Israel VII: Golan Heights

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
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Off we go, leaving Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee behind as we head north into Golan Heights¬†(A to B on the map). Our next destination was Mt. Bental, right on the edge of the UNDOF Zone in Golan Heights. Golan Heights is where Syria, Lebanon and Jordan meet Israel and has been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967 (a CIA map shows that It’s Syria, but occupied by Israel). Lets just say it’s a peaceful place but also very much an active military zone, where you don’t want to wander off the road (land mines). I was very excited to see this section of Israel, not just because of the history, but because it’s an area known for it’s wine and chocolate. Plus it’s the closest I’ve been to an active military zone, and I felt like I needed to see it.

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I was in the front passenger seat, so I was able to take some fun landscape shots from the road.

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You can see above that there are remnants of war still left behind, as well as the military academy actively training in those spaces. While on this drive we had a white UN vehicle who was behind us most of the way, headed to the United Nations zone that separates Syria and Israel to keep the peace.

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This horse was just after we missed the road to go up Mt. Bental. Which by the way, you don’t want to get lost in this area, not due to fear (as it’s not scary, the photos are proof of this) but because you really are right on the border of the UN zone which keeps Israel and Syria from attacking each other. As my sister put it “How adventurous are we feeling today?”

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I loved visiting Golan Heights and the views from Mt. Bental (above) are amazing. There’s a great sandwich shop at the top of the mountain, as well as old war bunkers from the Six Day War and incredible views.

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Here’s the view across to Syria. You can see the white buildings on the left are UN buildings.

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There are also large creative metal sculptures around the top of the mountain.

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We went down into the maze of bunkers underground in the mountain. We were following a family who had a tour guide, so it was handy listening into the history he was explaining. There isn’t much up here explaining the history (at least not in English).

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It’s wild to think this was once used by military personal to view Syria during war.

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This is in the bunker, with a narrow opening to see (and my guess- shoot) at Syria.

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After our meal and exploring the mountain, we had to retrace our steps south west to visit Nazareth. On our way back through Golan, we saw more and more ruins from a war that was only 60 years ago.

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Everywhere we went in Golan Heights, there were “tank crossing” signs, and military personnel passing us. On our way back south, we decided to stop and take pictures of these tanks near the side of the road. We thought the were inactive old tanks, so we thought it would be okay to see them closer. Just to the left of this photo, in a lower ditch where several soldiers with large guns. This was a reminder that even though it’s calm and quiet, we were still very much in an active military zone. These are not old tanks, but new tanks that are ready to go.

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We exited Golan Heights behind a large truck with a tank on it. I highly recommend visiting Golan Heights. The history and beautifully unique landscape made this place one of my favorite sites along the entire trip. But alas, we were behind schedule and still had to visit Nazareth and travel into Jerusalem by 6pm (to return the car). On we went! Next up: Nazareth!

Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
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In my last post we were leaving Akko and driving in the dark to Tiberias, which is the largest “city” around The Sea of Galilee. When we arrived that night we were hungry and hoping to just check into the hotel, drop luggage and grab dinner. We had been warned that Tiberias was like the Reno of Israel, and now I get it.

When booking our hotel in Tiberias we decided to go for something more rustic instead of the giant hotels with tour buses out front. We stayed at the Pilgrims Residence¬†which seemed like a nice alternative to one of the giant hotels that surround it. We learned quickly that where we were staying did not have a parking lot, so we parked down the street and explored until we found the hotel. We had to ring the doorbell (it’s a locked hotel) which was a minute long hymn loudly echoing through the place. It was a cash only hotel (so we had to do a late night Israeli atm run) and everything was priced in US dollars (given the exchange rate, it meant things were more expensive than they seemed). It looks like an old castle-esque building which added to the eeriness of this place. It’s also a religious establishment so the other guests were nuns and clergy members in their robes. It was like being in a Scooby Doo episode. There were lots of religious artwork, and I was watching to see if the Jesus eyes in paintings would follow us around the room. I decided not to unpack incase ghosts chased us out in the middle of the night- I’d be ready to run. We ate dinner at the restaurant below the hotel, which also had an eerie feeling to it. Thankfully we ordered some meze and drank wine. This night was a very memorable experience, as there was even more oddness I won’t get into here.

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The next morning we enjoyed the included breakfast at the same restaurant where we had dinner the night before. Then we went on a hunt to find real coffee (many places serve instant turkish-style coffee with grounds, so we had to hunt to find “real” coffee). The views from our hotel were pretty amazing, as the photo above is from the roof terrace of the hotel.

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We walked along the water in Tiberias, which the night before had been busy with vendors selling goods and tourists exploring. At 10am this same spot was completely desolate. Such a change from the night.

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So quiet and peaceful. This is Galilee where Jesus walked on water.

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This place was so strange, we had to snap photos with the place. Well at least we have the stories from it.

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We had lots to see today, as this was the most ground to cover in one day for the whole trip. We hit the road going north along the west side of the Sea of Galilee.

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We were driving and saw 6 or 7 tour buses pulled over by an old church and thought- we should probably stop here. We aren’t super religious but did want to see some of the “biggie” spots from the bible, but hadn’t done too much research into this. Thankfully seeing the tour buses was a good marker. We were at the Church of Multiplication (or Church of Loaves and Fishes). This is this area where Jesus fed the 5,000 (turning not much food into a lot of food).

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This alter has a rock under it, which is supposedly the original rock alter where Jesus placed the bread. This adorable little church is clearly new compared to that rock, but the tile work is significant because it’s from the 5th century and the earliest known examples of figured pavement in the holy land. You can see the bread and fish design in front of the alter. I’m glad we stopped in here since it was adorable and it was also a story I remembered from my childhood Sunday Church School.

Just up the hill from here is the Church of the Beatitudes, which we could see it’s dome from the road. Given our tight schedule we didn’t stop in here. This hillside is where Jesus spoke to the Beatitudes, which we saw from the road. Maybe we missed out, but I was so excited to see the next section of Israel: Golan Heights. That’s my next post!