Goodbye snow, hellooooo Bucerias! – 22 December

Yes, the time has finally come to leave the snowy northern climate and go on that 2 week holiday in Mexico!  I had trepidation at leaving the home & native land for so long, but we paid for the tickets… so off we go.  Dayna’s dad rented a three bedroom condo in Bucerias, so he (Barrie) & his wife Helen, the three of us (Dayna & Dean, Eric) and Dayna’s brother and family (David & Jennifer, Drew, Matt, Emily) are all going to spend two weeks there in the sun by the ocean.

So the flight is at 07h00 on Wednesday the 22nd.  That means that I start to pack Tuesday, right?  Well I did do some on Monday, as we had an ERLPhase Christmas party on Tuesday evening (Celebrations, was good!).  We scramble to get some last minute packing done, then crash around say 23h30.  Well, Eric didn’t crash, he still had laundry to do (a man after me own heart!).  We’re up at 03h30, had a stretch limo show up at the house at 04h15, off to airport.  Why a stretch limo?  Well any old limo would do – but a stretch is what they sent.  With the three of us and our big suitcases (yikes we have dozens of suitcases but we must have picked the three largest ones!), we did not want to ride with suitcases on our laps.

Anyway, a quick trip to the airport, check in, through security, and… ugh, wait wait wait!  Check this out, do I look tired, or what?  Fighting it, but in vain…

Half asleep in airport, waiting for departure!

We had a direct Westjet flight from Winnipeg to Puerto Vallarta, nice nice.  The flight was good (no real food though), even most of the children on the flight were behaved (wow there were quite a few children, let me tell you).  I could not sleep, actually I rarely sleep on planes, oh well.  We arrived in Puerto Vallarta (nice airport), and met Barrie & Helen there.  Now, Dave & Jennifer & co. were arriving two or three hours later (they flew Air Canada through Toronto), and you have a choice of a taxi to take up to three people, or a van to take seven.  Helen took a taxi with Eric and I and all our luggage, with Dayna & Barrie to wait for the others and take a van.  It worked out well.  We got to eat lunch and get started on the beer, before everyone else arrived!

I got unpacked and had a snooze before the others arrived.  We wandered down to the ocean, dipped our toes in, then back for dinner.  Eric wandered off and got a dozen Coronas, “just to get us started.”  Hmm, best vacation ever, I’m starting to think!

Beer and lunch!  What more could you ask for? 

After dinner, we went for a walk down the beach to the town square.  They have what passed for a Christmas tree here in Mexico, actually it’s OK although it looks somewhat out of place amongst all the green vegetation.

Let the ocean wash your worries away!

The waves feel good on the feet.
Looking down the beach towards the city centre of Bucerias

Christmas tree in the town square in Bucerias
Looking back from a foot bridge in Bucerias out onto the ocean

We all turned in early, by about 21h00.  It turns out that Eric has to sleep in the living room, as does Matt, Eric on a futon and Matt on the sofa.  So once it’s their bed time, we might as well all retire.

The long trip home, and jet lag – 11 and 12 November

You know that it’s sad to finish a trip like this (hard to say “vacation” when you are getting wake up calls at 05h30 to 06h30 every morning), but it’s always good to be going home.  For us, the day was a relief – no more bus travel, no more walking and walking and walking, no more crowds, no waiting in line!

Oh, wait a second – we have all that and more – a least for today.

Off to the Airport
So we were off at 08h00 from Jerusalem to the airport in Tel Aviv, on the bus.  Our guide asked how we were doing, and we were all exhausted and sore from all the walking the day before.  He reminded us what he told us when he met us the week before – “you will feel the Bible through the soles of your feet” – wow did he have that right!

The ride to the airport was largely uneventful.  Lazarus, our guide, pointed out significant landmarks along the way, as always, but there weren’t many of those.  He then insisted on showing us the episode of “The Simpsons” where they go to the Holy Land – and sat giggling the whole time!  More truth in parody than not, as he advised us, and we saw what he meant.  It was actually quite good – I never did like “The Simpsons” but as I’m learning, they are very intelligent shows, well researched with carefully planned satire.

Bus travel, check!

Palestinian Territories
We actually passed through Palestinian territories, but on this beautiful highway that apparently only Israelis can travel on.  There are no connections to the Palestinian territories it passes through – in fact, there is a security fence on both sides of this highway.  You can see the Palestinian homes and cities all the way along, and they can see you, but you can’t connect with each other.

The disconnect between Israelis and Palestinians is sad, really, and drives home the long, bitter relationship between these two peoples.  But after only a week in Israel, I’ll say this: don’t judge either group or their attitudes – it’s difficult to comprehend what living 200 feet from people who hate your very being, will do to your psyche.  On both sides of the wall, it forms the core of their being, and is self perpetuating.

Tel Aviv Airport
Well, we expected security to be tight, and in fact it was, but it was also very confusing!

We hung around as a group in the departures hall, while Lazarus negotiated with somebody from the airline.  It was frustrating to see other folks getting in line, when we weren’t!  Then we found out why – he negotiated a whole line for us only, very nice.

He also discussed security questions with us, both getting us prepared on the bus, and now with us in the line.  It came up that we had received a few “gifts” as we made our tour – notably a jewelry box from our tour company in Jordan, and a small clay oil lamp from the Nazareth Village – well that caused a stir!  We had to get a couple of our crew to dig out samples so security could view them, then discuss exactly what we would say when asked the question further up in the security check point.  Wow, distrust runs so deep in this place.  Not without reason, but still.

It turns out that some of the other folks that had been streaming in and queuing up in front of us while Lazarus negotiated, were also now put into their own lines.  In fact, some of their folks got through the security check ahead, and were actually put back into the line with their group!

Waiting in line, check!

Checked Bag Security
So now we go through checked bag security.  They have an X-Ray machine just for the checked bags.  You put them on the belt, take the rest and walk around, and wait for your bag to come out the other side.  Based on the result of this check, you either proceed to the check-in counter, or go to the bag search line.

You can hear and see the belt going forward, backward, forward, backward, when they are checking it out under the X-Ray.  Then suddenly the bag comes out of the X-Ray machine like a bullet!  Actually catches air for about 2 feet then lands back on the pick-up slide with a “thud”.  I’m not sure why they would do that, it must take a huge amount of energy to accelerate the bag like that.  The engineer who designed that machine had a mean streak in them!

When Dayna’s bag came through, she was told to go to the bag search lineup.  No problem, it was a few questions, and they just asked to see the jewelry boxes – both were in her bag – was just a question as to why she had two.

When my bag came out, the guy behind me grabbed it off the line and started loading it on his cart.  No big scene, but he just didn’t seem to be paying attention!  Well, I got my bag back, but I missed the directions about whether to go to the search line.  So I went into the search line anyway.  I later found out they were watching carefully and had I been in the line when not supposed to, they would have known for sure.  But it turns out I was supposed to be there.

It turns out that the X-Ray technician enters comprehensive notes, and the bag search person has the X-Ray images, because she checked the notes, asked a few questions, and I was on my way.  They wanted to know what the books were that I had in my bag – well, um, besides my Bible, it’s mostly just tourist stuff that I picked up along the way – no, no gifts in there.  Then they released me.  Confusing but relatively painless.

Then it was on to the check-in lines.  There were malfunctions in the overhead screens, to although there were five wickets open, only four showed the correct information, and one was stalled for along time.  Well, the folks in the queues got frustrated, started cutting from line to line, standing intentionally between lines, being rude, ugh.  Finally they fixed the overhead displays, the lines cleared up, we got to the front, checked our luggage, and got our boarding passes.

Crowds, check!

Before Security
We weren’t sure what there would be on the other side of security, so we had a gawk around, seeing as we had about 2 hours to go before flight time.  I wanted a drink, so I moseyed down to McDonald’s – a kosher McDonald’s, who would have thought!  Four bucks for a drink, yikes!  One of the other couples on the tour (who had been pining for burger & fries the whole trip) dropped $24 for what amounted to two Big Mac combos – yikes.

