Nazareth, Israel; the Jordan River, and the Sea Of Galilee area had always held a special spot in my heart because of their biblical significance. It was such a surreal experience that I actually had the opportunity to visit the region during my recent holidays in the country. During the last full day of my visit to Israel, I did indeed journey to the area. I was excited for the final day tour of my vacation to commence!
As with all of the days of my super busy week, my breakfast meal was one that I had purchased during the prior evening. From the vegan-friendly casual restaurant “Caffe Yaffo” (Caffe Yaffo), I devoured a yummy vegan chocolate ‘finger” sweet treat for my breakfast. It was topped with nuts and a drizzle of sweet syrup.
When the tour guide picked us up in his bus, we were fortunate enough to drive through the popular beachside roadway. Gordon Beach is one of the most gorgeous, white sand beaches in Tel Aviv; while the adjacent street is lined with a row of beautiful palm trees. Music venues and nice restaurants are located up and down this main thoroughfare.
As we drove further away from the city, our guide pointed out the many historic and biblical sights along our route. One of first locales that crossed our path was “tel Meggido” (Armaggedon hill) and the “Plains of Armaggedon. While it appears peaceful and even scenic at this point in time, “Book of Revelation” Scripture refers to the “Battle of Armaggedon” taking place during “end times”. Christians believe that Jesus will return to Earth and defeat the anti-Christ here.
The town of Nazareth was our first stop in the Galilee region. This ancient biblical village is the boyhood home of Jesus. Pilgrims flock here each year to visit sites associated with his childhood period and adult years.
We first visited the site which is believed to be the childhood home of the Virgin Mary where the angel Gabriel appeared to her with the news that she would conceive Jesus, the son of God. The current building was constructed in 1969 over a destroyed Byzantine and Crusader site. The lower level grotto is believed to be where she lived. The original shrine was built around the 4th century in the cave which was the Virgin Mary’s home. According to Roman Catholic tradition, her Annunciation took place here as well.
The intricately detailed entrance door of the church depicts many scenes in the life of Christ and his mother.
The interior of the basilica is a large space with stained glass windows, checkered flooring, pillars bearing cross symbols, and an altar.
On the left side behind a protective metal fence, is the stone cave where Mary lived. An altar resides in the foreground.
We headed next to the Church of Saint Joseph. Tradition holds that it is built over the site of Joseph’s carpentry shop. Although no evidence exists to prove this assertion, it is indeed built over a biblical period cave system.
Ruins of a home and ancient water cisterns in the limestone rock are visibly present.
Religious gift shops abound in this old biblical town.
Our guide made a brief stop in the village of Tiberias to allow us some time view the amazing Sea of Galilee from a scenic overlook spot. What a glorious panoramic view it was!
As we drove through the small town of Kafer Cana, we recall that this was the location of Jesus’s first miracle: the turning of the water into wine at a wedding feast. The exact spot where the mystery took place is unknown. Nonetheless, passing through the town was a heartfelt experience.
Though our tour group did not make a stop there, our guide pointed out the location of the Mount of Beatitudes through the bus window. The hill is where Jesus preached his inspiring “Sermon on the Mount”. The exact spot is not truly known. However, a site near Tabgha is has been honored for over 1,000 years.
As we progressed further along our route, the guide also pointed out the spot that is thought to be Mary Magdalene’s home. The area is being excavated near Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee. Archaeologists unearthed the ruins of an ancient village dating back to the time of Christ.
Our group arrives at Tabgha in mid-morning to visit the Church of the Multiplication on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The church onsite here commemorates Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread. The earliest church depicting this miracle was erected around the year 380. Persians destroyed the original Byzantine structure in 614AD. However, excavations in the 1930’s uncovered mosaic floors and the current church is built on this floor plan from the 5th century Byzantine church.
The floor tiles depict loaves of bread in front of the altar. Original 5th century mosaics occupy the tiled flooring throughout the church.
A sign is shown honoring the many miracles and biblical events at Tabgha.
Jesus’s town of Capernaum was next on our day’s agenda. This Sea of Galilee village was Jesus’s home during much of his ministry. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were the apostles living in Capernaum.
Excavations at the Capernuam site uncovered what is believed to be the home of apostle Peter. A church built above the ruins, honors him.
A Jewish synagogue dated around the time of Christ was excavated and its walls were revealed. The location of this grand synagogue is likely situated where Jesus first taught his followers! The ruins date several centuries after the time of Christ. However they are situated on what is believed to be the spot of the town’s main synagogue where he would have preached.
A servant of a centurion was healed by Jesus in this ancient village. The centurion is thought to have built the synagogue that was unearthed here. This where Jesus gave a sermon on the “Bread of life”.
Our morning tour completed, we were ready for lunch! We were fortunate enough to dine by the shores of the Sea of Galilee. St. Peter’s Restaurant is a spacious venue that offers a buffet-style meal. Many options were available for vegans and confirmed by the staff. I savored a wonderful plate of salads(carrots, corn, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini,), hummus, and the fabulous local pita bread.
The chef also prepared potatoes cooked in oil for me. Reasonable prices, a tasty variety of vegan food, and an envious seaside view makes this restaurant a must during everyone’s holiday!
My tummy full with a hearty and scrumptious meal, I was ready to take on the remainder of the day’s itinerary! We drove past additional lovely vistas of the Sea of Galilee on our way to our next stop.
A welcome sign greeted us upon arrival at the Yardenit site on the Jordan River. This particular location along the Jordan, is believed to be the section of the river where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
The narrow and windy lengthy river bore a gorgeous greenish hue. Lush trees, plants, and shubbery bordered its waters.
I rented a long white robe and immersed myself into the waters to re-affirm my baptism into my Christian faith. I was given a touching and momentous certificate authenticating my re-affirmation of faith.
