Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Visiting The Holy Land.....Israel....Part One

Disclaimer: Our week touring the Holy Land was a blur of too much information and remembering amazing sites along the way. Days were long and internet was scarce so I am writing this a week later from memory so please do not complain about my lack of facts or biblical information. It is what it is, just a recollection from two tired nomads travelling the world.

Get ready for Terry's awesome Blog
on this once in a lifetime tour of
The Holy Land

Our plane landed in Tel Aviv Israel where we were picked up by a driver from our hotel in Jerusalem. The one hour drive passed by quickly as we chatted to a Canadian couple who was booked for the same Holy Land tour. We made our way to our hotel and quickly dropped off our luggage before heading out to find some lunch. Armed with a map of the city provided by the hotel we ended up in a nearby shopping mall and found our way to the food court, thinking there would be something we could recognize there to eat. Wrong! While each restaurant offered a large menu, some with photos, everything was written in Hebrew which is written backwards and upside down.....literally.

Our first impression of Israel
Soldiers Everywhere!

Throughout the week of touring we encountered massive crowds of tourists, pilgrims, buses and more all looking for a life changing experience, retracing the steps of Jesus.

We managed to get a plate of chicken shwarma (slow cooked meat that we recognized from Egypt) with salad, fries and a thick pita bread and drinks for around 49 shekels each which translates to around $13. Ouch....expensive compared to the dollar prices we paid in Egypt. Next we headed out onto the streets of Jerusalem to explore this vibrant, Holy City. We hopped onto the local tram and made our way to Old Jerusalem to literally walk on the same cobblestoned streets where Jesus once walked.

The next morning we met with our tour guide Patrick along with about 38 others to start our Holy Land tour that would last through the next week. We boarded an air conditioned bus and headed to the old part of the city once again to begin exploring with a knowledgeable guide. We passed through the Jewish quarter to the Western Wall of the city more commonly called, "the wailing wall." There we joined others to touch the wall and slip notes with prayer requests into its slots. It was an emotional experience, but just the first of many here in Israel.

The Western Wall
also known as the Wailing Wall

Clyde praying at the Western Wall

(Our tour bus mates included people from: Holland, Hong Kong, Russia, Germany, Canada, US and more.)

After that we walked the famous Via Dolorosa or, "way of the cross" where Jesus literally walked as he carried the cross. Growing up Catholic I knew about the stations of the cross but it never dawned on me that THIS really happened and was documented somewhere in the world. Yet back then I had NO idea that someday I would be here in Jerusalem walking in the same road and stopping along the way at the stations of the cross. Wow!

The fifth Station of the Cross
Simon helps carry the cross

Next we toured the Church of the Holy Sepulcher  which according to tradition was built upon the tomb or cave where Jesus was buried and three days later rose again. Wow.....and here we were about to see this most Holiest of places. A shrine was built on top of the tomb and the line into this most Holy place was long.....with many a miserable tourist trying to push their way in front of others. Our tour group was only in the church for about thirty minutes so we phoned our guide and asked if it was alright that we passed on the rest of the tour to wait in the long line? He agreed so we stayed and waited for an hour or two to see the spot where Jesus was laid to rest. Afterwards we made our way back to the hotel using the public tram system.

This Shrine was built to cover
the Tomb of Jesus

The next day we were up bright and early again to meet our guide at 8am for another long day of exploring Israel. We passed by the Mount of Olives which boasts having olive trees that are over 900 years old. These ancient trees have massive trunks and still produce fruit. Nearby at the foot of the mountain we stopped at the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his crucifixion.

We stopped at the mosaic-coated Church of All Nations which houses The Rock Of Agony, a slab of rock where Jesus prayed before his arrest.

After lunch we visited the famous Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum. These scrolls were found in the Judean desert by the nomadic Bedouin people that lived there. Over 980 different manuscripts were found telling about what life was like during the times when Jesus lived on earth. It is from these scrolls that much of the Old Testament was written. The scrolls were found in twelve different caves around the area of the Dead Sea.

The fountain signifies the
top of the earthen jars in
which the scrolls were found

No photography was allowed in the museum
This picture was taken from the internet to show you what
the bits of the scroll look like today.

Look Close, we passed these caves later
These were the caves next to the Dead Sea
That the scrolls were discovered in.

Next was a stop at Yad Vashem, the museum that honors the victims of the holocaust. It was an emotional, eye opening experience that taught us much about Hitler and how many Jews he had killed.  The name "Yad Vashem" is taken from a verse in the Book of Isaiah and refers to leaving behind a memorial of those Jews that have no one to carry on their name. We had no idea that Hitler killed Jews throughout all of Europe, a total over 6 million Jews were killed just because Hitler didn't like them.