Enough of that, we saw huge crowds coming in behind us, so we zipped into security, did the whole drill (no metal objects, unload pockets, put laptop in its own tray, yada yada), and got through the security check.

After Security
Now we’re getting hungry, so we stopped for a bite at an interesting looking restaurant.  Pizza Hut was ruled out (they tend to give me cramps?), I couldn’t think of McDonald’s (I wouldn’t eat it at home, why would I in Israel?), so this restaurant was it.

Well ordering was interesting.  You can order at any one of three tills, and pay, but then the food comes at you from four different locations – sandwiches over here, pizza over here, coffee over here, and get the cold drinks yourself from the cooler.  But, they all speak very little, talk to each other in a language I don’t understand, tell you nothing, and put finished food up on the counter without explanation.  I found myself going from counter to counter, asking where the food would be, and when it would be ready.  Ugh.  But finally Dayna got her sandwich and I got my pizza, they were both good and worth the wait.

The kosher pizza was interesting.  Apparently, kosher rules say that you can’t have cheeze and meat at the same meal, whether mixed or not – so the pizza had cheeze on it and no meat.  Hmm, coulda used some pepperoni or salami or something, but it was not to be.

We checked out the duty free shops – they have electronics, music, books, all kinds of stuff there – but as Lazarus had warned us, just because it doesn’t have duty on it, doesn’t mean that it’s cheap!  My observation on the electronics was that the prices were about 50% higher than retail here in Winnipeg.  Obviously not the place to buy that new notebook computer or flat screen TV!

The flight waiting area had free Wi-Fi, so I was able to check E-mail, check Winnipeg news and weather, and pass the time a bit.

The Plane and the Flight to Toronto
The plane was a 767, very nice.  Leather seats, entertainment units in the back of headrests, even an AC power outlet to plug in a laptop!  So I watched a couple of movies, did some programming on the laptop (a shell script to organize the photos from mine and Dayna’s cameras), listened to music, and was generally BORED for 12 hours!  Ugh that is too long to be in an airplane!

Pet peeves:
– kids who cough – constantly – without covering their mouths – about 3 seats to our left!
– strangers who get to know each other – loudly – through the whole flight – without consideration that others are trying to sleep – right behind us!
– folks who don’t realize that the seat back in front of them is actually the BACK of MY seat – the guy behind me tried for about 10 minutes to plug into the outlet on the back of Dayna’s seat, basically giving her whiplash and a headache.  I finally confronted him, and he was genuinely amazed that anyone would be affected by his smacking the back of a seat!
– reading light controls that fail – with the reading light ON – yes, all reading light controls on our side of the aircraft crapped out about 2 hours in, so I had difficulty relaxing after that, felt like an interrogation lamp!
– entertainment systems that lock up and reset in the middle of a movie – I was watching an oldie and was over half way through when it crapped and started again.  It wasn’t that good, was just passing time anyway, so went off and did something else that was equally forgettable.
– CBC in-flight news that was over a week old – seriously!  Opening report was that U.S. mid-term elections were going to happen today.  Wait a minute, that was last week!  No use in watching that newscast.  This, despite the claim on the heading of the show “updated twice a day”!

So you know what, I think next time, I’d prefer to come back with a stop somewhere.  Heathrow, Amsterdam, anywhere – as long as my bag gets checked through, and I get off the plane, it would be good.

All that said, they kept us busy in another way – eating and drinking.  It seems like we had 3 meals in the 12 hours.  The food was OK too, more or less – although the green beans were pretty soggy each time.  But hey what can you do – this is the new millenium, can’t expect perfection can you?

I got a bit carried away and had a couple of glasses of wine, then paid for it the rest of the trip.  Couldn’t get enough water to rehydrate, probably a result of the heat and the walking the day before.  Then had to run to the washroom constantly.  Must be a message in there for me, but I’m too dull to figure out what it was.

Toronto Airport and Customs and Security – What a Joy!
Now I’ve decided that the person who designed Pearson International, at least the Air Canada terminal, must have been on drugs of some kind.

You get off of the plane, walk about 2 km through the airport, with very little or no supervision to ensure that you don’t deviate (hey you haven’t cleared customs & immigration yet).  You see the customs agent, give in the card, they check your passport, you answer questions.  They mark your card, but you don’t know if you are subject to search or not.  I don’t know what they do if you are subject to search – you don’t have your checked bags yet!

George and Donna were right behind us at customs, and a little shaken – a rant about this below.  As we approached the customs booth, I could smell a strong liquor smell, so I was worried that George’s duty free bottle of Scotch Whisky was damaged.  But no, apparently this was from two bottles of duty free rum being dropped on the floor shortly before.  Boy somebody woulda cried, that’s for sure!

Then down to the main baggage hall (yes the main one, right to the outdoors), collect your luggage off of one of the main courasels.

Then off to the “connections” level, one floor up.  Hmm, not the “departures” level, which you could easily get to just by pressing a different key on the elevator.  You flash your customs card and boarding pass, and they let you put your checked bag right onto the belt without checks.  This little area is in the form of an “L” so you have to cut across the incoming line to get out, all the while dragging your carry on items, what a melee that was.

NOW you have to pass through security again, because of course you were outside the security zone.  Then try to figure out your gate number, and get to your gate.

I am starting to like the “old” (existing) Winnipeg International Airport more and more.  I hope the new terminal is more like the existing terminal, and not like Pearson!

Walking and walking and walking, check!

An Incident on a Stupid Moving Walkway
I think the same engineer that designed the terminal also designed the moving walkway between deplaning and customs.  It looks like any other, but about 20 feet in, all of the sudden it accelerates to warp speed!  Actually, the segments of the floor and the handrail separate to reveal three more segments in between, and the result is a huge increase in speed.  The floor ripples up then smooths out as this happens, so it’s a bit unnerving.  And, I’m looking at the handrail, obviously you have to put your hand only on the original segment, as what opens up is going to close up again, and possibly squash your hand in the process.  Hmm, I don’t like the look of this!

We were about 3/4 the way down the walkway when it stopped suddenly.  We could see way up ahead that folks were piled up, not moving, but by the time we got there, the log jam had cleared.  I figured someone must have been goofing around and hit the emergency stop button.  Well, I was half right!

When we got to customs, George and Donna came into line behind us, and they looked shaken up.  It turns out that when they came to the end of the walkway, the floor started shifting and George lost his balance.  He fell backward onto Donna, and they both went “thud” onto the walkway.  Security staff were there quickly and stopped the walkway immediately.  Fortunately, they seemed sore, upset, and shaken, but not seriously injured.

They ought to take that walkway out of service, it is a menace!  Or in the very least, put VERY CLEAR directions on it.  Probably with one of those annoying voice systems that repeats in a loop.  I hate them, but it would be justified.

Or simply put in a normal moving walkway.  This one is an idiotic stupid moving walkway.

The Last Segment
The last flight segment was shorter for sure, but at least we were almost home.  The flight was packed, the overhead bins were full, and we were at the back of the plane (some of the last to get out), but it was nice to get to Winterpeg.  Brr, wow, cold.  Oh well, heated seats, mmm.  Eric picked us up and whisked us home.

Jet Lag?
We got to bed shortly after midnight.  I was up before 08h00 and off to the Pan Am pool for about 09h00.  Part of my strategy for coping with jet lag is to exercise.  My new glasses had arrived from Virden, so I was off to Cathy’s optical store to get them fitted.  We had a brief chat, all was good.  Then a haircut to ensure that the 3 weeks’ growth in this thick mane of mine (joke – ha ha) is kept under control.  Errands, errands.

Among the errands was to go to CAA and get a new suitcase.  Mine was damaged somehow in the transfer from Jordan to Israel, and will be tossed out.  Sigh.  Oh well, the new one is a hard shell Samsonite, I have more confidence that it will survive the rigors of travel better anyway.

