Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Israel Revisited

I never dreamed that I would be able to return to Israel so soon after my first visit. That was the major reason for choosing a Holland America Mediterranean cruise over another cruise line. People warned me to expect that the itinerary could change if the political climate there was unfavorable. Apparently things had been stable, because the day after we were in Alexandria, we docked at Ashdod, Israel.

Ashdod is the port closest to Jerusalem. Tina & I knew we wanted to go to Old City Jerusalem, so all we saw of Ashdod was what was visible from the taxi and local bus, and the bus station. Since we were familiar with Jerusalem we decided to go on our own. It was certainly less expensive to use taxis and the local bus, plus we were joining Israelis in their way of life rather than being obvious tourists. Our purpose in going to Jerusalem was to find an art dealer on The Cardo, a street in the Jewish Quarter, and also to find a spice dealer. I had been thinking about the painting I did not buy two years ago, and wanted to rectify that mistake. We had no trouble finding the shop and I came away with a beautiful painting of the temple that was destroyed in 70 AD, on Jerusalem stone. We also found the spice dealer Tina remembered, and were able to get what we wanted there also. I was impressed with how peaceful the Old City seemed, especially when compared with Alexandria. Our return trip to Ashdod was uneventful until we reached the port area. We were dropped off at the gate because we had not been able to find a cab with a permit to enter the port area. Such cabs are very difficult to find, because few have that permit.

The security guard came over to check our documents & find out what was going on. He told us we had a 15 minute walk to the ship if we couldn't find a cab. There were no cabs around so finally the security guard called the truck & we rode back to the ship in the security truck, with lights flashing. On arrival we piled out of the truck in full sight of a full tour bus and the Prinsendam's hotel manager, who had a horrified expression on his face. For us it was a lot of fun, and just another part of the day's adventure.

Most of the ship's passengers opted to do an overnight excursion that would rejoin the ship in Haifa. It was really nice being part of the 128 passengers left on board - it was very peaceful & uncrowded.

The next morning we docked in Haifa. Again, we had no shore excursion planned. We chose to walk around a little, and our primary purpose was to find Tina a falafel sandwich and see if we could find any Ahava products. Tina found a great falafel sandwich, & we did find the Ahava products, but they were ridiculously expensive, so we didn't buy any. We stopped in a local grocery store, where we found persimmons (Israeli ones are the best) and bought a few.

Haifa is not a tourist destination, and there is not much to see there. All of the shore excursions just used Haifa as a starting point, and most went to Nazareth. We did find the modern buildings using the walls of old, ruined buildings intriguing. For us, it was mostly just nice being in Israel again. Both of us will continue to enjoy every opportunity we have to return to Israel.

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