Family trip to the Holy Land

ISRAEL/PALESTINE (Tel Aviv, Eilat, Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Akko, Haifa, Caesarea)

Overview

  • When: December 27- 28, 2019. January 2-5, 2020
  • Where (accommodations): Tel Aviv: Hotel Saul, Kfar Maccabiah Hotel and Suites; Eilat: Prima Music Hotel; Jerusalem: Leonardo Boutique Jerusalem
  • Transportation: Flights from Frankfurt, Germany to Tel Aviv on Pegasus airlines. Flight from Tel Aviv to Lisbon, Portugal on TAP Air. Boston to Frankfurt and Lisbon to Boston on TAP airline. Ground transportation/guides: OTTO VIP Transportation & VIP Services in Israel through Slava Bazarsky, email: israelviptour@gmail.com
  • Sights/attractions: Tel Aviv: Carmel Market, Aviv Beach, Jaffa Old Town and Jaffa Port, Jaffa Flea Market, Florentin district, Neve Tzedek (Shabazi street), Rothschild Boulevard, Sheinkin street, Beach Promenade; Eilat: Red Sea beaches; Jericho: Mount of Temptation, Jericho Cable Car, Hisham’s Palace. Jerusalem: Mount Scopus, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Church of St John The Baptist, Western Wall, Tower of David, Dome of the Rock, Mount of Olives, Pater Noster Church, Chapel of the Ascension, Mount Zion, Dormition Abbey, Via Dolorosa, Prison of Christ, Monastery of the Flagellation, Old City markets; Bethlehem: Church of Nativity, Milk Grotto, Manger Square. Acre(Akko): Akko Old Town and the Harbor,  Crusader City and The Templars Tunnel, St John’s Church, Hammam al-Basha Museum (Turkish Bath), Ahmed Al-Jazzar Mosque, Old Town Market; Haifa: Baha’i Gardens; Caesarea: Caesarea National Park.
  • Food/drinks: Tel Aviv: Cafe Yom Tov, Dr Shakshuka, Abouelafia bakery, Salva Vida; Eilat: Bar Beach, The Last Refuge; Jerusalem: Ben-Sira Hummus, Austrian Hospice Cafe, R&R Diner; Caesarea: Hellena Restaurant Caesarea Harbor.

This was a very different trip this time- instead of two of us running around multiple countries, we invited my family to travel with and they agreed! I know my mom, sister and their spouses are still catching up on sleep and resting their legs as I am writing this post, but I am very proud of us all for pulling it off. Six people, two countries, nine days- what a whirlwind of sights, emotions, different foods and even winter to summer and back to winter weather we experienced! We started this adventure by flying from Boston to Frankfurt, Germany and spending Christmas with my family there. On the 26th of December we all flew to Tel Aviv (with layover in Istanbul). Two nights, one full day to explore this seaside city of Israel and then we headed south to the resort town Eilat, where we enjoyed a swim in the Red Sea. We then crossed the border to Aqaba, Jordan, but that will be a separate post as it is so much to share about each country. On January 2nd, we returned back to Israel/Palestine via King Hussein border and explored Jericho, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. On our last day of travels we stopped in Acre (Akko), Haifa and Caesarea, before making a full circle and arriving back to Tel Aviv to fly  home.

TEL AVIV

Most of the flights that were reasonably priced landed here, so we figured it’s worth exploring this city before moving down south.

 We did not have a guide, all the sites were explored on foot and we walked A LOT in one day. The key is to have a hotel that is located centrally to the places you want to visit, that’s why we loved Hotel Saul. Comfortable rooms allowed good rest and the convenient location made it possible to visit everything we had on the agenda.

Before we set out to see numerous neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, we need good breakfast. Cafe Yom Tov was short walk away and we enjoyed the healthy food and fresh juice options there.

Full bellies=happy family that is ready to sightsee.

CARMEL MARKET

It was raining the morning we started our Tel Aviv adventure, so we just walked through this market without stopping. If you ask my honest opinion-it’s nothing special.

