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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

Making lemonade…

Day 112 /138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Haifa, Israel.

So when I left off the last blog leaving the Suez Canal, we were without a tour for our first day in Israel. Apparently the Saturday after Easter is called ’Holy Saturday’ and there was some concerns with the recent troubles in Israel, that 1) nothing would be open in Jerusalem and Bethleham and 2) there could be protesting and 3) there might be some armed unrest. So that is why our tour was cancelled.

We were having dinner that night our tour was cancelled with Gene and Margaret in The Restaurant, as we sailed towards Israel, Margaret suggested we try and get on the included tour with them for our first day in Israel, so during dinner, Richard slipped down to the Explorer’s Desk on Deck 1 and was able to secure us two tickets on the Included Tour at 8:00am. Great, we’ve been able to make lemonade out of the lemons we were handed by Viator. So far Viator has let us down in both Singapore and Israel. I’m not impressed with the inconsistency of Viator and think that perhaps dealing with the underlying tour operator might be a better suggestion, rather than dealing through this third party tour operator.

We had agreed to meet Gene and Margaret on their floor at 7:45am outside the elevator landing, and walk down to the Star Theatre together so we could be assigned the same bus for the day’s tour. We had to show our passports as we exited the ship, go through X-ray scanning next, on the ship, and then head to the tour bus, for a quick drive over to the cruise terminal building. Once we got into the cruise terminal, we had to go through security scanning again and then meet face to face with an immigration official, where we were given our Israeli tourist card, which we had to keep on us at all times while off the ship in Israel. We passed by the closed Duty Free shop and headed to our waiting tour bus which had pulled around to the other side of the Cruise Terminal building. The entire process took less than 30 minutes to get the entire bus through the immigration.

We headed out of the port area on our bus for our first stop in Haifa, Israel.

The Bahai Holy Places and Gardens in Haifa was our first stop. Our guide had the bus driver stop at the bottom of the gardens so we could get a photo before ascending to the top of the Gardens for the panoramic view from the gardens.

The BahaI Holy Places and Gardens are the spiritual focal points for Bahai pilgrims who travel here from every part of the globe to visit and pray at these sacred spots. In 2008 UNESCO designated the Gardens on their World Heritage List in recognition of their “outstanding universal value” as holy places and places of pilgrimage for the followers of the Bahai Faith.

BahaI Faith teaches the essential worth of all religions and the unity of all people. There are 5-8 million adherents to the Bahai faith. Bahai believe that 19% of their incomes should be remitted after paying off all debt to the Universal House of Justice located in Haifa, Israel. In the Bahai faith, backbiting and gossiping are prohibited and denounced (the Bahai wouldn’t stand a chance on the Neptune with this belief). Drinking and selling alcohol are forbidden. Begging as a profession is forbidden. The Bahai calendar has 19 months, with 19 days with four of five intercalendar days to make a full solar year.

The Bahai Gardens designed by Iranian architect Fairborn Shaba were started in 1987 and opened to the public in 2001. The Gardens are comprised of a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Camel. The golden-domed Shrine of the Bab, the resting place of the Prophet-Herald ‘Bahaullah’, founder of the Baha’i Faith, stands on the central terrace, looking across the bay towards ‘Akko. To the Bahai people, this golden domed shrine is the holiest place on earth. Over 200 volunteers of people from the Bahai faith tend to the gardens each day.

The Bab was born in Shiraz Iran in 1819. At the age of 24 Bab announced himself as a prophet or messenger of God during a period of intense messianic expectations in Iran. He challenged the thinking of His time by forbidding violence and holy war (jihad), recognizing the equality of women and encouraging science and education. He announced himself the Herald to prepare the way for another Messenger of God who would usher in the age of peace and justice promised in all religions. After 18 disciples, including one women found their way to him, he sent them out to proclaim his beliefs and convert people to the Bahai faith. The clergy declared Him a heretic and his followers were tortured and killed. Bab was confined in fortresses for three years before being executed in a public square in Tabriz, Iran in 1850. His body was removed by his followers and hidden and after 50 years they brought him to the Holy Land and buried him in a simple stone structure on Mount Carmel. Which was later completed with a monumental superstructure and golden dome.

