A walking trail showing the colourful diversity of the city
By Moshe Gilad Haaretz 28 April 2013
"Like another city, a city within a city, or a city on top of a city, layers upon layers, like a cream cake," Esti G. Haim writes of Haifa in her latest book, which takes place there. Haifa, the northern port city that slopes from Mount Carmel to the Mediterranean coast, is Israel's third largest and is known both for its dramatic topography, as described by Haim, and its diverse population.
Given the physical landscape, the connection between the neighborhoods, the wadis, the views, the streets and the people can be tenuous. But the new Haifa Trail is an innovative, and ambitious, effort to bring them together.
Guy Shachar, an architecture student at the Technion, is the tireless promoter of the Haifa Trail, a winding, circular walking path with 21 segments covering 70 kilometers along what he calls "the most diverse urban scenery in the world."
The description may be a bit exaggerated but the vistas are impressive and the new trail is a rare opportunity to stitch them together. Below are snapshots of a few of the segments. The route of the entire trail can be found online at www.haifatrail.com.
The big picture
"The idea is simple and very attractive," says Shachar enthusiastically. "We wanted to create an urban trek." The route, he says, basically connects the things he enjoys in the city – from the urban to the natural, highlighting a variety of landscapes and architecture. The big question, he says, was how to connect them all on one continuous path.
On the lookout, Shachar explains how each of the path's 21 segments, comprised of existing infrastructure like city streets, natural wadis and marked trails, encompasses a neighborhood or cityscape.
Don't attempt it all in one or even two days; but three days should suffice. You can also pick and choose segments each time you tackle the trail and curate your own experience. Given Haifa's fluctuating elevations, take note of which parts go up and which go down so you can pair them together in a way that makes sense for you.
hachar and I meet in the morning at Bat Galim beach, close to Rambam Medical Center, and start uphill toward Stella Maris, a 19th century Carmelite monastery. The stair path we walk along is green, blossoming and beautiful and without trail markings, though in some stretches it links up to pre-existing, marked trails. Other parts of the trail are simply a recommended course set by Shachar and marked on Google Maps on his website.
Shachar leads and I follow. We pass the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum where some of the remnants of the INS Dakar, the Israeli submarine that sunk in 1968, are on display. We continue up to the Cave of Elijah at the top of the mountain, where we find two women who offer us some sweets. Nearby is the spherical cabin of the cable car that rises from Bat Galim to the top of Mount Carmel, passing through layers of this urban cream cake.
From the cave we continue to climb until we reach a beautiful outlook, next to the cupola of the Carmelite monastery that looks out over Tel Shikmona and cargo ships waiting at the entrance to Haifa's harbor.
There is a hidden Haifa made of a skeleton of stairs that reimagines the city as a giant game of Chutes and Ladders. This segment runs from the Maromei Carmel (Carmel Heights) to the Lower City and takes about three hours.
The starting point offers one of the trail's most breathtaking views: The Louis Promenade on Yefe Nof Street, behind the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art and the Dan Carmel Hotel, above the Baha'i Gardens. In the park next to the promenade stands the Kaiser Obelisk, erected in 1910 to commemorate the visit of German Kaiser Wilhelm II to the Holy Land.
From here we walk east and turn left at the Gedera stairs. After a series of turns, more stairs and more turns, we end up at Spinoza Street in the Hadar neighborhood. The Spinoza stairs descend to the street where the Museum of Science sits in the old building that used to house the Technion. From there, more stairs and more turns and eventually we end up in the heart of the Christian neighborhood, Wadi Nisnas.
This long walk and continuous descent makes you feel like you have the key to the city's secret passages. Of course it's just an illusion – these passages are known by many but because they're narrow and cut through streets and are free of vehicular traffic, the experience feels like a stealthy adventure.
Those walking just this segment of the trail can leave a car on Yefe Nof Street, descend on foot, and return by bus (which operates on Saturdays in Haifa) or cab.
Trail Segment 13: Nahal Siakh
Nahal Siakh is "the most Haifaeque stream," according to Shachar. We leave the car behind the Sde Yehoshua cemetery and walk east up the stream along a path marked with black symbols. Generally, Shachar recommends coming from the opposite direction – heading downhill from Marom Hacarmel along the slope of Nahal Siakh and then ascending concrete stairs to the neighborhood of Kababir. But today we're trying to save time.
At the start we pass Bustan Khayat ("Khayat Orchard"), founded by a distinguished Haifa Arab family as a getaway to the city. Several pools and many trees dot the spot, currently being renovated by local volunteers. Further up the climb we reach several springs where 12th century Christian monks lived in seclusion in Crusader times.
Along the stream are several gaping caves. Not far from them are ruins from a 13th century church and, further downstream, another spring dubbed the "Spring of the Wanderers" to commemorate the activities of the "Wanderers Association," one of Israel's first hiking groups, founded in 1916 by Pinhas Cohen. From here you can head back downhill to the car or continue on to another segment of the trail.
Trail Segment 6: Outlook on Founders Park in Neve Sha'anan
We begin this part of the hike with falafel at a place called Zohar in the Ziv commercial center. Like every proud local, Shachar swears to me this is the best falafel in the country. I can't vouch for it in scientific terms and don't want to risk the political fallout of agreeing with him, but let's say that since we are famished and thirsty, the falafel tastes like heaven.
With renewed energy, we climb the nearby hill to a park called Horshat Hameyasdim (Founders Grove), named after the founders of the Neve Sha'anan neighborhood, which was built in 1922. At the top is a water pump and a pole for a weather vane that used to spin in the wind until it fell. Also on top is a beautiful view, naturally.
The trail's website has detailed maps and precise descriptions of all the trail segments and can be found at www.haifatrail.com.