Monday, March 4, 2013

Golan Heights and Capernaum.

The ruins of the Synagogue at Capernaum.

Our afternoon in Golan Heights began with lunch!  We ended up in a small town somewhere in the Golan Heights.


First we had to get to a restaurant which was a place unknown to all of us except for Uri :-)

It was still cloudy overhead and there was a a slight chill in the air.  I'm not complaining as I'm enjoying the cool weather.


Grape vines come into view. 

Uri did the obligatory "would you like to eat here?" check like anyone of us would know enough to say "no".  There was no response from the back seats so I said, "Yes".  Uri parked the van, we got out and headed inside the restaurant.  The owner was there to greet us in.

While the others got seated, I snuck into the kitchen to watch the restaurant owner get our *appetizers* together. He was a really nice guy, explaining everything that he did, including telling me what spices he was putting on.  One cook appreciating another.


The kitchen.  Simple but functional.

In Israel, the meal traditionally begins with the pita/hummus/vegetable course. There is usually so much variety to the dishes that I can put together a very tasty pita sandwich.

Dishing out the salads under Uri's watchful eye.

All the yummy dishes lined up.  I called dibs on the hummus!

I was tempted to buy a lottery ticket just so I could say I played the lottery in Israel.  Wonderful if they have Powerball?

You know they can't change the menu once it's carved into wood!

A hamsa. an amulet shaped like a hand, with three extended fingers in the middle
and a curved thumb or pinky finger on either side. It's to ward off the "Evil Eye".

Either I was particularly hungry or the food here was particularly good.  I can fill myself up on just the appetizer and in this case, that's exactly what happened because the falafel balls that came to the table were so, so good. The meat dish was shawarma chicken which I gladly passed up for more falafel.

I left the lunch table feeling like a beached whale. I stuffed so much food into my belly, it wasn't funny!

Back on the road, we continued our journey through the Golan Heights.

Clouds!!

 It's so green here; the fields were abloom. According to Uri, the yellow blooms are mustard flowers. 

We passed by what looked like shells of buildings. Uri told us they were buildings occupied by the Syrians when this region was under their control. I was somehow surprised that the Israeli government had not removed the buildings and leveled the land so it could be farmed. Maybe it's the land is still riddled with live mines.



We took a quick pitstop at an overlook where we could see over to Syria. WE pulled into a small pull off area and there was already a small group of people checking out the view. I walked over to join them. We were looking over a pretty little valley. Uri pointed out Syria to us.

The cluster of white buildings is the UN Mission.  Syria lies just beyond that.

On the border between Syria and Israel is a UN mission. I don't think it's a peacekeeping one as Israel is more than able to patrol its own border. At the overlook, there was an audio only presentation that explained about the overlook and conflict that happened in the region. The wind was blowing fiercely; it was bitterly cold standing there. After a few minutes of listening to audio, I couldn't take it any longer; I was starting to shiver. I headed back to the van and Georgie was right on my heels. As we drove off, I thought it strangely ironic that one of the sites that an Israeli tour would include on its itinerary is a stop to look at the landscape of one of the country's long time enemies - Syria.

I can't remember the name of the Syrian town but you can see the minaret of the mosque.

Another view of Syria.

And on we went.  Although the distances between sites is relatively short, we're covering a lot of ground though we're not able to really spend much time at any one of them. I don't know if this because this is a comfort tour that is catered to an older traveler than I or perhaps to people who are more interested in shopping and less in seeing the historic sites. I have decided that I have to think of this trip as a discovery trip. I now have a better idea of what I want to do and see next time around.....yes, there will be a next time.

We headed towards Katsrin to go to the winery.

Next destination was the Golan Heights Winery. I had never considered Israel on the list of wine producing countries. They're definitely not a large producer but they do grow grapes in the Golan region - grapes that thrive in warmer temperatures are grown in the lower elevations and those needing a cooler clime at the higher elevations.


We entered in the shop where we started our tour of the winery. I've been to so many of these by now that I think, even though I don't drink, conduct the tour.

Our guide started with a map of the region which had a link to the meteorological measuring tools that capture climate data in the various growing locations which were identified by the individual grape growers and wineries.

Next, we headed outside. High above,on a hillside were stainless tanks holding the fermenting juice.


Empty barrels waiting to be filled.

We entered into a huge room where there were racks of barrels ready to be washed. 



Assembly line where barrels are washed in preparation to be filled.

I don't care what the factory produces, I love watching assembly lines at work.  I couldn't help myself, I had to shoot a snippet of video to remember the moment.



Even the winery had some ruins.  This one had carved design of a grape vine on it.

Next, we went to the bottling and packaging room. The line was not working on the day of our visit. According to our guide, who apparently had worked the bottling line before, it looked the machines were being prepped for bottling a set of wines that require different size bottles so the machines were being adjusted accordingly.




Next, we returned to a room adjacent to the store which was the winery's tasting room. This is the part that I usually skip out on as I'm not a wine drinker. But when on tour, do as the tour wants so I will taste the wine.