The Gardens for some reason are now closed to the public, but we were able to visit the upper terrace of the Garden for a photo opportunity for about 30 minutes this morning.

Looking down over Haifa and to the North, through the Bahai Gardens.

Looking down on German Town, in Haifa through the Bahai Gardens.

Not a leaf was out of place in the Gardens.

Looking South over Haifa and to the untouched areas of the Gardens.

Margaret caught me shooting the Bahai Gardens in Haifa.

Framing the geraniums in my photo at the Gardens.

Yes Richard is there too!

Beautiful Bahai Gardens gate, Haifa, Israel.

We boarded our tour bus to drive the 24 minutes to the walled City of Akko or Acre as it is also called.

Our first stop in Akko was at the Art Copper Work and Silver shop of David Miro. David Miro.

David Miro was born in Mosul, Iraq in 1939 to a Jewish family that was engaging in many types of crafts involving different types of metals. In 1950 the entire family came to Israel and settled in Akko. David’s grandfather started teaching him a unique type of art called copper artwork. When David finished his army service at the age of 21, he opened his first shop in the city of Akko. The metal used by David is copper or brass, coated wth oxide or silver and all of his work is coated wth lacquer and burned so the piece will not tarnish. His art pieces are only sold in his store and cannot be found anywhere else. David has now trained his son to work with him, so the family business can continue.

David Miro showing us the copper that he uses for his metal work.

Giving us a demonstration of how he makes the designs on the copper.

The copper piece that David Miro used for his demonstration.

Intricate metalwork plates created by David Miro.

We picked up a few souvenirs in David Miro‘s shop and then headed for our tour. Our guide will no doubt get a commission for bringing us to the gift shop.

We were headed next for the Templers Tunnels but first we had to see a cheesy movie about the history of the tunnels. The movie was made for children and was animated.

A model of the old walled city of Akko. The Templar’s built a tunnel or underground passageway to connect their main Hospitaller Fortress at old Akko’s southwestern tip with the port.

The Templars were one of the leading military monastic orders who in the name of the Pope- aided pilgrims coming from Europe to visit the holy sites of the Land of Israel. The Templars first settled in Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount, hence the name ’the Templars’ the guardians of the Temple. Following the conquest of Jerusalem by Salah Al-Din in 1187, the Templars made their home in Akko and began to build their quarter in the City‘s southwest section. The Templars built tunnels under the main fortress which had walls 28 feet thick. The tunnel is 150 meters long and it extends from the Templars fortress in the west to the city’s port in the east. The lower part of the tunnel is carved in natural stone and the upper part is made of hewn stones covered with a semi-barreled dome. The tunnel was discovered in 1994 and was only opened to the public in 1999, with the full length of the tunnel opened to the public in 2007. The Templars have been made a part of pop culture through books such as Dan Brown’s ‘The DaVinci Code’ and movies such as ‘The Last Templar’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’.

The impressive fortress belong to the Hospitallers, also known as ’Order of the Knights of Saint John’.

There were many sections of the Fortress that were underground.

The courtyard of the Hospitaller Fortress which is now used for open air concerts.

Heading into the Refectory.

Inside the refectory where the Crusaders stored bananas and sugar. They called bananas ‘apples of paradise’. The production of sugar from sugar cane was one of the Crusaders main sources of revenue, building a sugar factory near Akko.

Richard in the tunnels

Gene and Margaret in the tunnel. Behind Gene is one of the stones that would have been used in a catapult to guard the fortress.

Exploring the narrow tunnels in the Fortress in Akko.

After walking through the old Fortress in Akko, our guide walked us through the Old City of Akko and just then I saw a vendor selling fresh squeezed juice, so I figured I had just enough time to get a juice before the tour took off on me. I positioned Richard ahead of me so that he could see where the tour was going, so I could walk fast and catch up to the group.