About 20h00 last night, I started feeling very sleepy, so I crashed.  Well then I was wide awake at 06h00.  I tried to sleep until 07h00, but it didn’t work.  I don’t like early starts on Saturdays!  Oh well, stop whining, there’s a lot to do, so I’d better get to it.  A blog entry to write, for instance.

The longest day? West Wall, Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Upper Room, Dormition Abbey, Garden Tomb, and more! – 10 November

Ouch, my aching head!  05h30 wake up call, on the road by about 07h00.  Oh my Lord that’s early, but it paid off.  We were at the West Wall (colloquially known as the Wailing Wall) by 08h00.  On our way out, we got a look at how busy it was getting just a half hour later!  But, I get ahead of myself; first, about our Israeli bus driver.

Bus Driver and Bus
Our Israeli bus driver was Talib, what an amazing driver!  I could not believe how busy the streets of Jerusalem were, it was crazy!  Picture a street the width of a side street (say Lanark for the sake of argument) with sidewalks right to the edge.  Cars and trucks are parked on both sides, and buses pass each other in opposite directions all the time!  Carefully, mind you.  And, in parking lots, it gets even crazier, as the buses park at awkward angles, and parking lots themselves are pretty convoluted (imagine a country with 6,000 years of history, they use every square inch of space).  Then some Mercedes Benz or BMW comes zooming in and parks in a dumb location.  The buses somehow accommodate all this loony-ness, and pretty gracefully too.  I didn’t see any collisions between buses and vehicles or anything, which was pretty amazing.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen – my observation is that the front mirrors on every bus have scrape marks on them.

Well, to top it off, Talib has a Staples “Easy Button” strapped to the front of the bus.  He periodically presses it at the zaniest times and it bellows, “That was easy!”  Often when he does so, it’s after a gruelling drive, or when we finally got through the separation wall check point.  His English was OK but not great, but his sense of humour was wonderful!

I mention this now because this morning was our last time riding with Talib.  He was off late this morning to pick up a new group at the airport and start again at the Sea of Galilee.  We’ll miss him.  In his place, we’ll have different drivers and different buses.

Talib our bus driver, note the “Easy Button” on the far right.  He was amazing!

Davidson Archaeological Park
Our first stop was intended to be the West Wall, as mentioned above.  But on the way, I couldn’t resist the fact that the excavation of the area just inside the new wall, at the south end of the Temple Mount, is called the Davidson Archaeological Park.  George was impressed!

Seriously, though, it’s pretty cool, they are going way back in this excavation – and unearthing some exciting stuff.  Not that I can recall any of the stuff that Lazarus was spouting that was found, but it was cool.

West Wall (Wailing Wall)
The guys (and gals) aren’t wailing!  And, they aren’t hitting their heads against the wall!  They are praying, all of them.  Amazing.  We could learn something about dedication to one’s beliefs, from these folks.

There are small lecterns along the wall, and many of the folk praying were in full orthodox dress, with their holy book, reciting very earnestly and rocking back and forth.

Lazarus advises that the prayers said there are for all kinds of things, including concern for destruction of the temple, world peace (say), and other weighty issues.

There were other folks were quietly contemplating about 10 to 15 feet back from the wall.  Still others were wheeling in with small rollerboard suitcases that carried their holy books and their notes.

Then there were the notes in cracks in the wall.  Apparently all are gathered at some point, and are buried on the Mount of Olives, where Jewish teaching says that the Messiah will return triumphantly and read them.  Again, the notes apparently contain all kinds of weighty issues.  Of course I didn’t look at any, I suspect that you would get thrashed severely if you pulled any out of the wall – plus it would likely be in Hebrew anyway.

I did go right up to the wall, had a close look, and paused to ponder and say a few prayers.  It was quite liberating, actually.  My prayers weren’t that weighty nor wise – although I did pray for world peace, etc., I also prayed for the wisdom to conduct my life in the future – whether to continue as church board chair, how to deal with the Headingley Heritage Museum and the antique auto club, work & career, etc.

The West Wall – ladies are segregated on the right, men on the left

There was a prominent “no cameras” sign so this was as close as I dared get.  Others got closer pictures, but I wanted to honour the requests of the religious persons using the site.

Temple Mount
We had to exit the West Wall area, and get in a new line to get up to the Temple Mount area.  There was no line up there when we arrived, now it’s hundreds of people!  Well no worries, it went quickly, were up there in ten minutes.

Wow, how spectacular is this!  It’s huge up here, just huge.  There are whole temples up here on this platform.  Apparently this platform is built on a mountain, so there are stories of open space underneath, supported by stone.

The Golden Dome
So the biggest and easily identified landmark is the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Golden Dome.  This is built over the foundation rock from which the world was created, and where the Holy of Holies temple was built.  That temple was destroyed and the Muslim domed temple built in its stead.  Today the site is actually guarded and administered by Jordanian special forces, in a great piece of international cooperation.  You can no longer go inside, because of an incident several years ago when some zealot Christian tourists from somewhere (east Asia?) tried to spark Jewish/Christian/Arab conflict and spark World War III, bring about Armageddon and the end of days (including rapture for them of course).  Apparently this is called the “Jerusalem Syndrome”.  So, the dome is all closed up!  Apparently if you are studying theology, you can apply and get a local cleric to get the necessary approval to go inside the dome, but it’s restricted these days.

We had a group photo done on the steps in front of the Dome of the Rock, it turned out very well.  The sun was in our eyes and we used a trick to try to prevent squinting, and it worked… mostly.  Overall, as I said, very nice group photo.

Al-Aqsa Mosque
To the south of the Dome of the Rock is the Al-Aqsa Islamic mosque.  “Al-Aqsa” means “farthest” in Arabic.  This mosque has been dectroyed and rebuilt seven times!  Destruction was not always by people – for instance, it and everything else in the holy land was heavily damaged by a huge earthquake in 749 AD.

Other Features
There are also other things on the mount – like amazing arches and stairs, part of a long gone temple, and ritual washing stations.  Then there is a magnificent lookout over to the Mount of Olives – including a wonderful view of Dominus Flavit.

Lion’s Gate, Mary’s Church, and Pool of Bethesda
From the Dome of the Rock, we proceeded north to the Lion’s Gate, then west to Mary’s Church, where Mary, mother of Jesus, was born.  While waiting to enter the church, the parish priest of the church happened by, noticed the maple leaf on my name tag, and struck up a conversation.  It turns out that he is originally from Timmins, Ontario, having left in 1963 to teach in Kenya, which he did for 30 years.  Now he has been at this church in Jerusalem for 10 years.  He was a really nice fellow, very engaging.  Apparently, the acoustics inside this church are beautiful or terrible, depending on who you talk to.  They say that when you shout or sing, you can hear the echo for 9 seconds, and from what I heard today, I believe it, yikes.  But sing they do, each group seems to want to go up and do a gospel number.  I heard several beautiful songs while down looking at the birth place of Mary, but can’t say it sounded beautiful in that sanctuary.  The priest confided in me that he stays outside and greets the people and chats them up because the echoes give him a headache.

Virgin Mary birthplace beneath the altar of Mary’s Church.

The Pool of Bethesda is just north of the church.  It doesn’t have any water in it now, but it did way back when, and had great healing powers.  It was said that when it spontaneously swirled and eddied, the first person into the pool would be healed from whatever ailed them.  Now, apparently these days we know that it was a natural phenomenon because of water seepage and passages in the rock, but apparently it did work, so many years ago.

The Via Delorosa
We then did the Via Delorosa, the way of the cross.  We stopped at the stations of the cross.  I note again that “Jesus falls” is repeated three times, which by tradition means that it happened repeatedly and/or constantly.  Ow.

The Market
The Via Delorosa takes us through the market, which was quiet given the time of day.  Blocks and blocks and blocks of little shops fronting onto tiny alleyways.  Their wares are out in the street, the shopkeepers hanging out and inviting you in.  Often, you can’t see the sky above – sometimes the market is covered, other times there’s just too much stuff around to see above at all.  There are hundreds of people rushing too and fro, hustling and bustling.  Apparently there are a lot of pickpockets about, so you have to be careful about your wallet etc!