There are much bigger and better markets, especially in Jerusalem. But if you are in the area and in need some fruits/veggies or sweets, it could be worth taking a look.

AVIV BEACH

The entire Tel Aviv’s west side faces Mediterranean Sea, so the whole coastline is lined with white sand beaches. I can see how beautiful it must be during warm summer months. As we were there in December, we walked to the closest beach that was on our way to the Old City of Jaffa (Yafo) and that happened to be Aviv Beach.

It was chilly with strong winds and the sea was roaring, so we did not even touch the water.

THE OLD CITY OF JAFFA

If there is one place you MUST visit in Tel Aviv, then I would pick the Old Town, so called Jaffa or Yafo. Winding streets, lots of history, great views- all in a walkable area, just wear comfortable shoes! We stopped at the Visitor Center to get a map and did a ‘walking tour’ ourselves. There are free tours available that start at the Clock Tower, but we did not want to walk with a group and did not have the time to wait for a tour to begin. There are a few main points to enjoy:

  1. Clock Tower. It is a central point of Jaffa and impossible to miss. Located in a busy square that you will have to cross to continue the tour.
  2. Great Mahmoudiya Mosque. We did not go inside, but walked by it and took photos from outside. Built in 1730 is one of the most important mosques in Israel.

    3. Kedumim Square. Walk up the hill past the mosque and you will see the signs for the square. Great views of the city/Mediterranean Sea below.

    4. St. Peter’s Church. Beautiful catholic church in Jaffa.

    5. Zodiac Fountain. The fountain contains chalkstone sculptures of the twelve Zodiac signs and marks a place where the limited archeological salvage excavation was conducted showing proof of settlement dated to Ottoman Period. The findings under the fountain corroborate with the wishing well legend- someone said you have to hit your zodiac sign with the coin, before it falls in the water in order for the wish to come true- practice your coin tossing skills before visiting 🙂 ! IMG_17146. Abrasha Park. This little park has several gardens, open air amphitheater, Statue of Faith – all close by to each other. There are Zodiac symbols all over Jaffa- one more chance to get a wish fulfilled- touch the zodiac sign on the little bridge and wish away while looking out at the sea. Myth or reality- we did our due diligence of wishing in this place 🙂 .

    7. Old Jaffa Port. Walk down the very charming cobblestone streets and you will be at the Old Port of Jaffa. It is mentioned in the various ancient works and serves as a fishing harbor, a yacht harbor and of course a place for tourists. You will find cafes, souvenir shops and a pleasant walk along the sea.

    8. Jaffa’s Flea Market. Whether you are in need of an interesting item or not- it’s worth passing by this hustle and bustle area full of locals and tourists alike.

    9. Dr Shakshuka for lunch and Abouelafia bakery for dessert. You cannot leave Jaffa hungry and we wanted to try as much local food as possible. Shakshuka is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and garlic, and commonly spiced with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. It’s popular Mediterranean dish and we’ve heard this is a good place to try it.

    I’ll admit- it was not my favorite meal, but we left full, with just enough room for pastries. The bakery is big and has variety of sweets, so we stocked up for breakfast for the following day as well.

    That was our self guided Jaffa tour. I am sure there is more to it and it’s fun place at night with many restaurants and bars. But we have a lot to see, so are on to the next district of Tel Aviv- Florentin.

FLORENTIN

What I’ve heard about this neighborhood is that it’s like Brooklyn of Tel Aviv with up and coming hipster vibe and bohemian cafes. The main reason why we went there though was the street art. You don’t really have to search for it- it’s EVERYWHERE! We just walked around and took pictures of our favorite ones.

From the colorful walls to the chic boutiques and galleries of Neve Tzedek neighborhood- we just keep on walking.

NEVE TZEDEK

This was a first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside of the Old City of Jaffa and currently one of the most fashionable and expensive districts of Tel Aviv. If you want to do some trendy European fashion shopping- check out Shalom Shabazi street- it’s lined with shops and restaurants- just bring a full wallet 🙂 .

