We arrived at Ben Gurion airport at around 10.30am after an 18-hour flight from Singapore. Custom check-out was smooth and fast. We requested for no stamps in our passports. The custom officer asked 'why' and we told her that we travel frequently to quite a number of muslim countries. Although she didn't look too happy, she stamped on a piece of 'gate pass' instead of our passports and the blank papers we have bought with us.
Later on, as we collected our rental vehicle at Eldan, we found out that without a stamp in our passports, we are subject to VAT charges. We couldn't show the 'gate passes' either as these were recollected by another officer before we enter the baggage claim area.
Anyway, except for car rental, VAT didn't affect us as we didn't stay in hotels. I can't remember if we were charged VAT for meals in restaurants. Anyway, we decided not to let this affect our vacation.
After collecting our car from Eldan, we drove to Caesarea. Thanks to touristisrael’s detailed directions, we managed to drive to Caesarea quite smoothly. The only thing we had to get used to is driving on the left as in Singapore, we drive on the right. Initially, that was quite confusing and we drove into wrong lanes a few times. Hahaha! Fortunately, not many cars were around and those present while shocked, were quite patient as we looked obviously like clueless tourists.
Our stomachs were rumbling with hunger when we reached Caesarea so we decided to have lunch at this lovely restaurant by the sea called Crusaders.
One thing we noticed about eating in Israel: food portions are huge! By the time we were done with the bread, hummus and all the de riguer salads, we were already fairly full.
After lunch, we set out to explore Caesarea. We joined a group for a video presentation of Caesarea. This is a good way to get acquainted with Caesarea because afterwards, as we walked around the place, it’s not difficult to imagine what took place where and what once stood where the ruins remain.
By late afternoon, we felt tired. So we decided to skip Mount Carmel and drive straight to Nof 10 in Amirim. With touristisrael’s direction and the excellent Carta Atlas, we managed to reach Amirim within 2 hours. Initially, we wanted to overnight in Tel Aviv but decided that it would be too much of a hassle to shift the very next day. So we decided to endure the pain of driving and go straight to Amirim. Actually, it wasn’t too bad as we had sufficient sleep during our flight.
We were delighted with the peace and sense of isolation at Amirim. After driving around the village, we had to call Eran because we simply couldn’t find Nof 10.
Eran was not in when we arrived but he had asked his friendly neighbor to greet us. We were very surprised that there were no check-in procedures or forms to fill like in a hotel. In fact, everything was very simple. Our cabins were already prepared for us and the keys were at the doors. All we need to do was to walk in.
The interiors of the cabins was a wonderful sight for tired travelers like us! So cozy and inviting. Originally we had wanted to stay at another zimmer guvaya recommended but as it was not available on all the dates we required, we choose Nof 10 instead. We love Nof 10 anyway.
After bringing in our luggage, we decided to drive to Stupp’s, which we saw on our way in for dinner. Here, we made an embarrassing blunder. This was how it happened: the entrance door of Stupp’s was kind of stuck and nobody came to the door. So we thought we got the wrong entrance. Therefore, we went around to the next entrance(so we thought) and entered easily. We found ourselves in someone’s living room and we said to each other, “So this is a home-style restaurant. How special!” We stood there for awhile, waiting for someone to come and greet us. Presently, a nice, elderly gentleman came out and said hello. We greeted him and told him that we needed a table for 2 please. He looked shocked momentarily and then realized that we meant Stupp’s. So he led us there. By then, we realized our blunder and apologized profusely for trespassing into his home. He was very sweet and good-natured about it though and simply laughed it off.
The food at Stupp’s were very good. I especially love the Vegetable Orange Soup and the cheese cake.
Although it was only 9pm by the time we returned to our cabins and showered, we were exhausted by the day’s travels and promptly fell into a deep, restorative sleep(the bed was super comfortable).
Having slept early the night before, we woke up very early at 6am. By then, sunlight was already streaming into the room. It was a bright and sunny day! The cabins at Nof 10 was located in such a way that you get a sweeping, panoramic vista of the rolling hills of the North as well as the Sea of Galilee on the horizon. Very breathtaking way of waking up in the morning!
Nof 10 offers breakfast for an additional NIS85 but since the cabins were already filled with goodies like muesli, cornflakes, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc, and we were really not that hungry first thing in the morning, the goodies are more than sufficient for our breakfast requirements. Having a leisurely breakfast while taking in the gorgeous view is something we’ll always remember.
