Date: Sept 7th - 9th/2020
Place: Sea of Galilee
By: Lili Naveh
A week prior to the Israeli enforced second damned lockdown (Sept 2020), when restaurants, bars and museums were still operating, and a partial freedom was madly celebrated by the “culturally deprived” public, David’s phone call, suddenly interrupted my cultural outing, right at the start of a guided Art Tour, taken at Tel Aviv most charming gentrified village-like - Neve Zedek neighborhood. The "Nhaum Guttman Art Museum" which the group visited that early morning, is one of the gems situated there. The entire museum collection of this iconic Israeli artist (1898-1980)donated by the artist’s family, highlights his multi-dimensional character as painter, illustrator, sculptor and children’s author. I was leisurely enjoying the museum tour, guided by the acclaimed radio Art Critique - Miri Krimilovski, when David dramatically declared on the call: “Our booking at the Sea of Galilee is not tomorrow but today on Sept 7th"! Pause .. heavy silence and then.. “How could you have forgotten”.. his interrogating voice demanded. “I didn’t forget” I said. “ We are expected there on Sept 8th says my calendar". “Never mind” asserted David. “We are departing today, within 2 hours” he commended, and hung up the phone. Either the Corona's related stress or aging calcification have hampered our ability to keep up engagements' dates straight, within this cultural and social distancing dissolution... So, to my regret, I cut off the art tour short, rushed back home, packed up in a record brief time, and off we left to the Sea of Galilee . *************** In defiance of the obstinate WAZE instructions, we ignored the GPS directives, and instead of driving from the "State of Tel Aviv" via the main fastest hwy routes, we cruised toward the country's Northern periphery, on the Coast Route # 2 , only up to Hedera, and then veered off to the sluggish but more scenic route # 65 .. The surplus of traffic-lights and intersections had indeed slowed our drive, yet it was a sheer enjoyment to pass through Emek (valley) Hefer, and later encountering on route, several hilly pastoral Arab villages dotted by architecturally gorgeous free standing low houses, mosques or shopping zones, surrounded by green forestry, a spread of groves, vineyards and grazing cattle. Leaving behind the towns of Afula - "the valley queen" which earned its trade mark's name off its excellent sunflower seeds, and then Kfar Tabor - a quaint community shadowed under the towering Tabor mountain, landed us eventually on Route 90. Finally after passing through the modern created small town of Migdal which nestles below the majestic hanging Arbel cliff, Lake kinneret's bluish harp/violin shaped-like water body, was revealed in a steaming, hazy capricious surface under a heat wave of 42 C = almost 108 F degrees.
Historically, most of the Room and Board accommodations surrounding the Sea of Galilee and at Tiberias - the main city by its shore, have been of modest austere standards, in forms of campgrounds, guest houses and small hotels. However in the last few years a more luxurious facilities have popped up 4 new hotels at the shores of the sea of Galilee which left a very positive impression on us are worth mentioning: *The Setai - on the Eastern lake's shore Very expensive pastoral boutique spa hotel with 158 luxurious spacious villas recently renovated and perfectly located in the peaceful foothills of the Golan Heights, surrounded by archaeological ruins and nature reserves. *Magdala Hotel - Migdal intersection off route 90 Beautifully designed and elegantly decorated - expensive Opened recently during the Corona crisis in June 2020 on the northwestern Sea of Galilee shor. Situated just next to the recently discovered first century town of Magdala. The archaeological site of the ancient town of Migdal - Magdala are viewed from the hotel's lobby Archaeological excavations at Magdala - Migdal or TaricheaeIt -1 AD was an important fishing town during the first century CE on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and below Mount Arbel First AD synagogue The Magdala Stone is likely the earliest known artistic depiction of the Second Temple. *Sea of Galilee Hotel - Northwestern shore of the sea Opened in 2018 and is reasonably priced with high standards 200 spacious rooms. *Sofia Hotel - Tiberias NOT on the beach (10 minutes away) NOT opened yet .Supposed to be opened Oct 2020 A family owned, renovated stone structure from the 19th c with 120 rooms in the old center of Tveria. ************************* Well... we didn't stay at any of these mentioned above newest upscale hotels. We were fated to be staying at the lower-end Guest House accommodation. It was recommended by our dear friend Yossi - a superior deal-hunter, who swore that Karaei Deshe Guest House (close to kibbutz Ginosar) has the best beach surrounding the Sea of Galilee shore, and is the best deal place to stay in... We - the gullible got tempted... Karaei Deshe Guest house (Grass Meadows youth hostel) Karei Desheh in its incarnated newer location, is actually an affordable ANA Youth Hostel chain, situated by very convenient accessible Sea of Galilee beaches, and provides very good services to its guests. It has a courtyard dotted with palm trees, a basketball court, but its surroundings are definitely not "grassy meadows" but are poorly tended lawns. Also the rooms are basic and charmless, though spacious, suited to couples, families and groups. They are equipped with: air conditioning, shower and toilet, a fridge, coffee corner, TV, free Wi-Fi, and a "free bonus" parades of busily roaming ants. The large dining room serves a wide selection of inedible breakfast (by our spoiled standards), which, although was included, we made sure to skip.
