Where we last left off, our wonderful weekend in Ein Gedi was drawing to a close; the morning of Day 7, we polished off a second buffet breakfast, and set off on our big road trip to Sea of Galilee!
Our route: we planned to head north, circle around Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, before coming back down to Tel Aviv and returning the car at the airport. We hit the road just before 10AM, and – all going well – we were on schedule to comfortably cram everything in before the hire car return cut-off at 6PM.
You can take it as read that the views in Israel are stunning, no matter where you go. The Israelis have stuffed a whole lot of variety into this tiny patch of land! We passed desert landscapes, acres of agricultural plots, tiny towns, cities with multi-lane roundabouts, sites of religious and historical significance, lush green forests… all within minutes of each other!
I’m sure I have alluded to this before, but allow me to reiterate: the Israelis are terrible drivers! It’s truly shocking! They rarely use indicators, horns are the preferred means of communication with other drivers, parking is an extreme sport, and we witnessed no fewer than a dozen near-collisions. The roads themselves are great, and our little hire Kia was perfect for the drive, but simply being on the road with Israelis made this a white-knuckle ride.
First up: we got stuck behind a truck driver who seemed drunk, veering all over the road and varying his speed by the minute. It was like he kept forgetting, then remembering, that he needed to put his foot on the accelerator. I, personally, freaked right out. I was convinced this guy was going to hit someone, or flip his rig right in front of us. Fortunately, my new husband kept his cool! That patch of road was too hilly and windy to overtake the truck safely (but we noticed that didn’t stop a couple of crazy Israeli drivers doing it!). Eventually, we pulled into a truck stop for a while, just to get out from behind him. That’s where I spotted this amazing “close enough” paint job…
Passing through Palestinian Communities
We were still on the West Bank at this point, so inevitably we drove through a lot of Palestinian land. It’s not hard to tell the difference. All of the signs are in Arabic, there are no Israeli flags (this being notable simply because they’re plastered over every surface in cosmopolitan Israel), and there are countless abandoned and dilapidated buildings, and piles of rubble. In one particular town, the only signs of life that we could see were endless streams of roadside stalls selling colourful garden ornaments. The inhabitants must produce at least 80% of the world’s garden gnomes.
It didn’t feel right or respectful to stop and photograph these parts of the world, and I make a point of not entering into political debate here on Our Honeymoon in Israel. Still, it was an eye-opening experience for both of us in a lot of ways, and maybe – someday – we can talk more about it here. For now, back to the fun stuff!
At one point, we pulled into a sleepy little shopping complex on the side of the road. Seriously, this was the back-end of nowhere, and it was the only building for miles in either direction. We were hoping for just a cold drink and a bathroom, but no one in the place spoke a lick of English… and they all had guns! We two unarmed Australian honeymooners stuck out like the sorest of thumbs.
How they came to understand what it was that we were after, I’ll never know! Nonetheless, we were back on the road just a little while later, relieved and rehydrated.
Finally: A Military Checkpoint Inspection
Really, this was the big news of the day. We finally got inspected by an actual inspector at an actual checkpoint!
The soldier seemed genuinely confused as to why two young Australian honeymooners were passing through. He cast a glance at our passports, gave the car a very-perfunctory once-over, and waved us on. Phew!
And that was pretty much the end of our cruise up the West Bank.
Side note: the Isralies really have a knack for overstating their bodies of water. Coming off the West Bank, we passed the “Jordan River” – and, may I just say, pffft! “Jordan Creek”, more like! The “Sea” of Galilee is basically just a big lake… but it is where Jesus walked on water, so I can forgive them for wanting to beef up the copy just a bit. Plus, they have some really awesome water parks, with big slides.
Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee
Tiberais has a really laid-back beach town vibe, but it’s significantly more pious than the cosmopolitan center of Tel Aviv (if the number of yarmulkes worn by the townsfolk are anything to go by). We found a place to park, and I was particularly proud of managing to negotiate with the all-Hebrew parking meter all by myself!
We stumbled into the perfect place for lunch, entirely by accident. It was essentially an Irish bar that served Israeli food, and the waiter spoke just enough English to indicate that he understood our gluten-free requirement. We thought we might finally have the opportunity to sample Sabra, an Israeli liqueur that we’d been searching for since we arrived… only to have the waiter come back to the table and tell us that they were all out. Boo!
We decided to sample Tubi instead, and holy mother of God! It tasted like a mixture of lemon pips and metallic earth, watered down with methylated spirits. We couldn’t decide whether we liked it or not, but we suspected if we had more than one we’d end up really liking it, and we’d never make it back to Tel Aviv! So, we sipped, sloooowly.
After lunch, we attempted to walk down by the water, but the heat was fucking oppressive. Plus – I’m man enough to say it – our legs still hadn’t quite recovered from the “all fitness levels” sunrise hike at Masada the previous day. We made it about 50m up the road from the restaurant, before scrambling back to the air-conditioned haven of the hire car.