Along the banks of the river, a gift shop offers souvenirs such as “Jordan River water”. I purchased a bottle of the sacred waters, along with a refreshing orange juice made with the delectable local oranges.
Our day tour had concluded with amazing views of the Sea of Galilee as we drove onward back to Tel Aviv.
Before we left the region, we glanced through our tour bus window and beheld Mount Tabor. The mountain resides in the Jezreel Valley, to the west of the Sea of Galilee. Early church leaders felt that this was the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Noways, it is uncertain whether or not this is the case. However for those who believe so, one is indeed awestruck to actually see this biblical site in person.
We arrived back in Tel Aviv by evening. I was very fortunate to arrange a get together with one of the top vegan food journalists in Israel: Ori Shavit. She is also a strong supporter of animal rights. Ori created the website “Vegans On Top”, as well as the “Israeli Vegan Dining Guide” (Israeli Vegan Dining Guide). We met up at Nanuchka Restaurant in Tel Aviv. While we were enjoying the meal, Ori mentioned that Israel’s vegan scene has been expanding rapidly over the past four years. Even non-vegan restaurants have vegan offerings. People care about animal rights. Even the suburbs are starting to embrace the vegan lifestyle. Politicians and musicians are getting on the vegan bandwagon as well. Ori even offers vegan cooking classes to local residents.
Nanushka (Nanuchka Restaurant) is an all-vegan restaurant serving traditional Georgian food. Ori and I sampled several appetizers, while discussing the vegan dining scene across Israel, which has been growing by leaps and bounds! We started with the lavash bread accompanied by tahini spread and olive oil for dipping. This was a superb start to my meal!
A couple of appetizer trays arrived shortly afterwards. We feasted on Pchalli(seven healthy Georgian salads – spicy eggplant, Badridghani, Charhaly, Mangold, Tetry, Lobio, and Dolma).
Beet salad with Kamali plum sauce, leaves of beetroot, kolrabi, and green beans with almonds, were all cooked to perfection and presented in an elegant display on a silver platter. The delicious appetizers made me excitedly anticipate the main course which was about to arrive on the table!
The main entree was a plate of traditional Georgian dumplings. Spinach and Nut Hinkali are stuffed dumplings served with a soy yogurt dipping sauce. I really enjoyed this flavorful, gourmet meal of traditional Georgian cuisine.
To complete my meal, I ordered Natia, a traditional Georgian dessert. The crepe pastry was filled with walnuts and raisins, and served with sorbet. It was an absolutely delectable treat! My dining experience at Nanuchka was magnificent. This restaurant serves gourmet vegan food at its finest!
Ori and I next proceeded to Zakaim (Zakaim Restaurant) for some appetizers and side dishes. As we further discussed the expanding vegan dining scene in the country, we selected a few menu items to order. Zakhaim proudly uses locally sourced vegetables. Their decor consists of recycled and second hand items, which give the space an eco-friendly comfortable ambiance. We started with the “Green Bag” appetizer. The small paper bag contained fresh wood sorrel greens with an apple ‘perfume”. Their menu is filled with creative dishes such as this.
A delectable and savory chickpea mash arrived at our table moments later.
Next, we enjoyed some okra in a tangy tomato sauce with garlic and hot green pepper. Another tasty winner!
Our final side dish for the evening was a zesty kale, mango, and almond salad. It was exquisite! Such a great combination of flavors!
As dinner was winding down, Ori and I enjoyed our discussion on the favorable and exciting vegan dining trend occurring in Israel! I feel appreciative to have spent some quality time meeting with one of Israel’s top food journalists discussing the growing vegan scene in the country.
It was time to call it a night, as I had to catch an early flight back home to the USA the next day. When I arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv the following morning, I noticed a sign in the food court that quickly caught my eye. One of the airport takeaway restaurants offered a “Vegan Israeli Breakfast” on their menu! I was unable to order it however, as they had run out of the main ingredients. For those who are fortunate enough to purchase it, the Israeli breakfast consists of a chickpea omelette, salads, and bread.
I did purchase the vegan apple pastry that the same restaurant offers. It was a yummy breakfast treat!
The first leg of my connecting flight brought me to Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Rome, Italy. During the brief layover, enough free time gave me a chance to grab some lunch. In the food court, I found a restaurant serving up some Italian specialties. I opted for the gnocchi, with a side of salad. This potato gnocchi entree in tomato sauce was indeed vegan and a really delicious meal!
A lovely vegan pasta entree was served for dinner that evening aboard my Alitalia flight. A side salad and mixed fruit bowl accompanied the main course.
During the final leg of my flight, a tasty bowl of fruit was served for an evening snack, along with a small salad.
Visiting the Holyland of Israel was the “Trip of a Lifetime”! I was so elated to visit the biblical sites that I had studied and read about in Scripture. The beautiful churches, sites associated with Jesus and miracles, ancient ruins, and other sacred destinations created wonderful and poignant memories for me. The pristine and gorgeous waters of the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Tel Aviv beaches are definitely a must-see on any tourist itinerary, as well. The entire region felt so safe and calm, in my experience.
The country has quickly been gaining the reputation of being one of the most vegan-friendly countries in the world. I was impressed by the quantity, quality, and variety of the vegan dining options available. From a vegan cheese shop to a multitude of vegan ice cream shops to incredible local cuisine at vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, Israel aims to please on the vegan front and does so successfully! A vegan shoe, clothing, and accessories designer “Roni Kantor”(Roni Kantor) also calls Tel Aviv “home”. Her collections are found in vegan shoe stores across the globe, and are also available for purchase online.
I will always cherish my visit to beautiful Israel. Whether you are a devout religious person, a vegan cuisine devotee, or a lover of spectacular beaches and seas, this a country that should most definitely be on your future travel list!
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