Today was a very long, full day. From the beginning, Neal and I had talked about doing a one-day guided trip once we got to Tel Aviv. When we arrived, we looked at the brochures in the lobby - talked about options and decided to take a one-day trip up the northern coast of Israel. Today was the day.
We left the hotel at 7:15 am. That's right: 7:15 In. The. Morning. (Those of you that know me really well can quit smirking now - or your face just might freeze with that expression!).
Our group was small - about 11 people on a huge charter/tour bus. We actually got sorted out and on the road about 8:00 am and headed north of Tel Aviv to Caesarea, site of ancient Roman ruins (built during the time of Herod) and Byzantine ruins. The tour itself was an hour - we saw Herod's palace, an excavated market place along the Cardo (generic name, we learned, for the main north-south road of any town the Romans built), an ampitheater, a hippodrome (used for races) and a whole bunch of other stuff. The mosaics were still in pretty good shape in many places - Neal got some great pictures. The views of the Mediterranean from different points were absolutely gorgeous. It was a lot of walking - all out in the hot sun on sandy, gritty paths.
After an hour of walking, it was a relief to get back to the bus. It was air conditioned and the a/c worked great!
From Caesarea, we went north through the Carmel vineyards and fields to Acco (aka "Acre"), site of Crusader and, later, Turkish ruins. This was a longer walk - almost two hours - and included both interior and exterior segments. Perhaps the most interesting was seeing examples of where more recent builders had built on top of the Turkish ruins which were built on top of the Crusader ruins. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to get any written materials, so I'm rapidly forgetting what we "learned" earlier: I'm not an auditory learner.
By this time, it was 1:00 and really, really, really hot. Did I mention that the bus had a great a/c system? And that it worked really, really well?
After Acco, we had a quick lunch and then drove north to Rosh HaNikra - at the Israel/Lebanon border. Our guide explained that there were 120 km between the boarder and Beirut -- and that between the two was "no man's land" where there was no government authority to let people cross the board. We couldn't actually see into Lebanon (I remember when Neal's mom and dad went to Israel many years ago, they were able to go into the Golan Heights and look down on Lebanon), but we did see a guard at the security station.
The other part of this stop was a trip through the grottos formed by the Mediterranean Sea pounding against the land and rock outcroppings for thousands of years.
That was actually my least favorite part of the whole tour - it was hot, very humid, loud, the stones were slippery and I was afraid of falling, and there were parts where I got really claustrophobic (a phobia that seems to have developed since I moved away from the wide, open spaces of Wisconsin). It took about 45 minutes to go through the grottos - next time, I'll sit in the coffee bar and wait for the group to rejoin me!
By this time, it was after 3:00 and the heat was really getting to me. Did I mention that the bus had a great a/c system? And that it worked really, really well?
On our way back to Tel Aviv - we stopped all too briefly in Haifa. We drove to the top of Mount Carmel, got out of the bus for about 10 minutes to look down on the Baha'i Temple and the German Quarter and then were rushed back into the bus. I didn't even really have a chance to get hot!
Got back to Tel Aviv about 6:30 - hot, exhausted, thirsty (despite the water we kept guzzling all afternoon). After a quick shower and brief rest - we headed to the Port of Tel Aviv for a wonderful dinner of kabobs and a great assortment of salads.
So that was the "history" part of the day.
There actually was a "history in the making" piece as well.
One of the couples on the tour that we gravitated towards was Susan and Steve Grad, from LA. Steve is actually here in Israel on business and they were able to get away for the first time since around the 7th or 8th of July, I think they said, to spend a day just touring.
Steve Grad, you see, is a sports reporter, here in Israel for the 18th Maccabiah Games. The Games provide a chance for Jewish athletes from around the world to compete against each other. Like the Olympics, they're held every four years.
Steve's reporting for the Jewish Life TV . Okay, that's cool enough - but what's REALLY awesome is that this is the first time that the games have been broadcast outside of Israel.
I looked at him and said, "You mean this has never been done before?" He said it hadn't and talked about some of the logistics that went into having all the pieces come together so that it could be done this year. I looked at him, stunned, and said very slowly, "You're making history." And I thought of all the kids I've taught throughout the years who would have been absolutely thrilled to have been in my shoes today and have a chance to talk to Steve about what he's doing.
What struck me profoundly was the juxtaposition - we spent the day together, exploring antiquities - ruins and mosaics and grottos and stones - while at the same time one of the participants was a part of history being made: the land is ancient, but the state is still so relatively young.
Amazing... simply amazing.
So here's to Susan and Steve - thanks for letting us share in your special time this week. When you come to the DC area, please look us up.