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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Haifa's Carmelite Monastery, Souks & Limestone Blocks

Sunday, October 19th, was a long travel day as we got the 8am shuttle from our hotel in Goreme to the airport in Kayseri, about an hour east. The airport had so few flights that everyone on the shuttle was all catching the same Pegasus Airlines flight to Istanbul! It was a bit nerve wracking when we were told at the airport that we didn’t have seats on the connecting flight from Istanbul to Tel Aviv even though I had checked us in online the night before. Got that worked out and we were on our way to Tel Aviv, the only international airport in Israel.

We had received alerts from the US State Department a couple of days earlier indicating pockets of significant unrest in Jerusalem and warning us to stay away from some of the city’s most popular tourist sights. It was surprising therefore to experience the most cursory of questions at immigration and see and sense an almost zero police presence in the Tel Aviv airport.

With some help from an employee at the ticket kiosk, we were able to get on the right train right at the airport for the 90 minute trip north to the city of Haifa. We were easily able to catch a local bus to near the Haifa Guesthouse, our ‘home’ for the next 2 nights. We had started our trip to Israel in Haifa because back home we deliver hot lunches as part of the Meals on Wheels program every Tuesday to about 12 individuals and/or couples; among them are a lovely couple, Bob and Marti, who are followers of the Baha'i religion whose world headquarters and gardens are in Haifa.

The Guesthouse was located almost at the foot of the Baha'i shrine which was beautifully lit up at night. Since it had been a long travel day, it was great to grab a pizza from across the street and eat it sitting in bed watching CNN and an American football game.

Our small room at the Haifa Guesthouse.

Since we'd come to Haifa only to visit the Baha'i Gardens and knew we needed to be there waiting in line no later than 11:30 for the English language noon tour, we were up and out to see some other Haifa sights by 9. It was quite an adventure trying to find our way to Elijah’s Cave and Stella Maris, the Carmelite Monastery, using public transportation. That was much easier said than done as Israel is the first country this trip that has fairly little in the way of English signs or signs in Latin script anywhere. The buses, the stops, signs on tourist sights, for example, only had Hebrew writing, Steven, having lived on a kibbutz for 1 year in the far north of Israel back in 1969, could still remember some of the Hebrew letters so that was an enormous help as otherwise we’d have been sunk!

Finally made it to Elijah’s Cave, where it is said that the prophet rested and meditated in the 9th C.  We didn’t actually see the cave but rather a fairly large room that was divided in half by a fairly tall bookcase so that women could pray on the left hand side and men on the right.

Tried to tour next the nearby Museum of Clandestine Immigration which contained the tiny ship which Jewish immigrants used to evade the British Government's 
blockade in 1948, the year before the State of Israel was declared. Unfortunately, the museum was closed but we were able to see the exterior area well.
View of Israel's intercity train and Haifa's beach area from the Museum.

Zachary: These photos are for you!
After taking the wrong bus a couple of times but luckily being able to use the same tickets because they were valid for one hour regardless of direction, we finally got to the world headquarters of the Carmelites, also known as Stella Maris. The church is located at the top of Mt. Carmel (which took me back to my elementary school and church of almost the same name, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel), so it had spectacular views of the entire city. The site was selected in the 12th C, by a small band of crusaders who settled there to devote themselves to asceticism, solitude and prayer. The Carmelite order, which grew from that beginning, was officially founded in the 13th C. and the church was built in the 18th C. over a grotto.

We toured the spectacular Baha'i Gardens after visiting the Monastery but those photos and information will be on a separate post.

After our tour we decided to explore part of the Arab souq or neighborhood called Wadi Nisnas. From reading our blog, you know by now how much we love walking around local markets and getting off the tourist track whenever we can so it was delightful walking through some of the alleys and lanes of the Arab Quarter and the souks or markets buying apples and other snacks to munch on.

Some photos of Haifa street scenes you might enjoy seeing:

The biggest pomengranates we've seen and we've seen zillions of them on this trip!

Sculpture is called 'Brotherhood.'
As Haifa is a city perched on hills and surrounded by the Mediterranan on the north side, it was tricky trying to follow the city map and not have to walk up streets and then down others as everything looks straight on a map! Steven the Navigator did a fantastic job ensuring we didn’t have to climb up more than necessary which my still painful knees appreciated. He got us to Sirkin Market where fruit and vegetable stalls, tiny hardware stores, delicious smelling bakeries, and miniscule kitchen shops backed up traffic for several blocks. The actual heart of the market was underground where we were the only foreigners wandering the aisles teeming with elderly shoppers.
Not loaves of yummy French bread but loofah sponges!
Hiafa has a considerable Russian community, thus this sign in Russian.

Very rarely are eggs refrigerated in markets we've been in anywhere in Europe or in Haifa.


Dates and raisins, my all time favorites. 
In one of the Sofia posts, I included a photo of McDonald's in Arabic script; now, here's one in Hebrew for you!
 Ivy: I thought of you here naturally and hoped that perhaps through art, children of all faiths can learn to bridge the gaps that divide the Arabs and Jews in Israel.

 The girl in blue saw me taking photos and followed me for a block or so wanting me to take a photo of her and this other girl. Iwas glad to oblige of course.

Steven and I both remarked after having walked virtually all day throughout a good part of the city that it wasn’t particularly attractive to us except for the stunning Baha'i Gardens of course and the city’s superb location on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The architecture was mostly the same cream colored, limestone block style, drab construction. It was almost as if we'd been transported back 40 or so years to many cities in the former USSR. I'm sure the limestone is probably a perfect building material in this part of the world but to see it almost exclusively used for flat topped building blocks seemed very uninspiring.