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Phespirit goes to Israel/Palestine
tour     September 2012

AROUND ISRAEL/PALESTINE

Map of Israel/Palestine

1 Tel Aviv

Phespirit spent half his first night in Israel at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, patiently waiting to be allowed in the country. The rest he spent at the Rimonim Optima hotel, patiently trying to fall asleep.

In the morning he visited the 'white city' area, noisy with traffic and construction works, a chaotic jumble of styles with little to please the eye.

Phespirit was happy to move on to old Jaffa.

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2 Jaffa

Jewish Tel Aviv has money and modernity - Arab Jaffa has history and heart. Here Phespirit visited St. Peter's Monastery and Simon the Tanner's house, he looked out across the port to Andromeda's Rock, and gazed further down the coast to Tel Aviv's beaches.

And on the wishing bridge he appealed for a large lottery win.

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3 Caesarea

There's precious little left of Kind Herod's original great showpiece port. The Roman amphitheatre, palace columns, and the Herodian amphitheatre are recognisable due to very substantial excavations and reconstruction. But there's also a peaceful quality that makes the site pleasing to visit.

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4 Haifa

The plan was to visit the Bahá'í Gardens, but a late arrival in town (5:00pm) meant missing out. The gardens closed minutes earlier. Bugger.

Still never mind. The road above the gardens provided outstanding views across the city - third largest in Israel - and its busy port.

Theoretically, Haifi is one of the more serene cultural melting pots in an otherwise troubled land. Phespirit was not here long enough to find out.

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5 Akko

The ancient city of Acre has been occupied, enlarged, conquered, razed to the ground, occupied and rebuilt so many times that now all the most interesting stuff is (or was) underground.

Phespirit visited the citadel, the subterranean crusader city, khan al-Umdan and the Templar's tunnel. And he watched a marvellous sunset from the beach south of the old city.

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6 Nazarath

No quaint village, this. It is a sprawling shambolic mess of a noisy modern town. Phespirit came here for two 20th century churches: St. Joseph's church, supposedly on the site of Jospeh's carpentry workshop; and the Basilica of the Annunciation, said to be on the site of Mary's home, where the Angel Gabriel announced that she had one in the oven.

The latter is the largest church in the Middle East, passable from the outside but an appalling mess of reinforced concrete within.

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7 Tabgha

Three churches to visit here, close to the northwest shores of the Sea of Galilee:

  • Church of the Beatitudes, built on the Mount of Beatitudes, where the 'Sermon on the Mount' was allegedly delivered;
  • Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, built around the rock where said miracle reportedly occured;
  • Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, built where resurrected Jesus apparently gave Peter the brief to run Christianity.

The churches are crap if truth be told; it's all about their locations. Phespirit likes the last one as it has a beach.

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8 Capernaum

Self-proclaimed "Home town of Jesus", Capernaum preserves an interesting collection of ruins. Chief among these is a synagogue, next door to what is said to be St. Peter's house.

The latter now has its own truly abysmal church: a concrete flying saucer that sits on stilts directly above the site. Whoever decided that was a good idea wants nailing up.

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9 Tiberius

Phespirit arrived by boat from kibbutz Ginosar - a shade less than an hour to the north on the Sea of Galilee. He watched a boatload of singing Colombians leave on the next departure from port. Then he bought a bottle of water, and immediately departed by road.

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10 Beit She'an

Phespirit liked Beit She'an a lot. Its archaeological site preserves 5,000 years' worth of history. And not mere fragments: there's big archaeology such as Israel's best preserved Roman amphitheatre, plus colonnaded paved roads, dwellings with mosaic floors, a bath house and communal latrines.

Not to be missed.

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11 Jericho

Jericho is a name that has resonated through the ages since long before Joshua's trumpet resonated around its walls, as told in one of the Bible's more fanciful stories.

Phespirit visited three sites: at the foot of the Mount of Temptation (Bible story: devil tempts Jesus); the sycamore tree of Zacchaeus (Bible story: tax collector Zachaeus shins up said tree for a better view of Jesus, only to end up cooking for him); and Tel Es-Sultan, the real historical Jericho with 10,000 years' worth of archaeology, but looking nothing more than a large mound of rubble.

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12 Kalia Beach

Dip one: a glorious opportunity to float once more on the intensely salty waters of the Dead Sea. Phespirit had done so previously in Jordan but this was better. More relaxed. Just wonderful.

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13 Masada

The ruins of the fabled fortress of Masada stand upon an isolated plateau high above the Dead Sea. A cable car transports tourists to the top in just three minutes but Phespirit decided to hike there along the sun-baked stony 'snake path'. It took him a shade under forty-five minutes.

The archaeology at the top is extensive and a fitting reward for the effort required to reach it, as was the Dead Sea panorama.

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14 Ein Gedi

Dip two: at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Phespirit walked along Wadi David as far as the David Waterfall.

On his way he passed a number of natural plunge pools that other hikers had paused at for a cooling dip. On his way back, Phespirit picked a nice one and had a dip himself, with waterfall massage.

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15 Qumran

Famed as the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

The precious little that remains of the scroll scribes' dwellings has been uncovered here too but in truth it's not very impressive.

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16 Jerusalem

During two whole days in Jerusalem, Phespirit visited an endless succession of churches, the western (wailing) wall of the Temple, the Israel Museum, Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the Mount of Olives, and he walked the Via Dolorosa - the way of the cross.

But Phespirit didn't particularly enjoy Jerusalem. Everywhere was busy with tourists and felt oppressively overcrowded. Then there's the cultural division of the Old City into quarters... it just didn't feel comfortable.

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17 Bethlehem

Just a one-stop visit here to admire the Church of the Nativity. It is one of the few churches in the Holy Land that feels like a genuine, traditional, authentic church that is worthy of its place on a site of supposed religious significance.

The usual trouble, though: rammed with crowds.

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  1. Tel Aviv
  2. Jaffa
  3. Caesarea
  4. Haifa
  5. Akko
  6. Nazarath
  7. Tabgha
  8. Capernaum
  9. Tiberius
  10. Beit She'an
  11. Jericho
  12. Kalia Beach
  13. Masada
  14. Ein Gedi
  15. Qumran
  16. Jerusalem
  17. Bethlehem
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Tel Aviv Jaffa Caesarea Haifa Akko Nazarath Tabgha Capernaum Tiberius Beit She'an Jericho Kalia Beach Masada Ein Gedi Qumran Jerusalem Bethlehem