It is late evening, and we we’re preparing for a cut’n’run from port of Ashdod, as the east-Mediterranean schedule was getting tight. With a nice swing inside the port, we pass the breakwater and speed up to make our way north, to the port of Haifa. Just a hundred nautical miles run with full speed ahead to be there at 4 am. Surprisingly, the pilot boat was sharp, and had to wake up everyone for another manoeuvre. All goes smooth, and within an hour the ship is nicely berthed with her starboard side.
As nobody comes on board, I retire to my cabin, take a shower and try to get some fast sleep. But of course, as usual, as soon as I relax in my bed, the phone rings, agent on board. Went down, checked the loading plans and all looked fine. The ship is due to sail by 6 pm, as it’s Friday and Sabbath to set in, until Saturday evening. During this time nobody works around Israel. With the amount of cargo to be discharged and loaded I was hoping to get delayed and enjoy the evening as well in Haifa, but my plans have to changed a bit, and make the best out of the day.
Back in my crib, I set up my clock for 8 am…9am, an extra hour of sleep…8..9…okay, 8:30. With those other 3 hours from last night should be enough, to crawl around like a zombie. Fortunately, I wake up energized. Most probably because I am always excited to visit new places.
I ask the third mate to call the duty-free car, then I go down the gangway and wait. This nice Ukrainian lady picks me up, and as we talk, on the way to the gate, I realise that I forgot my passport. I was so embarrassed as we had to turn back all the way. But like I said, she was a nice lady, and I spent some money in the shop, so…guilt-free. From the shop to the gate is just a few minutes walk up some stairs.
As I pass this bridge, I can see that beneath it is a train station, and then there is this big welcome to Haifa sign, which for me seemed kind of cool. Then the city opens in front of my eyes. Haifa is built mainly in tiers, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, but extends around it as well. It is the third biggest city in Israel, with a population of almost 300 thousand inhabitants. Yes, I did my homework. Since beginning it was a port city, so all that I planned to see is quite close, but…high up the hill.
Across the street there is a money exchange, so I don’t have to wander around to find one. Then I go exploring the streets.
I really like the old white-yellowish stone building architecture, and that the streets are clean and not so wide. Here and there are shops displaying their goodies on the pave walk and some car repair shops doing their work in the streets. Even so, it does not feel like a very busy city. Maybe because everyone is waiting for the day to pass and enjoy the Sabbath.
As I make my way through The German Colony neighbourhood, I manage to get to the lower entrance of the Baha’i Gardens. From here, looking up the mountain, the gardens are impressive, and make me feel small. The other way, stretches Ben Gurion Avenue, the heart of social life in Haifa.
I have to pass the security check, and then I can visit the lower part, with just the last balcony and waterfalls available to the public. After asking the man at the gate, I find out that the gardens divide in three parts, and that if I want to catch the tour, I have to be at the upper Viewing Balcony, 15 minutes before noon, and there are two options, to take the bus, or to walk around and across, but that it will take long time, and maybe miss it. That’s just what I needed, a challenge, so with a rushed pace, I’m on the way. Instead of going the long way around through the streets, I am taking shortcuts up the stairs between buildings. Before this I was thinking that I am quite fit, but these stairs are like never ending, so by half way up have to take my breath.
I just stop by at this viewing terrace which gives me a glimpse of how it will be at the summit. Nearby is also a small park with beautiful human shaped sculptures.
As I get closer to the Viewing Balcony, I notice some guys speaking my home language, so I end up having some company for visiting the gardens. They are on vacation, traveling around, from Tel Aviv and later planning to visit Mount Tabor, a holly place nearby north of Haifa, and on the road south Caesarea where are the remains of a Roman era city.
And then there I am, at the top, from where is this breath taking panoramic view of the Baha’i Gardens, the city and the port of Haifa.
