On the last full day that we had, we decided to visit Akko and Haifa. Our original itinerary had allowed us a few days in Haifa and we were to make a day trip to Akko and Rosh Hanikra. However due to the rockets being pelted from Lebanon into Israel, near Rosh Hanikra, by the Hezbollah, we had to change our plans. Instead, we decided to make a day trip and visit both the cities.
Our morning started early. After a quick breakfast of coffee and some sandwiches in the hotel, we took a cab to Ha Haganah station and boarded the train towards Akko. What a lovely train ride; we enjoyed the lovely view as the train made its way along the Mediterranean cost towards Akko.

View of the mediterranean cost from the train to Akko

 

Akko is at least 4000 years old, originally being mentioned in Egyptian manuscripts. The city has a long list of rulers: Alexander, the Egyptians, Syrians, Romans, Crusaders and the Mamluks. The Mamluks reduced it to rubble and the city fell into disrepair for a few centuries until Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar revived the town, almost autonomously and turned the natural harbour into a functioning port. It eventually fell to the Turks, then the British and finally into Israel in 1948. Akko still remains a hot bed of Israeli Arab activity and the old city of Akko is a firm Arab stronghold, whilst the area outside the old city is more modern and Jewish dominated. The old city of Akko (or Acre) is a UNESCO protected world heritage site.

We arrived Akko around 11 AM. Immediately, outside the train station and in the interest of time, we hired a taxi which took us to the old city. The courtyard to the entrance of the city is very beautiful and we spent a good 20 minutes just taking the in the calmness.
Courtyard at the entrance of the old city of Akko

Courtyard at the entrance of the old city of Akko

Just past the entrance is the massive Akko crusaders citadel.
Acre citadel

Akko citadel

We walked around the courtyard of the citadel which still had huge columns lying on the ground. This citadel is the place where the crusaders greeted guests and we walked through their massive dining halls with thick walls and really high ceilings. We were the only visitors that day and when we closed our eyes, we could feel the history of the place!
Acre Citadel

Akko Citadel

Next to the dining hall was a stairwell that led to a long and very claustrophobic underground tunnel which was an escape route for the knights in case of an attack. I got extremely claustrophobic inside and simply could not wait to get out of the tunnel. The tunnel ends in to a souvenir shop.
Tunnel: This is the best I could do. There was no way I could wait to take a proper picture

Tunnel: This is the best I could do. There was no way I could wait to take a proper picture

We spent some time in the souvenir shop and spoke to the gentleman who ran the place. His name was Mesika and he was a Libyan Jew and one of the things he sold was silver and copper carvings – we bought one dish from him that we really liked. Apparently very few people practice this art now, and most of the younger kids have moved on to hi-tech jobs.
We talked to him for a while about his upcoming trip to Lao, a place we had just visited and so he took a lot of tips from us. His lunch arrived and we realized we also better get going since we also had to see Haifa that day. Mesika suggested we have lunch at Abu George.
From there we went to the Turkish baths which are preserved. As soon as we reached, a guard, who spoke nothing, but just let us in and turned on a few switches so the lights and music of the place turned on, and he left us inside and went back out. The Hammam was built by Jerash Pasha in the 1700′s and was in use up until the 1940′s, which explains why its so well maintained. The sound and light show inside was pretty good and was the story of the last bath attendant.
Turkish Hamman in Acre

Turkish Hamman in Akko

Outside the hammam, we saw the Mosque of Jerash Pasha, which is built in the Ottoman/Turkish style. Naturally we went in and walked around. The solitude of any religious place always brings about a calm I love to experience and this place was no different. The history and the lovely architecture of the place added to the happiness we experienced.
Mosque of Jerash Pasha / Al-Jazzar Mosque

Mosque of Jerash Pasha / Al-Jazzar Mosque

We spent 30 minutes sitting in the mosque. It was our first time entering a mosque and this place not touristy at all. It was meant for locals to use, and that is exactly how it felt.
We finally exit the mosque and hurried towards Abu George, which just happened to be right around the corner from the mosque. We were famished and ordered hummus, fuul, felafel, pita and some soda to wash it all down.
Lunch at Abu George in Akko

Lunch at Abu George in Akko

The food was excellent, and like most other meals in the middle east, it was memorable. A lot of people have asked us how we survived as vegetarians on this trip? The middle east is a heavy meat-eating culture and we had to be very careful. We would often be offered rice which was cooked in chicken stock or a “vegetables dish” with lamb in it. However, the abundance of vegetarian mezze meant we could make a delicious meal out of just these. We combined eating a lot of mezze, hummus, fuul and felafel with international cuisine whenever we got bored. We generally ate middle eastern food for lunch and some international cuisine for dinner. The international cuisine can sometimes be a hit or miss, as evidenced by our Indian food excursion in Jerusalem. That said, its all a part of the journey and experience, which we’ve come to thoroughly enjoy!
After lunch we walked about the old city taking in the ancient cobblestone streets and wondering how people still live there, what their lives must be like and what they must do. Its just too fascinating. We ended up near the shore and got lost. We bumped into this guy:
Friendly Arab guy in Akko

Friendly Arab guy in Acre

He spoke little english, but enough to tell us: This is Akko, I’m from Faz. He was there with his wife and kids to visit the town and hence he did not know the way out but he was very friendly.
Akko felt like the least touristy place we had been in Israel and is definitely one of the best places we visited in the country. On a future visit, we’d resolved to stay in Akko for 2 nights and take in life without feeling like tourists all the time.
We finally found our way to the strain station and boarded the train to Haifa around 3 PM. We reached Haifa at 4 PM and with little time to spare we immediately boarded the bus to take us to Mt. Carmel where the Bahai gardens are. The bus took about 15 minutes to get us to the top and we had to wait in line to get inside the gardens.
The Bahai gardens in Haifa are a UNESCO protected world heritage site and one of the most important places for people of the Bahai faith. There are a total of 19 terraces and the number 19 is significant in the Bahai religion.
The gardens are extremely beautiful and the view was lovely from the top.
The Bahai gardens in Haifa

The Bahai gardens in Haifa

We spent about 30 minutes standing there and taking in the beauty of the place after which we boarded another bus that took us back down to the HaCarmel neighbourhood of Haifa. It was almost 6 PM and we were famished by now. We found an Italian restaurant and ordered some pasta and sat down to a really lovely romantic meal and chatted about all our three weeks in Jordan and Israel.
It had been a great day, we had the opportunity to visit two UNESCO protected world heritage sites in a single day and got to be part of so much history. After dinner, we found our way back to the train station and on the train to Tel Aviv. We arrived Tel Aviv around 8:30 and found our way back to the hotel. Today was our last full day in Israel. Tomorrow, we would head back home!