The disappointment that's Haifa
Up, and down, and up again, and see that you don’t step into dog poo. Haifa is Israel’s work and transportation center with a major contribution to the country’s GDP, but not much (if anything) to offer tourists, or even millenials willing to work and live there. We came, we saw, we left with very few photos shot.
The city seemed like a good target for our first excursion out of Tel Aviv. A little over an hour’s drive, not too much to see there and we would be back just in time for the evening celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The city’s built on the northern slope of Mount Carmel. That’s an important fact I did read before but somehow didn’t consciously register. We quickly realized what that meant when we arrived and I had to drive the narrow, steep streets on our way to a parking lot. Shortly afterwards we had to walk the same way—up or down in nearly 30C heat.
Navigating a mountain slope takes more time, so our primary destination—the Baha’i Gardens—took us over half an hour to walk to. Yes, I admit to having misjudged the distances too. I was hoping the beauty of the place would vindicate me and… it did. Partly. There’s an army of gardeners maintaining these premises and they’re stunning. Lush green, interjected with brightly colorful flowerbeds and narrow, orderly pathways cutting through. (They really mean to keep those tidy—there’s no chewing gum allowed on the premises.) And all of it fenced off and closed for non-believers, aside from a small piece in the north, or unless we join one of the few organized (and usually crowded) tours. Which on the day we arrived we had already missed.
Let’s see, what else does Haifa have to offer? Turns out, not much. The Lonely Planet guide hailed the Hadar district as a “garden city”, and indeed the streets were pleasantly shaded by rows of trees. The adjacent Wadi Nisnas neighborhood is described as a “museum without walls” and we did see a number of neat murals on the way. Neither of these two were, however, particularly engaging or worth a visit by themselves.
Then there’s the Downtown part, which could be considered the center or the old town, I guess. In reality, it’s one small, partly dilapidated street with a few bars and restaurants along it. On the plus side, we had a delicious falafel lunch here.
The south-western part of the city hosts a high-tech campus with heavyweights of the IT industry located here—Microsoft, IBM, Intel and others. That’s likely because Haifa is home to Technion—Israel’s top technical university. It’s an impressive concentrations of big brains and money, although obviously the area is an office district like pretty much every other in the world, not a worthy sight.
There’s a saying in Israel, that “Haifa works, Jerusalem prays and Tel Aviv plays”. The part about Haifa seems to be accurate. It’s a working city, large port, old industrial center and nowadays a technology hub. I wouldn’t classify it as a livable city by my standards, though. Difficult to move around, crowded and offering few aesthetic qualities or public spaces. (Admittedly, we’ve only been here for a day and might’ve completely missed something that’s under the city’s crust.)