Reflections from Israel: Haifa

Part II: Haifa

My original plan was to travel to Haifa on Saturday—but as demonstrated earlier—My plan was shuffled to Sunday instead. A review of Israel’s geography shows that Israel is a tiny country, around the size of the state of New Jersey. Haifa is an ancient port city located on the Northwestern coast of Israel. It is home to a famous landmark that is amazingly not Jewish: the Baha’i Gardens. For those who don’t know, Baha’i is a recent addition to the monotheistic faiths that preaches unity. According to bahai.org,  “…all the world’s religions represent stages in the revelation of God’s will and purpose for humanity.” I personally believe this is something true.

We often meet people who cross our paths later in life. My trip to Haifa was a pristine example. Five years ago, on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I met a nice Jewish-Israeli lady. Through the years, we kept in contact and became friends. Haifa is her hometown and she was kind enough to introduce me to a friend of hers who lives there. Her friend and I connected on Facebook and she gave me practical advice about Haifa, Israeli public transportation, and Israel in general. She and her husband, a newlywed couple, were super-nice and even hosted me for an evening.

I checked my smart phone for the time, forty minutes until train departure. Earlier Saturday, I researched the train schedule from Tel Aviv to Haifa. I noticed there are trains running post-Shabbat. After some back and forth with my Haifa hosts, we decided it was easier to depart for Haifa Saturday evening, sight see Sunday morning, and return Sunday afternoon—to be back in time for my friend’s wedding in Jerusalem. I waited outside of my Tel Aviv apartment for the taxi to take me to the Central Train Station. Geez, they are late. My Tel Aviv hosts had called a taxi for me and they said there is a five-minute wait. It has been ten already! A beam of light in the darkening day snapped me out of frustration. It stopped in front me and a pair of eyes looked out at me from within. About time I thought!

It was the first Saturday evening post-Shabbat train up the Israeli western coastline. The shadows of the night covered up what was to be a fantastic view of the coast in daylight. Wow, pretty advanced! I thought to myself upon discovering the train itself, in addition to the train station, had free Wi-Fi. I had an hour to kill, why not research a bit about Haifa’s history and place in the Middle East.

I typed “Haifa” into Google search and clicked on the first search result, Wikipedia. Haifa, according to Wiki, is the third largest city in Israel. It was founded around three thousand years ago during the Late Bronze Age operating as a port and dye-making center. It is known as the “San Francisco of Israel” due to the city being built into hills like the former. The city was developed in “tiers” into Mount Carmel. I knew about the breathtaking views from upper Haifa and was secretly excited to finally see it in person.

The train slowed down, I turn to look at the information monitor to make sure the stop is for Haifa. Upon confirmation, I lifted my bags and pulled them over my shoulders and disembarked. I have to find the bus station. My Haifa hosts said the bus is the easiest and most inexpensive method to get from the station to their neighborhood. Seeing the crowd move in a certain direction, I followed them thinking the majority is probably also headed there. My hunch was correct as the sign for the bus stop came visible. Let’s see, I need bus #132. I walked through the bus station, saw busy #132, and waited.

More and more people gathered for bus #132. When it finally arrived, people were all fighting to board. The bus took its route around and up Mount Carmel. Predicting that my stop was coming up, I walked up to the bus driver to make sure. From the bus, I saw my Haifa host waiting for me. I got off and shook her hand and said nice to meet you. She was an attractive girl with long brown hair, gentle soul, and kind heart. We made small chat while she guided me to her apartment. We walked up few flights of stairs and arrived at our home for the evening. There I met her husband – who was also handsome, generous, and a great cook to boot!

They made a bed for me in the living area, introduced me to their adorable cat, and made me some dinner. I was really thankful for the hospitality that they showed me. After dinner, we went for a stroll to see Haifa at night. All the while, discussing options for where to go on Sunday morning. After taking in the serene view of Haifa, we went for some ice cream in the local hangout area. I learned that Haifa has the world’s only subway system that is vertical–it is used to go up and down Mount Carmel. How cool! Definitely have to come back again to try it.

With our sweet tooth satisfied, we headed home. I was pretty tired by then, so it was no surprise that I quickly fell asleep with the delightful evening breeze. The next morning, I showered, brushed my teeth, and washed my face. I’m only going to have time to visit the Baha’i Gardens today I thought to myself while holding a toothbrush. I packed and organized all my belongings. My hosts made me a lovely french toast breakfast, gave me a backpack to hold all my belongings and I was off on the Haifa adventure.

Retracing the same path as the evening before, I now can see the beautiful Haifa view in full daylight. The blue skies and oceans touch to form a distance border. I stepped up the pace to make an English guided tour of the Gardens at noon. The meeting point for the Baha’i Gardens guided tours uses an alternative entryway. Security was tight as the guard checked my backpack twice over. The Baha’i Garden is built into the side of a mountain. To tour it, one must keep descending the steps of the Garden around the fountains, terraces, and other structures. Our guide was a slender and tall Jewish woman with dirty blonde locks. She gave us some history of the Baha’i faith, how it is organized, and its followers today. I took many photos to preserve my memory of this beautiful location.

Halfway through the tour, many were drenched in sweat and tried to stand in the shaded areas. The sunlight was punishing our tour group I thought. When we reached the end of the garden, I was part relieved and part sad to see the tour end. I had no time to worry though; I hopped in a taxi and headed for the train station.

I must make it in time to Jerusalem for my friend’s wedding this evening!!

Next time: Eternal Jerusalem

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