Today is entirely devoted to Nazareth and its vicinity. As we have booked a 9am tour at the Nazareth Village, we departed from Nof 10 at 8am. The driving time to Nazareth was about 1 hour. Maybe it’s less for others but since it’s our 1st time driving in Israel, we felt it’s better to give more time allowance in case we took the wrong turn or something. Plus, I’m rather nervous about finding my way to Nazareth Village once we reach Nazareth itself, as I’ve read on the forum that Nazareth is quite challenging to navigate by car.
Armed again with the Carta Atlas and the driving directions we’ve mapped out earlier, the journey to Nazareth via Kana was pretty smooth. Once we reached Nazareth, we relied on the map printed from Nazareth Village’s website to find our way there. It’s not a detailed map so we relied the rest on intuition.
Fortunately, everything worked out and we managed to be on time for our 9am tour.
The tour itself was very informative and entertaining. You’ll get to see how people lived during the time of Jesus, how carpentry work was done, etc. The guide also explained about crucifixion and how the victim would suffer on the cross.
After the tour, we were feeling hungry so we drove around Nazareth (it’s really like a maze) to look for a place for lunch. We found a huge parking lot(must pay parking fee at the entrance) at a busy shopping street(can’t remember the name of the street), parked our car and walked around to find something to eat. Btw, it’s not that difficult to find a parking lot at Nazareth. On that day we were there, there seemed to be plenty of parking lots. Maybe it’s not high tourist season yet? Anyway, Nazareth is not a big town so as long as you parked in the middle of somewhere busy, most sights should be within walking distance.
We saw this shop churning out delicious looking breads so we walked in and asked if they allowed dine-in as well. They said they do. As we did not know what to order and we did not understand the food they described, we told them to decide something nice for us.
What arrived at our table was a huge pizza-like dish, without the cheese but with a really delicious sauce, topped with tuna and olives.
After lunch, we passed by another shop nearby selling pretty looking middle-eastern pastries and couldn’t resist going in for a look. The owner was extremely friendly and recommended quite a number of pastries. In the end, we decided to have dessert and coffee at the shop. It’s very fun really.
After indulging in all the food, we remembered that we are in Nazareth for sightseeing so we quickly made our way to the Church of Annunciation, Mary’s Well and the market at Casa Nova.
One thing about walking in the Old City of Nazareth, there’re plenty of walking up and downhill so it’s great exercise after meals.
As time was running short and we were beginning to feel a little tired (still recovering from some jet lag I think), we decided to proceed to our next destination, Mount Tavor.
I must say, I really enjoyed the long and winding drive to the top of Mount Tavor. Once at the base of Mount Tavor, we were not really sure whether we were on the right track to the top as there were not many direction signs. If I recall correctly, we kept driving up until we saw a tiny road on the left that seemed to be leading upwards. So we turned into that road and it was a really narrow path. While driving, we were wondering if it was a one-way road since it was so narrow. But it turned out to be a two-way road so it was quite a tight squeeze when there were tour coaches coming down.
Anyway, we made it. The pathway to the Church of Transfiguration was lined with trees and was a very pretty sight. Many church groups were there worshipping and praying and we joined in too. It was wonderful just to be there and soak in the atmosphere.
Originally, we wanted to visit Akko and have dinner there but since we were rather exhausted by then, we decided to drive back to Amirim and have dinner at Dahlia’s.
It’s already dark by the time we reach Dahlia’s. Dahlia’s style is different from Stupp’s in the sense that there’s no menu. You pay NIS110 per person(drinks and tea inclusive) for a hefty, ultra-filling set meal that can probably feed 4 people.
Again, after dinner and shower, we fell into a deep slumber by 10pm.
This day was entirely devoted to the Sea of Galilee region. First we drove to Nof Ginosar where we began with a morning worship cruise on ‘Faith’ which was recommended by Kathy(thanks again, Kathy!). Daniel Carmel is the captain of this boat. During the cruise, we mingled with a church group from Dallas, Texas and had a great time. We also had a worship session where Daniel played the songs recorded by himself. It was wonderful just worshipping the Lord on the Sea of Galilee, the very place where He had calmed the storms and walked on water about 2 thousand years ago.
After the cruise, we bade the lovely people from Texas goodbye and visited the Ancient Boat Museum which was just a short walk from the pier(the pier is located behind this museum). The work involved in restoring and preserving this 2000-year old boat was amazing.
