Towards the end of my two weeks in Israel we spent a weekend in Haifa, the third largest city in the country. To me, Haifa felt the most Americanized and seemed to be the least religious of the three main cities in Israel (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa). A couple of factors could contribute to this: we only visited the Old City in Jerusalem (not the incredibly modernized new part of town); we didn’t stay in Tel Aviv for an evening to experience the nightlife; and we spent Shabbat in Haifa just eating pizza and drinking beer at a friend’s place (not trying to patronize any restaurants or bars). Despite Anton saying that Israel functions just the same as America, and plenty of people aren’t religious, the Jewish and Muslim influences felt quite obvious to me, especially during Friday nights. Since returning to America with my own opinions formed, I have spoken with friends who felt the same way: it wasn’t really a hindrance to our typical lifestyle, but it was definitely noticeable. Nonetheless, Haifa felt the most “familiar” to me. With two major universities, cooler and drier weather than the south, and a relatively peaceful, coexisting community of Jews and Arabs, it seems totally valid to call it “Israel’s San Francisco.”
While in Haifa we also explored a bit further north, visiting the Meshushim Stream Nature Reserve and Capernaum, the town of Jesus. At the Meshushim Stream Nature Reserve, we did a short walk (20-30 minutes) down to Meshushim Pool, a little oasis with shade lined by basalt columns, like those from Fingal’s Cave in Scotland. Afterwards we went to Capernaum, once home to several of Jesus’ apostles, and the base for much of his time spent in Galilee. For a small fee, we were able to explore the old synagogue at the site, the old village, and the new church. At the end of the day we returned to Haifa and ate lunch at a delicious Arabic restaurant (מסעדת אבו סאלח) near Technion University. We also explored Technion and Anton’s old stomping grounds for the better part of a morning.
The next day we visited the Bahá’í Temple and Gardens. To be honest, I had never heard of the Bahá’u’lláh religion before visiting Haifa, but my goodness do they appreciate fine gardening. Sitting atop Mount Carmel and looking over Haifa and the Mediterranean, the site is the most holy in the faith. The religion teaches “the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people.” It was immediately persecuted upon its inception in Iran, but come on, it doesn’t sound that horrible, does it? We took a morning tour starting part of the way up Mt. Carmel and working our way down the gardens, finishing with a movie about the faith. Check out those photos; can you just imagine being a gardener here?? We were told not to touch the water in their fountains during the tour, and I continued my traveling mishaps by immediately stepping backwards into one of the pools of water. (This was worse than the fire alarm incident in Edinburgh, because my shoe was soaking wet for the rest of the tour, and the wet footprints ensured everyone knew what had happened.) The Bahá’í Gardens are the most popular tourist attraction in Haifa and really shouldn’t be missed.
A trip to Haifa wouldn’t be complete without a stop along the Mediterranean, which we made sure to visit for some sunset drinks. Can’t beat the warm water and ocean breeze with a Goldstar beer (a delicious Israeli lager)!
I almost always say I loved visiting a city on this blog, and I really did enjoy Haifa. But thinking about any visitors who might only have a weekend in Israel, and not two full weeks, I think I would still recommend visiting Haifa after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea. As much as I loved Eilat and the South, Haifa is much closer to the central part of the country, and much easier to get to. At any rate, you really can’t go wrong with any of those choices. Happy travels!