Spanning three hectares of beachside parkland, nine enormous igloo-shaped domes pop into view along Haifa’s Hahagana Boulevard – temporary additions to the coastline that have drawn 150,000 visitors in the past four days.

Inside the domes are thousands of flowers bursting with color from all over the world, each arrangement boasting a different theme and part of the city of Haifa’s International Flower Exhibition in Park Hecht. The flower exhibition, the largest ever to be held in Israel, follows a similar festival the municipality held 19 years ago.

“It’s especially exciting to return the wonderful International Flower Exhibition to Haifa with the coming of spring and the great blossoming,” said Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, in a statement released by his office. “Beyond the tremendous sensory experience, this is a real culture of recreation, travel, studies and observation of nature. To enjoy from rare creations of real life in an era of digital-technology is more than a great privilege; it is also a requirement for us and for our children.”

A pirate on stilts yelling “arr” and bearing a hook instead of a left hand greeted visitors as they walked through the festival gates Wednesday morning.

Joining the pirate were various other characters on stilts throughout the grounds – a lion, a court jester and a pink elephant – all mulling in and out of the lines leading into the nine domes. A clown wearing a turquoise-sequined top-hat aboard a sparkling red tricycle also joined the group, trailed on foot by a bedazzled baroness.

Rows of colorful flowers decorated the green hills of the park as the Mediterranean waves lapped the shore just meters away, while a small engineered stream filled with red fish and white swans crossed the park below a wooden footbridge. European fiddle music played over the loudspeaker, and a crafts fair bustled in between the domes.

The lines were so long – even on the fifth day of the event’s operation – that the staff had placed placards on trees indicating how many minutes were left in the wait, a tactic that could only be compared to those employed at the most popular rides at Disney World.

As in the magical Floridian theme park, small children at the Haifa event jumped and climbed on the metal bar dividers that guided families in line.

Some of the visitors audibly complained that their NIS 79 tickets did not merit such long waits, but once inside the domes, their attitudes instantly changed, as they inevitably exclaimed, “how beautiful!” Beginning with dome #6 of 9 proved to be strategic, as the first five domes – close to the entrance and the beginning of the official event route – had lines that snaked from their exhibits into the surrounding grassy knolls. The wait for dome #6 – called “World of Senses” – ended up only being 16 minutes, and inside, glowing green netted structures shaped like garlic bulbs hung from the ceiling, each containing different floral arrangements in which visitors could enter and immerse themselves.

At dome #7, which was physically connected to domes #8 and #9 by a tunnel, visitors experienced a “Fantasy World,” walking into a garden of brilliantly colored tulips – yellow, white, red and purple – over which stood huge inflated versions of the flowers and water pipes. Amid the tulip gardens, small garden gnomes were scattered.

A “World of Water” followed inside dome #8, in which bubbles floated all over the room, and giant inflated Nemo fish and flowers hung from the ceiling, giving the visitor the feeling of being underwater.

Enormous white amaryllises (hippeastroms) dangled from the ceiling, and soothing musical tones accompanied strobe lights that mimicked the motions of deep ocean life. Multi-colored gerberas in plastic bottles were nestled among large white sounds that surrounded the underbelly of a giant wooden ship that beckoned a Disney ambiance, not of the crowds and lines but of the opening scenes of The Little Mermaid.

In dome #9, “Land of the Rising Sun,” Oriental music played in the background and red flamingo flowers (anthuriums) hung in vines from the ceiling, and white paper doves were positioned below them above a live fish pond.

Backtracking a bit to dome #5 – the “Hanging Garden” – a 20-minute line led visitors to a dark world of whirling lights, purple moth orchids (phalaenopsises) everywhere and spooky music playing in the background.

The next logical stop was dome #3, where a “Secret Garden” was located at the end of another 20-minute line.

All throughout the dark room, white flowers were hanging from the wooden planks, which were arranged in haphazard directions to form cages where a white garden was illuminated inside.

From dome #3, visitors could pass directly into dome #4, the “Wild World,” which was so crowded that it was nearly impossible to budge through.

Although very stuffy, however, the dome also featured quite a beautiful scene, with a green-lit background and flowers and bushes appearing to grow naturally along a mountainside in the middle of the room – true to the station’s theme.

Exiting the third and fourth stations, only the second and first remained, and a 40-minute line – the longest yet – led into dome #2, which was connected internally to dome #1.

“Romantic Avenue,” a Parisian street lined with cafes and shops, was the theme of dome #2, and visitors saw a seamless combination of flowers and fashion. Nearby, a jeans shop and 1960s-era bright pink car display – all adorned with flowers of course – was literally a bed of roses, adjacent to a cradle also made of the same flower. A Valentine’s candy shop adorned with red roses stood near a bakery in which the baked goods were really floral arrangements. A mannequin in a soccer uniform at a sports store clutched a soccer ball between two large columns of multicolored rose vines, while a rose-laden bookshop sat next to the exit.

A potent smell of roses wafted throughout the room, and Parisian street music complemented the atmosphere.

Dome #1, “World of Flowers,” was perhaps the ideal station to end with, as flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors decorated the room.

Around the dome’s internal perimeter, orange, yellow and white lilies lined the area in row after row.

Above the visitors, who were enjoying a strong floral aroma, brightly colored bunches of lizianthius flowers hung in perfect giant spheres like disco balls, kicking off the festival and the spring season.

The exhibition continues on Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and concludes on Saturday with hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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