THE WHITE CITY

The White City is located between Allenby Street in the south, Begin Road and Ibn Gvirol Street in the east, the Yarkon River in the north, and the Mediterranean in the west. The name came from the mainly white buildings. Tel Aviv has the world’s largest collection of International or Bauhaus style buildings and the White City has been designated one of the first ‘modern’ UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world in 2003. Do not expect to see snow white buildings everywhere- that is definitely not the case. In fact, the buildings are more off- white than the actual white color, so you have to either take a tour or look for them specifically. Bialik Square is part of the White City. IMG_1967

ROTHSCHILD BOULEVARD

One of the main streets in the center of Tel Aviv this modern boulevard is good both for relaxing, people watching, eating or shopping. Many of the historic buildings are built in the Bauhaus style, forming part of the White City.

Very nice area for a stroll, especially on a sunny afternoon. Weather changed so much  since this morning and we loved walking the boulevard!

SHENKIN STREET

Want to see more of the White City AND you are in Tel Aviv to shop- Shenkin street is  the one to not miss. Trendy designer and jewelry shops, boutiques, restaurants- this street is a shopper’s paradise.

We were there on Friday afternoon, so unfortunately most of all stores were closed. Keep in mind when planning a trip to Israel that Sabbath is taken seriously- it’s hard to find anything open from around 2pm on Friday until Saturday sundown. It was still a nice walk down the famous street and we saved some serious money by not being able to shop there : ) .

To end our Tel Aviv day we decided to walk down the beach promenade and look for a place for an early dinner.

We had some recommendations for the restaurants, but since it was six of us and we did not make reservations in advance, a lot of places simply could not take us in. We came across Salva Vida and were happy with the quality of food and service.

And that my friends, concludes one busy day in Tel Aviv! We deserve some rest and that is on the agenda for tomorrow. We are taking a 4 hour drive to a resort town Eilat.

EILAT

It takes around four hours by car to reach Eilat if there is no traffic. We considered renting a car, but we needed a large one to accommodate all of us plus the suitcases. That alone may not have been an issue- the problem was that all rental car places in Tel Aviv were closed on Saturday and that is the day we needed to get on the road. Slava’s company was recommended by Hotel Saul and we used his drivers all across Israel and Palestine. In retrospect, even though it was quite pricey, it was a huge relief to not have to drive for any of us. It saved time on finding parking, figuring out best road to take from Israel to Palestine etc. Driver to Eilat, Ruslan was reserved and kept to himself, even though we tried to chat him up in Russian (he was not fluent in English). We communicated to Slava via email and WhatsApp and every driver he sent showed up on time and got us to all the places we planned on going.

Another good reason for a driver- no problems getting pulled over. Ruslan went over the speed limit and ended up paying a hefty fine of 275 USD. Well, he got us to Eilat in less than four hours, so we could not complain 🙂 .

Rainy Tel Aviv morning was soon replaced by the sunny desert landscapes and even a few camels along side the road.

We stopped at the viewpoint overlooking the Dead Sea and Jordanian mountains and shortly after arrived to balmy summer weather of Eilat. It was SO nice to take off winter jackets even for one short afternoon.

We did not walk around town, just checked into Prima Music hotel (simple, but convenient with a big fresh breakfast in the morning!) and went across the street to the nearest beach for a swim in the Red Sea.  I don’t know if all Eilat beaches are like this one, but ours was with rocky/cement like shoreline. I highly recommend bringing water shoes as the rocks are a bit sharp and slippery. Water was warm (warmer than not heated hotel pool) and super clear (nothing red about it haha) . There were colorful fish swimming right around us and it would have been a nice place to snorkel, but we did not have the time or the proper gear. We grabbed late lunch at the Bar Beach-the place right on the water. Everyone’s food was good and portions were huge.

My fish came raw in the middle, but they took it off the bill and I had enough food sharing my sister’s enormous portion. Because we like to eat, I cannot skip on our dinner place. We chose The Last Refuge– seafood place and really enjoyed it.