Next, we drove to Yardenit because we wanted to be baptized there. In the end, we decided not to be baptized because the waters and the weather were too cold. At least, it was too cold for us because we’re from the tropics and not so used to cold weather. But it’s nice to be there, to see people getting baptized, and to dip our hands into the water.
For lunch, we drove to the famous Ein Gev fish restaurant where we had a great meal of St Peter’s fish. We ordered both the grilled and fried versions and decided that the fried one is definitely better.
Very coincidentally, at the end of our meal, we ran into the church group from Texas again! In fact, they were seated right next to us in the midst of a huge restaurant!
By the way, if you dine at Ein Gev, do try to get a table outdoor. It’s nicer and it gives you a nice view of the Sea of Galilee.
After a very satisfying lunch, we visited the ruins of Kursi and Korazim, Capernaum, Mount of the Beautitudes(gorgeous views from here) and Tabgha where the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes is located.
By 6pm, we seemed to have traveled one circle around the Sea of Galilee. We reached Tiberias, parked and took a stroll at the waterfront promenade. Originally, we wanted to catch the Galilee Experience multimedia presentation but since our timing was off, we decided to give it a miss. We saw Decks restaurant but felt the craving to eat vegetarian food again so drove back to Amirim(about 40 minutes) for another lovely dinner at Stupp’s.
A personal opinion here: after seeing Tiberias town, I’m glad that we have chosen to stay at Amirim, even if it means that the Sea of Galilee is not right on our doorsteps. Of course, this will only make sense if you drive because I believe taking public transport may be quite a challenge if you stay in the countryside.
Today’s devoted to the Golan Heights region and Katzrin. We first visited Banias Nature Reserve and Tel Dan and enjoyed the hikes. Didn’t go to Nimrod castle as we didn’t have enough time and we were, yes, getting hungry again. So after Tel Dan, we drove to this fish restaurant recommended by Frommers, Dag Al Ha-Dan. Initially, we had a bit of difficulty locating it. We drove into a campsite somewhere between Tel Dan and Kiryat Shemona and asked the receptionist. She helpfully pointed us in the right direction. However, when we were near there, we couldn’t recognize the directions as everything was written in Hebrew. So we continued driving further into the country roads until I recalled that the telephone number written on the signboard we saw on our way in was quite similar to the one in our guidebook. We backtracked and went back to the signboards, checked the telephone numbers and finally found our way to Dag Al Ha-Dan.
And boy, what a lovely, rustic setting for a restaurant! There’re both indoor and outdoor sitting so we choose the outdoor sitting where you get to dine with chickens and peacocks roaming around you. Don’t miss this restaurant if you are in the Tel Dan/Banias vicinity. The trout is really good and it’s a great place for a leisurely, country-style lunch.
By the time we finished our lunch, it’s already 3pm, way past the time we were supposed to be in Katzrin for our Golan Heights Winery Tour. It’s not that we are tardy but I guess we misjudged the driving time and distance, the time required to enjoy each place and also the time we’ll be spending on lunch. And Dag Al Ha-Dan is too wonderful a place to rush through lunch. It’s an experience by itself!
When we reached Golan Heights Winery, we were amazed to find that it’s not a vineyard. In fact, it’s a huge, modern, full-fledge wine factory that produces 60,000 bottles of wine each day! Although we were late, the people at the winery were very gracious and immediately put us on another tour. The tour guide, Yacov, was very friendly and knowledgeable. After the tour, we had a wine-tasting session where we get to sample red, white and dessert wines.
There was no pressure to buy anything but since the wines were so good, we ended up buying a few bottles.
At the point where we bade farewell to Yacov, we made another blunder. We had totally forgotten that some observant Jews don’t shake hands with the opposite sex. So we offered our hands but Yacov didn’t take it. He merely nodded and smiled. Instantly we realized our mistake and drew back our hands. And from then on, we didn’t offer to shake hands with any men in Israel.
One of the highlights of the day was really the drive itself. Golan heights and Katzrin, with the rolling hills, winding rounds and amazing views of Mount Hermon, is really a beautiful place for a drive. We noticed that many Israeli drivers tend to drive pretty fast, so many times rather than going high speed ourselves(coz we wanted to enjoy the gorgeous scenery), we simply drove to the side and gave them the space to pass. Plus there’re plenty of sharp bends up and down the hilly roads so unless one is familiar with the territory, it’s best not to drive too fast. We were amazed that many times, when we drove round a bend, a new, beautiful vista will open up before us, like a delightful surprise.
Ok, end of part 1…