Israel Trek: Golan Heights, Day 1

Welcome to the narration of my dream trip to Israel! For all Israel Trek posts, click here. I wouldn't want you to miss a single photo!

Now, where was I. 

Oh yes, I was sitting in a van, heading out of Tel Aviv, holding in my hands two pieces of expensive camera gear, which were now forever separated. One false move had completely changed the course of my trip - or at least, that's how it felt. I could have wallowed in misery and remorse for hours. But when you're on a tour, you have to stick to the program without much deviation, so away from the scene of the accident we fled. Fortunately, I had two other lenses with me - certainly not the ones I planned on using full-time, but both fully-functional, nonetheless.

Our tour guide, Manechem of Bein Harim, first took us to Bet She'an - an ancient city located on a major crossroads, whose residents have ranged from the Egyptians to King Solomon to the Romans to the Christians. An earthquake in 749 A.D. devastated the city, and we're fortunate that excavations by the Antiquities Authority and Hebrew University have uncovered what you see below.

I'll never cease to be amazed at how the ancients consistently used heavy building materials, all without modern technology. Human willpower (or possibly, the wide usage of slaves in their culture) sure accomplished a lot.

They used wood to move stone. I probably would have resorted to using just wood.
But then we wouldn't have these amazing ruins. Good thing I didn't live back then.

We climbed the hill that you can see in the first photo above, which gave us panoramic views of the city, including the large theater.  NS took the following pan on my iPod Touch 5, which has that cool scan-the-horizon feature that turns your image into a stitched up panoramic. (How, you ask? Apple magic, silly.)

A little distorted on the edges, but still a handy tool,
especially when your wide-angle lens is out of commission.

I was still feeling pretty blue about the camera debacle, so I amused myself by taking ultra-random photos. I've heard that some artists like to put obstacles in front of their landscapes. Here's my version:

Ancient ruins in this part of the world are often almost completely accessible by visitors (within the limitations of respectful behavior, of course.) When we visited Ephesus a couple years ago, people were climbing all over the city. Some of us just like to sit on the sun-soaked, centuries-old, dependable rock walls.

As you can see, I learned my habits from the best.

Dad, Ephesus, 2010 - quite obviously facing the sun.

And another Ephesus shot, because I really love this photo.

Okay, last one - because I really love my Dad.

Anyway, back to the trek...

I know each old city is unique and can't truly be compared to others, but to give you some perspective on my take of Bet She'an, I'd say that it's not as big as Pompeii (although the views were better at Bet She'an) and it wasn't as impressive as Ephesus (because I'll never forget that incredible library). However, the Bet She'an National Park brochure that I retained from the trip indicates that only 10% of the city has been uncovered, so a repeat visit in several years' time would likely yield even more opportunities to explore. Also, our tour guide was trying to keep to a strict schedule, so we only saw a portion of the uncovered city.

We continued north, and after a winding drive around hairpin turns in a 15-passenger van, we had ascended the Golan Heights, which felt like a big, flat table-top after the harrowing drive. Our first stop was Peace Vista overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Despite the hazy view, you can see the far coastline of this "sea", which really a freshwater lake - the lowest one on Earth at nearly 700 feet below sea level (source).  I couldn't help but hear a lot of biblical references in my head as I looked across this historical body of water.

Our next stop was Katzrin - a recreated Talmudic village on the site of a former actual village.

I wasn't overly impressed with the village. It was nice and all that, but it was just recreated, after all. I suppose it's significant for historic appreciation. But what I did really enjoy was the local vegetation: Olive trees that had been there longer than memory, with plenty of green olives gradually turning into black olives. Mouthwatering, if you ask me.

Although I only have one unimpressive photo to show for it, lunch was pretty interesting. We stopped at a little roadside plaza that had a few shops and small restaurants. While most of the group went for the sit-down meal, N and I opted for our favorite fast food in the Middle East - shawarma. While we ate, we chatted with a fellow American tourist who worked for Google. Not only did his general job description sound fascinating, but we also noted that he was touring Israel with one of the company's Canon 5D Mark II cameras with 70-200mm f/2.8 attached to it. Ya know. Just because he could.

