Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Caesarea Pitstop


Welcome to Caesarea

Last weekend, in honor of spring's arrival, we decided that we wanted to head to the scenic north of Israel where there are an abundance of beautiful wineries to visit amidst the green, flowering hills of Galilee. We hopped excitedly into the car mid-morning....only to be met with ferocious traffic in the Tel Aviv metropolis due to the marathon that was taking place. Because it was Shabbat, and because everything closes up shop around 3 or 4 p.m. on Shabbat, we knew we wouldn't be able to make  it to the north of Israel to visit our list of winery must-sees. We were going to have to devise a new plan. Since it was a beautiful day, and since it had been years since my last visit, I suggested that we head to beautiful, historic Caesarea (about an hour's drive north of Tel Aviv).  You might remember being introduced to this place in a previous post (see here). 

I am so glad we ended up spending the day in Caesarea, a stunning and ancient harbor city built and rebuilt over thousands of years by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Crusaders. Most recently, Caesarea has been revitalized as a tourist destination by the Rothschild family, who has made an effort to reconstruct the city as it once looked during its most famous time (arguably...): the Roman period.

Here we are arriving at Caesarea National Park on a beautiful spring day:

   

The Caesarea Harbor is filled with cute restaurants and shops (kind of like San Diego's Seaport Village):

   

   

There is a beautiful, spacious green lawn for sunbathing, picnicking and posing for photo-ops. A popular place for weddings, family outings and Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations:

   

     
   

I could have spent all day relaxing on that beautiful green space,  curled up with a book, but there is an entire area filled with ancient ruins that is the main draw of the visit, so we headed there via the oceanfront:

  

  

As you can see by the sign below, there's so much to see. You will need a map so make sure to stop by the visitor's office to pick one up (and to watch a brief 10 minute video of the area's history):

  

Breathtaking view, isn't it?! The waters are crystal clear surrounded by beautiful beaches:

  

  

Here we are at the giant hippodrome where a lot of history took place (think: horse races, slave to slave combat, animal to human combat, animal to animal combat):

  

And perhaps the most famous spot in all of Caesarea is its Herodian Amphitheater which has been renovated and is even in use today for concerts, shows and performances:

  

Anytime my husband asks to have his picture taken (willingly), I know its a good sign that he approves of the visit and is secretly getting hooked on the travelbug:

 

I fell in love with the floor mosaics throughout the ancient Roman ruins. It's unbelievable how they've remained intact all this time. I have seen people replicate stylistic mosaic patterns in the foyers of their homes (I would love to do this one day). The bottom two pictures are of the ancient bathhouses where all the socializing used to take place:

  

   

And then of course after all that walking and exploring, it was time to enjoy some lunch at one of Caesarea's many restaurants. With an oceanfront view, we enjoyed some Israeli sharshuka (highly recommended) at Port Cafe. Then, we just had to stop for some refreshing Italian gelato at Bella where there were lines out the door to try their authentic flavors such as kiwi-banana, strawberry-mango, Bacci, and Cookieman. With this hot weather, you will also always find fresh juice stands everywhere:


  

  

We are looking forward to our next visit to Caesarea, maybe when our next visitors are here. Since we weren't able to make it to our wineries, we will just have to schedule another trip in the near future, which is just fine with me.

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