Friday, September 19, 2008

Ancient and modern

Getting places in the Haifa area is a pain in the you-know-what. The traffic is terrible and the roads are antiquated and what should be a 40 minute drive turns into an hour and a half. This is not fun when you're in a minibus with bad shocks on your way to a wedding in 90 degree heat. We were all pretty cranky when we got to the beachside wedding site at Achziv National Park, but it was all worth it, and if I had remembered the camera I could prove it to you.

Arriving at sunset, we walked on paths lit by flaming lanterns, between green lawns and ruined stone walls with the blue Mediterranean behind. Drinks and food were offered everywhere you turned and dinner was served at tables set with pomegranates and white linen. Unlike home, the bride and groom mingled with the guests at the reception held before the ceremony and disappeared for a few minutes before walking down the aisle to be married on a bluff over the sea. Dancing in front of Crusader walls went on until the early hours I'm told. It was a fabulous event, well worth flying in for, not to mention that damned minibus.

The next day the bride's mother organized a tour of ancient Acre, called Akko in Israel, the stronghold of every conqueror of this part of the world from the Crusaders to the Ottoman Turks. The city's claim to fame is that Napoleon was repulsed by its defenders. I think it was because he realized it wasn't really worth the effort.

It's a small port that has been recently declared a UN World Heritage Site, which means it gets funding for restoration of the things the UN committee finds worth preserving, in this case the Crusader ruins and the later commercial areas remaining from the time of the Genoan and Venetian traders who used the harbor as a link in their far flung trading empires.

The Knights Hospitallers and the Knights of St. John were the Crusader orders who controlled the town and their remaining structures weren't destroyed by the Ottomans, but rather filled with dirt and built over. They are currently being dug out with the funds supplied by the UN. Six or seven centuries of compacted earth are not easy to remove, and it's a long hard job. Unfortunately, the work in progress isn't that interesting to look at. I preferred, as I usually do, the market and the alleys of the old town, and the delicious hummus and salad lunch wasn't too bad either.

Unfortunately we weren't offered a chance at the narghila after our meal.

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