Today we headed north and east, in the direction of the eastern Galil. We passed lots of picturesque Arab villages, beautiful scenery, and a ski slope on the way (not kidding, there was a complex with two short snow covered "slopes" - read, "bunny hills" - and kids skiing and snowboarding down them near Maale Gilboa). Our first stop was near the border with Jordan in the old city of Beit She’an. This city has been the site of many civilizations, including Caananite, Egyptian, Philistine, Jewish, Hellinistic, Hasmonean, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab. In 749CE a huge earthquake destroyed the city and it was never rebuilt. This is the city where the Philistines displayed the bodies of Shaul and his sons on the city walls after their defeat. The tel at Beit She’an has been found to contain over 20 layers of civilizations!
The ruins of ancient Beit She’an include an amphitheater, 2 complexes of bath houses, a road lined with columns (it used to have a roof and be shaded, we were really missing that roof today as it is darn hot there), a Roman temple, and hippodrome that was converted into another amphitheater. The Romans had much leisure time -- plays were put on over 140 days a year, the bathhouses were a public meeting place with multiple pools, massage and other luxuries available, and even space for lectures – as their slaves did all the work. The city is quite a large expanse, very impressive even as ruins, and did I say it was very hot? Mike thoroughly enjoyed exploring the ruins, the kids tolerated it for about half and hour, and then Mike and Sima climbed the tell for a spectacular view of the Jordan River Valley and checked out the rest of the city while the kids went to wait in the air conditioned gift shop.
Soaked with sweat, we were ready to spend the rest of the day in water. We drove about 10 minutes to Nahal Kibbutzim, a river that runs about 3 km near Kibbutz Reshafim. The river is set just off the road; we parked and then walked a bit to where the nachal (river) ends in a few small pools. There are picnic tables in that area, but if you keep walking the river narrows and is surrounded on both banks by high reeds that make you feel like you are wading through wild terrain even though you are really in the middle of a farm. At a couple of locations, the river flows through large metal drainage pipes that double as a series of waterslides. This nachal was pretty busy, lots of families and a couple of school groups were enjoying the water as well. We ate lunch on the shores near the pools, and then climbed in and swam and waded and frolicked up stream, stopping to slide through the tunnels, for about half an hour and then we waded and swam and frolicked back downstream, again sliding through the tunnels. The girls, who had complained bitterly all morning, said in unison “Sorry we didn’t trust you Mom, thank you for bringing us to this wonderland of water!” The only casualty was Noah’s North Carolina hat, which came loose from the backpack and is now permanently living in the nachal.
We had to drag the kids out of the river (did I say that it was hot outside) in order to take them to another wonderland of water another 10 minutes down the road. This was Gan HaShlosha, also known by its Arabic name of Sachne. This park is beautiful. It is on Nachal Amal, which used to flow through Beit She’an and provided water for their bathhouses. The Nachal was dammed, initially for a mill but later for recreation, and a series of beautiful pools and small waterfalls was built into the natural surroundings. The park is huge -- there are 3 or four large pools, each almost the size of a small lake – and it is so green and beautifully landscaped. It was an interesting mix of people here, we heard a lot of English and some other European languages, saw many Israeli Arabs, and of course lots of Israeli Jews. Apparently there are some historical and informational elements in the park but all we did was swim and climb around the rocks along with the rest of the crowd there until the park closed and they kicked us out. We will just have to go back – this could easily be an all day experience, and it is only about an hour from Netanya.
Back in Netanya we met Shany and Elianna (who came up from Tel Aviv to see us) for dinner at Marrakesh. Marrakesh is our favorite Netanya restaurant; they serve Moroccan food and atmosphere. The food was delicious, the company was good, and then we all walked back to the apartment to hang out and drink some of the Carmay Avdat wine. Alas, Shany and Elianna had to leave and as Shany is leaving on motzei Shabbat for Switzerland, we will not see her again this trip. It is very hard to say goodbye all over again… Tired and glowing from the sun, we are all ready for sleep.