…and the smells!  Well besides the awful cigarette smoke (too many of the guys smoke here too), there are perfumes and spices and food…

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Well this was not all that exciting for me.  As I’ve said, I seek the simple carpenter with the gentle touch, yet with the power of God.  I didn’t see that here.  Perhaps if I were Roman Catholic or Orthodox, I might have got more out of it.  There were just too many people, too much noise, ritual, and incense.

In spite of this, I would have more pictures, but my camera batteries died just as we came upon the church.  By the time I doubled back to buy batteries (had to go some distance to get any kind of a deal with batteries that were decent), it was time to go.  Well, I got a chance to lap the inside of the church without the camera – it’s a large ring area with a separate courtyard in the middle.  Dayna got some good pictures though.

Wonderful Lunch
We ate at Pappa Andreas Restaurant, which was great.  Dayna got some wonderful pictures of the city from the roof!

Through the Zion Gate and to the Upper Room and David’s Tomb
We proceeded to the traditional Upper Room.  This was a disappointment for me.  Of course I was foolish to expect that “the” upper room would still exist and be known to us, but in any case, it was just a room built by the crusaders in the 12th century to remind us of the original.  After the Muslims re-took Jerusalem, they used it as a mosque, so it still carries many of the adornments of a mosque.  I don’t mind the mosque identity!  But, I wasn’t able to identify with the upper-room-aspect of it, unfortunately.

King David’s tomb is underneath the upper room.  Now, it apparently isn’t actually King David’s Tomb, but was put there to commemorate King Solomon (it isn’t actually his tomb either), but somehow is now called King David’s Tomb. Ooh, gave me a headache, cannot figure that one out.

Like the West Wall, the devotion section at King David’s Tomb is split in two – women must go to one side, men to the other.  There is a divider down the centre of the coffin, so the men and women cannot see each other.  Check out Dayna’s view and mine.  Interesting.

A woman’s view.

A man’s view from just outside the tomb area.

A man’s view from inside the tomb area.

Dormition Abbey
We visited this church, tradition says the Virgin Mary died on or near this spot.  This is disputed, as some tradition says she died on mission in a faraway land with Jesus’s disciples.

The interesting feature of this church is the death posed figure on a casket under the altar.  It was rather spooky.  The church itself is nice, like so many other churches.  Can you tell I’m getting a bit icon and painting weary?

Brief Respite at Hotel then the Garden Tomb
We bused it back to the hotel, freshed up a bit, then off to the Garden Tomb, the other possible site for calvary and Jesus’s tomb.

Now, this may or may not be the true site for Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, but it does feel more spiritually in keeping with the modern mood (I am not necessarily criticizing the other churches, just that they do not resonate with me).  Very nice, very green, lots of trees.

Now this version of Golgotha is very interesting.  A bus station and its bus parking/loading area is at the base of this site, in fact obscuring some of the features of the “skull” that makes up the “Golgotha” image.  Kind of neat – crucifixions were performed next to major roads, as a demonstration of Roman power, to entertain and perhaps intimidate the masses.  Now it’s beside the modern equivalent – a bus station!  Hmm.

The tomb is also interesting.  Again, not necessarily *the* place, but it makes sense.

A stone *like* the one used to originally seal the door.  This one is a small example from another tomb.

The sign on the door says it all (sorry but it’s dark) – “He is not here.  He is risen!”

We had a communion service as night was falling, it was very nice.  Very peaceful, very fulfilling.  I took part, was honoured to serve the bread.  We used wine, a first for me, as United Church seems to always use grape juice. 

Conclusion of the Day
We walked back from the Garden Tomb, as we weren’t far away.  We had a glass of wine then dinner, then packed and got ready to head out in the morning.  Our wake up call will be 06h00, bags out by door 07h00, load them on the bus at 07h45, off to airport in Tel Aviv at around 08h00.  Then start the long journey home!  Oh, home will be nice after this long trip.  Even still, there is still so much to learn over here…

What Have I Learned
At some point today, it finally donned on me that I will not be able to touch the holes of the nails, either physically or metaphorically.  That opportunity was only afforded to a very few, and it was 20 centuries ago.  These days, we have to take whatever spiritual echoes still remain from so long ago.  It’s not like all these shrines are false – no, they are a best estimate that people could make at the time.  But the whole icon/shrine thing still leaves me cold.  I think maybe it’s my cold Protestant soul, looking for something simple as I said.

So, certainly come to the Holy Land to experience the culture, and to learn.  But don’t look for a big revelation or a big epiphany.  That comes only with study and prayer and true communion with God.  Remember – the tomb is empty and we are thankful – He is not here, He is risen!

Now, go find that communion!

Mount of Olives, Dominus Flavit, Garden of Gethsemene, Israel Museum, Bethlehem and Church of the Nativity – 09 November

Today had a relatively slack start to it.  Our wake up call wasn’t until 07h00, and we didn’t leave the hotel until 09h00.  That was a nice change.

Mount of Olives
Our first stop today was the top of the Mount of Olives.  Us and about two thousand other tourists, ugh!  From the top you can see all of the great landmarks of the east part of the city.  Our tour guide pointed many of them out, it really brought home the fact that we are finally in Jerusalem!

Dominus Flavit and Jewish Burial Site from Time of Jesus
We then walked down a steep street that ran to the Garden of Gethsemene.  Along the way there is the beautiful Sanctuary of the Dominus Flavit (God Sheds Tears).  There was a service going on inside the sanctuary, but there apparently isn’t really much to see inside, we just marvelled at the architecture of the outside of this building, and moved on.

Exterior of Sanctuary of the Dominus Flavit.

Actually, in the way to the Sanctuary of the Dominus Flavit, there was an old Jewish burial area, preserved but open for viewing.  This area dates to around the time of Christ.  Now, apparently the custom at that time was to have a cave or carved tomb.  The opening was small, and a stone was rolled to close the opening, but it could readily be rolled away by a strong person.  The tomb had several passages (generally three), each of which opened to a new room.  Each room had many niches cut into the walls big enough to house a body.  When the body was prepared and ready for burial, it was put into a niche, and the stone rolled to cover th opening.  A year later, the stone was rolled away, the remains retrieved and placed into an ossuary box for final burial.  The niches were used again and again.  Wow.

Ossuary Boxes at Dominus Flavit.  Each contains the rem ains of one person.

Garden of Gethsemene
The bottom of the street was the Garden of Gethsemene, where Jesus prayed the night before his betrayal, conviction, and crucifixion.  See Matthew 26:36-45, Mark 14:32-41, and Luke 22:39-46.

The Garden of Gethsemene.

A 2000+ year old Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemene.

Inside the Church of Gethsemene.  The darkness is intentional; the windows are arranged to ensure it.  A mass was going on, so I could not use flash!

Behind the Church of Gethsemene.
OMG see the buses lined up?  And this is some of them!  The place was PACKED!

Israel Museum
Next we piled back into the bus for a trip around the south end of the old city, up through the Jaffa Gate, past the Knesset (Israeli Federal parliament building) and to the Israel Museum.  Here there were two main attractions for us – a scale model of Jerusalem at the time of the destruction by the Romans, at about 66 AD, and the Shrine of the Book which houses the original Dead Sea Scrolls.

The scale model is impressive, very detailed.  It’s out in the great outdoors, exposed to the elements, but then again it also appears to be made of the same material as the city itself, so it should wear well.

Unfortunately, the other attraction was full when our turn came up, I went to the washroom and when I returned (washroom too far away!), Dayna and crew had been through and advised that I should not go back.  Oh well, it wasn’t a main attraction, although it would have been nice.

