Sometimes, asking “where’s the most beautiful place in Israel?” feels a bit like asking, “what’s the most beautiful callus on your feet?” The answer’s obvious: there isn’t one.
Call me a snob, but I’m Canadian. I can’t help it: Canada is breathtaking. Just driving down the highway from Toronto to Ottawa, nowhere special, you pass through forests so primordially green that they can make you weep. Not to mention British Columbia and the Rocky mountains (oops, I just mentioned them).
Israel, by contrast, has some nice bits. I don’t mean to suggest that it doesn’t. But it also has a heck of a lot of stretches that look pretty much like this:
The bleakness is not awe-inspiring. For the most part, it’s just kind of scruffy and, well… dull.
So when I find beauty, even a scrap of it – by which I mean the slightest expanse of green – I fall in love.
Today’s travel suggestion came in the form of a meeting at the Technion, Israel’s premier university of technology. It’s also the country’s oldest university (founded in 1912, though they didn’t start actually having classes until over a decade later, so I’m not sure it counts).
And my “dancing lesson” came in the form of discovering a jewel in the middle of Haifa’s occasionally “meh” landscape. (Okay, yes, Haifa is built on a very steep mountain range and that in itself is cool and kind of awesome to look at. But many parts of the city are scruffy at best, even if it is starting to grow on me, a little.)
When you think high-tech and engineering, which the Technion is known for, you don’t think, “set in the midst of a dazzling Biblical forest.” But that’s exactly what I found.
Better yet, there’s an actual Ecological Garden, with well-tended pine-needle paths and lots of shade. (Yes, even on November 12th, at 10 am, I was uncomfortably warm in the full sun.)
Everyone who knows me will know how excited I was to see that most of the plants in the Ecological Garden are actually labelled – with actual, official waterproof markers in Hebrew and English (although, in some cases, this is kind of obtrusive, as with this cotoneaster).
I’ve stumped a few times down through the Bahai Gardens, not too far away at the top of Haifa. It’s probably Haifa’s most popular tourist attraction.
But I’d say the gardens of the Technion easily rival them, if not in formality, then in spontaneous plantish moments of loveliness (the Bahai Gardens are many things, but spontaneous isn’t any of them).
(that’s papyrus, drooping ever so elegantly in the background)
I saw a sign for the Ancient Carmel Landscape Garden, but wasn’t sure from the sign where it began and ended, or whether I was in it or just near it. Definitely worth investigating on a future trip.
While this was just one area, the entire campus is dazzlingly green. Some areas are more groomed than others, as you can see from the nice, trimmed hedges here.
I have visited several of Israel’s major universities, but the Technion leaves them in its dust in terms of vistas and landscaping. (It probably helps that we’ve had some lovely rain so far this fall.)
The Ecological / Ancient gardens are definitely worth a repeat trip, possibly with unappreciative children in tow. I’d still go on a cool day, between October and March. In the heat of summer I’m sure it’s as hellish up there as the rest of the city.
Here’s the view facing out over the Haifa Bay. See those two towers that look like a nuclear power plant? Those are the “batei zikuk,” the oil refinery halfway between Haifa and the Krayot. When we pass them, wherever we’re coming from, that’s how we know we’re almost home.
Ahh… home, sweet home.
Speaking of which, at this convenient bus stop…
…I waited exactly two minutes, grabbed the first bus to come along, and two buses and 45 minutes later, I was at my door here in Kiryat Shmuel.
Dancing lessons. You just never know where they’re going to take you… or what you’re going to find when you get there.