I ordered a fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and this vendor took the pomegranate sections out of the refrigerator and squeezed the juice into this pan.

Once the juice was enough to fill a glass, he then strained the juice into my glass. I picked up another empty glass to share the delicious drink with Gene and Margaret. The juice cost me $4 USD, as I did not have any local currency.

Old Akko and its stone walls. We walked by a nice restaurant and some shops, but we were focused on our next tour stop and couldn’t stop.

Nice narrow laneways in Akko.

Richard waiting for me at the Turkish Bath House which was our next stop on the included tour today.

When our tour guide went to check on our admittance to the Turkish Bath House, there was gong to be a 10 minute wait to get into the Bath House. She asked our group if we wanted to wait, or move on, and we decided to stay and see the inside of the Bath Houe.

We waited inside a courtyard at the Turkish Bath House before entering. The temperature was a lovely 72F and it was a nice pleasant wait for our next adventure.

The roses were gorgeous in the courtyard as we waited for admission to the bath house.

Flowers from the courtyard.

We watched another cheesy movie in the bath house which was made for kids, which explained the history of the bath house.

The Hammam is preserved from the 18th century. It is a Turkish Bath House that was built by Jazzar Pasha the famous ruler of Akko. It was the social centre of the city, a place to hear the news, and to make business dealings. All of the gossip of the city started here. At first the Hammam was called ‘Hammam al-Jadid’ or the new Hammam, but it’s name was subsequently changed to Hammam al-Basha or Pasha’s Hammam. The Ottoman’s transformed Akko during the 18th Century from a small fishing village into a teeming port city and a major construction and trade centre. Jazzar Pasha strove to modernize the city of Akko and he constructed the aqueduct which led the springs of water to the city, the breakwater for safe docking and the Khan el-Umdan, which is Akko’s largest mosque.

One of the rooms in the bath house.

Heading into the main treatment room.

The Hammam has four intermediary rooms which are located between the cold room and the hot room - the lukewarm rooms served as various treatment and activity rooms from cosmetic treatments, healing and massage as well as childbirth preparation rooms. The hot room is the heart of the Hammam - the steam room, housed a sauna and a steam bath. Treatments consisted of scrubbing, soaping and massaging of the body and soul. For about 150 years - until 1948, the Hammam served as an active bathhouse and also served the function of fulfilling the commandment of purification preceding prayer for Muslims.

I love the original tiles in the old Hammam in Akko.

After walking through the Hammam, our guide took us through the old side streets of Akko, to the vibrant Saturday market in Akko. We walked by some homes in the back alleys of Akko that I thought were very interesting and really helped me understand how people in Akko might live.

The back alleys of Akko.

A little boy playing in the courtyard of his home.

And his sister calling to him from the doorway of their home. I love this photo. It is one of my favorites of the day. Her cute little pink sweater, with the heart embroidered over her heart. The gaping buttons showing she’s outgrowing the sweater, her cute flowered headband and the colourful cement walls that are painted so many diffferent shades which contrast and yet frame the little girl. Her expression is also priceless as she interacts with her younger brother. She is probably thinking he needs to come inside and behave! All that in a quick photo from a back alley in Akko, taken in a split second!

We were given about 25 minutes to spend in the market before we had to meet our guide and head back to the bus, and I knew what to do!

Going shopping in the market in Akko.

I found a bakery in the market and sent Richard inside to see if they had any Middle Eastern Knafeh.

The red tray in the middle of the photo has Knafeh on it. Knafeh is a dessert made with spun pastry called kataifi soaked in a sweet, sugar-based syrup called attar, and typically layered with cheese or with other ingredients such as clotted cream, pistachio or nuts.

Gene and Richard sharing the knafeh. Gene loves sweets and I think he has found his new love in knafeh!