Through the Security Wall to Bethlehem!
We got back on the bus and went through the security wall to Bethlehem, just inside the Palestinian Territory.  It’s just like they show on TV – an ugly 12 foot concrete wall with a small opening and a check point.  There is a sign that says “no Israeli citizens allowed” – can’t see how this can be true!  We had to bring our passports today, so on the way back, we could prove that we weren’t Palestinians.

Well, the scenes of devastation shown on TV aren’t true, at least not in the Bethlehem we saw today.  We stopped at Ruth’s Field Cafe, a nice restaurant, and had a great lunch, chicken shaved like Gyros and put with vegetables in a half pita, wow.

Church of the Nativity
Then, off to the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where the manger birthplace of Christ was.  So we were advised that it could be up to 1-1/2 hours’ wait, we were ready – or so we thought.  As we assembled in the square outside the entrance, we were told that nobody was getting in, that some VIPs were showing up and that we would have to wait until they were done.  Two minutes later, a Mercedes sedan, three Jeeps and other vehicles pulled right up to the door, security showed up from nowhere with machine guns, body guards, and even a couple of young ladies in short short skirts – skirts that we wouldn’t be allowed in with (you showing of shoulders, and pants must fully cover the knees!).  Someone later ID’d them as Japanese from a badge somewhere in the crowd – not sure whether it was local diplomats, or perhaps officials visiting from Japan itself.

We finally got into the church, only to find that it was a HUGE hall full of people.  No organization, just a mess of people pushing their way to the front.  The church itself is under repair; I saw some note on the outside about fixing the roof.  There is a huge amount of scaffolding at the front of the church, so you can’t see the altar nor the icons and pictures and art around it – which is fine by me, because the art and icons aren’t what I am here for.  the manger itself is in an area below the altar – so we wait in this jumble of people for our turn.  Apparently we will get about 20 seconds in the actual area to take pictures, then we will be shoo’d out.  The folks behind us are from India, and they are pushing up on us, and our group is getting split up, ugh.  However, as we reach the front, our tour guide Lazarus hangs onto the scaffold and calls us all forward.  We gather as a group and go through as a group.  The Indian folks actually start chatting with us – they are from Mumbai, it sounds like the regional governor in their party!  How exciting.

Anyway, we got down to the manger and see what’s there, it’s rather anti-climactic but I snap my pictures.  There are two sites – a rock with jewels and candles and treasures hanging from it, inside what looks like a deep fireplace, on the right – and a couple of hard stone areas that look more like animal mangers, on the left.  I took some pictures, and away they sent me.  I didn’t realize how steamy hot it was down there, or how stuffy the air was, until we came up into the (dusty and hot) church, which now felt cool!  Yikes.

You have to descend some stairs and duck to get into the area under the altar.

It’s a small area under the altar in the Church of the Nativity.

Grotto under Church of the Nativity – oops missed the rock & star on the floor.

The location of the manger, under the Church of the Nativity.

Rock-a-Bye Baby – Stone Manager?
Oh, and about the manger.  It would have been made of rock not wood.  At the ruins at Meggido (Armageddon), we saw stables with horse mangers – made of rock.  So toss out your preconceived notions of cute little antique cribs made of wood.

Getting Away from the Site Back to the Bus!
On the way back to the bus, we were harassed constantly by vendors hawking their wares.  These ones, not satisfied to stand and yell as you pass by, walk in between us, try to interest us in their wares, lowering their prices constantly.  I had to run interference because they were really aggravating some of the ladies.  One guy got a little too energetic, so I had to look him in the eye and give him a stern, “No!”  Well that wasn’t good enough, he started pestering me then.  I turned askew to him, and told him “I SAID NO!” and that was the last I saw of the guy.  There were also dozens of children, some seemingly as young as five or six years old, just begging.  Yikes.  Apparently, if you give to one, you will be accosted by so many you will get torn apart.  I believe it.

That said, our tour guide advises that things are not as bad as the media makes them out to be, and my observations back that up.  There are poor people in Bethlehem for sure, but a lot of nice cars as well, and many mediocre cars too.

Back out to Jerusalem
Once back to the bus, we made our excruciating way back to the security wall, took about 1/2 hour to go 3 blocks.  Two armed Israeli military personnel came on the bus and checked every passport, and then we were through, hallelujah!

So you might ask why no pictures of the security wall, or of the military personnel or the check points.  We have been warned time and time again, all during this trip, to never photograph at security check points of any kind, or security installations of any kind.  And anybody who is wielding a machine gun gets what they ask for, let me tell you!

Anyway, the traffic in Jerusalem at that time, about 17h30, was just brutal as well.  It took another 1/2 hour to make it up to our hotel, a drive that we could have done in 10 minutes earlier in the day.  Oh well. 

Concluding the Day
Once back, we had a few glasses of wine and went off to dinner.  Today it was quite nice, folks were excited about the baked potatoes!  First time on this trip.  I don’t know, I’ve liked most of the food, although it hasn’t always liked me – when you change the spices and things, add peppers and onions where unexpected, you can expect the middle aged gut to complain a bit.  I haven’t been too unhappy beyond that.

After supper, I finished my bottle of wine (Dayna drinks white and has plenty left, I drink red and it seems to evaporate quickly), and had to go get another one from the bar.  I’ve been working on this new bottle, and that hasn’t helped my productivity in this blog, let me tell you!  Oh well, that’s all for tonight.

Yikes, Early Morning Ahead!
Tomorrow we have an 05h30 wake up call, because it’s a busy day, getting underway at 07h00.  Yikes!  But it’s also our last day of touring, so we need to get in as much as we can.

Masada wow, a swim in the Dead Sea, Qumran, quick zip through Jericho, and hello Jerusalem! – 08 November

Well, another day, another pack-up-and-leave routine.  Our first stop was Masada, the mountain top fortress city.  It’s a tough sixty minute hike up a winding mountain trail to get to the top, but we took the easy way up – a nice modern cable car!  George & Donna’s daughter Laurie did the walk up in less than forty minutes, and arrived shortly after we did.  Wow she is one tough woman.

Our preferred method of transportation.

There was a movie made about Masada in 1981, but I haven’t seen it.  It sure sounds interesting, so I think I may have to track it down.  The story goes that during the Jewish revolt against the Roman empire from 66 to 73 AD, everywhere else was crushed except for the mountain top fortress at Masada.  The Roman army laid siege to the fortress, and this went on for three years.  The Jews in the fortress, well supplied with stored food and with plenty of water from many storage cisterns, were able to withstand the siege with not much trouble.  It was simply not possible for the Romans to wage a frontal assault on the fortress.  Finally, they started moving material in to make a huge “ramp” from the adjacent mountain up to the gates of the fortress, taking about six months to do so.  When they reached the gates of the fortress, they then tried to burn the wooden door but without success.  Later they combined a battering ram, a further attempt to burn the door, and some good fortune, and broke through.  Confident in their victory, they retreated to their camp until morning.  However, when they entered the fortress in the morning, they found everyone dead – men, women and children all – they had elected to kill each other instead of becoming prisoners.

Our guide however said that recent evidence unearthed may change the story somewhat:
– apparently persons inside the fortress had been granted an amnesty by the Romans; they could have walked away had they surrendered.  This raises the question as to what motivated the mass murder/suicide – radical religious zeal or similar political craziness?
– the official record of the story was made by Josephus Flavius, a Jewish revolutionary leader who defected to the Roman side when seeing how hopeless the cause was.  He recorded that 2 women and several children were found alive.  However, this is identical to his record of survivors in another siege, so much so that folks wonder if this isn’t a contrivance to make the story just a bit less tragic

So here are a few images of Masada:

One of many water cisterns in caves and carved out caverns in the mountain.

One of something like twenty storerooms for food – which were of course covered in those days.
Overhead view of remains of magnificent three tier “North Palace” built for King Herod at Masaba.
Wider angle view of the remains of the storehouses.
Dove loft for communications carrier doves – the communications centre!

Overhead view of the remains of the hastily built Roman ramp that reached the city gate.

