We are awake early. It was not just the rubbish collectors making their usual racket right outside our window but the need to pack our luggage for our return to Saint Margaret’s Hostel this evening. We wonder if they will have implemented any of the changes that Julia suggested to Salim before we left for our two night sojourn at Villa Nazareth, the luxurious new hostel just off the spacious square by the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.
After another excellent breakfast we take our luggage down to Mary’s Well where our 15 seater luxury coach is waiting for us, along with the driver and Phil who is acting as our guide again today. We are going to the old city of Akko (better known to us as Acre) with its amazing history and beautiful coastal setting. Akko is a former Crusader city, the headquarters of the Hospitallers from 1191 to 1291. I have a fascination about such things and have read a lot about it, so I am really looking forward to our visit.
After breakfast we say goodbye to the staff at Villa Nazareth and thank them for a wonderful couple of days. We load our cases into the back of our luxury coach and enjoy the pleasant drive to Akko. They have amazing roads in Israel – they could teach us something about building good roads fast – designed to transport troops quickly to any part of the country of course. When we arrive at Akko Phil leads us to his favourite coffee shop – Phil is addicted to coffee – where we stop for coffee before tackling Akko. The coffee shop is right by the central mosque who own all the surrounding buildings and rent them out to local traders, including a Christian bookshop selling evangelical literature would you believe! After coffee we explore Akko including the underground Crusader Tunnels and the amazing city walls and fortifications. We have a delightful walk round the harbour and come across ‘Jonah’s Whale’ – a big stone statue of a whale with a hole in the middle. The statue is there because the founder of the Order of Dervishes, Sheikh Ali Nur el-Din claimed that the Prophet Johah appeared to him in a dream and ordered him to travel to Akko to spread his religious doctrine. Perhaps this is a warning to me not to drink too much of this wonderful Arabic coffee … it obviously makes you dream strange dreams?! Nevertheless, with the Biblical story in mind, I waste no time in climbing into the hole so I can be photographed as though I was Jonah on the way to Nineveh to preach God’s good news!
After a delightful lunch back at Phil’s favourite coffee shop we board our luxury coach and head for the university town of Haifa. We are going to see the Bahai Temple and gardens. The Bahai Sect is an interesting group, a mishmash of various world religions, dedicated to uniting the various religions and bringing about world peace. We can’t get into the Temple but the gardens are amazing. They are maintained by volunteers who come from all over the world, at their own expense to work in the gardens for two weeks each. We stop to take lots of photos and then continue our journey to see the site of the cave where Elijah heard God speak to him ‘in a still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12). We think that the site must be run by the French because when we get there it is closed for lunch and won’t be open again until 3.00 p.m. It is a good job that we are here for a month … at least we will be able to return some time, as long as we arrive before 1.00 p.m. or after 3.00 p.m. that is!
We continue our drive around Mount Carmel – which is actually a mountain range – until we get to the Carmelite Monastery which is the probable site of Elijah’s battle with the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). As we arrive Phil spots a group of Christian friends from the Christian Hospital in Nazareth who are having a picnic in the gardens. They are having coffee so Phil rushes over and drags us all with him. Soon we are all drinking the wonderful Arabic coffee they have just made … it is a good job that they have made a lot of it! It is so nice to meet new Christian friends and we enjoy some great fellowship before looking at the church and then climbing up to the roof-platform area where there are stunning views of the whole area. We all take lots of photographs and then we read the story of Elijah’s epic victory over the Prophets of Baal from the Bible.
We return to Saint Margaret’s after a tiring but exhilarating day. We are probably all wishing that we could have stayed on at Villa Nazareth, but we are pleasantly surprised by the improvements when we return. Every member of our group has now been allocated a decent room and, following another conversation between Julia and Salim, the food also suddenly improves considerably and we even get free coffee after dinner as well. In hindsight Saint Margaret’s is pretty good really. The courtyard is great and it is much quieter than Villa Nazareth. It is a bit tatty to be sure … but then so am I?,