Well, this is it. I’m wrapping up our four-part trip journal only four months after our return from Israel. If I can write about our July beach trip and Soren’s August birthday before the end of the year I’ll consider my 2013 memory documentation a huge success.
We spent our last Israeli Shabbat driving north from Tel Aviv to Yavne’el, our home for the next couple of days. Along the way, we stopped at Caesarea, another one of Herod the Great’s elaborate endeavors.
Caesarea — another coastal beauty.
We spent a good part of the day exploring the ruins of Herod’s port city, complete with a palace, temple, amphitheater, markets, residences, bathhouses, pubs, aqueduct, and a man-made harbor.
Ruins, ruins, ruins.
The mosaic floors remain.
I’ll tour any site that has views of the ocean.
Those Israeli cats are EVERYWHERE.
Chariot races at the hippodrome.
From Caesarea, we continued north to Tiberias for dinner. We made it to the Sea of Galilee right around dusk, so Shabbat was coming to a close and people were starting to materialize.
These boys are just waiting for the sun to go down so they can let loose.
We chose a restaurant that was right on the water. The weather was perfect for an al fresco meal. Soren didn’t seem to mind the pink high chair.
I’ll just have a whole fish for dinner, thanks.
We knew we couldn’t check in to the Villa Ramona until well after Shabbat was over, so we killed some time walking the Tiberias promenade, which was definitely on the touristy/kitschy side. We eventually got back in our tiny rental car for the short drive to Yavne’el. It was after 9 p.m., so Soren was angry and wishing he was in bed, and Tim was in a panic about navigating since the battery on my cell phone was 99% dead. And we had received an email from our hosts saying that many of the previous guests were still in the process of checking out. All a little stressful for a vacation. So it was fitting that where we were headed was not a giant hotel or big-city apartment (like the two previous places we’d stayed), but a peaceful zimmer. None of knew what a zimmer was before arriving, but it’s the word the rest of the world uses to describe a private accommodation tucked away in the countryside. It’s where the Israeli urban-dwellers go for an escape from the hectic city life.
When we arrived around 10 p.m., Shmuel and Chana were still cleaning the suites after the previous tenants’ late departures, but they welcomed us with warm muffins and sliced watermelon. (Apparently, there had been a revered rabbi in town from New York, so everyone stayed late to have a moment with him.) Because we had to check in a few hours late, Shmuel and Chana offered us an additional zimmer for the duration of our stay. Jackpot.
In the morning, we were better able to check out our surroundings.
Soren enjoyed his little alcove between the jacuzzi and closet. With that lovely pink partition in place, he had no idea we were sleeping right next to him.
What a relief to be surrounded by greenery after so many days in the desert. Our patio and yard were ideal for relaxing outside. Note the Jewish star trellis.
We ate all our at-home meals outdoors. Soren preferred to sit right on the table, mostly nude. I know I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to see him in a disposable diaper, but I sort of do. But cloth diapering on this trip would’ve been a nightmare.
We ventured to Mount Tabor (the Mount of Transfiguration) on our first morning in the north. We started late enough in the day that we needed lunch first. Turns out it’s not easy to find a restaurant when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Yavne’el had literally zero places open for lunch. On our drive to Mount Tabor we pulled off and drove through a couple of other small towns hoping to find something. Nothing. Eventually I spied what looked like an eating establishment behind a gas station. Winner! There was not a lot of English spoken there, but the food was excellent.
Another restaurant, another high chair, another hunk of bread.
A few thousand years ago, we would’ve had to walk up about 4,340 steps to reach the top of Mount Tabor. Since we could, we decided to drive. The Church of the Transfiguration sits at the summit, and it’s divided into Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic areas. The gardens surrounding were nice to walk through. The views of lower Galilee were hazy, but pretty neat.
Supposedly where the transfiguration occurred.
Family photo at the summit. Soren wins for most photogenic family member.
Vacation is all about finding any relatively flat surface for a diaper change.
On our drive back home, all the gas station ads for cool drinks got the better of me, and I decided to drink my annual soda. I don’t always drink Coke, but when I do, I prefer it to be from a foreign country.
