Haifa...Slightly Conservative Beach Town
Haifa Travel Blog› entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
Note to future travelers to Israel, going to Haifa is TOTALLY worth a side trip up. There are directions in English so it's not too hard to figure out. It's a town on a big hill but the beach is just gorgeous. The train literally lets you off right in front of the beach and as far as the beach goes, dress (or lack thereof) is not an issue (not so with the rest of Haifa I was soon to find out). I figured Haifa = beachy = shorts and flowy breezy flimsy top and flip flops. Or that's what it would be in any other region of the world.
Photos of Haifa from the hills (on a clear day you can actually see Lebanon):
Our first stop was at the hospital where our mom was teaching. After going through a slightly too-thorough security check (as is the norm in Israel), we headed up to the conference room. Due to a late night at a Tel Aviv nightclub, my head had been pounding all morning and not even a nap on the hour long train ride up from Tel Aviv helped things. But two cups of strong Turkish coffee and these wonderful little chocolate croissants that are so prevalent in Israel took care of everything. They should package it all as the perfect hangover cure. Slight detour: speaking of coffee, go to any shop in Isreal that sells cappuccino and I guarantee it will top anything you've ever had in the US. I don't even like cappuccino and I couldn't get enough of it.
Then my sister and I were handed off to a friendly old doctor who was our tour guide for the day. First stop: University of Haifa to see the Hecht museum. Our guide was an avid fan of antiquities and gave us a good bit of background on everything. Both my sister and I being history majors, we appreciated it.
Up until then I had been getting the feeling that maybe I was a bit underdressed. I attributed that to my being in a hospital most of the morning and, naturally, people there would dress more conservatively. Then the good doctor asked us which one was older and was shocked to find out that I was not only two years my more conservatively-dressed sister (I swear she must be republican!), but was the ripe old age of 30. He made a point of looking at my outfit with an open mouth to cement his shock. What? 30 year olds can't wear shorts and flip flops?
When we got to the university, my self-conscious fears were realized as every single student was dressed in either jeans or a skirt that reached below the knees...in Isreal...in late spring...at a University...right next to the world's most gorgeous beach! At almost any US university you would have seen the bikini strings poking out the backs of tank tops and over the waistlines of cutoff shorts. Not so in this quirky little area of the world.
As we were walking back down the looong hill from the University to the car...I got my first honk. At first I didn't think anything of it since people there honk for no reason at all...but the shit-eating grin from the driver gave me a clue. Then while the good doctor was telling us all about the Carmelites who have a church up on a scenic hill there, a truckload of soldiers passed by and honked several times. We all turned to look at a group of smiling waving young soldiers hanging out of their truck. I thought that was a bit much but the sidelong glance at my shorts by the good doctor clued me in on the deal up there. Note to readers...don't bother going into the town of Haifa wearing anything that doesn't go below the knees. The beach is a different story of course.
At that point my shorts became tainted property. I could never look at them again in that country without thinking about how I had corrupted the youth and a kind old doctor who was only trying to show me around.
The point was made even more painfully pronounced when we tried to see the Bahai gardens. You can learn more about the Bahai here, but in short....yet another organized religion. I think this was the final straw in my being thoroughly turned off by organized religion. The gardens were created by some member of the faith and is so beautiful it's called the 8th wonder of the world...but is totally closed to the general public, without a special pre arrangement.
How can someone create something so beautiful only to close it off to everyone..except by special arrangement? The public can view it from a special terrace above the gardens, which gives you kind of a bird's eye view, but even then...only when dressed appropriately. The guard was much nicer than many people in that country in trying to help me with my "immodest" dress, but ultimately I was banned from even going to the terrace. So I sat outside and suffered the smug glances from tourists who knew how to dress while my sister snapped these shots with my camera.
Another very nice guard blocking our way from the side:
After a lunch of gyros and fresh OJ (like squeezed right from the orange in front of us), which for some reason is very popular there, we were dropped off at the beach and left to our own devices. I grabbed an ice cream bar and sat in one of the free chairs they generously have on all the beaches in Isreal and sat back and took in the beauty. This photo does it no justice whatsoever:
Another view of me standing in the Medditeranean.
If nearby Lebanon has the same sort of gorgeous beaches, it's no wonder it was once upon a time a vacation spot for Americans. Just further proof we desperately need peace in the Middle East. Such beauty shouldn't be wasted. I was so mesmerized I forgot to get sand for my collection! In another blog I'll explain my obsession with collecting sand.
Then my sister and I caught the train back to Tel Aviv and hit our very first snafu.
While many of the directions are in English, for the most part everything over there is in Hebrew. The conductor didn't even bother translating, so when we were stuck at a stop for an especially long time and he mumbled something over the speakers, causing everyone to groan I had no idea what was going on. It was only after another mumbled bit of gibberish and everyone started getting off the train, that I started to worry. Naturally that was the time when I couldn't find anyone who wished to be bothered with speaking English. Finally my smile (and presumably short shorts) got me the most basic "Tel Aviv?" "Yes" and a subsequent point to Train 2...which is where everyone else was going.
My sister and I got seperated, which caused a problem as I desperately tried to hear the words "Central Station" over the speakers among all the babbling soldiers. Apparently she understood my mom's directions of "the stop after Tel Aviv University" better than I did that morning (I blame the hangover) since I got off three stops too late. The funny thing is, my taxi ride cost less than her's back to the hotel. Note to toursist: don't bother getting off at the "stop after Tel Aviv university", the taxis there rip you off.
That was the day my slightly-too-young-for-me-shorts went into my suitcase and stayed there. In the desert of all places!