Afternoon and one night in Eilat was a nice little break after the long day of walking all over Tel Aviv. It was amazing to feel the warm sun and take a dip in the sea at the end of December. We were now ready to cross the Aqaba border into Jordan where we will spend the next four days. It’s important to mention that this border allows you to get Jordan visa upon arrival, where the one near Jerusalem requires to have a visa prior to the trip. That was the deciding factor why we came to Eilat in the first place- we had American, Lithuanian and Italian passports and to obtain Jordanian visas in advance would have been very complicated. I will write more about the crossings in the Jordan post, but in a nutshell – crossing from Eilat to Aqaba was easy breezy process that took just around 1-1.5 hours.

JERICHO

Fast forward four days ahead and we are back from Jordan and crossing the different border –King Hussein/Allenby bridge. Operated by Israel, this is the only direct border crossing between Palestinian Territories and Jordan.  We have heard many stories about how long it might take and arrived somewhat early- before 8 in the morning. The crossing involved paying exit fees to Jordan (we had cash, I am not sure if they take cards at customs). I believe it was 10 JOD per person, plus 7 JOD per person for the shuttle bus that took us from one border to the next and each piece of luggage was another 1.5 JOD.  Shuttle bus and luggage fees are collected on the bus, so cash is needed for sure there. The whole process was just around 1.5 hours- just like the previous border from Eilat. I would recommend early arrival just to be safe.

Once we passed the passport control and exited outside, our driver was already waiting and without further delay we were on the way to the Palestinian city on the West Bank- Jericho. Located in the Jordan Valley with the Jordan River to the east and Jerusalem to the West, Jericho is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. The driver brought us to the guide, who took us in a separate van and we set off to the Mount of Temptation. 

MOUNT OF TEMPTATION

It is believed that on a hill in a Judean Desert Jesus was three times tempted by the devil and that the place was around the area of where Temptation Mountain currently is. Halfway to the top there is Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Temptation or Deir al-Qarantal in Arabic.

To reach the monastery you need to take Jericho Cable Car and then walk up several flights of stairs. Luckily it was warm,  but not overly hot day or this climb would not have been as successful 🙂 .

The guide was very informative, showed us the ‘temptation’ spots- of course nobody knows how accurate the locations are, but it was interesting and I am sure we got the best views of Jericho from the points high on the mountain.

HISHAM’S PALACE

Our next stop was archeological site of the ruins of Mafjar. Hisham’s Palace is  an Umayyad structure that is listed among the last of the surviving antiquities of Romans and Byzantines. It was built by Walid Ibn Yazid in 734 CE near Jericho in the Jordan Valley during the reign of Caliph Hisham Ibn Abdelmalik between 724-743 CE.

It’s famous for its huge mosaic floor, but unfortunately it was under construction and we were not able to see it. Despite that the rest of the ruins were just as impressive.

JERUSALEM

Finally we reached the Holy City! It has been Sean’s main goal for this trip and we were all glad to be here. In Jerusalem we spent two nights, but because we arrived in the late afternoon, it was not that much time to explore and there is A LOT to see. For the hotel, once again, we chose the place based on the location. We wanted to be able to walk to all the main points of interest and Leonardo Boutique Jerusalem is ideally located short walking distance away from the Old City.

Rooms are modern, with little balconies and there is a hot tub in the outside terrace- we totally took advantage of it  after a long day of exploring!

Just like for Tel Aviv, I will go over the must-see places in Jerusalem (in my opinion). They are not listed in an order of importance, but based more or less on the sequence that we sightseed.

  1. Mount Scopus. We started the tour of Jerusalem with the best views of the city. On a clear day you can see for miles and we lucked out with a sunshine.

    2. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Also called the Church of the Resurrection or Church of the Anastasis this church contains two holiest sites in Christianity – the site where Jesus was crucified and the site of Jesus’s empty tomb where he is said to be buried and resurrected.

