We also headed north from Natanya to Haifa and Akko. We hitched a ride up to Haifa with a friend of Gil's family who works at Intel, one of the many tech companies who have set up shop in there. It's a very beautiful city, situated on a hillside overlooking the sea. The city's most prominent feature is the gorgeous Baha'i Gardens. Baha'i is a fairly young religion whose central beliefs are unity and equality (how refreshing!). They identify with many different profits who have appeared throughout history, including Moses, Jesus and Buddha. The gardens surround a shrine of one of the religion's spiritual leaders and are exquisitely manicured, with over 100 full-time gardeners on site. It was interesting that the shrine itself, while very ornate on the outside, was quite modest and simple inside.
After spending time in the gardens, we wandered around Haifa's many neighborhoods - the trendy Carmel Centre, the Russian Hadar area, the Arab quarter called Wadi Nisas and the German Colony with its pretty stone houses.
Later that afternoon we took a train along the coast up to Akko, an old Arab city that is very well preserved. We arrived too late to explore the town's underground tunnels, but spent the evening wandering the narrow streets and passageways above. The city was quite a drastic change from Tel Aviv or even Haifa, and it seemed like we had stepped back in time a few centuries. From all of the references to Napoleon, it appears that Akko's proudest moment was when the city was able to hold off Napoleon's advances. We took in the story of the long battle that ensued from atop of the ramparts on the southern wall of the city.
A final heartfelt thank you to Sveta, Yuri and Masha who, in addition to providing us with food, shelter and wonderful company, helped us get home when we found ourselves stranded at the train station upon our return to Natanya from Akko late that night!