Must say that I am stunned for a moment, amazing. I took so many pictures, but cannot really capture the true beauty of this place – the gardens flowing down nineteen steep terraces, at the middle of which stands this golden domed shrine, where is the final resting place of the prophet-herald (The Bab) of the Baha’i faith.
Together with my new friends, we go to the gate where the tour starts, and after a 10 minutes brief about what not to do, as this is a holly site, we can begin our journey. Of course there is always that guy, who has to talk on the phone exactly after politely being told to mute it; come on is just a 45 minutes glimpse at this remarkable place, and more, it is for free.
Walking around the gardens, from one terrace to another, our guide tells us the story of how this place came to life. The Baha’i Faith has formed from the Persian religion of the Bab, a merchant who was preaching a new interpretation of Islam and who, later, in 1850 was executed being rejected by the clergy in Iran. The faith was established by Baha’u’llah in 1863, who was self-proclaimed prophet of God, after being banished from Iran. The faith grew over the second half of the 19th century in the territory of Iran and other Middle East regions. Despite the fact that the faith is preaching unity and equality of all people and religions, their followers have faced ongoing persecution. Now is estimated to have about 5 million believers, spread around the world.
Terrace by terrace, the story, actually would say history, goes on, and for a couple of times I stay behind just to enjoy the place, and take some beautiful pictures.
The construction of the Gardens began in 1989 and they we’re open to the public in 2001. The terraces represent the first 18 disciples of the Bab. Only Baha’i followers donations are allowed to upkeep the beauty of this place, and no other means of income, which is quite a big effort, seeing the size of the site.
I must say that I am amazed by the place and the faith of which I knew nothing before being here. Whenever there is some good history behind a place, I get so caught up that the time flies. The one hour tour felt like no more than 10 minutes, and just by the middle section entrance, next to the Shrine of the Bab, is time for me to say goodbye to our guide and wish my friends good trip ahead.
Then I just go wandering around the streets, feeling a little hungry. And if your stomach roars, where is the best place to go in Haifa?…down the Wadi Street, and grab a bite of the best falafel you can find around. There are two places well renowned both with locals and tourists.
There is a long waiting line at HaZkenim so I just go across the street at Michelle, who by the way is a very welcoming lady, offering me some free bites until my falafel is ready. Together with some apple cider and green olives, the taste is amazing. Can’t help but to order one more for being so good, and very cheap, about 2 dollars equivalent.
Looking at the clock, I thank Michelle, and rush a bit towards Ben Gurion Boulevard, at the centre of the German Colony neighbourhood, where I plan to have some coffee and relax after the long walk. The boulevard is stretching from the lower entrance of The Garden to the Port of Haifa, and is packed with cafe’s, pubs, restaurants, hotels. There are also some museums around, but I don’t really have the mood or time to visit them. A little hard to choose a place since they all look very inviting. I just take a seat at the Café Café, and have a nice piece of chocolate cake with coffee and a big mint lemonade to drench my thirst.
Is a little more pricy then the falafel place, like 20 bucks, but I expected this in here. If you take a table by the pave walk, you can have a beautiful view at Mount Carmel and the Gardens. Like I said before, I like the old architecture of the buildings, with the big stone tiles, and with the modern way of life, it feels a little bohemian. I love it, and definitely will come back here more often since my ship is calling the port every 5 weeks.
My relax time is done, so I have to return to the ship. One more peek up the mountain, walking to the end of the boulevard and the turn on the road towards port gate. Here, is this huge building, which was a warehouse for bulk grains, now turned into, guess what…a museum of grain; that would be interesting to see, quite unusual.
Once passing the security at the gate, I have to walk my way back to the vessel, since there are no more means of transport. But is not far, maybe only 2 km. Just as I get to the bay where my ship is berthed, I manage to take one more picture before my phone says that even he is too tired and shuts off.
I find the goodies bought from the duty-free delivered on board, the cargo operations are almost over, and Immigration officers on their way to check us for clearance. So, within an hour we’re ready to sail to the next destination.