Our next stop was purely curiosity and recreation.  We stopped at the lowest point on the planet earth – on the Dead Sea.  There is a tourist site there, with a restaurant, gift shop and changing room – so you can go down and take a splash in the dead sea.  It turns out that the Dead Sea’s level is dropping significantly due to prolonged drought, over-usage of River Jordan’s waters, and global warming – so the shoreline has receded something like 1 km in the past 20 or so years.  They have a little shuttle using a tractor, to get you to and from the new shoreline, but it’s only one tractor, and it is slow to service the customers, sigh.

Dead Sea beach

There is also a fresh water swimming pool up by the building, and some mud pools that you can use to plaster yourself with the soothing mineral mud from the Dead Sea – let it dry, then rinse it off, and it’s apparently good for your skin and your joints.  Not to mention the pictures your ‘friends’ take while you are pasted up with mud will make for good blackmail in the years to come!  No we didn’t do the mud thing, we did a few laps in the freshwater pool instead.

Mud plasters and *salt water* rinse showers – for others, not for us!

Anyway, the Dead Sea is crazy salty and has strong mineral content too.  It reminds me of the story of Devil’s Lake but much more so.  There is an inlet for the water (River Jordan and other seasonal rivers and streams) but no outlet for the water.  No fish nor other animals live in the water, and after having been in the water, I can see why – ugh!

We were advised to not shave this morning, and don’t go in if you have any open wounds – apparently the salt will find cuts and scrapes you didn’t even know you have!  Well that had me worried, as I have little nicks here and there (insect bites and walking in to door frames?), but I didn’t feel anything.

Of course we had to remove watches and jewelry before going in the water, but also all rings etc – because the strong salt and mineral content of the water would encourage corrosion.  Weird, first time in many, many years I have been devoid of rings…  yikes, had to really work to get them off.  Then had to store them in a safe place, would have had my *ss kicked if I had lost one. 

When in the water, you basically just sit down and lean back, and it’s the craziest thing – you float up like never before!  Very neat.  However, you have to ensure you keep the salt water out of your eyes, it would be very nasty.  I used my swimming goggles – I can’t afford to have eye trouble…  and they worked fine.

I actually got a drop of the salt water in my mouth as I floated around, and ugh, what a terrible taste!  Not only is it extremely salty, but also very very bitter, probably because of the myriad other minerals in the water.

The crazy thing about the whole experience had to be the bottom of the “beach” and even in the water – it looked vaguely like sand, but it was rock solid crystallized salt, with ripples like sand and everything!  We had been warned to wear sandals and did, but others who didn’t said that walking over that crystallized salt was excruciating, apparently it had very sharp crystals sticking up that just pierced the bottoms of your feet.

There is a fresh water shower right on the edge of the beach, so you can rinse off as soon as you emerge.  And you need to do that too, rather weird being coated in rapidly drying salt water in the fierce sun!

After leaving the Dead Sea site, we made a short visit to Qumran, an isolated Jewish settlement where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, in a cave in the mountains.

Here there was an active, thriving settlement with many different sects and subcultures.  There was a strong religious presence, as evidenced by many ritual bathing pools.  There was a water distribution system to supply the village.  There were several pottery kilns and apparently a thriving pottery making industry.

When the Jewish revolt was on, revolutionary sects took up refuge in Qumran, as they did in Masada.  When the Roman army was approaching, the religious leaders could not let the precious sacred scrolls fall into enemy hands and risk being defiled or burned, so they hid them in the mountain caves.  In time, they were forgotten.  In the early 20th century, a Bedouin found some scrolls and sold them for scrap.  A small part of the scroll got recognized by a knowledgeable individual, who made a lot of money but also helped to locate and preserve other scrolls.

Ritual bath in Qumran – always has 7 steps to represent 7 steps of purification.
Water cistern in Qumran – one of many.
Pottery Kiln – one of several.
Cave where Dead Sea Scrolls were found, looking west from Qumran.  They were undisturbed for almost 1900 years!

As we left Qumran, it was almost dark.  The group wanted to see *something* of Jericho, seeing as we’d stayed on the southern outskirts for a night, and would not be back.  So, we convinced our guide and the driver to take us to Jericho.  It’s pretty much like the other cities, but had some interesting shops and sights. 

One attraction that we did see in Jericho is the Mount of Temptation, where tradition says that Jesus was taken to do his 40 days and nights of trials and temptations right after his baptism – see Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:9-13, Luke 4:1-13.  There was a discussion of the meaning of the story, and once again, our guide Lazarus opened the scriptures to new meaning for us. 

One big thing is to consider that when, in the language and story of the culture at that time, something is done three times, it is considered not just to be done that three times, but done continuously.  For instance, Peter’s denial of Jesus during his trial.  Jesus’s questioning of Peter’s faith.

Also, if something is mentioned in a group of three, it generally means that there were many more, performed continuously.  Like the three trials of Jesus, above.

Hmm, that would explain some things that have been opaque to me until now.

So after this trip to Jericho, we went onward to Jerusalem.  Of course it’s dark, so we didn’t see much, but here we are.  We are at the Olive Tree Garden Hotel, pretty swanky but also small rooms, and built on a small lot, so not much extra facilities or room.  Overall, quite nice.  We’re here until we leave on Thursday, thankfully, so we can leave ourselves unpacked.

Cana wine, Church of Annunciation, Meggido / Armageddon, and Bet She’an / Scythopolis – 07 November

Well, we packed up and left the Sea of Galilee this morning.  Our first stop was in Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle – changing water into wine for a desperate host at a wedding feast – see John 2:1-11.  Before arriving, our guide Lazarus gave us a bit of a lowdown on the story.  Wow, there are so many layers to this story!  I couldn’t begin to capture it, but scholars have found a parallel between this story and Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection narrative, the whole “three days / third day” thing, and saving the best for last thing.  Hmm, methinks we could learn a lot by at least listening to this kind of discussion, tends to interpret & explain some of those contradictions that folks tend to come up with regarding the faith.  Plus, remember that the book was effectively recorded by nomadic sheep herder people, and it contains their perspective and cultural views.  By getting over here and seeing some of their perspectives, it really helps in my understanding, anyway.

So as is often the case with these things, there is a site which tradition holds is the place for the changing of water into wine, and multiple churches have been built on this site – more modern churches on the ruins of older churches that have decayed and fallen.

Cana at that time was a very small place, maybe a couple of football fields wide and a couple of football fields long.  So folks searched for a place where a wedding feast could take place, and where such ritual washing jars as was mentioned in the story, would be kept.  This site is such a site, and with such a small village, it is very likely the place.

Cana Wedding Church.
Entrance to Wedding Church.
Stone water jar for ceremonial washing, just like the one in which Jesus turned water into wine.

Mouth of the stone water jar above.

Foundation of crusader era church on same site.  Hmm, folks seem to want to toss money in the hole.  Why don’t they just put in the collection box at the door???  Looks like crap with all that money down there.

There was Mass going on up above in the church.  The priest can be seen shooing us out the door!  I guess he didn’t appreciate the interlopers in his church.

Then we were off to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where tradition holds that Mary mother of Jesus received the message that said she was going to conceive a son by the Holy Spirit.  See Luke 1:26-38.

The central part of this church is a grotto on the lower level in which Mary is said to have been when she received the message.

Other features in the church:
– Jewish ceremonial entire body immersion washing cavity

– 4th century mosaic which features the first instance of the “Jerusalem Cross”

– dozens of huge mosaics inside and outside the church, each one about 8 ft high by about 4 ft wide.  All of them are in coloured ceramic or stone, except the one from Canada, which appears to be in wood.  I guess our artist wanted to be unique!!

Some of the other mosaics, inside the church.

Canadian contribution, interesting & unique – right next to the exit door!

Again, Mass was going on when we were wandering into and out of the sanctuary – I kind of felt like an intruder.  But they didn’t seem to be disturbed.

We always seem to be intruding on a Mass!

Then it was off to Tel Meggido, inhabited from about 7000 BC to about 600 BC.  During that time, apparently it changed hands by force about 25 times.  What turmoil!  It controlled the critical trade routes in the region.