Back On The Road
Being ahead of schedule, for the first time all honeymoon, we decided to just swing by Nazareth – as you do – on our way back down south. This is when the GPS decided to test our love.
Right off the bat, we hit our first Israeli traffic jam. They’re every bit the nightmare you would imagine. In a show of cruel mercy, the GPS offered us the opportunity to avoid the worst of the congestion… by mapping out a particularly mental route through what appeared to be a small Arabic community off the side of the highway.
Oh, my word! We were twisting through tiny side streets with no idea whether they were one-way, and even less idea whether we were travelling the way indicated by the signs (all in Arabic, of course!). Two minutes in, we were both making our peace and preparing to meet the Maker we’d heard so much about that week. We narrowly avoided three head-on collisions. During one surprise encounter with an aggressive yellow Jeep, I literally screamed. Even my confident, stoic husband was shaken. We eventually made it back onto a road that was wider than our car, and the signs started to incorporate English once more… but holy shit, the experience took about ten years off our lives!
For all that, it turns out: Nazareth? Not that hot! We were expecting some commemorative statues or at least some decent people-watching. In reality, we found mostly large shopping complexes and multi-lane roundabouts. It was a lot like Brisbane, actually. It might have been different if we’d done a tour or something, but as it was: we weren’t fussed. We drove around in circles for a bit, then gave up, and veered off to head back to Tel Aviv.
Next time, we’ll have the good sense to check out Lonely Planet’s guide to Lower Galilee and the Sea of Galilee, which includes some hot tips on what to check out in Nazareth. Be sure to do the same!
The Road Back
Driving was starting to wear a bit thin, especially when we got stuck in Tel Aviv arterial road congestion. The GPS had no crazy back-road routes to suggest this time. To make matters worse, we were back to our usual form: running low on time. We decided that Rowan should drop me back at the Diaghliev Hotel, to check in with the bags, while he drove straight on to the airport to return the car. The hotel stop was crucial, given that neither of us fancied trying to navigate the train back to the city with two suitcases in tow, after last week’s clusterfuck.
So, I checked in. I had a lovely quiet drink at the hotel bar. I got to chatting with the bartender: we talked about Israel and Australia, I showed her wedding photos, and she recommended a bar and a techno club, both conveniently located just up the street. I promised to check them out when my husband returned.
Speaking of my husband: where was he? It turns out he had a little adventure of his own, returning the car and navigating public transport back to the city. I’ll let him tell that part…
“After sitting dead still for about fifteen minutes behind the inevitable Israeli bingle on the highway, I finally made it to the airport. I followed the first sign I saw for rental car return, which was in the same direction as Terminal 1. I dropped the car off at the designated spot, and only afterwards realised that Terminal 1 was the domestic terminal. Not a convenient access point for the train!
I saw a sign for Terminal 3 and the train, my only way back, and followed it on foot. Fifteen minutes later, walking alongside the highway, the free airport shuttle flew past me.
Another 20 minutes of walking later, approaching the (unmarked) international terminal, I spotted another sign for rental car returns.
At this point, the footpath went into only either the taxi car-park or the employee car-park. I went with the employee car-park route, and just tried to look official (this was difficult, given that I was wearing a fedora and sweating like a pig!). I somehow didn’t arouse suspicion and made it through.
Footsore, sweating, and pretty sure my wife was – by this time – convinced I was dead, I finally hopped on a train. I was very ready for a drink!”
To the bar!
So, after a long day, we were well and truly ready to make a beeline to the bar that the hotel bartender had recommended to me earlier. The place was called Mozner, and it was a two-minute walk door-to-door.
It was fantastic! We felt right at home. We received some truly amazing Israeli customer service: Rowan made eye contact with a bartender twice, and motioned to her that we’d like to place an order, only to have her shrug and return to taking a swig of her own beer. I don’t know that we’ve ever laughed so hard! The hospitality in Israel was one of our favourite parts of the honeymoon, no question.
It really was a shit-hot bar. It’s lucky that we learned of it so late in the trip, otherwise we might not have gone anywhere else! There were pictures of topless women on the walls, makeshift ashtrays made of coasters on every table, and an amazing DJ playing Elvis and The Beach Boys. Plus, at one point, we caught a whiff of smoke that… well, it smelled particularly green. We realised it was coming from the head bartender: she took a break from (not)serving customers to smoke a joint behind the bar. Hilarious!
The only downside was: no Sabra! Foiled again!
Befriending the Locals
As we often do in such venues, we got to talking to a group of kindly locals at the other end of the table. They recommended some more restaurants and bars in the area, we chatted about Australia and the decision to honeymoon in Israel, and they took no offence when we pointed out that Israelis were really shitty drivers. (In fact, they vehemently agreed.)
They insisted that we do shots of arak with them. It didn’t quite blow our heads off the way that tubi did, but the short walk back to the hotel was still a bit giggly!
My marvellous husband managed to source a late-night gluten-free greasy meal for me (and that’s pretty much why I married him!). We collapsed into bed, exhausted and happy. We had plans to sojourn back to Jerusalem the next day, but the best laid plans always go awry…