From the Carmel to the sea in one day
Explore Haifa with a local travel blogger - Ora Gazit
Words by Veronica Yudkevich
Photography by Gabi Berger - My Israeli Memories & Veronica Yudkevich
Ora Gazit is a photographer and blogger who loves changes and diversity. In the aftermath of the big fires in Haifa in 2016, during which her house was badly damaged, she opened a travel blog, Saved Dreams (in Hebrew). That’s after years of writing a blog on Lametayel’s site. About 9 months ago she partnered with 5 other travel bloggers and opened a Facebook group that features travel bloggers and quality travel content and tips (no ads allowed). At the time of writing this article the group has grown to over 13,000 members.
Ora is originally from Kibbutz Gvulot in the Negev. Her attachment to Haifa began during her year of pre-military service, when she moved there to work with teenagers. Afterwards she lived in Haifa intermittently, finally settling in the city with her family about 10 years ago. Ora sees Haifa as her home and herself as a local. In order to get to know the wealth of eclectic Haifa, Ora proposes checking out Haifa Trail - Guy Shachar’s project, which offers 21 nature and city attractions’ trails that together comprise a 70 km trail.
What do you like most in Haifa? What’s special about it?
It’s an amazing, heterogenous city, where Jews, Arabs and new immigrants live side by side. It’s a calm and enabling place, something I don’t find elsewhere. Sometimes it’s also a complicated place, but I’m exposed to the rosier parts.
Haifa is a city that combines urbanity, nature and landscape. Nature is literally in the city; no need to drive anywhere - just pick a trail and start walking. It’s still a workers’ town that goes to sleep at 9 PM. However, in recent years winds of change are in the air; it seems that Haifa is at the threshold of unlocking its potential.
Do you miss anything in Haifa?
Nothing at all.
First Stop: Hamara restaurant in Talpiot, Talpiot Market (28 Sirkin St.)
In January, Hamara, which means a ‘market restaurant’, celebrated 3 years since its opening. The place that once was a stall with a bar and two tables has slowly evolved with the area. Today there are a few other neighbouring culinary spots that help jazz up the vibe of revival in the neighborhood, which is coming out naturally, in an unregulated manner.
Hamara is a colorful and eclectic place thanks to the many items and crockery that came from Mipaam vintage shop, but at the same time the atmosphere is very cozy, intimate and unassuming. It was a perfect opening for our Haifa tour. The early hours were no obstacle when it came to polishing off a beautiful salad of greens and herring.
To sum it up, Hamara is a winning combination of an easy-going neighborhood restaurant with fresh, seasonal ingredients from the market, Georgian culinary influences and a daily changing menu of great fish and seafood dishes.
Second stop: Mipaam + Bluma Mae, vintage, second hand and interior design shop in the flea market (16 Kibbutz Galuyot St.)
Gabrielle Rubin (Gaby), the owner of the shop, shared with us the fascinating history of the market which is over 100 years old and the story behind her business.
“The Hejaz railway station is located about 200 meters from the shop. This historical railway, built by the Ottomans, ran from Damascus to Medina in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. When the railway station was constructed, the area of today’s flea market was developed for storage. Therefore, from the very beginning the area functioned as a market where merchandise was stored. The latter is clearly visible in the design of the buildings, with large open spaces on the ground floor, wide doorways and a living area upstairs.
The market community is mixed like all of Haifa - some people are of high socio-economic status and some were doing drugs, with the market serving as their rehabilitation and employment. It’s a market where Arabs and Jews have peacefully coexisted as neighbors for many years, although they might not necessarily share the same political views. People realize that the success of the market is beneficial for all, so there are collaborations, and there is mutual support. It’s like a microcosm of Haifa - a seemingly impossible mix that, without a clear explanation, just works.
It’s a small and cozy market. On Saturdays the main street (Kibbutz Galuyot) is closed to traffic, and the sidewalks are filled with vendors.The dynamics and changeability of a market are part of the charm of the shop. That’s why Einat (ex-associate) and me were drawn to this area. We met at our children’s kindergarten and about 5 years ago opened Mipaam, which wasn’t our main occupation at the time. The shop, hidden in one of the alleyways, was very small and open only during weekends. However, it has grown very quickly. I guess it was the right time for DIY and lifestyle business, but we also offered a more refined market experience with an uncommon service package.”
About 3 years ago the shop moved to its current location. All items in Mipaam are specifically chosen, cleaned, repaired and upgraded. No item gets there by accident. Women (mainly) come to the shop for inspiration and for a holistic lifestyle and styling experience. Mipaam’s special touch is discernible in the restoration, upcycling and repurposing of furniture, which is also a major part of the business. High-quality, vintage oak or walnut items that are made to last are getting a new life. Gaby chooses used, not too embellished, classic furniture that can fit into Israeli homes, both in size and look, and can be adapted and passed on to new homes and owners. Bluma Mae (on the second floor) represents her love for combining old and new, and offers textiles, paper goods and other complimentary items.