    This church is in the Christian Quarter of the Old Jerusalem- very busy, very crowded place, so prepare to be patient and have some water with you – lines are VERY long. Especially if you want to see the tomb, which is within the church and is enclosed by a 19th century shrine. We waited over 2 hours to be able to enter the tomb and it was quite disheartening to experience the pushing, the shoving and in some cases swearing from the fellow tourists that were waiting in line. You can only enter two at the time and no pictures inside are permitted. Despite the crowds, I think this is an absolute must to visit while in Jerusalem.

    3. Western Wall. Also known as Wailing Wall, or Kotel, known in Islam as the Buraq Wall, is an ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is the most significant site in the world for the Jewish people who come here to pray and place notes with wishes/prayers to God between the stones of the Wall. The wall was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple begun by Herod the Great.

    After going through metal detector security you will enter the plaza where the entrance to the wall splits into two paths- one for men and one for women. Another thing to remember is – when walking away from the Wall, you need to go backwards, not turn your back to it. All men cover their heads at Jewish Holy sites. There are yarmulkes available for free when entering the men’s prayer area. Women don’t need head covers, just have decent clothing- covered shoulders and no short skirts.

    4. Tower of David. Also known as Jerusalem Citadel is located  near the Jaffa Gate entrance to western edge of the Old City of Jerusalem. Check the hours of operation before going- it closes early on Fridays. We enjoyed the views from the top of the wall and walked around the 2700 yr old ruins in the courtyard.

    5. Mount Zion. This is a hill located just outside of the walls of the Old City, but still within walking distance and easily accessible by foot. The three important  sites on Mount Zion are Dormition AbbeyKing David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper. King David’s Tomb is a site considered by some to be the burial place of David, King of Israel is open 24 hours and we were able to see it late in the evening exploring Jerusalem when lots of other sites were already closed. Just like at the Wall, men have to cover their heads and enter through a separate side from women.

    According to local tradition, it was on the spot where Dormition Abbey is built that the Blessed Virgin Mary died, or at least ended her worldly existence. Both in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, as in the language of scripture, death is often called a “sleeping” – or “falling asleep” – and this gave the original monastery its name.

    The church itself is called Basilica of the Assumption (or Dormition). In the Catholic dogma of the Assumption of Mary, Christ’s mother was taken, body and soul, to heaven.

Room of the Last Supper is located on an upper floor of King David’s Tomb,  also called the Cenacle, is considered one of the holiest sites for Christianity in Jerusalem, since according to the tradition, it was the place where the last supper took place.

6. The Church of Saint John the Baptist is in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. It’s  a small Greek Orthodox church, but beautiful inside and out.

Entrance is hidden behind a small door that is in the market area, but if you have google maps,  you’ll be able to find it.

7. Dome of the Rock.  Arabic Qubbat al-Ṣakhrah,  Islamic shrine is built by the Umayyad caliph ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān in the late 7th century CE. It is the oldest extant Islamic monument. The rock over which the shrine was built is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. The Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, is traditionally believed to have ascended into heaven from the site. We did not get to see it from close up, because we were there on Friday and only Muslims were allowed into the Muslim Quarter. There were expected to be 30 000 people for prayer.

Guards with guns were standing near all the street entrances leading to the Dome of the Rock and we were not allowed to go in. However, you can see the shiny dome from many points in Jerusalem.

8. Mount of Olives. The mount has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves.

It has been mentioned in both Old and New Testament and one of the few landmarks include Chapel of the Ascension, The Church of the Pater Noster, Church of Dominus Flevit and a lot more. We were only able to visit the first two on our second day in Jerusalem.

Chapel of the Ascension is the traditionally believed to be the spot where Jesus ascended into Heaven after his resurrection.

The Church of the Pater Noster is a Roman Catholic church where the “Our Father (The Lord’s Prayer)” is written in every (or pretty much every) language. We even found Lithuanian and Gaelic (for Sean’s Irish roots).

9. Via Dolorosa street. The winding route from the former Antonia Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — a distance of about 600 metres this path is believed to be the one that Jesus walked to crucifiction.

