is to pay the entrance fee.  The area looks far more commercial than we had in mind, with the attendant showing us an information brochure that includes a freshwater pool, giant water slide, alligator farm, performing parrots and a petting zoo, in addition to the antiquities from the Roman times when Hammat Gader was the second largest spa in the Roman Empire.  What a combination!  Alligators, parrots, and a water slide rang tourist bells of South Florida!  I had originally wanted to come to a hot spring because we had had such a good time at one in Japan and I thought it would be a cool experience to experience how Israelis do hot springs.  But standing in front of the Hammat Gader entrance, located at the bottom of a windless hot valley, I cannot imagine how going into a hot spring could possibly be refreshing.   And now reading the Fodor's guide to Harvey, at press time the author had noted that the Israel Ministry of Health had issued a warning that there were dangerous levels of bacteria in the public pools and that the antiquities were closed.   We could ask about the current status of these, but decided not to.    I quietly ask myself, why didn't I ever post this idea of Israeli hot springs on TripAdvisor?  We might have gotten another possibility in the area or more insight into Hamat Gader that would have kept us there.  In any case, we are hot, hungry and wilting and our normal playfulness and flexibility is getting stretched to a limit.  So, what do we do?  We move on.

Our plan is to find a restaurant on the way back to Tiberias, where we can pick up some much needed cash.  Then, we will head out to the Hula Nature Reserve that promises open space, greener pastures and some wind.  We back track along the steep windy road back to the main lakeshore road and find a restaurant whose sign announces "Oriental food".  Inside the menu has schnitzel and assorted salads.  No matter, it is air conditioned; the people are friendly and the service quick.  We drink glasses of water and then more water.  And our eyes light up when the waiter brings a large dish of watermelon slices for desert!   We're refreshed and re-energized!

We find an ATM, and then drive to the Hula Nature Reserve.  This area was originally wetlands and was converted into cultivated fields by draining the swamp in the early 1950's.  After a major restoration effort in the early 1970's, some of the land was restored to its original state.  Now, the reserve has herons, cormorants, water buffalo, turtles and nasty looking fishlike creatures (see photos) and what look like swans.  We walk along a boardwalk, see green marshes over six feet tall, fresh water, and enjoy the warm breeze.  We wonder if we had made the right decision to come here or whether we should have stayed at Hammat Gader.  Surely, the Hula Nature Reserve was a "safe" choice, physically like other places we have been and it offers a respite from the heat.  It is very pleasant to be here.  But if we had to do it over again, we agree, after some soul searching, that we should have gotten ourselves properly hydrated, fed and cool and then made a decision.  This would have meant paying the admission to Hammat Gader and getting ourselves fed immediately.   Then, we probably would have been more open about looking around the facilities and felt more like giving it a try.  It certainly would have been different.  Another lesson learned! Sometimes when traveling you can't just look at the admission cost, you have to look at the personal cost and the total experience.

Click here for today's photos!
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