Sunday, December 26, 2010

Up North for the Weekend

This last weekend (yes, Christmas weekend) we headed up to Haifa for a Bar Mitzvah bash on Rafi's side of the family. I know it's hard to believe, but Christmas is not celebrated here in Israel. If Christmas falls on a weekday, it is a normal working day and a normal school day. There is no two-week break from school and no decor or lights hanging up throughout the country's cities. Oh yes, and the same applies for New Year's Eve as well. I know this may come as a culture shock to most of you, but you will have to remind yourself that Israel is largely a Jewish country, and thus, most of the nation's citizens do not celebrate Christmas! Additionally, the Jewish new year is in the fall during the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. Regardless, many of Rafi's extended family members flew into town for the Bar Mitzvah on Christmas day, so it was a great excuse to catch up with family who are not always around.

Dan Panorama Hotel Haifa (the twin towers) for Eyal's Bar Mitzvah



I am always happy to visit Haifa, a beautiful port city in the north of Israel, with a plethora of sights to see, shops to explore, restaurants to try and beaches to lay out on. 

Aerial view of Haifa's coastline
I couldn't go to Haifa without a brief stop at my favorite sight to behold there, the view from the Baha'i gardens. This location is actually on the UNESCO world heritage sight list, so you know it's something worth seeing. Luckily, it was just a brief walk from the hotel where we were celebrating Eyal's Bar Mitzvah:

Baha'i Gardens in Haifa, Israel
To get to Haifa takes about two hours by car and when you approach it, you will see that the city is really a mountain by the sea, with landscaped neighborhoods terracing down the mountain. Of course, the higher up you go, the better the views are and the steeper the price tags:

View of Haifa from the port
From the gondolas looking down toward the water
Haifa is also a popular city for students since it houses two of the country's best institutions for higher education: The University of Haifa and Technion. The University of Haifa is a beautiful campus in a really cute part of town with great coffee shops, bars, restaurants and shopping. Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, is one of the most challenging schools to gain entrance to in the world. It is Israel's MIT and one of the most reputable universities in the world:


University of Haifa campus

And here is the famous Technion:




Not only is Haifa easy on the eyes, its also a beach city with a handful of popular beaches which are populated throughout the year. Here are a few pictures of some of Haifa's more celebrated coastal destinations:






Another popular destination in Haifa for a lazy Saturday is the Ursula Malbin sculpture garden where you can relax in the sun and enjoy the artwork around you as well as the sweeping city views:


Clearly, there is not enough time to do it all in one visit. And I have only scratched the surface of what there is to see in Haifa. After our busy weekend in Haifa, we made our way back down the coast, back to Jerusalem, though Tel Aviv. There are a number of spots to stop and see along the drive (i.e. Akko, Nazareth, Herzliya, Caesaria, etc.) but I will have to save each one to highlight in a future post. We finished the weekend with a visit to Max Brenner in Tel Aviv, a chocolate lover's haven, where Rafi met up with about a dozen of his 21 or so 1st cousins from just his dad's side of the family!!!!

Some of Rafi's cousins from his dad's side of the family
Cousins reunited
One of our chocolate desserts from Max Brenner
Oldest to youngest, from left to right
Perhaps one of these days, we will be able to get all 21+ cousins (and there are a few more babies on the way!!) all together for a true reunion! Only time will tell. I love that Rafi has such a big family. Now I've met every cousin on his dad's side except for one. I guess we will have to make a visit to Mexico City one of these days to meet the final link! :)

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