ISRAEL: The Haifa Carmelit funicular

My hotel room view in Haifa

I’ve got a whole bunch of Israel travel posts I want to make – there’s so much sublime and complicated and controversial. But I also want to share a very mundane, slightly silly, thing that I’ve fallen in love with: the Haifa Carmelit funicular.

Haifa is up in the north of Israel; you can see the hills of Lebanon on a clear day. It’s a relaxed port city, with a very mixed Jewish and Arab population, and a lot of Italian tourists. It’s also an immensely hilly city, built right into the side of Mt. Carmel.

The Baha’i Gardens

My hotel was at the top of the hill, up by the top of the Baha’i Gardens. As much as I love hiking, with the heat of the Middle East in August, I quickly appreciated a quick and convenient route back uphill.

The Carmelit is the only subway in Israel (though they’re opening soon a partially-underground LRT in Tel Aviv). The funicular is extremely mid-century, opened in 1959, though the cars are more modern.

The weirdest thing is that it’s only two cars … on a single cable. The cars don’t move independently – when one leaves the top station, the other leaves the bottom. There’s a spot in the middle where the track splits so they can pass, always at the same place. It also means that the stations are all equidistant to each other – so some of the middle ones are in weird places.

Both the stations and the cars are terraced into steps, but since the hill is steeper at the top, it’s only at the middle stations that the train floor is even with the platform. If you ride it facing away from the hill, you’ll be leaning forward at the top, and back at the bottom – only slightly, but noticeably.

It’s only practical if you need to travel along the line, so the rest of Haifa is served by a good bus system. But I’m totally sold by this odd little underground train up a mountain.

This month: ISRAEL (Part 2!)

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be picking a new country every month! I already covered Israel – it was the second country I looked at, back in January 2021.

But the pandemic is weakening (for now), and so I finally get to travel abroad again – I haven’t been out of Canada since fall 2019. And I’m going to Israel for the first time!

I’ll be there three weeks (I’m actually there right now) – one week for work and two for an actual vacation. I’ll share some of my experiences there this month, so my posts will be a bit more “travel bloggy”.

One of my biggest regrets from covering Israel was not exploring the food better; I know I’ll be in for a treat. I’m also looking forward to the historic and religious sites, and get a real crash course on the complexity on the ground.

I am also packing a LOT of sunscreen – I sunburn bad enough here in Canada, so who knows how I’ll face in the Middle East in August.

This month: NEW ZEALAND

Happy new year, here’s to an upwards trajectory for 2022! This month, I get the first country that I’ve actually visited: New Zealand!

So, before we get into this month, what do I already know about New Zealand?

  • I’ve been there! It was a family vacation when I was 11 or so, but there’s only so much you can absorb at that age, but we went all through the North Island. We went to Bay of Islands, Auckland, Rotorua (I remember the sulphur smell through the whole town from all the geothermal vents), Napier (all Art Deco buildings), and Wellington. I have two particularly sharp memories – seeing cute Little Blue Penguins at an aquarium, and getting violently carsick off my parents’ attempt to drive a sharp mountain route on the opposite side of the road. Sadly, I don’t think I have any pictures left of that trip.
  • That trip came about because my dad had routine business trips to New Zealand when I was a kid in the 90s – he’d have to go for two weeks every other month when a major deal was happening and come back jet-lagged out of his gourd (worse because there were no direct flights from Canada in those days). He may be a good resource this month – he’s spent a lot of time in Auckland and Wellington and still has many friends and contacts from NZ.
  • Apart from my personal experience, New Zealand is probably the most “local” and least “foreign” for me as an anglophone Canadian – we share a lot of the same British colonial history, and in particular, we have a similar simmering inferiority complex to our larger neighbour – Australia and the US – and suffer the indignity of being mistaken for them. I don’t know a lot of the specifics of New Zealand history, however, so I want to learn more!
  • I’m really interested to also learn more both about Maori culture and about the relationship between the Maori and the Pakeha (non-Maori New Zealanders). The Maori seem to have a much stronger position constitutionally than Indigenous people have in Canada – I definitely want to learn more about Maori history, and more about the Treaty of Waitangi, which I know is the legal basis of Maori/Pakeha relations but not much more. I’m also aware that New Zealand had considered changing its flag away from the very colonial one it currently has, and the idea has been floated of changing the country’s name to Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand – however I’ve lost track of where either decision has ended up.
  • NZ’s current PM, Jacinda Ardern, has made international media for being outspokenly progressive, but I don’t know much more about New Zealand’s politics – if they have even a fraction of the ridiculousness that comes up in fellow Westminster political systems like Australia and Canada, there’s going to be some good stories.
  • When I lived in Victoria, BC, the earthquake in Christchurch was a role model / cautionary tale for when/if the Big One was to hit the west coast of North America.
  • As for Kiwi cuisine, I know they’re major fruit exporters, and their lamb is particularly well regarded. They also have a penchant for Marmite / Vegemite, which did not appeal to me as a kid, but I’m willing to give the old college try now as an adult. I also would love to see what truly NZ-distinctive dishes are out there.
  • New Zealand’s most famous culinary export is their wines – I absolutely love Marlborough sauvignon blanc, with that very distinctive gooseberry/”cat’s pee” flavour. I think I’ll try out some other types of wine from NZ – apparently there’s some good red wines coming from there now.
  • I know very little about the South Island – I know it’s mountainous, so good hiking and skiing, and less populated, but not much more. How much cultural and political difference is there between the South and North Islands?
  • There’s plenty of internationally famous Kiwis, like Edmund Hillary, Lorde, Russell Crowe, Taika Waititi, and Peter Jackson (and Kiwis being sick of being connected with the Lord of the Rings movies), but I really want to learn more about “New Zealand famous” artists, comedians, and musicians – ones that are beloved at home but not really known abroad. Same goes for Kiwi movies and tv – I saw Whale Rider when it came out in theatres many years ago, but that’s about it.
  • New Zealand’s All Blacks are one of the best rugby teams in the world and is famous for the pre-game haka – I definitely want to learn more about that history.

And of course, a very serious look at the crucial differences between Canada and New Zealand: