Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Butchart Gardens in spring...

Butchart Gardens ~ that's where this post is going today.  As I looked through my April photos for my 'month-in-review' post...I decided I would give the lovely gardens a page of their own.  My April post can wait for a day or two!

Butchart Gardens is a national historic site and has been in bloom since 1904.  Located near Victoria...the gardens are the legacy of Jenny Butchart...whose lifelong project was to create a magnificent garden in barren limestone quarry. The Butchart home (originally called Benvenuto ~ Italian for welcome) and gardens are being maintained just as they always were.

I had the good fortune to be in Victoria with a busload of women last week...the annual 'ladies getaway' planned by our feed company...and so enjoyed my time in the gardens. I don't think I have ever seen it looking quite so lovely! 

We happened to be there last week during the peak of the spectacular spring bulb display.

Some 300,000 tulip bulbs are planted annually to create the circus of colour that we observed.

From the sunken gardens... the fountain in the quarry

...along canopied pathways

...past blossoming fruit trees

...we had the most delightful day!

Good company.  Fresh air. Birds singing. Sun shining. Bliss!

Did I say relaxing?  Some just came to sit a spell!

Or maybe to gaze up at the giant redwood trees near the Japanese gardens.

Whatever the reason...over a million visitors come to take a peek every year. 

And some come back time and again!

I'm hoping to return again one the lovely garden above the bay!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Israel ~ along the Mediterranean coast

Most of Israel's western border is the Mediterranean sea...and that's where this post is going today!

Our first stop is a port city in western Galilee...the ancient town of Acre which is  home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was known as Akko in Biblical times (Judges 1:31)...and is one of the places from which the Israelites did not drive out the Canaanites.

We walked beneath ancient trees to the courtyard...

...and on to the entrance to the underground museum.

Acre is some 4500 years old...and is one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities. It was first mentioned in early Egyptian texts of the 19th century BC...and through the ages it has been a stronghold for many civilizations (Greek, Roman, Islamic, Crusader, Mamluk, Ottoman, Palestinian).

We learned a lot about the fascinating history that has passed through the streets of Acre at the recently excavated Underground Crusader City.  We walked through the market place of that time...the dining hall...the prison...the hospital...the knight's hall...the 'bath room'.  All intact. And then we walked through an underground tunnel which has only recently been opened to the public.  It is nearly a quarter-mile long and connects the fortress to the port.  To think this tunnel was built by the Crusaders more than 800 years ago is rather mind-boggling.

Our next 'port-of-call' was Haifa...a city built in tiers from the Mediterranean Sea and up the slopes of Mount Carmel.

The city's most striking landmark is the Baha'i Temple and the surrounding gardens....also a Unesco Heritage Site. 

The shrine is accessible only to those of Baha'i faith...but the gardens are open to the public.

It was a lovely spot...with a great views of the city, the sea and the hills of Galilee.

From there...we drove south to Caesarea....the Roman capital of Judea for some 600 years.  It was one of the great trading posts of the Roman Empire...established by Herod the Great in 22BC.  Caesarea was given to King Herod by Augustus Caesar and is named after him.

Though there is now a modern city here...we came to see the wonders of the past! 

We sat in Herod's amphitheater...where concerts are now held in the summer months.

Herod built a temple, a palace, an aquaduct...a city which was the marvel of the world.

His refined palace with a swimming pool once stood right here. 

We read about Caesarea in the was the home of Philip and Cornelius the centurion.  It was where Paul was imprisoned for two years.  It was where we wandered about among the ruins of the past...where a carved limestone block with the inscription of Pontius Pilate was found a few decades ago.  It was rather like walking through a story!

We had a teenager in our group...a fun gal from Chicago traveling with her parents.  At times the  'historical immersion' was a bit much for her...and she escaped with her cell phone. The past meets the present!

Let me end this post...and my travelogue on Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv is a modern Jewish city situated on a 14 mile strip along the Mediterranean coast.  We had a free day while we were there and had time to walk about...see, touch, taste and enjoy!

The bustling and colourful market was a fun place to visit.

We met up with this group of partiers several times throughout the day...apparently a pre-wedding celebration for one of their own.  Some things are the same no matter where in the world you find yourself. 

The promenade along the beach stretches for 14 kilometers...through Tel Aviv and to the old city of Jaffa (pictured above).  We put in many steps that day...enjoying the fresh sea air and watching the people along the way.

Our day in Tel Aviv ended at a local restaurant that served typical Israeli cuisine. We asked the server for a recommendation...

...and all enjoyed meals that included Ptitim (also known as Israeli cous cous).  Ptitim is a type of toasted pasta that is shaped in little balls and was developed in Israel in the 1950s when rice was scarce.  Quite tasty, it was!