This monument was erected in memory of
Boris Korckzac who rescued many ghetto children

This plaque was at the entrance of the part of
the museum dedicated to the
murdered by Hitler, (heart breaking)

Afterwards we drove through the village of Ein Karem, the picturesque village that was the birthplace of John the Baptist. As tradition tells us an elderly woman and her husband were impregnated at the same time that Mary became pregnant with Jesus.

While our tour was great we were a bit shocked by how expensive Israel is compared to Egypt. The price of our tour included breakfasts and dinners but not lunches. We paid anywhere from 49 to 80 shekels for lunches which translates to $13 to $23 US dollars for each meal for each of us. Most days we were offered a choice of 1-3 items that always included chicken shwarma (slow cooked chicken with spices) or falafel (vegetarian meatballs made with chickpeas). Alongside the protein choices were a selection of salads, hummus dips and thick, fresh pita bread.

After spending three days touring from our hotel in Jerusalem we packed our bags and moved to our next location of Galilee. Here we stayed in a traditional styled kibbutz hotel, a group of rooms centered around a main house. Back in the day kibbutz's were used to house farm workers, pilgrims or anyone coming together with a likeminded purpose.

Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem.....those lyrics will never have the same meaning again after seeing the "real place." We were surprised to discover that the town of Bethlehem is NOT part of Israel but instead is located in the West Bank under control of Palestine. Our guide Patrick actually had to leave the bus as Israeli's are NOT permitted to enter this area. We were passed off to a Muslin guide since the town is made up mostly of Arabs. Before entering the walled town we passed through one of three guard gates.

Guard tower separating the
West Bank from Israel

Guard checking cars on the way
out of the West Bank

We drove to the Church of the Nativity to see the grotto or cave, the famous spot where Jesus of Nazareth was born and where he was laid in the manger afterwards. Again we waited in a long line of tourists to see this Holy spot. Interesting to know that Bethlehem is the only place in the world that celebrates Christmas three different times. Like other well known Holy Land churches this one is owned jointly by several different religions each celebrating their own holiday. Catholics and Protestants celebrate the holiday on December 25th while Eastern Orthodox celebrate on January 7th, and Armenian's celebrate on January 19th. Perhaps a dream come true for lovers of Christmas or a nightmare of expenses for others?

A rather crazy line to see where
the Baby Jesus was born

This church was under renovation
But we could see some of the original works
hidden away

People here are finally at the point where
they will be walking down the stairs to  touch
the actual birthplace of Christ marked by a star
you can see the feeling of reverance
overcoming them

Clyde on his knees touching the star
that marks the actual birthplace of Christ

This Gold Fenced area
marks where they laid the
Baby Jesus in the manger

Our bus took us through the Jorden valley nearby the ancient city of Jericho, to marvel at the oldest city in the world. Jericho dates back to 9000 BC and has been continually inhabited ever since. Like Bethlehem, Jericho is also under Palestinian rule. We stopped at Beit She'an National Park, home to a well-preserved Roman Byzantine city. After lunch we headed to Nazareth where Jesus is said to have spent his childhood years. There we visited the Church of the Annunciation and Mary's Well.

Roman Amphitheatre

This is the public latrine.  Both sexes would
line up and do their business here.  Water would be
running underneath them.  This was also a 
"Social Area"  where people would sit and chat

The Church of the Annunciation was built on the site where tradition says the angel Gabriel appeared to a teenage girl named Mary, telling her she would become pregnant with the Son Of God, Jesus.  The church was full of Mosaics gifted from different countries of the Virgin Mary.  It was wonderful to see what each country thought Mary looked like. Because of this the city of Nazareth and this church are considered to be one of the most holy places in the world.

The entrance to the church
dedicated to the Virgin Mary

This is the mosaic of Mary
donated from the United States.
Mary herself is three dimensional 

Japan's Gift,
The shawl that Mary is wearing
was made of pearls

During the times of Jesus the city of Nazareth was considered to be a dump that nothing good ever came out of.  Next we visited Mary's well an ancient well that Mary was said to have drank from with water that still today is thought to be sacred.

Entrance to Mary's Well

The tunnel leading to 
Mary's Well

Mary's Well

Next we visited the cobblestoned, ancient city of Safed. Continually inhabited by Jews for the past 2000 years, Safed is the home of Kabbalah, an offshoot of Judaism practiced by many here in Israel.
Full of charming synagogues this was Patrick's chance to try and educate us about his religion. We entered a colorful synagogue for a peek into Jewish life where we asked questions and gained a wealth of knowledge about Israel and its people.

The lower floor which is the men's section
This church was made to be comfortable

This chair is the special chair
with a cradle attached for
Religious Circumcisions 

to be continued.......

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