The next chapter in our saga started with meeting our wonderful Couchsurfing host from Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan, a woman named Dyanne. She had arranged to pick us up in Tiberias on Saturday morning as she was attending the Jacob's Ladder annual music festival in nearby Nof Ginosar on Thurs and Fri. Originally we were going to come along to the festival on Saturday, but Friday had been hot as hell and Saturday promised to be even warmer than that. So we switched tacks and she drove us to Haifa, which she lives not too far away from. (Below is Haifa City Hall - very futuristic looking!)
Being on the Mediterranean coast, it is cooler. We managed to get there just in time for the daily tour of the Baha'i Gardens on Mount Carmel -- also known as the Shrine of the Bab -- (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terraces_(Bah%C3%A1%27%C3%AD)) at noon!
This place is supposed to be one of the top 5 gardens in the world, and having now walked through it (you start at the top and walk down through 19 terraces, and my mom even braved the 700 step walk down!) I would most certainly agree. It is taken care of with tender loving care by a total of 100 gardeners -- 70 paid professional Israeli gardeners, and 30 Baha'i volunteers! This is a challenge because apparently according to the Baha'i faith, Israel is too holy to live in unless you are specifically doing work related to the shrines and such (there's one in Akko too). Therefore -- not much of a community there! The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion founded in nineteenth-century Persia, emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind, and recognizing most of the prophets of all the other prior religions. For more on the faith, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%A1%27%C3%AD_Faith. Kind of interesting, but the gardens are enough to truly blow you away!
Dyanne was kind enough to pick us up at the bottom, and then give us a bit of a driving tour of Haifa on our way back to her Kibbutz. She, of course, has a very interesting life story, which involves reading a Leon Uris novel called Exodus at age 12 and deciding she wanted to be a part of this interesting thing called Israel, despite the fact that she wasn't Jewish. She went ahead and moved to Israel after/during the hippie movement about 10 years later, arrived in the immigration office in Tel Aviv, told them she wanted to study Hebrew in an Ulpan (an intensive immersion program in Hebrew language for new immigrants), and they told her they had some openings available in certain kibbutzim. When she asked about Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan, the lady told her they had an ice cream factory and so she said "That's where I want to go!" When she got there it turned out it was a plastics factory, not an ice cream factory, but that's where she met her husband in an apple orchard, and 40 years later they are both living there happily ever after! She also loves travel and had similarly harrowing experiences in Sumatra! The only difference was, she broke her arm there and had an orangutan sympathize up-close-and-personally with her...
We loved seeing her kibbutz and the beautiful house she lives in! Due to her 10+ trips to India, the place is decorated with and covered in the most stunning Indian fabrics, including the guest area. This kibbutz is doing very well with its plastics industry, and actually owns several additional factories in England, China, and the US. As a result of their financial success (once again, Israel does not seem to be enjoying the same economic downturn that we are) they are building new homes for every family in the kibbutz. It comes empty and you are given a certain amount of money to furnish it however you want -- and Dyanne went to town! She was a fabulous host in so many ways -- if anyone is interested in a trip to Ramat Yochanan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramat_Yochanan) just let me know :)
The next day we went to several other nearby points of interest. The first was Rosh ha-Nikra (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_HaNikra_grottoes), the northeasternmost area of Israel right next to the border with Lebanon. Here there are spectacular sea grottoes created by a geological formation. There is a cable car you can ride down to the grottoes and a cheesy film you can see about some ancient bride who jumped into the sea and how the current dancing of water against the rocks really is like the love affair of the bride ... oh, so romantic! ;-) Maybe not as romantic in Russian but I'm sure the Spanish version had to be as good as the Hebrew... Anyway it was a beautiful sight to see.
And after that we went to Akko (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akko), a town with a TON of history, including the Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods. Apparently it is one of the places with the longest continuous history of people living in it in Israel, since apparently the 16th century BC, which is pretty impressive. In the current day it is a cool town with a mixed Jewish and Arab population that seem to get along just fine together -- and a really great bazaar, or shuk. I especially liked this shuk because it was not superultratouristy like the one in Jerusalem would of course have to be. I would sort of compare it to the difference between Oakland Chinatown and SF Chinatown. There. Now I'm sure you understand, exactly ;-)
In the old city of Akko, which is undergoing a lot of conservation efforts and has been deemed to be a UNESCO world heritage site, we also went on an exploration of the Knights' Halls and the Crusaders' underground tunnels. Not at all what you'd expect from seeing the above-ground parts of the city and very well worth seeing!
We also saw an old caravanserai which Dyanne, if she won the lottery, I imagine, would convert into a lovely B and B and deck out with fabulous Indian fabrics ;-)
We had a great time at the kibbutz too, meeting Dyanne's other family members and trying the local falafel in Kiryat Attta, the nearby town ... All this was going to culminate in a trip the next morning to Caesarea and also to a nearby Arab village that Dyanne volunteers in an NGO in. Read on to the next blog to learn what happened instead ;)