A fast photo before I gobbled it down.

Onward in our random mix of activities: We visited an abandoned Syrian bunker atop a hill that overlooked Syria - a reminder of a past conflict.

Again, even in spite of the haze, the views impressed us.

We certainly don't have views like this in Cayman.
Of course, the views in the bunker were less than inspiring, but I suppose that's the whole point.

Our next stop was at a memorial dedicated to 77 Israelis who died in the Yom Kippur War. Quite a somber place indeed, especially considering our guide had two friends who were among the fatalities. It was a reminder that wartime is such a recent memory for many in Israel.

N checking out a Syrian tank.

Our final stop for the day was at the Big Joba - a large hole in the ground where a meteorite had hit. Nothing impressive for show-and-tell photo purposes, but the location was close enough to the Syrian border to hear gunfire from the civil war in the distance. Our guide appeared to be unconcerned, but being American, it certainly was a new sound for me.

Trying to remain unrattled, we motored on down the road to our lodgings for the evening as the sun set over the hills. Manechem must have caught sight of me craning to see the gorgeous view while balancing a lens as long as my forearm, because he was all too willing to stop the van and let us get out for a few serene end-of-day photos.

Even the haze couldn't hide the beauty of the evening's close.
We entered Kibbutz Snir after dark, so it was hard to get any idea of what the grounds really entailed, but we did see the inside of their tiny grocery store, which is where we all had agreed to get dinner supplies. Although the store was smaller than a gas station convenience store back in the States, I was thrilled to see fresh produce grown on the kibbutz, as well as freshly-made cheese and hummus. As long as it's fresh, I'm a stick-to-the-staples kind of girl!

N pays for our dinner basics.
Inside our room - a basic suite with a small kitchenette - we attacked the pomegranate with full force, which basically resulted in quite a bit of bright pink juice squirting in all directions. Not to be graphic, but I had to leave the area (save for the photo op below) while N did the tricky stuff, shirtless (sorry ladies, no photos).

We've since then learned the water submersion method of harvesting pomegranate seeds.
Of course, we have very little opportunity to do such here in Cayman, but still.

And with very little additional effort, dinner was served! Clockwise from the upper left: Juicy pomegranate seeds, served by the spoonful; goats cheese, drizzled with olive oil (as added by the shopkeeper), alongside whole wheat crackers and a small loaf of bread; two types of hummus with slices of farm-fresh cucumber; and in the center, a jar of local honey, for combining with our bread or cheese.

We both agreed it was one of the best dinners we'd ever made.

That statement had more to do with the quality of the food and less to do with my cooking skills.

I think.

We drowned out the sounds of Syrian crossfire by wrapping up the evening with Midnight in Paris on the iPad. I'm married to a man who is very resistant to worry, so while he was busy dreaming, I was left to devise escape plans in my head as I fell asleep, which primarily involved protecting my camera from further damage. Our trip had only just begun! So much more to do and see and photograph... coming up.

For a full set of photos from our visit to the Golan Heights, click here.


  1. I love dinners like that! I need to convince Lewis that he does, too!


    1. Um, it took me several years to get us on (almost) the same page. When we started out, a quick meal of (his) choice consisted of two hot pockets. Yikes.

  2. An interesting and nice blog.
    Amazing photos.
    Greetings from Portugal

    Paulo Gonçalves

  3. I love the photo of you sitting on the wall. I also love the photos of Dad. :) It's awesome that hummus is one of your staples, cuz hummus pretty much ROCKS, and I love that your dinner, which sounds perfect by the way, is something Nate would agree to. Finally, you are an awesome photographer, writer, and blogger. I wish I was related to you! Oh wait, I am..... ;) Love you!!!

  4. AMAZING photos. Israel is an incredible place and it looks like you enjoyed!

    1. Thanks! I'll never forget this trip - a dream come true for me!