Our last full day on our tour of Israel was another day full of wow moments. We were packed and ready to go by 8.30. A short walk to the bus parking area and we set off to Haifa, the third biggest city in Israel, to see the Bahá’í Gardens. Azmi explained about the Ottoman and German times in the town and the effect they had upon the architecture and also about the Bahá’í faith and its leader that the memorial in the Bahá’í Gardens was built for. I had heard of the gardens but had no idea they were laid out in such a formal and eye catching manner. The gardens are made up of terraces that flow smoothly down the hill separated by little white fences of pillared balustrades and white urns of geraniums. The lawns are manicured, hedges clipped perfectly and the garden beds full of colourful annuals. Pencil pines and magnificent date palms rise majestically in a symmetrical pattern around the site. The centre point of the gardens is the magnificent golden domed Shrine of the Báb, glorious in the sunshine.
The next stop was to see an aqueduct built by Herod and then added onto by Hadrian in the coastal town of Caesarea. Gee, that guy got around! The sweeping arches stand proudly along the coastline as families play on the fine sandy beach and men try their luck fishing.
Close to the aqueduct stands the ancient remains of Herod’s summer palace, presenting a glimpse into the life of the king and the citizens of the town. A magnificent amphitheater, a hippodrome, bath houses, and streets running through the town with superb mosaics to appreciate, among other buildings, make this a really interesting site to visit. A few shops and cafes make the visit even more enjoyable. We all had lunch at a cafe on the water’s edge with Azmi and our driver, Diab, joining us for our last lunch together.
A short drive into Tel Aviv and the old port of Jaffa finished our tour. We had a group photo taken at the lookout with the buildings of Tel Aviv in the background. The group was really fun with everyone getting along really well. We tended to spend more time with Helen, from Cornwall, Principal of an International school in Manila and soon taking up a post in Riyadh; Amanda, a nurse from Albany in Western Australia, and Grant and Sue who are in the furniture business in New Zealand. We had great fun together exploring the restaurant scenes in each town or city we visited and trying hummus somewhere different everyday!
We bade farewell to Azmi and Diab after we checked into the Olympia Hotel over the road from the beach. It is a great little boutique hotel in a convenient spot to the beaches, shops and restaurants. We wandered around the immediate neighbourhood, finding a little street cafe to have a coffee in the sun. Tel Aviv is a very cosmopolitan city and from what we could see this afternoon, a dog lovers city. A guy on a skateboard being pulled along the footpath by two dogs, husky style and people on bikes and motorised scooters sped past on the cycle tracks as we sat enjoying our coffee. We walked up the road towards the beach marvelling at all the people on the beach, browsing the shops as we went and deciding that a Kilkenny draft beer at Molly Malone’s would be a good idea. Irish music from the musicians playing in the front room filtered out to the outside tables where we sat.
We all met up in the hotel foyer at 6.30, airdropped a few photos, exchanged emails and set of for the restaurant strip for dinner. It was a fun night at a busy cafe serving delicious food and drink. Back to the hotel by 9.30 we decided to go back to Jerusalem tomorrow to see the Dead Sea Scrolls at the museum. Helen leaves to go diving in Egypt after breakfast so it will be six of us sharing the drive in. We’re all looking forward to see what tomorrow brings when we’re left to our own devices.