On Thursday morning we packed up the car and drove about 1.5 hrs southeast to the Galilee. Our first stop was Bet She’an, a National Park of archeological ruins. A couple of weeks ago, Noah asked why, if Israel is an old country, did everything look new. I told him that we were living in a modern city, but promised him that we would take him to see ruins — plenty of ruins. Here was his 1st chance to see the ruins that he had been anticipating.

The city dates back 7000 yrs. and changed rulers over the centuries: Egyptian, Kings David & Solomon, Greek, Roman (that did not go well for the Jews, natch). Finally the city was devastated by an earthquake in 749CE. The ruins were discovered in the 1920’s and major excavations have been going on since the 1980’s.

Bet She'an with Tel Bet She'an in background

It was a sweltering day and my pale skin needed a rest, so after touring the ancient baths, theater, colonnaded street, etc., I waited under the grove of date palms & pomegrante trees (see that patch of green in the back at the foot of the hill?), while swarthy Roy & Noah climbed to the top of the hill to see the old fortress.

Noah in the cheap seats at the theater.

This theater is about 2000 years old. It is once again used for performances. You can see part of a set on the stage down below.

Serious earthquake damage.

But, some of the old mosaic floors have been preserved:

After touring this ancient city, we were hungry and ready to cool off. We had been worried about not finding food, not knowing whether things would be open or closed on the first day of sukkot. We learned a couple of things: all of the Ganot Leumi (National Parks) build sukkot during the holiday so observant visitors can eat and they all have cafes or restaurants. We didn’t know that before we headed out, and the cafe at Bet She’an was closed anyway, so we were resigned to having ice cream from a mini-market freezer if we had to.

Our next stop was Gan HaShlosha, natural warm springs that have been landscaped into swimming pools. Our first of many great strokes of luck on this trip: not only was this park a kind of oasis, much cooler and more beautiful than we expected, they also had a nice (open) restaurant, where we ate lunch. The park has waterfalls, pools, and a lazy river–all lined with palm trees. Most families were picnicking and grilling on the banks of the pools.

Gan HaShlosha natural warm springs. A real (landscaped) oasis in the desert.

Shalom from Gan HaShlosha!

Cooling off under the falls

Relaxing & cozy after a busy day

After a long, wonderful day, we were ready to head to our zimmer (B&B) in the Golan, which should have been about a 90 minute drive. The zimmer is on Moshav Neve Ativ. We drove north through Tiberias & alongside the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). It was getting dark and somehow we managed to turn off of the main road running along the shore inland to Tiberias. [I made several similar mistakes over the weekend.  I now see why people rent GPS units–Roy]

Stopped for directions at a hotel & were back on the road. North of Tiberias into the Golan becomes less populated, the roads become windy mountain roads, and street lights disappear. We didn’t see much and, again, not sure what we would do about dinner, we had our 2nd stroke of good luck. We saw a lone restaurant on the side of the highway and pulled over. We recognized basarim (בשרים) and dagim (דגים) (meat & fish) on the sign outside. Good enough, we thought. But, whoa. Actually, we had one of the best meals we’ve eaten since being here. The restaurant turned out to be Druze and we had a table full of mysterious, delicious salads before the main meal. Well, we recognized the standard pickles & olives, baba ganoush, & the roasted eggplant with techina, but there was an amazing red salad with tiny pieces of lemon and pickle. We don’t know what it was, but we wished we had bought a jar of it to take with us. The proprietor came out and told us he’d prepare “a very special chicken” for us and fish. We said, make whatever is your specialty. Amazing. The only other table was a group of men with a lot of liquor and a waterpipe and while we ate, someone’s wedding DVD played continuously on a flat screen TV.  We took a paper placemat when we left.  The restaurant is called Hermonit Mis’ada Mizrachit (Mt. Hermon Oriental Restaurant, חרמונית מסעדה מזרחית) in Buak’ata, Golan Heights.

After dinner, we headed back out, through the Arab village of Majdal Shams, to our zimmer. We stopped in town at the conditory for a kind of corn cake with knafee on top. The town is one main street, where everyone seems to drive back & forth – like cruising main street in midwest farm towns, except some of the vehicles here are farm tractors. Or maybe they do that in the midwest too. When we arrived at the zimmer, the other guests and the owners are hanging out in the yard, on hammocks & swings and we are served cherry vishniak, brewed by Ilan, the proprietor of the zimmer. It’s strong and the cherries at the bottom are like little balls of pure alcohol. They have also put up a sukkah. They upgraded us to a 2-room suite, so Noah could play by himself quietly in the morning without waking us up were he wake early. More adventures to be continued . . .