There are nine Stations Of The Cross along the way and the last five are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Prison of Christ and the Monastery of the Flagellation are on the same path.

10. Old City Markets. If you visit any of the sites mentioned above, there is no way you will avoid going through the Old City markets. They are everywhere- a maze of little alleyways filled with souvenirs, trinkets, sweets. It’s fun to explore or at least walk by.

In one of the markets we grabbed a quick bite and I have no idea what the dish was called, but we saw a lot of locals eating it, so we gave it a try.

The best I could describe it as a pizza/quiche/omelet on a doughy bread 🙂 ? Sounds weird but it was delicious!

As for other meals in Jerusalem- we stopped at the Austrian Hospice cafe for the warm Austrian  apple strudel. It was right on Via Dolorosa, so it was a perfect break for our walk. IMG_5213We had amazing hummus at Ben-Sira Hummus. The place was packed, so we sat outside.

The service is scattered and they seemed overwhelmed, but it really was worth the wait.

On our last night in Jerusalem, it being Friday, many restaurants were closed, but luckily R&R Diner located just a few minutes walk from the hotel was open and serving delicious meals. I think they add truffle to everything and that made it all so amazing.

Truffle mashed potatoes as a starter? Of course! Truffle risotto? Bring it on! We left very full and happy.

BETHLEHEM

Located on the Palestinian side, the place of Jesus’s birth is only a short, less than half an hour drive away from the center of Jerusalem. We went there on our last day in the Holy City and spent a few hours of the afternoon. Our driver brought us over to Bethlehem and left us with another driver/guide. It was all arranged through the same person- Slava and went without a slightest glitch. We thought it will be slow going through security checkpoints, but we only stopped (like going through a toll booth on a highway) and did not even have to show any documents.

CHURCH OF NATIVITY

The holy site known as the Nativity Grotto is thought to be the cave in which Jesus of Nazareth was born. The main Basilica of the Nativity is maintained by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The Grotto of the Nativity, the place where Jesus is said to have been born, is an underground space which forms the crypt of the Church of the Nativity.

It is situated underneath its main altar, and it is normally accessed by two staircases on either side of the altar. The Grotto is part of a network of caves, which are accessed from the adjacent Church St Catherine’s. Time your arrival and check their schedule- we were told it’s not open until 11am, so we arrived around 1pm and made it with the group that was already waiting. Then the doors were closed and I am not sure if that was a way to control the crowds and they reopened after the first wave, or closed for the afternoon. Access is a narrow doorway with a couple of steps down and everyone is sort of squishing together- for me it was a MUST see and we were ready for a lot of people. It was a lot shorter wait though than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

CHAPEL OF THE MILK GROTTO

Christian tradition says is the place where the Holy Family found refuge during the Massacre of the Innocents, before they could flee to Egypt. The name is derived from the story that a “drop of milk” of the Virgin Mary fell on the floor of the cave and changed its colour to white.

The place believed to answer prayers of infertile couples and helps to heal illnesses. Once again check the time- I believe it is open in the morning and later in the evening, but closes mid day, around 2-5pm.

MANGER SQUARE

This big  city square in the center of Bethlehem, West Bank. Named from the manger where Jesus is said to have been born. One of the main buildings in Manger Square is the Mosque of Omar, the Old City’s only mosque, and the Palestinian Peace Center. It is right near the Church of Nativity, so impossible to miss.

Before we left Bethlehem, we stopped at a few other places. One of them- Cafe Il Cantico, which offered a great view of the city below and had the Popemobile from the time that Pope  Francis visited the Holy Land back in 2014!

As we were hungry and craved a specific sweet- knafeh, which we tried in Jordan, our guide brought us to a pastry shop in town- Palace Sweets.

 If you’re ever in the Middle East- this dessert is a must try!

Our last stop before leaving West Bank, was the wall separating Israel and Palestine. The Israeli West Bank barrier or wall is a separation barrier.

