Friday, March 21, 2014


Today I left the cruise ship moored in Haifa and went on a guided tour that covered the nearby city of Acre and the world-famous Baha’i Gardens. I thought it might be interesting to have a more informed experience of the ancient wonders of this historic area.

Instead, unfortunately, I got ‘An Evening With Grandpa Simpson’.

About twenty minutes into our six hour tour, I leant over to my travel buddy and whispered, “I think this guide may have Attention Deficit Disorder.” He would begin telling an anecdote about the geo-political foundations of modern Israel, then get distracted by a passing car or other shiny object, then resume with a rambling monologue about desalination.

When not switching stories mid-stream, he would sometimes launch into thinly veiled harangues about the various peoples of the world, starting with the Germans but eventually covering the Dutch, the English, the Arabs… pretty much every race with whom the Jews have had contact at any point in the last two thousand years.

Fortunately, after a particularly disjointed monologue about the history of the Israeli nuclear program and the perfidy of all Spaniards, he started letting the microphone rest on his bottom lip, distorting the pickup so much that it became an incomprehensible background burr that we could more easily ignore.

In Acre, a potentially fascinating four thousand year old city on the northern border of Israel, our guide dragged us from one interchangeable piece of ancient limestone to the next, mumbling disconnected halves of anecdotes about Phoenician trade routes and “Richard Lionheart”.

The centrepiece of the tour was supposed to be a visit to the Templar’s Tunnel, which, to be frank, seemed to be less than the marvel of thousand year old engineering I was purported to be. It wasn’t very long, or wide, and to be honest a few industrious Palestinians could have knocked it out in six months. It was only later when I was re-reading the tour literature that I realised he had taken us down the wrong tunnel. The Templar's Tunnel is huge and painted with frescos. Apparently he'd taken us down a 12th century sewer tunnel.

Eventually we were shepherded back onto our coach, where he recommenced his monologue in German. This went on for a minute or so before a helpful New Zealander pointed out that this was supposed to be an English language tour, a little point he’d apparently discarded, presumably because he’d forgotten where he was. Although to be fair we’d crossed paths with a German tour group a few ruins earlier and the German language tends to demand attention.

From there we proceeded to the Baha’i Gardens, an immaculate exercise in landscaping running down Haifa’s steep hillside, and the largest example of hanging gardens anywhere in the world … which was closed due to today being the Baha’i New Year. So we got to stand at the lookout at the top for half an hour looking down into them. From what I could see they have the same sense of creepy, too-ordered perfection that typifies Mormon architecture and landscape design, but without being able to get closer I couldn’t really enjoy it on the necessary ironic level.

On the way back to the ship, while our tour guide rabbited on about how misguided the Baha’i are, I heard a little voice hiss, “Shhhh!”. A moment again it came again, this time with more emphasis. Then the little voice erupted, “I want you to stop talking to me!” It turned out to be a five year old yelling at his little brother, but one of the genteel old ladies in our group turned to me and muttered, “From the mouths of babes…”

Later I overheard that even the deaf, lame, senile old man who blamed the Muslims for the fact that the Baha’i Gardens were closed for the Baha’i New Year recognised that the tour guide was tedious and incompetent.

Nevertheless, the tour ended with the guide asking for a tip. But then chutzpah is one of the Jews’ gifts to the world.


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