I found freshly baked, soft, warm bagels in the market and for $2USD I purchased a bagel to share with Richard, Gene and Margaret. There were so many good things in this market, it was hard to decide what to buy!

Beautiful handmade, local, colourful pottery. I was able to barter for a few pieces of pottery to bring home with us.

The market was overflowing with olives, spices, teas and nuts. It was hard to take in and I wish I had more time and the chance to look around, have a freshly made falafel and sit and watch the world go by in the old town of Akko.

Unfortunately it was soon time to meet with our guide and walk back to the bus, outside the walls of the old town of Akko.

Walking back to the bus through the market in Akko. There was definitely a great vibe in this market that sold everything anyone would want to buy.

Our bus ride back to the ship docked in Haifa took about 25 minutes. Most of the stores in Haifa were closed on Saturday for the Jewish Sabbath, but there was a big box outlet mall that also had an IKEA, that was very busy about halfway between Ako and Haifa.

We had asked our guide if it was possible to drop us off at German Town, in Haifa so we could have a late lunch off the ship, but the guide said we would have to take the Shuttle Bus from the port, to German Town where the shuttle was dropping off people. We were too early for the next shuttle so we went back to our cabin and dropped our purchases, and had to go through the passport and tourist card inspection and security x-ray screening once again, before getting on the shuttle bus to German Town. While the security was more than we were used to, it was a lot less painful than what we endured in Singapore where we were always faced with a lineup to get into Singapore, and a lineup to get back onto the ship.

We found a great restaurant with a 5 star trip advisor rating (Villarrica) to eat a late lunch in German Town in Haifa and proceeded to order way too much food for four people with Gene and Margaret helping us to try and eat everything! The portions were huge and we should have only ordered one bowl of tabouli for the table which frankly would have served 6 people. This is where travelling and language barriers exist, but we did our best to eat everything we ordered!

We went wandering the streets of Haifa after having our late lunch, but nothing was really open. We had seen a bazaar that we thought we could walk to, but we bumped into some of the Viking crew who showed us where the small shopping mall was located, beside McDonalds in German Town.

Sign outside the mall in German Town, Haifa.

We finished up our day by locating a pharmacy in the mall and looking around at some of the modest clothing stores. We decided to take the 5:30pm shuttle back to the ship and walked back up the hill to meet the shuttle bus.

After a busy day I felt like I needed to workout at the gym and use the cold plunge pool to calm down my aching feet. The spa is a wonderful place on the ship to be able to get refreshed quickly for the next day’s tours!

Despite not getting to Jerusalem and Bethlehem as we had planned, our day turned out pretty well in Haifa and Akko. Seeing the beautiful Bahai Gardens, the Templar’s old Fortress, the local market and having some authentic Middle Eastern Food made the lemons we were handed when our tour was cancelled, turn magically into lemonade!

And we have another day in Haifa tomorrow!

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Apr 18, 2023

Your photos of the views from the Bahai Gardens are gorgeous! I'm sorry Viator bailed on you and you didn't get to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We've always had good luck with both Viator and Tours by Locals, but now I'm re-thinking Viator - appreciate the heads up. But it does sound like you made the best of your day in Haifa!


Allan Yoshimura
Allan Yoshimura
Apr 17, 2023

One other comment. When you get to Istanbul, if Viking offers an excursion to a Hamman, do it. My wife and I both enjoyed it.


Allan Yoshimura
Allan Yoshimura
Apr 17, 2023

Too bad that your tour was canceled. Fyi, we have been very pleased with Tours by Locals. Unlike Viator, you actually have reviews of the actual guides from which to choose, and you interact directly with the guide you select. We have found the guides to be very flexible in customizing tours to meet your interests even though they advertise specific tours. Last year we docked two days in Ashdod before going to Haifa so we were able to go to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth,Sea of Galilee, etc. from Ashdod. I was wondering if the recent unrest would affect your visit. There is a program on National Geographic TV called Lost Cities. I believe it was Season 1 when th…

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