Since I was born I was over spoiled on my birthday, so on the 23rd of April I really hope all my wishes can come true. After all, it’s one 1/365 days in a year. In school age I would not go to school on that day and on adult age I would not go to work and instead go in a trip elsewhere. I love the sea and the ocean especially so I wanted to wake up on my birthday in the sea and spend the day later in a special place, close to my heart: Bethlehem.I knew that Akko still retained its charm from being an old port of ancient history and the old town itself is still enclosed in its old walls, and that it has a predominant Arab population and feel to it. So I chose Akko to spend the eve of my birthday. We stayed in the old city, had fresh fish dinner in the old port with the waves splashing at our feet.
I woke up a year older and if not wiser, at least better traveled. We strolled through the souq, which once again felt like we were in the real Middle East of legends. For breakfast we queued for Said’s famous hummus which was well worth it and we climbed the city walls to have a look at the Bay of Akko and Haifa.
Another reason I was interested in visiting Akko and Haifa was because of my interest in the growing Bahá’í faith (their philosophy mainly), and especially in their famous gardens located in both these cities. The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion founded in nineteenth-century Persia, with its main emphasis being the spiritual unity of all humankind and religions. Their doctrine is based on three principles: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humankind. A child is not born into Bahá’í , he or she can make the choice after 15 years of age.
Unfortunately we were too late to visit their shrine and main building but we were still allowed to wander freely through their gardens, provided we dressed very modestly. For me, the visit to these gardens was the highlight of Israel (excluding Palestine of course). I do not know much about the Baha’i preachings of peace among differences in religions, but certainly I felt peace in their gardens. The pictures definitely express themselves better than words, so all I can say is that they are majestically perfect. The variety, colors and geometrical designs of the flora are spectacular.
While the gardens in Akko have a flat design and encircle the main building; the gardens in Haifa are in slopes, all the way from the top of the main hill in Haifa to the seaside. Needless to say, the view, especially looking down from the top to the sea, is astounding.
Haifa is also a charming city, the third largest in Israel. The German Colony in the form of the Temple Society contributed to its development. They originated as a branch of Christianity who moved to the Holy Land to wait for the Messiah. They modernized Haifa, and you can still see the improvements they brought in the grand buildings and big streets. Logically we had to pay a visit to yet another “the city’s best” shawarma, this time “Hassan’s Shawarma”, which turned out to be a huge and delicious lamb shawarma that I could not finish, and to my delight with a side of pickled vegetables and olives a volonte. I have discovered in this trip that my unusual extreme craving for pickled vegetables comes from my Middle Eastern roots!
Saving the best for last, it was time to head for Bethlehem. Israel has excellent freeways (up to 3 lanes each way) in their side of the territory, which do not really serve their purpose of a motorway as the max speed is 100 km/hour and are controlled by radars, which caught us at least once. In Ireland, the one lane – two way back roads also have a max speed of 100 km/hour. Most of the drive was very scenic as it borders the Mediterranean Coast.Being in this part of Israel felt to me like being back in Florida. Growing up I spent my summers in Florida, which is also very hot and humid, has bikini beaches with fashion dogs, has a freeway bordering the coast, many modern malls and fast food chains, beautiful gardens, and a big Jewish population whom you have to practice defensive driving against.