Israel considers it a security barrier against terrorism, while Palestinians call it a racial segregation or apartheid wall. A lot of people asked us if we ever felt unsafe. I can say with complete certainty- never. Palestinians were warmer than Israelis that we encountered, we never felt in any danger whatsoever. It’s sad to see the separation and how much wealthier Israel side looks. I am very glad we went to Palestine and definitely recommend anyone to visit.

ACRE (AKKO)

Our last day in Israel. Doesn’t it feel like we have been here for a month 🙂 ? Our trusted driver collected us in the morning and drove us from Jerusalem to the port city in the north east side of Israel- Acre, or Akko as it’s known for locals. We loved walking around the The Old City of Akko, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of the remains of the Crusader town both above and below street level. If you have a few hours, you can manage to explore quite a lot. Here are my MUST sees in Akko Old Town and the Harbor:

  1.  If you are on a limited time as we were, go to the visitor center first, so you have a clear path of what to see and do. We bought the ticket to the Knights Halls or Akko Citadel ( also called Hospitaller Fortress or Crusader City) and explored that first.

    There is a great audio tour that you get with the ticket and I highly recommend listening to that as you follow along the well marked path. This was one of our favorite parts of Acre.

  2. The Templars Tunnel. The Templars were a military-monastic order who – in the name of the pope – aided pilgrims and the ailing coming from Europe to visit the holy sites of the Land of Israel.

    The tunnel is 150 meters long and it extends from the Templars fortress in the west to the city’s port in the east. It crosses Pisan quarter and in the  past, served as a strategic underground passageway that connected the palace to the port.

  3. Old Town Harbor and St John’s Church. Once you exit the Tunnel, you can already smell the sea.

    Walk just a bit and you will reach St John’s Church. Everything is close by here.

  4. Ahmed Al-Jazzar Mosque. The mosque is an excellent example of Ottoman architecture, which incorporated both Byzantine and Persian styles.

    We did not go inside mainly because of lack of time and there is a fee. It is visible from many points of the Old Town.

  5. Hammam al-Basha Museum (Turkish Bath). “Hamam al-Basha” was built at the end of the 18th century by Governor of Acre, Jazzar Pasha.

    At first it was called “Hama al-Jadid” (the new Hamam), but its name was subsequently changed to Hamam al-Basha (the Pasha’s hamam), in honor of el-Jazzar.

6. Old Town Market and the streets. Cozy little streets, definitely worth getting lost in this ancient part of the city.

HAIFA

Starting from the north and making our way south, closer to Tel Aviv, our next stop is Haifa. The third largest city in Israel and a major port greeted us with sunshine and clear skies. We did not have a goal to see it all, just wanted to check out the famous Bahá’í Gardens. The Terraces of the Baháʼí Faith, also known as the Hanging Gardens of Haifa, are garden terraces around the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel in Haifa.

The entrance to the shrine and the inner gardens is only open 9-12, and we arrived in the afternoon, so were only able to see the outer gardens area. It’s definitely beautiful and peaceful. So is a viewpoint from Mount Carmel.

CAESAREA

And we have arrived to our last stop of Israel adventure. Caesarea is originally an ancient Herodian port city located on Israel’s Mediterranean Coast about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Just like Haifa, we only had one place in mind while visiting this city- Caesarea National Park with its Roman ruins.

We made it with just enough time to walk through before dark. We enjoyed the stroll along the sea until Sean stepped almost to his knees into a huge puddle 🙂 .

We were hungry after this long day of sightseeing, so for our last dinner in Israel chose Hellena Restaurant at Caesarea Harbor. With a beautiful view of the water ( we even saw a rainbow!) we were also delighted with their food.

It really was exceptional and perfect way to end our family vacation.

CONCLUSION

Five days in Israel/Palestine. FIVE. That is the time we had to do all these things! It took me longer to write about it all than we actually had time to see it! It was incredible experience to walk the Holy Land right after Christmas and to be able to do that with the family. We all were VERY tired at the end, but the memories will last a lifetime. You know it’s been a good trip when at one point you turn around and see this: IMG_5514

 

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