human behavior

Backtracking to Akko

Posted in Foreign Impressions, Travel by humanb on March 30, 2012

Akko (Acre), Israel

We initially skipped Akko on our way to Haifa from the Golan Heights.

Only after we’d arrived in Tel Aviv, from where we planned to fly back to Australia, did we think to read about Akko in a guidebook. We were so intrigued by the description of the city, and so disinclined to spend our last day in Tel Aviv, that we decided to retrace our drive back up the west coast beyond Haifa to reach this ancient city of the north – one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in Israel.

It was the best last-minute decision we made on the trip.

We spent the day in Old Akko.

It’s impossible to describe why this city immediately enchanted us in a way that Jaffa and Jerusalem, for example, could not. It didn’t just boast ancient architecture. It felt old.

The residents of Old Akko are largely Arab Muslim, though the greater city is predominantly Jewish. And much like the Palestinian Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, and in stark contrast to the sterile beauty and tourist appeal of Jaffa, Old Akko felt very lived in. This is not an old city that scrubs clean and primps its ancient city for tourist consumption. It’s a home.

And a relatively quiet and peaceful one.

Perhaps what is so charming about this city, is the juxtaposition of old and new here. The ancient structures are used, not displayed. And space is made for modern conveniences, without destroying the old.

Though the old is not always so well looked after…

Akko’s markets are even (very) faintly reminiscent of Istanbul.

And for some reason I found its own not-so-grand-bazaar more enjoyable for its relevance to the community. This was no tourist trap, but rather a well-used, low-cost market.

And wouldn’t you know? I’d been kicking myself for not buying the overpriced incense in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter – the very same incense that my childhood Episcopal Church used every Sunday in Pennsylvania. I couldn’t find it after a full days walk in Haifa, Tel Aviv or Jaffa. But I found it here, and for only a few shekels. I even got an incense holder for next to nothing.

But what really made our brief visit to Akko special, was the lovely brunch we had at a seaside restaurant.

The atmosphere was serene, the seafood, fresh and perfectly cooked, and the entertainment, delightful. We spent an hour watching several school-aged boys dive off the very high old city wall into the rock-strewn sea below – a regular pastime, it seemed.

The boys seemed unperturbed by the onlookers. Or maybe they intended to put on a show.

A few boys stood back reluctantly and cheered on their friends.

While others dived repeatedly with abandon.

This was by far my best experience in Israel. Non-commercial. Unspoiled. A picture of union between old and new without over-engineering. Natural beauty.

And peace.

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