It wasn’t long in our drive through the rain from Tel Aviv to Haifa that I began to wish that we had stayed in Tel Aviv for another night. The main purpose of heading north was to see the ancient city of Caesarea and spend a night in the seaside town of Haifa, but the enjoyment of both of these was under threat due to the weather.
Our early arrival at the Hotel Bay Club in the pouring rain was not particularly appreciated by the lone staff member in reception. When I explained that I did not expect an early check in, just a place to store our luggage until after lunch, there was less disapproval, just two reminders that check in was 2:30pm.
We set out in the nasty weather to find some lunch and went with the closest vegetarian friendly option we could find, an Ethiopian restaurant called HaMis’ada shel Ima (listed as Mother’s Restaurant on TripAdvisor). We were relieved to be having spicy food and a beer somewhere dry! Eating the food with our fingers was a novelty, and one that we are not at all adept at! The food was delicious, though. We went halves in their vegan special, which was a giant tray of injera (spongy Ethiopian flatbread made with teff flour) that covered a whole tray and had mounds of vegan yummies like lentils, cabbage, spinach and sauces around it. Ripping up the bread and using it to scoop the other ingredients into our mouths did the job. We even had our first Ethiopian beer – a St George. Perfect accompaniment to the food!
After lunch it was raining even heavier than when we arrived in town. How that was possible, I don’t know, but the walk back to the hotel was in torrential rain. The roads were like rivers, and of course, we ended up soaked. We knew that we were still too early for check in, but told Daniel on reception that we couldn’t stay out there a moment longer and that we would just wait in the lounge until our room was ready. We hadn’t even put our wet bottoms into the plush armchairs when he called out, “Friends! Your room is ready.” What timing! See here for our photos and review of the hotel.
After check in, we spent some time taking turns with the hair dryer to dry our shoes, innersoles and socks ready for when the rain would finally stop so we could go for a walk and explore Haifa. The thing highest on our list was the UNESCO listed Baha’i Gardens, but the rain prevented us from taking the complimentary tour on the upper levels, and that’s the only way to get to see those parts of the garden. These nineteen terraces were laid out on Mt Carmel between 1987 and 2001 and are classical in design. “…Wrought-iron gates lead to flower beds, soothing pools, fountains, stone balustrades, sculptures, and impossibly steep lawns, all with panoramas of Haifa Bay that defy superlatives.” Lonely Planet. Instead, we got to walk around the lower level and take some photos, hoping the rain would stay away just a little bit longer. From there we wandered a washed city with shiny streets and a setting sun that twinkled in the puddles just like the lights coming on as the pinks and mauves faded from the sky.
Leaving Haifa the next morning, we headed south again and the sun was shining so we put back into play our plan for a visit to Caesarea that had to be aborted the day before. Not only was the sun out, it was actually warm. We spent a couple of hours strolling the remains of Herod’s sea port that took 10 years to build and was once magnificent (with 50,000 residents at its peak). It then had a range of inhabitants and rulers, but basically went to crap when Herod died. Earthquakes and neglect followed, and it was completely lost until last century. Now huge restoration projects are happening throughout. The Roman theatre has been partially restored and is currently used for live concerts of big names (holds 4,000). The hippodrome, which today was a washed out pile of sand and shells, used to hold 10,000.
Lunch at Helena was our third fine dining experience of this trip (we are calling today’s John’s birthday meal – the first one at Machneyuda was our Xmas splurge, the Messa lunch was our New Year’s Eve and now this. NONE of these things occurred on the days we indulged!). We threw all (or nearly all!) of our usually eating habits out of the window and it was simply a protein (fish), carb and sugar fest. Lovely to eat, but my body was groaning about it after the fact!
Began with “James” Chenin Blanc, Sea Horse, Judean Hills 2014, only had half the bottle as John was driving and I was navigating, and took the rest with us – it was Sabbath, so there would be no happy hour supplied at the hotel that night in Jerusalem. We split an entrée of “Local calamari on the plancha with lemon, Za’atar leaves on Labaneh cheese and zhug” (and I don’t know what all those words mean, but the piece of preserved lemon carried a subtle flavour throughout, and there was pesto and chickpeas as a lovely addition), then shared two mains: “Organic bass fillet with tarragon sauce with homemade gnocchi in spinach sauce” and “Cauldron of Drum fillet in porcini cream sauce with mushrooms and Rizzo pasta” (rizzo is risoni). We even had our arms twisted to include a dessert. How the hell do people eat a whole one of these to themselves after a meal? Even if I had not had been so full, I would’ve passed out from the sugar and fat hit alone! This was a suggestion of our server and was not on the menu, but my description would be: a chocolate biscuit base layered with whole hazelnuts, salted caramel, dollops of chocolate mousse and discs of chocolate, with almond cream on the side sprinkled with pistachio and honeycomb crumbs. Oh, and I had to have an Israeli dessert tipple – Yarden muscat, which wasn’t overly sweet (good!). Soundtrack to this feast was ‘Mrs Robinson’ and ‘Dock of the Bay’, oddly followed by Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love.’
Staggered back to the car, not drunk, just fat, and drove back to Jerusalem and our favourite of the Atlas hotels – the Bezalel. A mere three hours after our humungous lunch, we were finishing off the wine, accompanied by a tube of salt and vinegar pringles while watching Netflix, winding down in our preparation for our onward journey.
Our adventures continue in Israel with our time in Madaba…