Friday, March 7, 2008

Belle - Israel

Israel is a little smaller than New Jersey. It is similar to California in geographic diversity with mountains, desert, and world class beaches on the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

There is a lot of military, religious and cultural significance in the land of Israel making for interesting adventures and the opportunity to take lots of photos. In many places in the Middle East, wearing a bikini in a public place would get you arrested or killed but thankfully Israel has lots of places where a girl can show off her Malibu Strings.

Our journey started with a tour of the Golan Heights. While most tourists never visit the area, (Israel and Syria are still technically in a state of war) it is typically safe and beautiful but best to go with someone who knows the area. The Golan Heights is a little less than 500 square miles of high ground overlooking the Kinneret (also called the Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberius). Prior to the Six Day War of 1967, the Golan Heights was controlled by Syria which used the area to stage artillery attacks on villages below. In addition to being militarily significant, the region is strategically important because it provides about one third of Israel’s fresh water supply. Evidence of the area’s recent military history can be seen today in the form of Israeli bunkers and Syrian mine fields.

Gan Hashlosha is a national park commemorating the deaths of three prominent Jewish leaders who were on a land surveying mission in September 1938 when their jeep hit a land mine and all were killed. Located a short drive south from the Kinneret, the park contains beautiful waterfalls and fresh water springs fed by an aquifer. There is an ancient Arab legend that claims this area is the Garden of Eden.

Located on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea and the third largest city in Israel, Haifa is a port city and home of the Bahai religion’s World Centre and Gardens.

North of Haifa are the ruins of Caesarea which was a Phoenician city 4000 years ago. Conquered and re-conquered many times it is best known as a Roman city and was the official residence of Pontious Pilate about 2000 years ago. You can still see parts of an ancient Roman aqueduct which transported fresh water down the beach.

No trip to Israel would be complete without a trip to the Dead Sea which is so salty that you will float but you can’t swim in it. At 1,300 feet below sea level, it is the lowest place on earth and is known for its healing properties. A short drive west of the Dead Sea, is Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. All buildings in Jerusalem are required to be faced with Jerusalem stone so they complement one another.

Eilat is Israel’s most southern city and is situated on the Red Sea between Jordan and Egypt. The road to Eilat passes through the Negev Desert. Bedouin people preserve their ancient ways of nomadic life living in tents and using camels, animals which apparently have no fear of highways. Eilat is home to some of the best diving in the world. Eilat is the type of place that makes you want to relax on the beach (or your private Jacuzzi overlooking the ocean) and drink in all the beautiful sites.

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