So, every week I attend this tiny branch (congregation) in Tiberias for church. If ALL of the active people came on the same week, there would be about 30 people there... but it’s always less than that. Nobody lives close by, so it’s a challenge for almost everyone to get there. For those of us in the Haifa area, we travel literally across the entire country (it's a small country, but still).
Despite the fact that there’s only a handful of other young people in the branch, they decided to hold an activity for us handful of young people. So yesterday I found myself attending an activity with a teenage boy, that’s boy’s cousin who’s a few years younger than me, and the branch’s missionary service couple.
Instead of the typical activity consisting of some sort of cheesy games, we went to Akko! 1000x better than a normal YSA activity. Akko (also known as Acre in English and Akka in Arabic...confusing) is a city that was on my checklist of cities to get back to this year. It's north of Haifa, and is also on the Mediterranean coast. It is a mixed Jewish/Arab city, and one of its claims to fame are the Crusader ruins there.
Before making our way to Akko, we made a stop at the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa. Because we could.
The first thing we did in Akko was go up to the coast and take a little boat ride.
The boat ride:
I was surprised at how big the waves were.
Good thing I don’t get seasick, because it was a bumpy ride. It was still refreshing though! For the rest of the day it was so hot (jealous of Wisconsin weather right now!), so it felt nice to have a breeze for a little while.
To get to our next stop, the Crusader fortress, we walked though the shuk- the covered market. It definitely reminds me of Jerusalem’s Old City, and its fun because you really feel like you’re in the Middle East. In my head I like to pretend that I’m Carrie from Homeland when I walk through places like this. Normal.
When you step into the Crusader ruins, all of a sudden you’re in medieval Europe instead of the Middle East. The architecture looks just like things you see in Europe from the same period.
As for the history of the place... these ruins weren’t uncovered until the British controlled this country after WWI. They were underground for all that time (cities rise over time: one of the things that was drilled into my head during our BYU Jerusalem archeology class). The Crusaders first conquered Akko in 1104. A couple of Crusades later, it was the last city they held onto in the Holy Land... until they lost it in 1291.
By the way, the Crusaders aren’t very popular in this part of the world. Some people are still a little pissed about that whole thing. I remember when the pope visited Jerusalem last year, Arabs were still protesting and picketing about the Crusades when he came (that was over 700 years ago, friends). Grudges are held for a very long time in the Middle East. So, it makes me laugh that my middle school chose the ‘Crusaders’ as our mascot. Haha. KMS probably has no idea they are controversial.
I found an ancient fleur de lys on the wall! I like to think of the fleur de lys as my personal logo, since it was the Bourbon monarchy’s official logo. Again, totally normal.
Another thing I found on the wall...
No idea why. Maybe attractive shoes ruin Crusader-era floors, or maybe someone is worried about getting sued from someone falling on uneven Crusader-era stairs.
I was definitely ready for lunch after wandering through the ruins for a long time. Thankfully, less than five minutes after sitting down at a table in a restaurant, the waiter brought out a full spread of DIY falafel. As in, you could choose what toppings you wanted and pile everything in the pita bread yourself. It was so good that it almost made me sad that I’m leaving Israel in a few days. But not quite (cheese curds and custard at home will help make up for that).
Our last stop before heading back to Haifa was walking through the Templar Tunnel: built by, you guessed it, the Knights Templar. It leads from their fortress to the port. I kept an eye out for the Holy Grail, but I didn’t have any luck.
At first I was excited that by going to Akko I was checking something off of my travel goals list... but after coming here I have to go back because I saw more I want to do here. Good thing my time in Israel is not over! Even though I’m really excited to have some time at home, I guess there are a few benefits to extending my time here.