The original site of Karie Deshe, where we spent many weekends at, in our youth, and from which we have most fond memories, was actually situated further up North,12 kilometers from Tiberias, and is adjacent to Tabcha, Off Route 90, Tabcha (tabgha) is the site of the Church of the first feeding of the Multitude, with beautiful mosaics of an old church, including the two fish and basket – the symbols of the miracle. Though we were disappointed to learn, upon visiting the site, that the old Karie Deshe expired, we were excited to discover that the site has transformed into a charming modest Guest House surrounded by an enchanting landscape Pilgerhaus Tabgha Guest House (972-52-7444033) Designed mainly to accommodate Christian pilgrimage tourism, the guest house's church (1886) and its plain 68 rooms (if you don't mind the crosses above its beds) is situated in an elevated charming setting, and is owned by the German Association of the Holy Land, based in Cologne. It has been open ,especially during the Corona season, also to Israeli local tourism. ************* The arrival of our delightful friends Shuki and Tali, from Haifa, the following day and joining us at the hostel for the next 2 nights, had dramatically rescued the stay and had compensated for the destitute accommodation. Shuki - has been an accomplished professional, a significant contributor to Israel's Ministry of National Security, a lecturer at Technion, and a founder of several start ups. He was a school classmate from Haifa, and my first boyfriend at the tender age of 15. David and I have kept in touch with him and his wife - Tali, as we have done with few other classmates of my Leo-Back elementary school. Our friends' most engaging company had kept our spirits and interests up throughout the early mornings and late afternoons long swimming sessions, at the steaming hot pool-like water of the lake, as well as it did during the fine dining at local acclaimed chef restaurants at Migdal and Degania A, and at a rusty secret breakfast place in Kiryat Shmone. Also was most enjoyable the day trip to the Golan heights, a walk at a mid day's excruciating heat of over 40c, through the hanging bridges above the slashing Banias River falls/cascades - at "Nachal Hermon Nature Reserve"
Left alone to their own vices, the 2 very smart guys, who are inclined to be easily distracted, as well as have a knack for adventures, would get entangled in big mischiefs. We the 2 wise, calm and more sensible women have worked diligently at sabotaging undesirable complications and keeping things at bay... One last highlight was a social visit at Laor's home at Moshava Kinneret, which is situated 6 km south of Tiberias, on the low hills of the rift's southwestern shore at around 185 meters below sea level. A fantastic vista of the lake, the Golan plains and Jordan mountains, can be viewed from Laor's home The Moshava-village and an adjacent experimental training farm were founded in 1908 Laor was David's 7 Battalion armor commander, just prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Despite the age difference, the 2 combat guys bear lots of respect and affection toward each other. Laor's professional training made him an expert and consultant to the Israeli Government (and other Gov-s) on Natural Disasters Prevention and Preparation. The endless nature and man-made disasters inflicted on the globe throughout this cursed 2020 year, has made Laor's schedule extremely busy and most profitable. According to him the massive water loss due to evaporation and leakage of decaying national cement pipe carriers,in addition to lacking any national plan to replace/fix them, will create a big water shortage crisis in the region. Also the newly placed rail that connects Haifa sea port and the center of the country with Beith Shean, via what is known as Rackevet Haemek - The Valley Train, has been super busy. When passengers travel endsdaily daily as of 10:00pm , the tracks are used, at all night's hours until early day light, to transport the freight containers and trade merchandise, arriving at the sea port, further, onto the Jordan border. There, the load continues by land in trucks to the friendly Arab neighbors. The deal with Dubai will probably fund, in the near future, a fast rail connection between Beith Shean and into Jordan rails system to replace the land transport. Laor pointed out toward the shabby villages on the foothills across the Jordan valley, where a Bedouin tribe (originally from Haran) who made its living off blackmailing, theft and robbery of the newly founded Jewish communities, was transferred to, after the creation of the Israeli state in 1948. Though the communities on both sides of the Jordan valley had started from the same baseline and under equal hardships, the Israeli side has turned into a green agriculture garden, while the Jordanian one is still colored in desolated yellow shades. ************ Recommended Dining Places we enjoyed around the Sea of Galilee *Degania a 1910 - Chef Restaurant - Italian Situated in Kibbutz Degania, at the pioneers Bazelet homemade Courtyard A The Mediterranean-Italian restaurant is high in demand has a large menu, a lively bar, and the food is very good. Reservations are required. *Magdalena - elegant high-end restaurant at Migdal - off Route 90 Located at a commercial intersection overlooking the Sea of Galilee, this restaurant provides gorgeous views of Arbel Cliff and the ancient city of Migdal. The menu offers exceptional Palestinian cuisine with Mediterranean and Lebanese influences. Best Arab restaurant in Israel. We ate there twice and loved it. Reservations are required. *Lehemke Bakery Route 99 Kiryat Shmona - Best Breakfast place A friend of Shuki revealed a popular small but fantastic breakfast bakery establishment, known mainly to the locals of the Kiryat Shmone. Eating there was worth the long wait. Founded and run only for half a day (until 2:00pm) by Shai Gerber, whose NYC restaurant's training is felt in every dish he serves.
"Har Odem" Winery - Alfasi family establishment A family, boutique winery that produces distinctive and delicious wines. Three levels of quality are produced. We sipping slowly whites and reds, at a wine tasting guided by Yara - most passionate family members and excellent sale's person. For other Northern Israel restaurants Those were few weeks of merciful respite before the Israeli failing Gov enforced a second much severe closure (Sept 25) which its draconian senseless limiting decrees, compelled us to escape out of the country. Gemar Chatima Tova To be continued....