Just a regular old fuel station.
Sweet soda selfie.
Our next stop was the River Jordan — a really beautiful but very commercial place.
Pilgrims come from all over the world to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and be baptized here.
Not the actual site where Jesus was baptized, but clearly good enough for the 600,000 annual visitors who come here. This place can accommodate 1,000 people at once. How’s that for a sacred baptismal experience?
We thought about having Soren baptized while we were there, but we arrived after the last had taken place for the day. Also, it costs $10!
We then made our way to the Sea of Galilee for an evening dip. The beach area was quiet at 6 p.m. Just a few families swimming and smoking their hookahs.
It was a bit chilly, so Soren, Shauna, and I stayed mostly clothed.
Tim was the sole swimmer from our group. Just hanging out in the Sea of Galilee, like it’s regular.
I can’t tell from Soren’s face if he was excited or terrified.
Definitely happy about this.
Dads are good for excitement and playtime, mamas are good for quiet snuggles.
Then back to Yavne’el for dinner — at one of the two restaurants in town. I’m not sure if we should even call it a restaurant. It was more of a shack. There wasn’t exactly a menu, and definitely nothing written in English. The lone man who worked there knew a few English words, and he was able to make some recommendations to us. To this point, nearly all our meals had been very similar — hummus, falafel, shawarma, etc. All tasty, but not a lot of variety. But this dinner was different and wonderful. We had pizza! And a couple of other items that were so good, but I have no idea what they were called. Delicious, flaky dough with hard-boiled eggs and gooey cheese, all dipped in tomato sauce.
One of Yavne’el’s two “restaurants.”
The next day was our last day. There is something a little bit relieving about packing up to go home after nearly two weeks away.
Grandmama and Soren time while Tim packed and I worked.
Awkward family photo in front of our zimmer in Yavne’el.
We checked out of our zimmer, said farewell to our friends/hosts, and made our way south. We left the 100% Jewish town and spent most of the day in Nazareth, also known as the Arab capital of Israel.
Sights along the drive. I don’t remember which town this was, but most of the communities near the highways look just like this.
After I accidentally attempted to enter a church that was for Arab males only, we found the Basilica of the Annunciation. This was one of my favorite sites of our trip. Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to be Catholic, because I’m a big-time Mary fan.
The church was established at the site where the Roman Catholics believe the annunciation took place. Our Greek Orthodox friends argue it happened while Mary was drawing water from a local spring in Nazareth.
The front courtyard and the walls inside the church were lined with dozens of mosaics commemorating Mary — each one from a different country around the world. Asian Marys and South American Marys and abstract Marys. All beautiful.
But since most of our trip was about food, we made our way to lunch, following the recommendation of one of our guidebooks. Nazareth isn’t a huge city, and the old part of the city (where we were) seemed mostly reserved for tourists. So we weren’t surprised to find ourselves alone in the restaurant. Our private chef whipped up us his best dishes.
We have some family friends in Virginia who lived in the Middle East for many years. Their home is decorated like this restaurant, and now I get why. It’s what everyone does in Israel!
Our last meal was traditional, but one of my favorites.
What we really came for was the dessert. Sweet little pancakes filled with goat cheese and nuts and cinnamon, then drenched in geranium syrup.
The meal left us full beyond belief (we decided to fill up before the long, long plane ride), but that didn’t mean we couldn’t go to the bakery to fill our suitcases with treats. On our way, we stopped in a little park so I could nurse the babe. While we sat, an Asian tour group entered the park with a very special-looking box. They all gathered round the box, and we were surprised to watch them releasing a pigeon into the air. No idea what that was about.
Time for sweets at Mahroum.
All so pretty, all delicious.
We brought home a variety of treats, including these shredded filo pastries. But nothing was as good as the classic baklava. My favorite.
I won’t write about the plane ride home, because it was 12.5 hours of misery. I think the photo below, taken during our short layover in Philadelphia, shows what we were feeling.
The morning after being up all night. Ugh.
I swore I’d never get on a plane again, but I guess the bad memories disappear quickly since we flew to Virginia less than a month later. Now we can dream about our 2014 family trip to Europe (right Tim?).