Why should we care about Meggido?  You may know it by its Greek name, Armageddon, see Revelation 16:16.  This is where the final battle between good and evil will be fought.

Some of the interesting features of Meggido:
– A fake entrance gate, which ends in a brick wall – to divert an enemy long enough to get organized inside.

– The real entrance gate leads to a fake courtyard, which is actually below the level of the city, so was good for an ambush.  The enemy fights to gain access to the courtyard, suffers losses, and relaxes.  Then they get cut down by the archers of the city, shooting from protected positions on the high ground.

The real gate, which leads to fake courtyard.

The fake courtyard.

– Early archaeological digs destroyed upper layers when they were searching for treasure in the lower levels.  Modern techniques painstakingly remove and catalogue every item at each level before moving on, to maintain as much as possible, but takes much more time.

Early excavation damaged upper layers, discarded material, ugh.
Modern techniques catalogue and preserve as much as possible.

– Huge in-ground grainaries for gathering tax grain from “daughter cities” all around the area.

– An underground tunnel that goes well outside the city walls, to the city’s water supply, to allow the retrieval of water without risking enemy contact.  The water springs are covered and disguised from the outside, so the enemy doesn’t discover them, poison them, or use the tunnel to invade.

 After a cafeteria style lunch in a restaurant attached to the Megiddo museum, we left for Bet She’an National Park, which is the ongoing excavated ruins of the Roman city of Scythopolis, one of the ten Decapolis cities.  Wow, very amazing!  A huge earthquake in 749 levelled the city, and it never recovered.  Now they are unearthing the city and doing selected restoration. 

Some of the highlights:
– columns everywhere, phenominal

– amazing north-south main street

– bath house – including “cold”, “tepid” and “hot” rooms

Tepid room – floor would sit on top of these piles – and HOT air circulates underneath the floor.

Hot room – again floor would sit on these piles – and EVEN HOTTER air circulates under the floor.

 – rather crude public washroom facilities – you sit on an open wall with your butt hanging between two flat “seat plates”, underneath which runs cleansing water

Some of our group messes around on ancient Roman public toilets!

– a huge theatre with amazing stage and seating – probably more comfortable than our Blue Bomber season tickets, by the looks of it

Main part of theatre stage.

Half of the seating of the theatre – sorry didn’t have a wide angle shot!

Once done at the Bet She’an site, we were off to Jericho, but didn’t arrive until after dark.  Nice hotel though – the International Hotel.  Finally, wireless Internet access that’s included in the room cost!  And a very nice room, too.

Loaves & fishes multiplication, the Beatitudes, and Transfiguration – 06 November

Well, this was going to be a busy day, but it didn’t start out that way.  Apparently there has been a cycling road race going on yesterday & today, right down the highway past the kibbutz we are staying on.  This morning, on a few hours’ notice, instead of just closing one of the two lanes, which would allow us to exit, they went and closed both lanes, stranding us.  So, we showed up at the bus at 08h00, only to be told that we couldn’t leave until 10h30.  Oh, well, some time to chill and check out the gift shop!  We went to the gift shop over at the Jesus Boat Museum, they were quite well stocked, so we picked up a few things.

Oh yeah, and Dayna vegged out for a bit in a unique style hammock.   We should get a couple for home!

Interesting though, we talked to a couple that came in this morning, and they actually drove through the fields to get to the kibbutz!  I guess some folks are more desperate than others.  At least we weren’t trying to catch a plane this morning.

Our first stop this morning was the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, not far from the kibbutz.  See Mark 6:30-44.  The altar is built on the stone that Jesus is said to have stood when he blessed the five loaves & two fishes, then performed the miracle of feeding five thousand men (and probably women & children too) there.

Altar built over rock upon which Jesus stood to bless & break loaves & fishes.

Note mosaic of loaves & fishes in front of altar.
One of the other many mosaics found around the sanctuary of the Church of Multiplication.

Then it was on to the Church of Beatitudes, where Jesus is purported to have given the sermon on the mount, see Matthew 5, 6 & 7, including the Beatitudes.  The sermon would have been given on a slope around this location, not actually at the location of the church, since a sloped area would provide more of an natural outdoor amphitheatre.  It’s difficult to build a church on a slope, so the church is on the summit.  Still, very beautiful indeed.

View from the parking lot, overlooks the Sea of Galilee.

Beautiful flower gardens, end of season at the Church of Beatitudes.

Church of Beatitudes.
Altar of Church of Beatitudes.

After the Church of Beatitudes, we ventured into Nazareth to visit the Nazareth Village, which is part of a Nazareth village reconstructed from the time of Christ.  It has people dressed in period costume, doing period activities, including driving sheep to and from pasture, harvesting and pressing grapes, harvesting and pressing olives, and making textiles.  There is a small vineyard, an olive grove, donkey driven olive press, two representative period homes, and a synagogue.  Our tour guide had an interesting accent, so I asked where she was from – she was from Virginia, been there only two months, on a twelve month volunteer mission.  What a fun job!

Driving sheep for the tourists!

Olive tree.

Olives in the olive tree.

Shepherd (centre, along the fence) watching his little flock

Our guide standing in front of actual 1st century wine press (depression to the left of her) and collection area (right behind her).
Guard post for watching over the crops and flock.
Olive crusher (donkey on back side, see next picture).

Olive crusher in action.
Secondary lever type wine press squeezing the lower quality oil out of flat “socks” with crushed olives in them.
Carpenter working in his shop.

Weaving with various colours of wool.
Interior of reconstructed synagogue.

We had a nice lunch at the YMCA restaurant downstairs.  It actually looks like this Nazareth Village is a project of the YMCA.  Lunch was expensive, but also very good.  Things went downhill when they came to collect the cash for the meal, however – the dual currency thing (3.6 New Israeli Shekels = 1 U.S. dollar) causes a lot of confusion.  The fellow was doing math poorly, miscalculating change, getting the exchange wrong.  I got out of there paying in U.S. dollars which made everyone happy.

Then off to the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tavor (also known as Mount Tabor).  You get to go only about 1/3 the way up on the tour bus, then there is a transfer terminal where you wait for smaller vans to take you the rest of the way.  When you ride in those vans, you find out why – the rest of the way is a steep grade with only about 200 ft straight runs connected by about 20 switchback curves!  The road is barely wide enough for two vans to pass, and they drive like madmen!

Reference the Transfiguration Matthew 17:1-13.

Once at the top, there are ruins of old churches on the site, and a 100 year old Franciscan church on top.  We a discussion outside the church, then went in.  There was a mass going on and we saw part of it, very ornate, very nice.

By the time we came out, it was sunset.  Wow sunset comes on quickly in this mountainous country which is closer to the equator!

Then a break-neck ride down the mountain, back onto the bus and back to the kibbutz.  Dinner was great, then a few glasses of wine, blogging, more wine…  Can’t leave any wine, checking out and off to Jericho tomorrow!

The rock, the temple, and a boat ride – 05 November

Ugh, it was an early morning, wake up call at 05h45, bus leaving at 07h30.  A weary bunch of twenty five travellers made it to the bus and off at that time.  Or at least, I was weary, and I guess I project that onto everyone else.

First, an aside about the room.  It is plain, simple, and functional.  And quite comfortable too.  The balcony is a nice touch – although it would be nice if the balcony door would latch closed!  At least we are on the third floor.  Well and the shower door on the bathtub is only a half door – and water leaks out onto the floor.  Oh well, it is very clean and it works fine otherwise.

OK, back from the aside.

Our first stop was a park for the Tel of Dan.  A tel is a trapezoidal mound that forms when a city is ruined, and builds up in layers.  So this tel is the mount over the ruins of the city of Dan.  Dan was the home of one of the 12 tribes of Israel.  They had been on the coast of Mediterranean, sandwiched between the Philistines and the Samarians, but got squeezed out, and moved up to the north-east corner of modern day Israel and set up a new city.  This new city eventually ended up in ruins, hence the tel.

