The Golan and Nimrod Castle
WITH HINDSIGHT there were always going to be flaws: it's no coincidence that the phrase "Israeli" and "road trip" isn't a classic. But remind me to check a country's car-to-road ratio (and if that stat doesn't exist, it should) before setting out on our next wheeled adventure.
Not that we didn't have fun. But spending half my birthday in a non-moving jam to do a 40-km journey from Caesaria to Akko wasn't a highlight. Especially not when a certain three month old defies baby logic by hating the car, even a $XXXXXX (blanked out to protect licence fee payers' sensibilities) BBC jeep . Nor was the near-stationery hour on our way to the mountains above the Sea of Galilee with said infant showing none of the stoicism a certain other baby doubtless showed on another journey not a million miles from our own, a couple of millennia ago, anything to write home about.
It took Shabbat and a drive through a minefield in the Golan Heights before we finally had the road to ourselves. We were headed north, as far north as Israel goes, and a lot further than the Syrians would like it to, in search of a medieval castle on a ridge above Damascus. Our route skirted the UN-monitored buffer zone that still separates Israel from Syria. Burnt-out tanks and abandoned Syrian bunkers from the 1967 and 1974 conflicts littered the hilly landscape, a living reminder that Israel is still a country at war. We paused at a viewpoint to take in the ghost town of Quneitra, once Syria's main Golan town but destroyed in 1967, and the red, white, and black of the Syrian flag flying in the distance. Perhaps it's the islander in me, but there's something innately thrilling about staring across an international border, especially one to a country all but off limits.
The drive wound up being a highlight, not least because Nimrod Castle was shut when we reached it, at just gone 3pm. A real shame, as it looked amazing. Lucky, then, that Israel does a mean line in crusader castles, with the 12th-century Belvoir Fortress making the perfect lunch spot on our way back to Jerusalem the next day. Being Sunday - and the start of the working week around here - we were worried about the traffic potential, but needn't have thanks to the fact that the road went straight through the West Bank. And I mean straight through: the Israelis purposefully ensured the road bypassed all Palestinian towns when they built it, just to make life that little bit harder for them. The net effect was an empty highway, which suited us and our two sleeping boys but was something of an anomaly given the traffic chaos elsewhere.
At least it explained the heavy traffic elsewhere if roads exist that most citizens don't use - Palestinians because there's no point and Israelis because they won't travel in the West Bank. Next time I'm sticking to disputed border byways or taking a leisurely approach to my road trip and just driving on Shabbat.