A VERY OLD BATHTUB AND AN EVEN OLDER BOAT
When Barbara was first planning our excursion to Tzfat, she realized that we could not afford to stay at the Olive Pelech Rimon for a second night -- especially since that second night would be a Thursday, which would be at the weekend rate. So my wife, in searching for something more in line with the realities of our finances, googled "hostels in Tzfat." There are quite a few youth hostels in Israel, one of which we had stayed in up on the Golan Heights as part of a tiyul a while ago;it did not offer deluxe accommodations, but it was fine as far as we were concerned. Come to think of it, we were invited to a bat mitzvah celebration at a pretty nice place in Jerusalem, which was also considered a youth hostel. I would have been happy to spend a night there.
Anyway, Barbara came up with something for something like 100 shekels each, which is dirt cheap at today's prices. So that's where we were heading, as we got into our rental car parked where we had left it in the morning and headed we weren't sure where -- because, as I have mentioned before -- conversations and even public statues are commonplace in this home town of the Kabbalists, but street signs are at a premium. Good thing we left when it was still light; the better to find people on the street to ask directions until we finally got where we needed to.
I'll never forget the look of shock on Ricky's face as we arrived and introduced ourselves. The problem wasn't a language gap; the proprietor was originally from Canada. She just couldn't believe that we were the ones renting this room. She would need to see our passports. Why did she need to see our passports? So she wouldn't have to charge us V.A.T. But we are Israeli citizens -- despite our accents; and we expect to pay the tax. But no self-respecting Israeli would even consider such sub-standard accommodations! Turns out that the typical renters of these rooms were twenty-something backpackers making their way across the Middle East -- not some alte kocker Americans. Do you have anything else to offer us? No, the better rooms -- and there really were better rooms -- were all filled up. Then we'll take the dorm room, and you'll recalculate the room rate. Which she did, and we headed off to our lodgings for the night.
It would have been better if we had done it the other way around: stay at this place first and then head over to the Olive Pelech Rimon. Instead, we were going from a large cheerful suite with a kitchenette, a large screen TV (which we didn't turn on), a drop-dead view of the setting sun, beds so comfortable that you'd never want to get up, and a jacuzzi, to a small, charmless room furnished in Modern Decrepit with an original sitzbath (a tiny high-sided bath tub that would have been all the rage in Dresden in 1925). In fairness, the room was as clean as it could be, given the age of the appliances and the furniture. Nor were there any other living creatures present, if you get my drift (our two cats, Moby and Cookie, were sleeping by themselves back in our apartment) or any other unpleasant surprises. It would do -- for one night.
Ricky did give us one good tip: where to go for dinner. Less than a mile away, nestled near a couple of swankier places to stay, was Gan Eden. Not the original, but a charming little restaurant with food to make you smile. Which is what will happen if you ask Barbara to describe the dessert, ice cream smothered in chocolate, which we had the good sense to order. The breakfast that Ricky and crew prepared for all assembled wasn't quite on that level, but it got us up and going lickety-split and on our way to Har Halutz for a quiet Shabbat with our friends Richard and the other Barbara . We did, however, have the morning free, and now we had a wrenching choice to make.
If you remember from my last article, we had stopped briefly in a tourist information type place in downtown Tzfat, in which the lady working there had recommended the yummy Yemenite pizza. As my Barbara was chatting with her, I was idly rifling through the various tourist brochures in the wall rack. With my eagle eye, I spotted a brochure from the Adir winery, which I immediately pocketed. Before we left Ma'ale Adumim, I had thought about checking out a winery or two Fri. morning. In fact, I had made a list of a few possible choices and taken that with me, along with the latest Daniel Rogov wine guide. My problem was that the addresses meant nothing to me; I had no idea where any of them were in relation to where we were. But looking at the little brochure, I realized that the winery was a little bit west of Tzfat, basically on the way to Har Halutz. Perfect! There was only one problem -- not an insurmountable one, but a dilemma which we would have to resolve. The Adir Winery was right next to the Dalton Winery, and we would only have time to visit one of them. It would be like visiting a Ben and Jerry's store and being forced to choose between Triple Chocolate Mousse and Death By Chocolate.