Since local supply of vintage items is very limited, about 70% of the stock is imported, mostly from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany, and a small part from Hungary and Romania. The items are handpicked in huge warehouses of antique dealers, whereas new, much anticipated shipments arrive 3-4 times a year. The latter are preceded by clearance sales - follow on Instagram or Facebook to stay updated.
Third stop: Louis Promenade, panoramic lookout point (Yaffe Nof St)
It is one of the most iconic and perhaps cliched spots in Haifa, but the panoramic view that opens up from the promenade towards the bay and downtown, reaching on clear days to the Lebanese border in Rosh Ha-Nikra, is truly breathtaking. It shouldn’t be missed, even for the price of not being the only tourist around.
Fourth stop: Lotem Stream, Central Carmel, Gan Ha-Em garden, (Hanassi Bd.)
Haifa is full of surprises. You can never know what hides behind a corner - an architectural gem, hidden steps connecting distant streets or trails that transport into wild nature, away from the designed urbanity.
Lotem intermittent stream (flooded during rain periods) flows downwards from Gan Ha-Em to the sea. Stepping onto the trail, one can still hear from one side the sounds of animals from the nearby zoo and from the other, the ringing of a school bell. But after a few steps down the trail, rimmed by the cooling, dappling shade of the trees, the sounds of nature cut out the surrounding city. It’s an easy trail that seems especially inviting on hot days.
Fifth stop: Millhouse Cafe, coffee and brunch, Bat Galim (14 Bat Galim Bd.)
Millhouse is small and cozy, exuding a youthful chic and a kick-ass vibe. We sat with O-ren Horwitz, the owner, to hear the story behind the cafe. O-ren, who lived in Haifa as a child and returned at the age of 17, is a young woman with an inspiring bag of skills, including various design disciplines, photography, marketing, event production and creating a cafe that any community would have been proud to have.
O-ren moved to the neighborhood about 4 years ago, and from the start felt the lack of a good place for coffee, a situation she decided to mend. When walking in the area she discovered the Millis House, one of the most architecturally remarkable buildings, and the first one built on the boulevard in the 1920s. O-ren realized that she had found the perfect spot, but, unfortunately, conservation of a large, historical building was too expensive to undertake.
The history of Bat Galim and Millis House continued to intrigue her. She felt that something was missing there, and at the same time she saw an unrealized potential. Senior residents of the neighborhood told her that it was an amazing area where everybody knew each other, with a ‘Great Gatsby style’ atmosphere and beautiful streets. O-ren wanted to offer new hope to the community, attempting to bring back to life the memories of the place, but creating something modern and contemporary as well.
Across the street from Millis House she found another deserted building that was smaller and open for bidding for a lease. The municipality, who owns the property, wanted to impose on the lessee a set of unreasonable restrictions including an absurd restoration plan. The cube-like building was built in 1951 and was designated for conservation. Initially a convenience store of Tzilla Had-Nes, who is well remembered among the locals, it had seen many owners and businesses, among which a stationery store and a sailors’ pub. In the early 90s it was finally abandoned, and became a total wreck.
It took O-ren about two years of never-ending battles with the bureaucrats in order to be allowed to implement her proposal.
Millhouse cafe opened about 9 months ago. The name references the historic landmarks of the neighborhood - Millis House and the Templar Mill from the end of the 19th century. O-ren’s partner, Asfe, designed the logo that was inspired by Bat Galim’s logo from the 60s. In addition, as part of its design-minded approach, the cafe is offering a range of minimalistic, cool merch from international designers - a kind of memento that’s almost impossible to find in Haifa. Future plans include monthly spotlights on local designers with special editions of pins and patches.
Knowing almost no one in the neighborhood, O-ren followed her hunch that there must be people who would like a place like hers and need it. And it was in fact thrilling to discover the wonderful community that contradicts so many prejudices about Bat Galim. Among the frequent customers are young families, soldiers, medical students and people from all over Haifa or even out-of-towners.
Sixth stop: Bat Galim Promenade
A relatively short walk along the beach takes one past the crumbling skeleton of a casino, a white elephant alluding to a much more glorious past. On the northern side of the promenade is Bat Galim’s beach - a great place to find photogenic and inspiring characters. In the morning fearless older people, mostly of a Russian descent, swim there, regardless of the weather or water temperature. The south side of the promenade reaches the cable car station that connects Bat Galim to Stella Maris on the Carmel mountain.
The Hebrew speaking readers would surely appreciate Ora Gazit's account of our Haifa adventures. The same day, but from a slightly different and personal perspective. Click here!
TRUE LOCAL MAP - Exploring HAIFA with ORA GAZIT