Sunday, February 3, 2013

Adventures in Acre

Part of the fun of traveling is trying the local food.  Today, we had lunch in Acre, also called Akko in Hebrew and Acco in the book of Judges (1:31) in the Bible.  It is one of the oldest cities in the country dating back over 4000 years.  We chose an outdoor cafe since the weather was absolutely beautiful!  
There were two basic choices - Shawarma and falafal - so we ordered one of each.  This seems to be a typical Israeli lunch, along with sides of hummus, pickled vegetables, tahini and olives.
The Shawarma was excellent!  It was served with cucumber, tahini sauce, pickled veggies and onions.  The meat is most commonly turkey, but can also be lamb or chicken.  Shawarmas (and Falafels) are the fast food of Israel, available on EVERY corner and available EVERY single day for lunch!  
The Falafel was interesting - with an unusual grainy texture.  It is a deep fried ball made from ground chickpeas and is a traditional Arab food, seasoned with cumin, garlic, onion and coriander.  Falafel is served in a pita and topped with pickled vegetables and tahini sauce.   It was good, but one meal was plenty.   :) 
The Old City of Akko is an historic walled port-city with settlements from the Phoenician, Byzantine, Roman and Arab periods.  It can be found on the UNESCO World Heritage list as an important site.  It was the capital of the Medieval Crusader Kingdom, dating from 1104 to 1291.  The city lies almost intact, both above and below today's street level, providing an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of ancient times.
We were fascinated with the many levels of buildings.  As one structure crumbled due to the many earthquakes in the area, the next group just built right on top of it.  During excavation, remains were found under more remains, making many layers of settlements. 
The Crusaders captured Akko and the Ottomans lived here for many centuries.  Even Napoleon Bonaparte tried to conquer it, but after two months of siege and failed attempts to storm the strong city walls, he retreated in humiliation.  
The Old City of Akko is still under excavation and archaeologists 
continue to uncover new rooms and buildings. 
I especially liked discovering that the Order of St John of Jerusalem, 
Knights Hospitaller had a hospital here and greatly impacted the Old City.  
Acre was the Crusaders principal stronghold and many artifacts 
were found and now displayed. 
The Knights Halls of the Hospitallers were also uncovered and must 
have hosted grand functions within the beautiful stone walls. 
As we explored the underground buildings, we were 
also led into long tunnels and small rooms.  The church of St John was also found above the tunnels and halls.  
  We exited the crusader area and walked around the newer segment of town.  
Each city in Israel has a section for Muslims, Jews and Christians where people tend to live together in communities.  As we walked through the Muslim area of Acre, 
our guide explained the sign on one of the houses announcing that the family 
leader has traveled to Mecca.  We found it unusual that anyone holding an Israeli passport would be allowed into Saudi Arabia.  
 Below is a close-up of the sign stating that the Hajj pilgrimage has been completed.  Our guide explained that Saudi Arabia allows Israeli citizens to enter Mecca as long as they prove with documents from the Mosque that they are Muslim.  
 We walked through the winding streets of the city, exploring the many alleyways.  
We passed through a busy souk - but had no time to shop.  
Our tour continued into the Templar tunnels, which were only discovered in 1994 and opened to the public in 1999.  The tunnels were discovered by chance when a women living above them complained about blocked sewage.  When plumbers arrived, they found the Templar quarter underneath, which had walls 28 feet thick.  
During the Crusades, the Templars (the Military monastic order of St John) smuggled items from the fortress to the ships in the harbor through these secret tunnels.  The pathways are very narrow with low ceilings and over 1000 feet long.  
We came out of the dark tunnels right into the spectacular harbor of modern-day Acre.   
As we stood on the large walkway by the sea, our guide was describing the best fish restaurant in the city, when the owner walked by and overheard.  He stopped and invited us all into to his newly opened boutique hotel.  
We followed him through the twists and turns of the alleys and 
discovered a gem of a hotel behind an unassuming doorway.  
The owner spent over 8 years renovating the old building, creating a beautiful 
'home away from home' for discerning guests.  
The dining room as well as the hallways have gorgeous hand-painted ceilings.  
The views were spectacular from every angle.  The green-topped 
tower is part of a Turkish-style mosque which dominates the skyline of the city.  
The guest rooms were impeccable with modern and old world charm.  
The rooftop even had an outdoor sitting area with a 360-degree view of the city.  Uri (pictured above) was a wonderful host for our short visit and I would DEFINITELY like to return for a stay!  


 Walking to the bus, we passed an Israeli stop sign (right) and another street sign (left)which was hard to identify.  

Unicorn crossing?  :) 


Sunset over Acre provided a beautiful ending to a wonderful day! 

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