We also enjoyed the scene that played out on the street...just outside the restaurant window where we were seated. First we saw an officer ticket an illegally parked car.  Next we watched while a tow truck arrived to remove the offending vehicle.  With only inches to spare in front and behind the car...we wondered how they would be able to get at the vehicle.  No problem!  The tow truck pulled up alongside and lifted the car up and onto the truck deck (from the side) in a few minutes time.  Most entertaining.  We wished we could have been there to see the owners reaction when he came in search of his car.

And so ends our time in Tel Aviv where it began and ended for us at the airport. From our walk through the past to our time spent seeing modern was definitely a trip of a lifetime!

 Thanks for joining me as I shared a few memories of our tour.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Galilee and beyond... northern Israel.  Often called 'land of the Bible' is the area around the Sea of Galilee and is the most lush and green part of the country.

Our first stop as we headed north of Jerusalem was Beit of the most ancient cities in the country.

We passed through a residential and commercial area of the modern day city...and on to the National Park of Beit She'an which lies just north of the city.  Here we will took a walk through an excavation of the city as it was during the Roman era. 

Our tour guide led the way to the amphitheater (built around 200 AD)...once used for gladiator fights and able to seat more than 5,000 spectators. 

That is definitely the oldest seat I have ever sat on!

Beyond the main street of that ancient Roman city lined with white the Tel (mound) which was the site of the ancient Biblical Beit Shean that we read of in the Old Testament.  It was a Philistine city during the time of Saul and we read in 1 Samuel 31 that King Saul's head was displayed on the wall of the city following his death.  Later King Solomon made Beit Shean a main administrative centre. A major earthquake destroyed and buried the city in 749 AD...and so it remained until modern times.  Excavation began in 1949 and continues to today.

Here at Beit Shean archaeologists have marked different times in Israel’s history...under the Jebusites, Canaanites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Egyptians, Maccabees, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Ottomans, Brits and anyone else who ever raised their flag here over the last 5,000 years. 

We came.  We saw.  We were in awe!

Next we stopped at Nazareth...where Mary and Joseph made their home and where Jesus grew up.  Though it was just a small village at that now is a large city of some 75,000.

We toured the Basilica of Annunciation...a Roman Catholic church built in 1969 and the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East.

On the church walls (as well as in the outer courtyard) are many mosaic murals...each one given by a different country and reflecting the flavour of the nation that gifted it.  Though most were tile seems Canada and the USA presented quite unique gifts.  The Canadian artwork is a wood carving...appropriate, I guess!

In northern Galilee we visited Israel's highest city, Safed...located at an elevation of 900 meters.  If we go back to the Old Testament, we learn that Safed belonged to the Naphtali tribe after Joshua's conquest.

Now it is a picturesque mountaintop city with ancient cobblestone alleyways...a gathering place for Jewish mystics and artists.

Wherever there are hills in Israel...there are caves.  Seeing them makes it easy to picture all those Old Testament stories that involved kings and prophets hiding in caves.

We sailed on the Sea of Galilee...and had a lesson in casting out the net (on both sides of the boat).

At a peaceful spot along the Jordan River...we were blessed to witness the baptism of some of our tour members.  Now that was most touching!

Capernaum...a place Jesus called home after being rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. It was where he called some of his disciples...where he healed Peter's mother, the leper and the Centurion's servant...where he cast out an evil spirit...raised a child from the dead...and where he taught in the synagogue.

It was where we visited the ruins of the synagogue...believed to have been built around 300 AD.  It is built above the foundation of a previous synagogue...thought to be the one where Jesus taught.  How surreal it feels to know that Jesus once walked, talked and lived right here!

Before I finish this post on Galilee...let me include a little trip north and east of the Sea of Galilee to the Golan Heights...where much of the conflict we hear of has taken place.

We stopped at the Quineitra Viewpoint (situated on the flanks of a dormant volcano)...from where we could easily see the Syrian border just a short distance away.  Just last week I saw photos of Israeli government officials meeting right at this very location.  A visit to Israel makes ancient history come alive...and gives insight into what is happening there today!

Above and behind us was Mt. Avital...where the many eyes of Israel's top-secret military defense program peer into Syria.

Residents of the Golan depend primarily on agricultural income.  Most of the farming in Israel is done on collective farms.  We passed by dairy farms, chicken farms, and many crops being grown beneath white netting called Antivirus net...a mesh that blocks the insect's physical access to plants, while allowing sunshine in and enabling air circulation.

The next stop along our tour will be Haifa, Caesaria, TelAviv...places along the Mediterranean coast.  It has been a good exercise to document some of the photos I took...since it seemed impossible to process it all as we toured.  

Let me end this chapter...on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.