Israel Trek: Golan Heights, Day 2

Welcome back to the Israel Trek blog review! Last fall, we visited the land of Israel, fulfilling a life-long dream of mine. Now, when I have slivers of spare time, I'm digging through our photos and our little travel journal to bring you the highlights of this amazing journey. 

By my count, I last left the readership on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights, falling asleep listening to Syrian gunfire in the distance. Apparently, life goes on as normal in these situations, because the next morning, our guide, Manechem, had us up with the rising sun to check out the countryside. 

 Our goal was an early morning hike near Las Banias, a water source for the area.

It's worth noting that one benefit of getting out of doors this early in the day is it's the first instance of "golden hour". That's right - you don't have to wait until sunset for warm, soft lighting, people!

This hike was purely Manechem's doing, as he was just out for his morning exercise and invited our small group to come along. I personally cherish the "off the beaten track" experiences of our trips more than the mainstream attractions.

Starting the day with a bit of exercise helped to justify the breakfast buffet that immediately followed.

As you can see in the above photo, breakfast in Israel is not exactly your standard American fare of Cheerios in a bowl of milk. For the first meal of the day, the kibbutz served us fresh, local fruit and vegetables, accompanied by healthy proteins like fish and eggs, along with hearty grains and homemade yogurt. 

You do not understand how addicted I am to dried apricots. In fact, I'm eating them right now.

With a room full of gorgeous, not to mention delicious food, it was hard to make choices, so we just had to go back for seconds. And thirds.

There's even some fresh fish being served up on the lower right hand plate. 
I love a big, colorful breakfast!

We then proceeded with a walking tour of Kibbutz Snir. This particular kibbutz was one of the success stories, privatized since the 1980s. Only 100 people who were original members now continue to have shares in the remaining operations of Kibbutz Snir. Our resident guide took obvious (and justifiable) pride in this developed land, located near Las Banias as a water source and between a few mountains in the Upper Galilee.

The grounds were lovely, flush with flourishing fruit trees in many of the front yards.

As we left the Kibbutz and headed off to our next destination, we stopped at the property of a woman whose husband had been influential in... something. At some point, I had walked off to get a photo of the views and missed all the background details. Although I didn't take notes on the relationship, I do love these photos of her preparing freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice for the group.

Our next stop was at the memorial honoring lives lost in the crash of two Israeli helicopters in 1997 while they were en route to Lebanon.

The memorial includes 73 large rocks, each one representing an IDF soldier lost in the crash.

These types of memorials, aside from having quite the sobering effect, are a reminder to me of how recently Israel has experienced wartime conditions on and around their own soil. I appreciated the gravitas that the memorial delivered, especially for a visitor who had no connection to the related events.

Our visit here was brief, and soon we were on our way to the next stop on our tour: Tsfat (aka Safed).  You can see from the above photo that dark thunder clouds had started to roll in, and by the time we got to the picturesque town of Tsfat in Galilee, the steady rain had begun.

This was my least favorite part of the trip. The guide led us to a Kabbalah center, which I soon realized was fitting, as Tsfat is a center for the religion. At the center, we watched a presentation that explained the basic tenets and background of Kabbalah.

Let's just say that Jewish mysticism is definitely not for me. It made me feel creepy, I didn't appreciate that the presentation was part of a tour that I was paying for, and like anywhere, the entrance to the center was "free", but there was an obligatory collection plate asking for NIS 15 that we passed on the way out.

Tsfat's redeeming quality, for me, was the fact that it's an artistic hub in Israel. There were many small shops featuring local artwork, and the artist-owners were warm and inviting and more than willing to take time and explain their crafts.

Some of the shops were built right into the walls of the city. I liked the raw, unfinished, artsy quality of the galleries, despite the cave-like feeling.

Overall, Tsfat was charming and interesting. I would just skip the Kabbalah presentation next time and spend more time browsing the art.

At the close of the day, our tour guide dropped us off at the Nof-Tavor Hotel near Mt. Tabor outside of Nazareth. The hotel is located on Kibbutz Mizra, which is where we ventured for dinner, after deciding that it was too late in the day to explore Nazareth.

View of Nazareth in the distance while waiting for a bus that never came as night began to fall.

I'll speak briefly our Nazareth decision. For the most part, our decision not to visit the hometown of Jesus Christ was purely logistical. We arrived in the area late in the day, and things start to close down around 5 pm. Also, we were aware that many of the religious sites are now Catholic churches. Now, I do appreciate the beauty and history that can be experienced in Catholic churches, but visiting a church is not the same to me as seeing a site in its original state or even in a rebuilt state. As we returned to our hotel room to figure out the dinner situation and the rest of our evening, I spent a little time reflecting on what I wanted to get out of this trip - the trip I'd been dreaming about since childhood. I have to confess that I was really hoping for some goose bump moments, like seeing the birthplace of Jesus, or visiting a synagogue that one of the apostles had taught at, or imagining a marketplace from the 1st century. I think I realized two things that evening: 

1) If you want something very specific out of a trip in a completely foreign land, you need a local that has your same mindset and vision in order to find just what you're looking for.   

2) Based on the types of touring we'd done thus far, we weren't going to get goose bumps on this trip. And that was okay. We were visiting Israel. It was still a dream come true.

My new Israel Trek goal: Spend the rest of my 12-day trip to Israel absorbing all I could of the land and the people, trying to unravel even a small part of the rich history and culture that the Middle East offers.

Oh, and eat their food. As much and as often as possible.

I could live off the land in this country!

I'll close with another shot of Tsfat, which I think captures the charm and antiquity of this mountain city.

I cannot - CANNOT - get enough of Jerusalem stone.

For more photos from our travels in the Golan Heights, check out our full album here.

The next post in the Israel series will feature our final day in the north, with a brief brush with Lebanon!


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