Well, let's see which one we come to first; that's the one we'll go to. Wouldn't you know it: after wandering through a large industrial park, we realized that both wineries were essentially side by side. There was no getting around it; we would have to make a decision. Adir or Dalton. Dalton or Adir. Vat to doooooo? Adir is what is known in the trade as a "boutique" winery, producing, according to Rogov, 10,000 bottles a year. Dalton, which considers itself the smallest of the major wineries, produces one million bottles a year (By comparison, Carmel, Israel's largest winery, produces over six million bottles a year). Let's play it safe and stick with the larger one. It's more likely we'll get a tour in English.
Perfect timing! We pulled in front of the Dalton Winery at about 9:45, enough time to hit the facilities and sign up for the 10AM tour in English. Ah, the little ironies of life. The young woman leading the tour of the winery was Israeli, with a decent command of English. She was giving her talk to about ten or twelve of us; and we soon realized that we were the only native English speakers in the group. One couple was from somewhere in Europe; the rest were all Israelis. There is something surreal about Israelis speaking to each other in English when none of them are really fluent. At one point, our guide looked at Barbara and me and asked if we minded if she reverted to Hebrew so that the other Israelis would understand! So, using English and Hebrew, she carried on. When she was finished and we were back where we started, I told her, being absolutely truthful, that it was the best presentation I had ever heard at a winery; for which compliment, I was given a cup of coffee on the house.
In about an hour, she went over the history of the winery, the kind of grapes they use, how the topography and the amount of sunlight in the area determines what grapes to plant where, the different kind of oak barrels they use, and (gasp!) the effect the winery has had on the economy of the region. Then, of course, we had gone back to the tasting room and sampled some of their wares. Most of the Israeli wineries we've visited before offer up some of their less expensive wines or a combination of lesser and better wines, somehow thinking their doing themselves a favor by skimping on what they serve. Wrong! Why would I shlep all the way up to the Galil or the Golan Heights to buy the kind of timid offerings I can get in MisterZol? Plus.....some of these wineries charge you more -- sometimes a lot more -- than I would pay in one of my places in Jerusalem. The nice folks at Dalton served us samples from their Estate series (about 50 shekels a bottle) and their Reserve series (about 100+ NIS per). And..... they gave us a plateful of the soft goat cheese which they also have for sale. Who could resist such temptation? It was no wonder that we left the winery with some cheese and two bottles of wine. Life is good.
We headed west, away from the playground of the Kabbalists to the tiny community of Har Halutz where our friends live, spending a restful Shabbat and consuming one of our bottles of Dalton's best. Sunday morning we retraced our steps eastward, going past Tzfat to Kibbutz Ginosar, near the northern shore of the Kinneret. Barbara had found herself in the area several years ago because the ceremony in which Natania was formally inducted into the army was held on an adjacent base. She had noticed that there was a museum there and wondered what it contained. Not much, it turns out, except for "The Jesus Boat." In 1986, a couple of local amateur archaeologists discovered the remains of an ancient boat that had been partly uncovered by the lowering of the water level in the Kinneret. There's nothing special about the boat, or what remains of it -- except that it still exists and is on display. What is special was the extraordinary effort it took to remove it unharmed from its muddy bed where it had been entombed for two thousand years, and the twelve year chemical process devised to keep it from disintegrating further. Hundreds of similar boats must have existed to ply the waters of this lake two thousand years ago, and there is no reason to connect it with any specific historical figure. Nonetheless, talk about a sure-fire way to attract the Believers!
We were on the final leg of our journey, and once we arrived at Beit Shean, I decided that it was time for me to take the wheel. That wouldn't seem to particularly newsworthy, except it was the first time since our driving test three plus years ago that I have driven a vehicle in The Land. We stopped in Ma'ale Adumim to unload our bags -- including our remaining bottle of Dalton's best and our goal cheese -- and then, with Barbara back at the wheel, we drove to Jerusalem to return our rental car. We were glad to have had its use for our little trip to where the deer and the Kabbalists play; but we were just as happy to give it back and take the bus back home.