Day 17: Limestone and Song

Trip Start May 19, 2009
Trip End Jun 16, 2009

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

(Day 16, Haifa, Thursday) The bright sunshine from the east lit the room even through the curtains. When opened, the sparkling sea was blinding. Another full but peaceful breakfast on the deck, this time with an adorable family of cats for company. We picked up our laundry in town and set off on the road again. Change in plans: instead of visiting Rosh Pinna (one of the first towns settled by the wave of immigrants in the 1880s), we set course for Rosh Hanikra, white limestone caves in the far northwestern corner of Israel, smack on the Lebanese border. Putting our trust in the GPS, we wound through the hills and villages of the Galilee, then reached the Mediterranean coast.

Encountering yet another couple of busloads of noisy teens, we had lunch overlooking the bright white cliffs and blue sea, right next to the gate marking the border, which we could see extending into the water, marked by yellow buoys as far as one could see. We took the cable car down (the steepest in the world) for the brief ride down, just in time for the English explanatory movie, then it was onto the slippery path into the caves. The sea waters roared into the caves impressively. Kevin's claustrophobia, however, got the best of him, and he made for the exit as quickly as he could. A look at the tunnel the British built through the cliff during WWII (blown up by the Israelis in 1948 to block Lebanese invaders during the War of Independence), and we headed back up to the car, taking the seaside route into Haifa, Israel's main port city, on Mt. Carmel.

If ever I were to move to Israel, I always thought I might like to live in Haifa. I've never gotten to spend as much time here as I'd like. It seems like a down-to-earth place with a better climate than Tel Aviv (hot, humid) or Jerusalem (too cold in the winter). Built on very steep hillsides, it has amazing views of the harbor and Akko (Acre) on the other side (14 km.), famous for its Crusader fortress, which served as a prison for the Jewish underground by the British before independence.

Our car scrambled and struggled up the switchback roads up the hill to our hotel, the Nof ("View"), which lives up to its name. We relaxed on the patio overlooking the city (alas, for some reason, my Mac won't connect to the wireless in the lobby) and had leftovers (we weren't allowed to have them inside anyway, due to the restrictions of the kosher certification the hotel has).

Then it was time to head to Caesarea, on the coast 37 km (23 miles) to the south, the capital when the Romans ruled the area. We had tickets to a concert in the Roman amphitheatre by the sea, something we both had wanted to do. It's quite the venue, where some big headliners play. The people management left something to be desired: we arrived at 7:00 for an 8:30 concert, but weren't allowed in until 7:40, so we watched the sunset from the parking lot. Then when let in, we had to wait just outside our entrance to the amphitheatre itself (during the sound checks) until the OK was given at 8:29. Crazy! Of course, the concert didn't start until 9:10. Luckily, we bought some foam cushions on site for the stone seats. Otherwise, the place is set up for modern concerts, with seat numbers on the stone rows, a fancy light-show, and great sound.

Anyway, we were there to see Glykeria (a Greek singer popular in Israel) and Boaz Sharabi (a good pop singer big in the '80s)--perhaps not the lineup I'd have dreamed of, but the performances were good, and they both really got the mostly middle-aged crowd going (although there were also many young people), with Greek and Middle Eastern dancing in the seats and the aisles and down in front of the stage. The audience clapped along rhythmically to most every fast song, and sang along to most every song, both in Greek and Hebrew. It was most fun to people-watch: the couple behind us said "Oy, what a song!" at the opening notes of most each song, and the woman sometimes sang "ba-ba-ba" along with Glykeria, since she didn't seem to know the words, but just as loudly as if she did, which we found amusing and annoying all at once. The younger couples in front of us went from wild side-to-side swaying to sultry Eastern dancing as the night progressed. Certain exuberant men and women dancing in Greek style were featured on the big screens on either side of the stage.

Had no problem getting out and onto the road, and back to the hotel by midnight. Another day done.
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