Traveling with the Rockets: Day nine

August 17, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Brian DeBenedictis

Assistant Sports Information Director Brian DeBenedictis is blogging about the women’s basketball team’s trip to Israel.

Today was yet another great day of exploration in Israel. But, at the same time, today was a little sad as it was our last day of organized activities. Tomorrow is a free day, and everybody is on his or her own until the evening’s farewell dinner. I think a couple of the coaches and administrators are tentatively planning a return trip to Jerusalem to take in more of the sites. Personally, I’m crossing my fingers and toes hoping we travel back to Jerusalem — and I’ll keep you posted on where we end up!

Aqueduct at Caesarea

Aqueduct at Caesarea

To be honest with you all, though, today did not start out so good for myself. Let me explain. Our bus was to roll out at 9 a.m. this morning, so I set my cell phone alarm to go off at 6:30 a.m. The alarm did its job (as it usually does), but I must have turned it off and fell back to sleep. The next thing I know it is 8 a.m., and there is no training session down this morning.

With my tail between my legs, I made my way to breakfast and feasted on a veggie omelet, fresh fruit and coffee — yummy!

After a sort of healthy meal, I hustled to take a quick shower before the bus set sail for a one-hour trip to the Caesarea National Park. Did you know that Caesarea is situated on the Mediterranean Sea coast in northern Sharon, between the Crocodile and Hadera rivers? It lies alongside bays and shallow inlets that were formed by wave erosion.

A little more history for you about Caesarea: Settlement at what became Caesarea began in the third century BCE during the Hellenistic Period as a small Phoenician port city called Straton’s Tower. In 90 BCE, King Alexander Jannaeus conquered the city to expand the borders of his kingdom and develop its shipping industry. The population of Straton’s Tower remained Jewish until the Romans’ conquest in 63 BCE, when they granted the city its freedom. King Herod the Great transformed the city beginning in 22 BCE with the construction of its sophisticated port, warehouses, markets, bathhouses, temples and magnificent public buildings, naming it Caesarea. Every five years, the city hosted gladiatorial games, sports competitions and performances.

Caesarea also flourished during the Byzantine Period. To the south were extensive farmlands, where cultivation continued through the Early Arab Period and apparently until the 11th-century Crusader conquest. Eventually, they were buried by shifting sands. I thought this was one of the most impressive archaeological sites on our voyage across the globe.

The site was fascinating to explore, and the museum included a great video explanation of the history of the port. On our tour, we visited the Theatre (one of the most ancient of all theaters in Israel, and it has hosted Eric Clapton), the Promontory Palace (which dates back to the Roman and Byzantine periods), the Herodian Amphitheatre (a u-shaped entertainment structure, complete with an arena and hundreds of seats), the Network of Streets, the Bathhouse Complex (no real explanation needed), the Harbour (a large artificial harbor built during the time of King Herod), the High-Level Aqueduct and the Low Aqueduct.

Some members of the UT women's basketball team posed for a photo before lunch at the Bistro de Carmel.

Some members of the UT women's basketball team posed for a photo before lunch at the Bistro de Carmel.

Following the 90-minute tour and presentation at Caesarea, our group quickly visited the community of Zichron Ya’akov for some last-minute shopping before lunch at the Bistro de Carmel — and what a lunch it was!

I know some of you may think I exaggerate on the amounts of food we’ve been eating on this trip, but our lunch today consisted of (let me catch my breath) salad, cheese platter, olive platter, cheese ravioli, egg plant lasagna and pizza — as the appetizers — oh my! I could have been done after that and been just fine — but there was more!

The servers came around to clean off the tables and asked each one of us if we wanted salmon or a St. Peter’s fish (I think it was tilapia) with roasted red peppers for the main entrée.

I almost always lick my plate totally clean, but I couldn’t finish either the salmon or the potatoes this afternoon — very disappointed with myself!

The servers then removed all the entrées and proceeded to give a modest break before passing out a piece of chocolate moose cake; it was a little piece of heaven. But we were still not done!

To finish off the so-called “light” lunch, we were each given a cappuccino. The meal was so good and so filling, I probably won’t need to eat for the rest of the day. Well, I better not go that far!

After loosening my belt another notch and rolling myself out of the restaurant, our group walked to the adjacent building for an informative 60-minute tour of the Carmel Winery. Did you know that this winery is considered the most historic winery of all of Israel and produces 15 million bottles a year ranging from the super premium Carmel Limited Edition to Selected, Israel’s largest selling brand? That is correct, 15 million!

A little more history for you all: Carmel Winery was founded in 1882 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Carmel owns the two largest wineries in the country of Israel, at Rishon Le Zion and here at Zichron Ya’acov.

Following the winery tour, we loaded up the bus and returned to our hotel in Tel Aviv for a free evening. Not quite sure what tonight holds for us, but I can guarantee you that it will include for me a light salad with fat-free dressing and some mineral water for dinner — ha-ha-ha!

And to wrap up today’s blog, I know most of you are chomping at the bit to find out if I got a training session, and the answer is “yes,” thank goodness. I have been doing push-ups and sit-ups in my room between writing this blog and uploading photos to the Internet (which has been not too bad so far today). I just wanted to share that information with all of you to hopefully put your nerves as ease.

Video blogs and extended photo galleries from each day will be posted here when we return to Toledo.

Click to access the login or register cheese