Springtime getaways

Weather is the most pleasant, rivers are at their fullest, and parks and fields are at their greenest.

rafting 88 (photo credit: )
rafting 88
(photo credit: )
There's no better time for getting out and about with the whole family than springtime. The weather is at its most pleasant, the rivers are at their fullest and the parks and fields are at their greenest. The great outdoors beckon after the winter months and the Pessah cleaning. Driving up to Mount Hermon, one may still see some snow. Even if not, the after-effects of the winter can be seen at Tel Dan with all its bubbly, fast-flowing streams fed by the melting snow, which in turn feed into the Dan and Jordan rivers. Rafting and inner-tubing are great fun; but when the rivers are swollen, visitors should take extra care and follow the safety precautions. Down the winding road from Mount Hermon is Nimrod's Castle, where sightseers can view the reservoirs and watchtowers and wander along some secret passages. The panoramic view alone from this mountain-top castle is well worth the visit. The Banias waterfall is also a stop well worth making. Visitors can start at the spring near the caves where the water ripples along gently and walk alongside the river for about an hour as it winds its way under the main road downstream to the roaring, gushing waterfall - the largest in Israel. Another view not to be missed is that from the Manara cable-car, the longest one in Israel. It runs from just outside Kiryat Shmone at the base to the Naftali Heights and Kibbutz Manara 1,895 meters above. At each stop there are activities such as rappelling, rock climbing, cycling or one can just enjoy the view. At the northern tip of the Mediterranean coast are the grottos at Rosh Hanikra. Here, one can take the cable car down to the sea and wander through the 200 meters of white chalkstone caves, hollowed out of the rocks by the actions of the waves over the centuries. There is also a film about the old railway tunnel between Haifa and Beirut. A bit farther down the coast is Acre, with its new multimedia activities to introduce viewers to the ancient city. An especially entertaining feature is the performance of The Last Bath Attendant, which is presented in the old Turkish Baths. It tells the story of all the political intrigue and plotting that went on in the baths long ago. As visitors meander through the bathhouse, they are privy to the conversations of the politicians and war-mongers who, while being massaged in the sauna, plot the downfall of their enemies. The city of Caesarea has also set up an entertaining, interactive multimedia happening designed to show visitors what went on in the ancient city. When they walk through the National Park among the remains, they will have a good idea of what once existed there, and they can also "virtually" meet and talk to many of the important people who trod the streets of this ancient port. Slightly inland, the Courtyard at Kibbutz Ein Sheme gives children an idea of how the kibbutz movement started. As well as visiting the vibrant 21st-century kibbutz, they'll be able to learn about the history of the kibbutz at the museum. The old courtyard, which dates back to 1913, has been preserved and partially reconstructed, and it creates the authentic atmosphere of the old days. Ganei Yehoshua, aka Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv, is always a favorite for the kids at this time of year. No matter how many people have the same idea, the enormous park has room for everyone. Activities include boating on the lake, riding the mini-train, renting a bicycle or a carriage, barbecuing, playing ball games, strolling through the sculpture garden, playing on the adventure playground, and enjoying the bird Zapari. If that isn't enough, they can go across the road to the Luna Park for some hair-raising thrills. Not far away, there are two museums. The Eretz Yisrael Museum has an archaeological dig of Tel Qasile in the middle of the grounds. There is also a planetarium with a 40-minute spectacle that is quite literally out of this world. There are also craftsmen busy with many ancient crafts for the children to watch, as well as various pavilions devoted to particular subjects such as ceramics, ethnography, and philately. A few minutes along the road is the new Palmach Experience. Here, visitors can follow the lives of several idealistic youngsters who were eager to get rid of the British and bring about their own state. Participants climb over the trees in the forest, sit around the bonfire with them, be shot at on the boat with the Ma'apilim and hide with them in the forest as they blow up a bridge. This is one of the new-style museums, where visitors participate in the historic actions. It certainly gives children a much more hands-on idea of our country's formative history. There are two other such museum experiences in Jerusalem. At The Menachem Begin Heritage Center, visitors can sit around the table as Begin and his underground activists plot to blow up the King David Hotel. Then they can be at the airport with prime minister Begin as he welcomes Egyptian president Anwar Sadat on his historic visit to Israel. On Mount Herzl, visitors can enjoy the Herzl Experience. Here, they sit in on the Basel conference when the idea of a Jewish state was first discussed and follow the state's founder on his fundraising missions around the world. On a lighter - if not more jarring - note, the kids can enter the Time Elevator in downtown Jerusalem, where they will move and shake on the computer-generated seats as they hurtle through thousands of years of ancient Jewish history. Another option is Ein Yael for some outdoor fun and hands-on experience at ancient crafts such as mosaic, weaving and old-fashioned baking. Nearby is Jerusalem's Tisch Family Zoo, always a favorite with its beautiful, spacious grounds, large enclosed areas where the animals roam around, mini-train, reptile house and playgrounds for kids to enjoy. Farther south is the Ashkeluna water park on the beach at Ashkelon. The beautiful National Park overlooks the beach. Even farther south, at the Air Force Museum at Hazerim (just outside Beersheba) the kids can have their photos taken sitting in an airplane, as well as learning all about the important role planes and pilots had in the making of the state. They can also sit in the famous Boeing which rescued the hostages from Entebbe and watch a film about Israel's most famous aerial exploits.