Tiberias (2 – 6 May 2013)
I do not think that I have been more religious in recent years than in those 4 days at Tiberias.
To begin with, I actually stayed at a pilgrims’ house. This was the Casa Nova Pilgrim Guesthouse, which is run by the Koinonia John the Baptist, a private association of the faithful. The historic St Peter’s Church is within the community compound and that was where I attended mass the Sunday I was in the city. It was also almost by the lake, only blocked by a row of restaurants.
When I was there, the guesthouse was managed by Liliana, a Mexican member of the community. Later, I would find out that Liliana had thought that Singapore was in South Korea. With all the Korean Catholics coming to Israel, I was not all that surprised that she thought I was Korean. When she learnt that Singapore was not in South Korea after all, she then asked me if it was true that the local Catholic church was subject to government control. If Singapore is not Korean then it must be Chinese huh? But Liliana was a really nice person.
I was starting to get affected by the heat although it was still dry heat. I never enjoyed excessive heat. Although I was far from heat exhaustion mostly, it was not comfortable at all. From Akko I had to get to Haifa to take another bus to Tiberias. The bus station at Haifa was open air, and it was hot. It did not help also that there were a lot of soldiers mulling about at the station. Seeing them made me remember all those hot and sticky times during my own national service days and they were hardly pleasant at all.
Speaking of Israeli soldiers, I was amazed that they are allowed to take their rifles everywhere! It was amazing and scary at the same time. Are they loaded? Are they terrorists? I tried not to stare too much at them.
Tiberias, I have to say, is simply boring. If I were a beach person then it might have been a different story altogether what with the lake and all. But I am not. It did not help also that the whole place became a ghost town on Shabbat and on that particular Shabbat, when I went out in the afternoon, I thought that I was being stewed alive. In fact, when I returned to the guesthouse that afternoon, Liliana opened the door for me and remarked that there was a burning smell in the air outside. I had to agree with her.
Nevertheless, Tiberias is the major city in the area and a convenient base to get to the places of interest nearby. I am not sure that I would have chosen to stay somewhere else even with the benefit of hindsight.
I visited this tomb only because I had heard of Maimonides and there was nothing else to do. This man was a Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar but I am not familiar with his work at all.
I had read that the St Peter’s fish was a must try around the Sea of Galilee area. And so I did. However, this fish is really just an ordinary tilapia and it did not taste any different from all the tilapias that I had had in my entire life. Nothing really fantastic or unusual to me.
I was also stupid enough to agree to a humongous order of sides.
These were enough to feed 2 or 3 persons and I had them all to myself! Initially I had only wanted a hummus and some vegetables. But of course the waitress said that I should just order the set since it included those 2 I wanted and more and the set was not much more expensive. Needless to say, I could not finish it all, although I think I made a very good brave attempt.
This was at the first or second restaurant after I had reached the promenade. It was really beautiful eating just by the lake. However the service was not all that fantastic. The waitress only gave me a smile after she saw the fat tip. She did not deserve that tip at all with the face she gave me.
About tipping in Israeli restaurants, the server would make it very clear to the customer that service was not included in the bill, if this was the case, when it was presented to him.
Oh yes, I met another waitress in Tiberias who annoyed me. I had pasta and a fruit shake at this diner. The girl started off being nice and all and I thought at first that she was quite wonderful. When she brought me the bill however her face was all stern and told me that the tip had to be at least 20 shekels. How much was my meal? 60 shekels. Is there anywhere in the world where people tip more than 30% of their bill? I doubt so. In any case, even though she was friendly to me, I only needed her to serve my my order, which she did nicely. She did ask me twice during the meal if everything was OK but there was nothing exceptional that she had to or could do for me. Before the 20 shekel bombshell was dropped on me, I had already decided on tipping her 10 shekels. And that was what she got, though I fled the diner after leaving the money on the table when she was busy with another customer. It was cowardly of me I admit, but at least I avoided a confrontation that would have spoilt my evening.