Monday, 6 August 2012

Israel: Ancient Caesarea Sea Port

Accommodation: So I didn't stay here, mainly because it was worth a day visit from Mikhmoret. It is directly midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. If you're really desperate to stay, then there are some pretty pricey places so prepare to splurge.

Even local B&Bs start from around £50 per night. Dan Caesarea Hotel is the upmarket version of all of these hotels around £168 per night. Not exactly 'student-friendly' hence travelling from Mikhmoret.

Places to see and do: Well, itself is a national archaeological park, so that's the main thing to see. However, within the park, there are a few standout areas. The ancient and medieval city are preserved within the Caesarea National Park, so expect to find Roman aqueducts, moats, amphitheatre, various mosaics and an excavated palace. The history of this place is fascinating.

Getting to and from Caesarea: Not the easiest place to get to. From Tel Aviv or Netanya, take any bus along the coastal road towards Khadera, where you can disembark and connect with bus No 76 to Caesarea, the best of which depart at 8.20am, 11.25am, 1.10pm and 2.45pm.

Coming from Haifa, get off at the Caesarea intersection and hike or hitch the last 3.5km to the site. Alternatively, take the train (638 8007) to Binyamina from Tel Aviv (21NIS, 45 minutes) or Haifa (17.50NIS, 30 minutes) and look for a taxi to take you the last 7km.

Bus Line 76
Route: Hadera Shopping Centre, Central Bus Station, Hillel Yaffe Hospital, Nahal Hadera, Or Akiva, Caesarea, Sedot Yam

Bus Line 77
Route same as Bus Line 76

Moat surrounding the area.
Transport: It's walkable, but once you're outside, you may need to hitchhike, as buses seem to disappear after a certain time. People are nice enough to let you ride with them to the nearest bus stop. Again, do it with caution.

This was my first lone trip of several in the next few days, my friends having a life of their own and all. So I was pretty nervous. At this point, I started writing down basic phrases in all eventualities. One of the most useful phrases I found was "Le tachana merkazit Hadera?' (change as appropriate) which basically means 'Hadera Central Bus station??'

I actually did need the phrase as I ventured out of Mikhmoret. My friend dropped me off at the nearest bus stop just outside the village, at a motorway junction. I then took a bus to 'Hadera bus station', and eventually after several hours, waiting and twiddling my thumbs, I made it to Caesarea.

Chariot races at the theatre.
By then end, I was just following anyone who was wearing sweatpants tucked into their sandals, or those with a giant camera around their neck - the sign of a bad tourist.

And I was greeted by a moat excavated as part of the ruins, the outer wall of the national park. It seemed endless. All the unearthed parts of the Roman and Byzantine city, built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BCE.

I had seen the splendour of the ancient world at the Great Wall of China, Egypt's pyramids and tombs, India's two thousand year old temples. But this felt more authentic, because it resembled an archaeological dig.

Caesarea Maritima was named in honor of Augustus Caesar. The city became the seat of the Roman prefect soon after its foundation. Caesarea was the "administrative capital" beginning in 6 CE. In Byzantine times, Caesarea remained the capital, with brief interruption of Persian and Jewish conquest between 614 and 625.

In the 630s, Arab Muslim armies had taken control of the region, keeping Caesarea as its administrative centre. No doubt, it was a place of great importance and I felt a bit like Indiana Jones with the Holy Grail.

Even now, the site remains a place for fishermen to do their jobs, which gives the area a sense of purpose rather than turning it completely into a theme park. Of course there were little cinemas, eateries, galleries and an actual stadium created out of its former glory, but it all existed only to highlight the seaport's importance.

I spent the time soaking up every bit of its history including watching the 'cinemas', although some were in Hebrew. There were even men dressed up in costumes, attempting to recreate the people from the various empires that resided there, just to give some context to the history.

Eventually, the sun started to set over the sea, and it was beautiful to watch it glimmer of the waters. Except, I got carries away, and realised this meant it was 6pm and the park was about to close, and the buses were about to run off into the distance.

I ran out of there and waited for a good half hour at the bus stop before realising it was the end of the day. So looking a bit like a damsel in distress, I paced about until an elderly Jewish woman with her family stopped and gave me a ride to a bus stand near the motorway.

On the return journey, I couldn't help and buy a falafel kebab. You can't beat an authentic one from the country. Absolutely tantalising, so much so that it can still make my mouth water after all these years.

I was back on 'home turf', and it dawned on me that it was a bit of a trek from the junction to the house. Now I was sceptical about hitchhiking in this area, especially since the general motto was "where everybody knows your name" aka. you can jump into a car, and it wouldn't matter because everyone always knows someone through someone.

Well, it worked. Everyone knew the Hummus king. So it was all good. Generally a successful outing, with a tan to prove it.

No comments:

Post a Comment