From Kibbutz Sasa we continued on to two cities near the Sea of Galilee/Kineret: first Tzfat and then Tiberias. Not that I had SUCH a preconceived notion about Tzfat, but in addition to it having tons of acceptable spellings in English (such as Safed), it was different from what I expected. Next time I'll know better than to base my thoughts on an Israeli movie called "The Secrets" about two girls studying in a religious school with a crazy French lady and lesbian intrigue thrown into the mix!
Instead, what I found was that a seeming majority of people in Tzfat spoke English and with a distinctly New Yawk accent! Total shocker! Apparently the Chassidic Rebbe had some sort of vision in 1982 that Tzfat was the hot, or should I say, holy place to go and the newfound center of mysticism. Traditionally this was the place that the Kabbalah was invented, I think, so there's a tie-in there. So, anyway, a whole bunch of religious New Yawk Jews moved there, without bringing any decent pizza-making skills with them, as we found out. Tragic! We thought for sure we could find a decent slice of pizza there but no!! For more on Tzfat, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safed.
In addition to being famous for being relatively high up in the mountains, being mystical, and having a lot of famous synagogues, Tzfat is also known as somewhat of an artist's colony. We had a nice time walking through the artists' quarter which has cobblestoned streets and a lot of lovely galleries ... but somehow did not feel compelled to make any purchases of religious art ... We did not stop in at the Ascent Center which is perhaps known for the most cultlike of Kabbalah enthusiasts ;) Also right in the area is the Biriya Forest, which is where the money of most people who have ever donated money to "plant a tree in Israel" ends up. Apparently for $18 I could have planted one myself. That would have been fun, but we ran out of time.... Next time!
After our long hot stroll around town, we got lost driving to the to the B and B I had booked at, and then got found. The B and B turned out to be lovely, had super friendly hosts, and included the use of the hot tub which I definitely availed myself of that night! They also recommended a super-duper restaurant, appropriately named "Gan Eden" (English translation: Garden of Eden, or Paradise). All the food was scrumptious, my mom had an amazing salad and I had some very delicious pasta!
The next day after a delicious breakfast, we moved on to Tiberias (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiberias), another town with more than one name (in Hebrew it's more like "Tveriyah"), which was the place I was supposed to return the car. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel we were staying at for the night and then finally returned the car to Eldan intact. I realized that both Tzfat and Tiberias were cities where it makes absolutely no sense to have a car, it is more of a downside than an upside as there isn't a lot of parking and/or places are walkable. So I was glad to get rid of the car before I sustained any damage. We then walked all over Tiberias, a town right on the sea of Galilee with some shopping on a main strip, some hotels right near the water, and not a huge amount else.
One interesting spot I checked out was the grave of Rambam (also known as Maimonides, one of the most famous Jewish doctors/philosophers/renaissance men of all time -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rambam). I thought that was pretty neat because I also saw his birthplace in Cordoba, Spain about 10 years ago.
We also saw some very cool public art work there,
but missed out on the opportunity to try the 30 or so falafel stands on "Falafel Row" -- supposedly the best falafel in Israel, but really, doesn't just about every community claim that? ;-) -- this because Shabbat was coming, those stands are not open on Shabbat, and we had to choose one place to have an amazing meal. And that place was most definitely Guy Restaurant. I managed to get a copy of their business card -- unfortunately they have managed to misspell their own name "Gay Restaurant" -- but whether or not it's the gay-guy restaurant is hardly important as the food was so excellent!!! I would call it "Sephardic Moroccan home cooking" and they specialized in different vegetables stuffed with either meat or rice. We had the eggplant stuffed with meat, amazing, and the St. Peter's fish, which is oh so common and delicious in those parts. Plus some other goodies. And we got to see the little lady who made the food. Really lovely.
We then sank into an airconditioned food-induced coma for the rest of the day... :)