"" Writer's Wanderings: Haifa, Israel

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Haifa, Israel

It was an early morning for us upon our arrival in Haifa. Immigration required everyone on the ship to be processed whether staying onboard or going ashore. Those of us on an excursion for this day needed to be up early to go through the immigration procedure which started at seven. We've done those all ship immigration procedures before and know that sometimes they go quickly and other times not so much. The way the ship organized this combined with the slowness of the security check made this a "not so much."

Thankfully we got breakfast before we started down to the gangway. The line was already backed up two decks on the stairs. It moved in spurts with numerous announcements being made to insure that you had your passport, key card and if needed, your visa. Those announcements were followed by remove ALL metal from your clothing. Mostly it was the guys who didn't remove belts that held things up I guess.

Finally passports were checked, our bags and bodies passed through security check (even my knee!!) and we received our security pass to get us through an automated gate of sorts. We sat a few minutes and then our excursion was called to board the bus. We were finally headed for Caesarea just south of Haifa. 

The only glitch, a news headline we'd caught that said there was terrorist activity near Gaza. That was quite a bit farther south and our guide assured us that it happened often and life went on. There was probably nothing to worry about. 

Now I have to tell you about this guide. She was forty-something with red curly hair and when she had her sunglasses on covering her eyes, her smile was exactly that of Julia Roberts. And she was full of energy. 

We waited until a few more people were processed and finally arrived on the bus and we were off. A beautiful sunny day that already promised to be quite warm but there was a nice breeze blowing off the sea.

Our guide began to give us all sorts of commentary on what we were seeing and about to see, historical facts, religious connections, and even a bit of the political although she tried not to do that too often. We arrived at the Caesarea National Park about forty-five minutes later. It was the Sabbath day so the traffic was light.

After the tickets were purchased, we followed her to our first stop, the theater. Much of it had been reconstructed but there was a lot that was still original. She talked of how great the acoustics were and went down on the stage and sang the national anthem of Israel for us. She felt that was appropriate for the news of the day that there was more conflict near Gaza. 

We wandered along a path that had many pieces of columns and capitals and even a sarcophagus of "Prokopios the Deacon". As with many of the archaeological digs, there are layers of history as things are built upon other things through out the centuries. 

The path eventually wound around to where we could stand in the shade for a bit and look out over the palace that Herod had built. He was no slouch. He picked a great spot right on the sea. I could imagine wonderful breezes cooling the rooms and beautiful views of the water throughout the day.

Eventually we began to walk where the courtyard of the palace was and stopped to look out over Herod's pool which was built right into the rocky shore. Two slabs of flooring were still there with original mosaic work still visible. 

This was not only significant because of Herod who welcomed the three kings (wisemen) and asked them to tell him when they found the baby king (Jesus) but also because there is evidence that Pontius Pilate also lived there for a time. 

During our tour, our guide had received phone calls from her mother-in-law and her husband. Each time she seemed a little unnerved but gave us that Julia Robert's smile and assured us that while things were a bit confusing, we were still quite safe where we were. Meanwhile since Bob had accessed AT&T's international package (they charge us $10/day when we connect onshore) he was scrolling through the CNN headlines. It didn't look as good as our guide was trying to tell us.

Just as we were to head for the museum part of our tour which would include a movie about Caesarea, she received another call which truly upset her. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am so sorry. This has never happened before. They have cancelled our tour and the ship has ordered us back."

About that time Bob pointed to a headline that indicated Israel was about to declare a state of war. "Guess we won't be going to Jerusalem tomorrow." I nodded.

New dig unveiled a possible site
where Paul was imprisioned.

Back on the bus our guide received another call from home. Her son was being called to active duty. I felt so bad. Here she was with a bunch of tourists and her son was going off to possibly be in a conflict. She was rattled a bit but undaunted. She was going to give us as much of a tour as possible. 

There was a huge aqueduct that stretched from Mt. Carmel to Caesarea not far from where we were and she instructed the driver to circle through the parking lot there so we could get a look. It was huge. The part closest to the palace had been destroyed but it seemed to go on forever but actually three miles. It supplied water to the public in the city and also filled the baths and fountains of the palace.

We got a bit more talk about politics and the relationships of Israel with bordering countries. I leaned over to Bob and said, "Most of it sounds like home." Except of course we don't live with as much of the imminent threats that they do but much of the politics sounded similar. In her opinion it boiled down to a bunch of jerks (my word not hers) who mess things up for everyone. Yup.

Again, even though I'm sure her heart and mind wanted to be elsewhere, our guide insisted we drive past the Bahai garden. Israel is home to many religions. The gardens would have been amazing to visit. The nineteen terraces rise up Mount Carmel from the traffic circle.

At the gate to the port, our bus was stopped and the outside searched. One guard walked through, an AK something or other hung on his chest as he checked us out. A minute after he exited, another guard came through and asked that we show him our ship key cards and the security passes we'd received in the morning. Once that was done, he thanked us and sent us on our way. 

Bless their hearts, the crew was out there to greet us with cold washcloths, water and lemonade and "welcome back". The only difference was our ship security was more obvious that usual pacing back and forth. 

Now back on the ship we got the hand-me-down news that the ship was asked to leave as soon as it could gather its guests. I don't know for sure how all that will happen as I write this. There are those who had private tours and some who had planned overnight visits since the ship was scheduled to be in port overnight. I think that many of the private tour guides will receive information that visitors are asked to leave and I think that those staying off the ship overnight were asked to leave information at guest services so there is probably some point of contact that can be made. Surely won't be easy.

That's all for now. I'm going to post this ASAP since I don't know how long I'll have good internet. Right now I'm leeched onto Bob's 5G. Say a prayer for Israel and especially for that mom whose son had to leave so abruptly while she entertained tourists. 

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