I visited Haifa in November of last year, my first visit to this country and we were there for 2 days. The call was supposed to include Ashdod but it was cancelled before we even left for the cruise so instead it was a sleep over in Haifa.
I remember not knowing what to expect from this country, it is very strict in many ways including you not being allowed to take photographs of any government or military buildings. We had this drilled into us via the port guide videos along with it being mentioned when we first arrived here. It is also prohibited to take pictures at the Western Wall on Sabbath and during other holiday periods.
My first impression was “interesting” that really is the only way I can sum it up. The port in Haifa is nothing to get terribly excited about however the view was very nice indeed! The Ba’hai Shrine was visible from the port as well as the little “White House” looking building that too sat comfortably on the hill side. I must admit the entire area looked beautiful at night, especially the gardens as they were lit up for all to see.
We arrived on a Saturday which was Sabbath. Everything and I do literally mean everything was at a standstill. There was nothing open, no public transport; it really was like the entire area simply shut down. My friend and I decided we would disembark the ship and have a stroll around the immediate port area. We had been advised not to venture too far on our own, numerous people repeatedly discussed only leaving the ship in a group especially at night, but we decided we were not going too far and we would be fine.
We left the ship around noon and took the short walk out of the port area and onto the main street. It was like a ghost town and for a little while I did feel pretty uncomfortable. The main purpose of this walk was to just get our bearings so that we knew where to head the next day. We walked for maybe 20 minutes or so and found one little newspaper type store that was open, went inside, bought a few edible goodies and decided that was enough, we made our way back to the ship.
We stayed onboard the rest of the day, enjoying the sun. That evening we disembarked briefly to take pictures of the ship but we never left the port.
Sunday we arose bright and early and decided today was our day of adventure. We made our way through the port and to our joy found that the actual tourism board in Haifa was offering a complimentary shuttle service to a few places of interest. You could get on and off where you pleased; they provided us with maps, free bags and then informed us of the last bust time. This was great but it was also annoying as the cruise line knew nothing about it. Passengers proceeded to spread the word faster than a wildfire and before we knew it the queue for the first bus was about 4 miles long.
We had decided to get off at what was described as a “Bazaar”. We made our way higher in the hillside. The view from the top was nothing short of breathtaking! You could see across Haifa literally for miles. We passed the Ba’hai Shrine, the major department store and one or two other places then it was our stop. We jumped off the bus and found ourselves in a type of local high street. It was far from a Bazaar but it was authentic and exactly the kind of experience my friend and I enjoy. We were 2 of only 4 people who got off at this stop and we knew we stood out as tourists but we didn’t really care too much. We were covered up as to not be disrespectful so at least we knew we were doing well in one aspect of our visit.
We stopped at a local baker and bought some pastry goodies then carried on our walk. We found some amazingly cheap stores especially one that was every girls dream! Make-up, hair accessories, jewellery, you name it they had it and the prices were amazingly low. We spent what felt like an eternity here and then carried on further up the street.
After a few more hours walking and just generally exploring we decided it was time to probably head back to the ship and made our way back to the bus stop. We waited and waited but the bus never came. By now a few other people from the ship had emerged at the bus stop, after recognising one another we collectively decided to walk, assuring ourselves eventually we would find the ship, I mean after all how could you possibly miss it?!
My friend whom I was travelling with at the time is half Egyptian and up to now everywhere we had visited we had in one way or another come across either other Egyptians or others who also spoke Arabic. This was one time we were praying she would hear someone speaking in Arabic and we could then ask for directions. As if by magic we did! As we crossed the road a group of 4 young men were walking down the path, my friend went for it and asked how we got back to the port. These fellas were a god send! They told us exactly where to go and as we neared the turning they whistled back up the street to point again at the road we had to take. At this point the bus also went past us! We were far from impressed! A few minutes later we were back on familiar ground not far from the port entrance.
I would say our visit to Israel was certainly different. I would visit again as it did grow on me but I think next time I would go further a field and maybe visit Tel-Aviv if tips to places like Bethlehem were full.
Would I recommend Israel, most definitely! But do NOT leave the ship without emergency contact information and your passport! I would also advise you do stay in groups and women should never explore here alone.
It was a wonderful insight into an entirely different way of life. I learned a lot from it and although we didn’t visit many tourist spots we were quite content. We prefer the rustic view of places anyway so the tourist option had never crossed our minds here; we walked a lot, and viewed the local area just as it is and as I said at night it truly was beautiful!