Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Israel 2010, Part 6 (Final in this Series)

Israel, Part 6
©2101, By David Talbot
February 23, 2010

Galillee, Israel. The Galillee is a region of Northern Israel with so many sites of interest that it’s worth the effort, if you have the time, to rent a car and spend a few days in this region alone. At the time of King Herod, almost 3,000,000 people lived here in hundreds of small towns scattered around the region. We already mentioned Nazareth, one of the largest cities in the Galillee (See part 4 in this series). In this final part of the series, I’ll describe 3 other sites of interest: Capernaum, Jordan River Baptismal Site, and Bet Shean.

Capernaum. Located on the north shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galillee), about an hour East of Haifa, Capernaum is home to Peter’s House and Jesus’ Synagogue, making this site a “Must See” for all Christian visitors. Most non-religious tour groups also visit this site for its historical significance.

The White Synagogue, built over Jesus’ Synagogue, has been partially restored here, as is the home of Peter. From Frommer’s Israel: “Capernaum was the home of perhaps four of Jesus’ other original followers; it was the place where Jesus began to gather his disciples around him...”

Although we are Jews, we found this site to be extremely interesting and a great insight into the daily life of our ancestors. Looking at the ruins of Peter’s house, you can clearly visualize how life must have been at that time. After visiting this and other sites like it, reading the bible will never be the same.

Jordan River Baptismal Site. This site is located in Teverya (Tiberius), on the Western Shore of the Kinneret. Teverya, built in 18 CE, by King Herod’s son, was an important location for Jews taking refuge here after the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Mishna and Jerusalem Talmud, critically important Jewish texts, were compiled here. This is also a good place to spend a few days to explore the Kinneret, Golan, and Galillee regions.

The original Baptism site for Jesus and his disciples was probably closer to the present day southern end of the Kinneret. Years ago, a dam was constructed on the Jordan River, and the flow was redirected by this location. Called Yardenit, it was established by Kibbutz Kinneret, sometime after its establishment in 1909. Christian pilgrims are able to safely immerse themselves to this day. A restaurant and gift shop where you can purchase containers of Jordan River Water, are also located here. This is a beautiful place to spend a few hours and contemplate the history of this region.

Bet Shean. Bet Shean is located about 45KM South of Teverya, and is described by Frommer’s Israel as, “A vast, Roman-Byzantine city with colonnaded streets and a theater that could house 5,000 at once…” To the east of the city, Inside Bet Shean National Park can be seen Tel Bet Shean. Tel is a Hebrew word meaning: a mound or hill created by successive layers of ruined cities. Artifacts from Egyptian, Jewish, Roman, Greek, Philistine, Turk, and Arab communities have been found Tel Bet Shean.

The main attraction for most visitors is the Bet Shean Archeological Park, which is still in development. The Cardo, or colonnaded Main Street of the city, takes you by bath houses, shops, and the Roman Theater.

The design of the city, with the main North-South street (Cardo) and secondary East-West cross street (Decumanus), is typical of Roman street design around the world. In the Old City of Jerusalem the Jewish Quarter is laid out over the Cardo.

Some final thoughts. Israel is a land of many contrasts. From Bedouins living in shacks in the desert to multi-million dollar mansions along the beach in Caesarea, the range is astounding. From ultra-religious Jewish communities in Jerusalem, to porno shops in Tel Aviv, you can see it all. From archeological digs 4,000 years old to 50 story modern condo complexes to dilapidated 70 year old hotels and pensions, there is a style and a reason for anyone and everyone to visit this country.

Israel is about the size of New Jersey. Yet there is more variety than larger countries in terms of history, geography, ancient sites, and modern marvels. You can go from the lowest spot on earth at the Dead Sea (1,200 feet below sea level), to the ski resort on Mt Hermon (summit at 6,630 feet above sea level), in less than 4hours. Walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem at 10:00AM, have a cup of coffee in Jaffa at Noon, eat dinner in Haifa at 6:00 PM, and be back for a night cap at your hotel in Jerusalem by 10:00PM. It is a place that many visit and few return home unchanged.

Here are some of our favorites (But do your homework, everybody’s taste is different):

1. Favorite Travel Guide: Frommer’s Israel.
2. Favorite Airline: Continental.
3. Favorite Apartment (Tel Aviv) (tiny rooms, but right on the ocean): info@telaviv-apartment.com.
4. Second Favorite Apartment (Tel Aviv) (2 blocks from the ocean): http://www.tel-aviv-rental.co.il/view_page_dyn.aspx?p=65 .
5. Favorite Beach Towns: Netanya, Caesarea, Ashkelon.
6. Favorite Hotel: Metropolitan (Tel Aviv) http://www.hotelmetropolitan.co.il.
7. Favorite Hotel (Jerusalem): Olive Tree http://www.olivetreehotel.com.
8. Favorite Market: Shuk Hacarmel (Tel Aviv).
9. Favorite Mode of Transportation: Sherut.
10.Least Favorite form of transportation: Taxi (Too Expensive, but they go everywhere).
11.Favorite Restaurant: Too many to pick a favorite.
12.Favorite Historical Sites: Old City of Jerusalem, Caesarea, Bet Shean, Masada, Ashkelon National Park, Old City of Akko.
13.Favorite Religious Sites: Old City of Jerusalem, Masada, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jordan River Baptismal Site (Tiberius).
14.Favorite way to get to Tel Aviv from the airport: Train from Terminal 3.
15.Favorite Rental Car: Budget (Tel Aviv or Jerusalem—not from the airport).
16.Favorite Mall: Dizengoff Mall (Tel Aviv).
17.Favorite Day for the Mall: Thursday and Friday mornings in building B—Food court days.
18.Must See One Time: Dead Sea (At the same time as Masada).
19.Favorite Day to Walk on The Beach: Saturday (Best for people watching).
20.Favorite Time to Eat: 10:00 to 16:00 Businessmen’s Specials at most restaurants—up to half off normal prices (Portions are huge anyway).
21.Most Over-Rated City: Daliyat-Al-Carmel Druze Village.
22.Most Over-Looked City: Ashkelon and its National Park and Historic Site.
23.Favorite Tour Sponsor: Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com)

There are many more towns, religious sites, and parks, that are left for us to explore here and that’s why we’ll keep coming back. I hope you have a chance to explore Israel some day. If you would like more information about this country and the “who, what, when, where, and how” of Israel, send me an email and I’ll be glad to share our experiences with you. Just remember it’s my opinion, so do your homework.


David Talbot

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