It’s vacation month. Daycares are on break, Yeshivas are on break, we’re on break — the end of my husband’s paternity leave, to be precise. I’m already back at work, actually.*
But with this scorching summer heat, all we really want to do most days is sit out our vacation inside, in the air conditioning. Once so often we’ll drag ourselves outside, only to be reminded why we were cowering in the air conditioning in the first place. There’s a mock weather report going around Facebook with forecasts like “Monday: Nuclear holocaust; Tuesday: Even Satan is sweating.” It’s not far off. Thirty-seven degrees Celsius (100 degrees F) and humid is a little much even for me.
But we really wanted to visit Akko, the ancient northern port city now home to a mixed Jewish-Arab population. Close, yet so far away — only 1.5 hours by train from Tel Aviv, yet I hadn’t been there in 7 or 8 years, and my husband had never been. So we waited for the day with the coolest forecast (only 31 degrees), braced ourselves, and headed north along the coast.
Indeed, Acre is a great day trip from Tel Aviv. You don’t even need to do too much preparation — OK, I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt — but the old city is small and compact. Once you get there, you have archeological and historical sites, a bustling market and a beautiful coast all within spitting distance of one another.
Plenty of other people had similar ideas. Foreign tour groups and domestic tourists, particularly ultra-Orthodox families, were all strolling through town.
Here are some of the highlights from our day.
CRUSADER CASTLE: We started with the city’s visitor center and the Crusader fortress, which is now partially underground. The cavernous stone halls were shady and cool.
WANDERING THROUGH THE MARKET: The visitor center is around the corner from the old city market. While the path through the market winds, it doesn’t really branch off so you can’t get lost. The market has translucent awnings overhead that keep it cool, and is relatively clean. Locals mix with tourists, housewives shop alongside backpackers and tour groups. Souvenir shops are interspersed with homewares, children’s clothing, food and spices.
Hebescos or cenamen, anyone?
COOL HOMEWARES: Maamoul moulds of all shapes and sizes, copper pots, mortars and pestles, juice presses, little ceramic coffee cups. A vendor called out to a mother as her toddler wandered off with one of these weird metal things. They turned out to be sabras pickers.
RAMADAN SWEETS: Since we’re in the middle of Ramadan*, lots of vendors were selling qatayef pancakes. These little discs of dough are fried on one side like miniature lahoh (or injera, or crumpets, for those with different reference points). Then they’re generally filled with nuts or cheese, fried and served with sugar syrup. Lots of sweets shops were selling the pancakes without the filling, to give people a head start on the preparation process at home.
One vendor sold us some excellent ones stuffed with cinnamon sugar and walnuts (top photo).
“SOUVENIRS” THAT COST LESS THAN THEY DO IN TEL AVIV: We were tourists after all, so we did a bit of souvenir shopping — an industrial-size box of Snickers bars at prices you won’t find in Tel Aviv (all the branding was in Arabic, but it was still kosher. Go figure.)
HUMMUS, BUT NOT AT SAID: As you meander through the market, you won’t be able to miss the town’s most famous hummus restaurant. Most of the market was relatively quiet and calm when we were there, but Hummus Said was packed, with entire tour buses were waiting out front.
We walked on and wound up at Shamshiye, a smaller hummus restaurant. Sometimes I just appreciate quiet and air conditioning. And the food didn’t disappoint either — the proprietor pounded chickpeas and tehina in front of us to make the creamy mashawashe, and the labaneh topped with zaatar reminded me of my days in Haifa.
Soon you’ll be eating that mashawashe too, kid.
CRUSADER TUNNELS: By then we were already at the far end of the market, the end closest to the sea. The entrance to the Crusader tunnels is just around the corner. The curved stone tunnels were recently excavated, and a wooden walkway was installed over the running water, making for a pleasant underground stroll. Based on the photos online, you’d think the place is a massive cavern.
But no ….
OK, the ceiling did get higher after that. (At right: Inside the Crusader castle.)
ICE CREAM AND THE SEA: The tunnel exit is close to the sea and the old city boardwalk, which is lined with restaurants. We went to Endomela, a tiny ice cream shop by the owners of famous fish restaurant Uri Buri. As we sat on the bar eating and enjoying the air conditioning, workers made ice cream in the back.
BAKLAVA: As we meandered our way back through the town and the market, we stopped right outside the market’s entrance to buy excellent baklava at Abdelhadi — a lovely, long-lasting souvenir.
* I wrote this a week ago. Now, Ramadan is over, yeshiva break is over and my husband is back at work.