Last weekend we took our first venture off the beaten track in Israel. We decided to stay one night in Zevat, a tiny town in the northern part of Israel known as the Galilee. Zevat is famous for its artists' quarter and its old city, and is also known as a center of Jewish mysticism.
In preparing for the trip we cruised the web a bit for information on Zevat. It was very hard to find information at first, but then we learned that Zevat is also known as Safed, and that helped in our search. (Lot's of cities around here seem to have three names: Hebrew, Arabic, and Roman/English. It makes it confusing at times.)
We took off in our trusty Fiat Punto and headed east, planning a small detour on the way to Zevat. We got gas at a station about 10 miles outside Nazereth. (IBM has an agreement with two of the largest gas station chains. They have the cars equipped with some kind of infrared device, so all you have to do is pull into the station, tell the attendant you have "Dalkon" and want 95 octane fuel, and let them fill it up. They wave at you and the billing goes directly to IBM. Very cool. Wish the university had this!) After skirting Nazereth, we drove into Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Kinneret). The Galilee itself is historically rich and beautiful with huge weathered boulders and desert scrub. What we were also aware of was that the eastern side of the lake is dominated by the Golan Heights. When you're in Tiberias, you're under 20 kilometers from both Jordan and Syria, and perhaps a tad farther from Lebanon. You can all put this into your own perspective, but for us, these are shorter distances than from our house to the Seattle airport.
From Tiberias we headed north, soon passing by the place where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. In another 10 minutes or so we stopped at Vered HaGalil, which some friends had recommended as a place to eat and maybe even to ride a horse. We knew we were in for something when the first sign we saw when we entered the main building said, "Shalom, y'all!" The restaurant was crowded, even though the place is a bit out of the way. But we soon had seats and were looking at a menu that had hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken-in-a-basket, apple pie, and a host of other American foods. Emma had vegetable soup and milk, David had chicken-in-a basket, and Cathy had the Galilee-caught moosht, or St. Peter's fish.
Then we had cappuccinos, which were okay but not quite like ones at Starbucks. Because of the Arabic influence, there is really some good coffee in Israel. Unfortunately, there is a lot of terrible coffee, too. Indeed, instant coffee is extremely common. People seem to prefer, and often order (instant) coffee by asking for Nescafe. In any case, the coffee menu at Vered HaGalil has not only cappuccino on it, but it also has, for you coffee gourmets, Nescafe au Lait. We kid you not.
We then headed into Zevat, which is nestled into the hills above the Galilee, several thousand feet above sea level. (The Galilee is below sea level.) The town is heavily religious, so it was mostly locked up when we arrived before sundown on Saturday. We were looking for our hotel, the Ruth-Rimonin Inn, which, according to the web, was in the artist's quarter. After blindly following one sign to the Inn, we realized that the sign directed us several hundred feet the wrong way on a one-way street. We tried another route and were thrilled to see a sign on the side of a store that said, "Artists' Quarter Starts Here." Following another sign a few minutes more brought us to the Inn, which is a restored 17th century building. We hadn't known until we saw the hotel sign, though, that the Howard Johnson chain had been around since the 17th century. Yup, it is the Howard Johnson Ruth-Rimonin Inn, in the Artists' Quarter of Zevat, Israel. No orange roof, though; we figured it was against the zoning regulations. The inn was not quite up to international hotel standards, but our room, tucked away up and then down stairs, around bends and long passages, had a vaulted ceiling and a terrace with a glorious view of the valley.
Fortified by the hotel smorgasbord breakfast of lemon juice, pickled herring, hummus, and sliced fresh vegetables, we explored the artists' quarter. Although many of the galleries were not open by 10 in the morning, the narrow, winding, cobbled streets, low stone buildings, ornate and colorful metal door grates, and unexpected vistas of the surrounding mountains made the walk interesting. Cathy especially enjoyed the way residents lavished attention on their tiny gardens. Most of the galleries we went to were both the residence and working studio of the artists. Emma spent at least an hour intently watching a watercolor painter and a potter while we looked at the products of their work. The beautiful setting and the numerous galleries we didn't see make Zevat a place we'd definitely like to visit again.
We had actually intended to spend two days in Zevat but we had been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner the Friday before we left. Yes, we know Thanksgiving is on Thursday. On Thursday night we had turkey schnitzel, hummus, and baklava at a roadside diner connected to a gas station. It turns out some excellent restaurants are connected to gas stations, including one of the best French restaurants in Tel Aviv. Anyway, Thursday's dinner was no great shakes, but on Friday, our friend Dan Berry organized a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, including cranberry dressing he made from berries he imported. Most memorable, however, was the talk before the meal. Using an overhead projector, Dan presented his research on, "Why do Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving?" A key point was how Hebrew, instead of English, almost became the international language of commerce and science. Dan calls the handouts of his presentation a Thanksgiving Haggadah. (They can be found Here.) During dinner we heard stories that helped us understand Israeli culture a little better: stories about how to import Harley-Davidson's to Israel (the house where the dinner was held is owned by, we would guess, the only Harley dealer in Tel Aviv); stories about having a home birth and finding an article in the paper the next morning saying, "Domestic violence in the Danya neighborhood?"; and stories about a great-grandfather walking to Israel from Turkey carrying his two-year-old son. It was a truly memorable Thanksgiving.