The first one we tried was a young white wine. I have to admit, it wasn't bad. Smelled and tasted of green apple. I just took a small sip and then tossed the rest into the spittoon. We then tasted two different red ones - a light bodied one and then a fuller bodied one. Between the tastings, we had pretzels to munch on to clear our palates.

After sampling the three wines, we headed back into the store. I took a look at the desert wines and I was a real wine lover, I might have bought a bottle but I'm not so I just took a seat while the others, including Uri, made their purchases.


Back in the van, we headed to what looked like a shopping plaza. Uri parked the van and we all dutifully followed him. When he entered through a door that had the name of a brewery printed on it, I was certain we were about to do another tasting. Everyone would be tipsy before the day was over. Inside the building, it felt like we were entering in to lobby of a movie theatre and in fact, we were but this was for the local tourism office.


Uri led us through the doors and we took our seats. The movie started immediately and it was just various images of the Golan Heights. This is definitely not the desert region of Istanbul - full of hills and greenery. Several of the scenes were of waterfalls and streams. When those images appeared on the screens, misters installed in the ceiling of the theater went into action. It was light, gentle mist - you didn't really get wet but got a sense of the water. I suppose that was to enhance the scenes we were watching. Luckily there was no *smell o'vision" and scenes of farm animals :-)


After the movie, we went into another room where there was a 3D topographical map of the region. The lights went out and the projectors and lights overhead kicked into action, spotlighting different sections of the map which of course represented the different regions of the Golan Heights.


With the show and tell over, we headed back to the van. We had one more place to visit before our day would be over.


A short drive later and we had arrived at Capernaum which was a fishing village that was established in the 2nd century BC in the time of the Hasmoneans. The town was abandoned in the 11th century. Today, it's an archeological site where excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. A church near Capernaum is said to be the home of Saint Peter.


The ancient town of Capernaum is cited in the Gospel of Luke and the gospel of John where it was reported to have been the home of the apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, as well as the tax collector Matthew. In the Gospel of Matthew, the town was reported to have been the home of Jesus after he left Nazareth. It's because of the town's ties to Jesus that it's included in any tour of the Holy Land that focuses on following in the steps of Jesus.



Statue of Matthew commemorating the miracle of the seven loaves and fishes.

As described in Wikipedia.
The Feeding of 4,000.
This appears in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, is also known as the "miracle of the seven loaves and fishes" given that the Gospel of Matthew refers to seven loaves and a few small fish used by Jesus to feed a multitude.

The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha is the site where some Christians believe the miracle to have taken place.

According to the Gospels, a large crowd had gathered and was following Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to him and said:

"I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way."

His disciples answered:

"Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?"

"How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked.

"Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish."

"Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven baskets full of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan."
Ruins of the old Roman town.

We started our short visit at the ruins of the synagogue which is believed to have been built some time around the 4th or 5th century making it one of the oldest synagogues in the world.

The 4th century AD synagogue on the left. On the right side are the Byzantine ruins of the village in the center,
which were the same area of the early Roman houses (from the time of Jesus).
In the background, past the walled area, are the pink domes of the Greek Orthodox church.


The large, ornately carved, white building stones of the synagogue sits atop another foundation made of basalt and some archeologists believe that this is the foundation of a synagogue from the 1st century. The basalt comes from the volcanoes in the region which now dormant but were active during Capernaum's heyday. Smaller, plain blocks of local black basalt were also used for the town's other buildings, almost all residential and so the synagogue truly stood out.




From the synagogue, we made our way to a small church. Between the two structures were the ruins of a neighborhood. 

Study of the ruins have led archeologists to conclude that several families lived together in the patriarchal style, communally sharing courtyards and doorless internal passages.

This is the area between the synagogue and the 5th century AD church. The modern building, seen in the background,
is the new church, which is built over the old church and the site of St Peter's house.

In the 5th century AD, Christian worshipers built an octagonal shaped church over what they believed
was the site of St. Peter's house.  We could see the remains of the church under the foundation of the current church.

Looking back at the ruins of the village and the Syngogue.

The interior of the current church.

In the center of the room, there is a glass covering over the ruins of the 5th century AD church.



It was another short visit to a historic site.  I think the gang, including Uri, was tired.  I could have spent a bit more time here but had to follow everyone else out.  Next time I come, I will explore the site some more.

At the entrance to Capernaum was a very impressive sized bougainvillea!

We ended our day back at Kibbutz Lavi.  I had a quick dinner in the restaurant and then relaxed for the rest of the night.  I've been checking my work email everyday that I've been here.

I can't believe tomorrow is my last day in Israel. Today, I started seeing references to an impending snowstorm.  The forecasters are predicting that it will be a huge blizzard and that the brunt of it will hit late Wednesday afternoon/early night.....around the time that I'm suppose to be landing back in DC.  There's a part of me that is strongly considering staying back in Israel an extra day to avoid the flight delays and/or cancellations.  I don't relish the thought of spending the night stranded in Newark Airport.  For now, I need to sleep but first thing tomorrow morning, I'm checking the DC weather report.

Not a happy camper at the moment though I did have a great day!!

Good night from Kibbutz Lavi.