This tel also contains one of the three sources of the River Jordan.  It was a difficult path, about 200 ft of hopping from large rock to large rock while dodging low hanging branches, but it was worth it.  Very beautiful!  Then we saw successively older excavations of Dan, starting at about 2500 BC, and backwards to 18,000 BC.  Very cool.

Temple in Dan from 8th century BC

Main gate to City of Dan from 12 century BC

Ruins of exchange gate of City of Dan from 18th century BC

Then we went up onto the Golan Heights, which is actually Syrian territory but is today controlled by the Israelis.  As our guide said, there is no border between Israel & Syria, only an occupied territory and UN peace keeper oversight.

The Golan Heights is actually a plateau, very large plateau in fact.  We saw mine fields along the road with warning signs – yikes!  Land mines are a damned scourge on the planet, I’m glad they are more-or-less banned now, but wish all countries would sign on!

Anyway, our next stop was in Caesarea Philipi, where the Romans built a temple to their god Pan.  Now, the middle eastern people apparently cannot pronounce a “P”, so the site is called Banias.  I was asked to do a reading, Matthew 16:13 to 20, related to this site.  Here is where Jesus said to Simon son of Jonah, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,” thereby changing his name to Peter, and, according to most sources, making him the first leader of the Christian church.

Roman temple to Pan at Bania
Dean at Roman temple to Pan at Bania.

Dayna at Roman temple to Pan at Bania.

This also happens to be one of the other of the three sources for the River of Jordan.  In front of the temple is a great spring water collection area, and it flows out to the river.

One of our folks pointed out that the word used in the Gospel for rock was pietre, which is feminine, while the name taken and used by Simon was Peter, which is of course masculine.  There was speculation as to why.  However, our guide Lazarus (hmm didn’t mention it before, but yes that’s his name) pointed out that Jesus, like all Holy Land Jews at that time, spoke Aramaic not Greek, and that in Aramaic such a distinction did not exist, so it’s an artificial construct because the Bible was distributed in Greek.

As a very interesting aside, Lazarus pointed out that in those days, the spoken, communicated language was always Aramaic.  Hebrew existed at that time, but was only used for spiritual matters, never spoken.  It was therefore only written in holy writings, and used for silent prayer.  Wow.  Modern Hebrew is apparently used for all purposes, this distinction has been lost.

We proceeded onward back to the “other” side of the Sea of Galilee (the east side was always referred to as the “other” side).

This took us along the Golan Heights, which is a tall plateau, a no-man’s land of sorts.  It’s actually Syrian territory which is occupied by Israeli forces.  As our guide put it, there really is no border between Israel and Syria, only two cease-fire withdrawal lines enforced by the United Nations, and this occupied territory in between.  We passed through a settlement village, very new, very modern, very nice.  But knowing that it was one of these settlement villages that we’ve heard about on the news, I somehow felt uncomfortable even just passing through.  Hey, I’m not passing judgment, just that I feel uncomfortable about it.

We then proceeded on through the Golan Heights.  We passed a Syrian military base, where the barracks had been hit by shells in the 1967 war.  Then we stopped at a beautiful lookout on the heights, from which we could see a U.N. base.

We stopped at Capernaum, where the remains of Peter’s mother-in-law’s home have been unearthed and preserved.  Wow, a bit of a lesson here too.  Houses in those days, in that hot climate, were constructed with inner and outer walls, to allow air to circulate in between.  A father and all his sons would occupy the house.  Each room was a family.  So, in the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, there were seven sons, so there were eight rooms, and the rooms were divided up into a hexagon.  The cooking & washing, etc., was done in the space between their room and the outer wall, so this space was also divided into eight.  This house had two or three successive churches built on top of it, so you can see the rooms, the outer wall, and the successive church walls as well.  These days there is a building overtop of it too, but that building is so impressive, sits about four feet above the top of the ruins.  So for reference to Peter’s mother-in-law, see Matthew 8:14-15.

Peter’s mother-in-law’s home in Capernaum

Many, many ruins have been unearthed at Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The ruins of the 4th century Jewish synagogue are most impressive.  Again something to be learned here.  There is a stone bench along the outer walls of the synagogue.  Now, in the south-east corner, the stones are different, kind of a seat.  I had been asked to read mention of Capernaum in the Bible, so they asked me to sit in this seat to do it – Matthew 4:12-17.  Now the part that makes me shudder.  This synagogue was built exactly on the ruins of the earlier temple, which is the one that Jesus would have preached from.  This is the exact location of the seat that he would have preached from.  Why do we know this?  Jews were not allowed to turn their back on Jerusalem while teaching or listening.  Having the seat on the side allowed the teacher to look east, and have Jerusalem to his right, so he can still look at it.  It also allowed the listeners to see the teacher to their right, yet  see Jerusalem straight ahead.  Why shudder?  Because although it’s not the exact seat, it’s the exact location Jesus would have sat and taught from.  <shudder>

Dean reads scripture from the teacher’s seat in the synagogue ruins in Capernaum

Here is where the scripture lesson gets very interesting, so he leans forward…

George says he is honoured to sit where Dean sat!

Oh, and this is a beautiful country.  We saw banana groves, vineyards, very very wonderful.  But hot!  Seemed to be about 35 deg C today.  I guess that’s what you get for coming down from about 3000 ft elevation (Caesarea Philipi) to 400 ft below sea level (Capernum/Ein-Gev/Sea of Galilee, and our hotel), huh?

There it is – the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberius.

Lots of fruit groves and vineyards along the trip down from the Golan Heights to the Sea of Galilee.

Then onward to Ein-Gev Kibbutz on the eastern shore of Sea of Galilee where they have a big restaurant (wow so busy, probably 800 people there, coming and going!).  It’s a fish restaurant, so although we had a choice, I had the fish.  Well I got more than I bargained for!  I’m not a big fish eater, but I like it from time to time.  But it arrived pretty much all there (yikes).  Well, no internals, but all the externals intact.  Hmm.  Well Dayna is more adventurous than I, and she showed me how to deal with it, so, well, I did.  I’m still not crazy about the presentation, but it was very fresh fish, and a freshwater fish as well, so it was, uh, OK.  Lots of side dishes etc., so we didn’t leave hungry.

Next we trotted about 50 feet down the shoreline, where a boat was waiting to take us across the sea (well I keep saying sea but it’s actually a moderate sized lake).  Our bus would meet us on the other side.  This boat looked pretty rickety – someone made a comment that it was almost like the African Queen – well actually no, it looked worse than the African Queen!  Oh well, once aboard it was clear that it was quite seaworthy, so our 25 persons were well safe.

During the ride, we felt comfortable enough to smile at least once!

Our ride across the lake!  More sound than she looks…
Because here we are, safely on the other side of the lake.

Once underway, the crew surprised us by running the Canadian flag up the mast and playing ‘Oh Canada’, so we had to stand up and sing.  A little out of tune, I must say, but we did sing.

Dean and George, both trapped in thought, pensive in each their own way.
Oh Canada!

Halfway across the lake, they cut the engine, and while we drifted, George conducted a short worship service, we did some scripture readings, and a few hymns.  It was very nice.

Back underway, we came to the pier but had to approach 3 times before we could dock.  The pier was very busy with several other little boats, each time we approached another one took off, until we had no problem getting up to the pier and disembarking.

We had docked right next to a museum that holds the “Jesus Boat”, a 2,000 year old fishing boat that was discovered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1986, extremely well preserved.  It’s amazing, see .  They gave us a brief presentation on the excavation and moving of the complete boat – they used expandable foam to “pack” the boat inside and out, then cut a channel to the sea and floated it out!  Then picked it up with a crane and bracing.  Quite spectacular really.  Now, this wasn’t necessarily a boat that Jesus would have used, but it is from that era, the only one ever found.  The entirety of the Jewish fishing fleet was destroyed by the Romans during the Jewish uprising in AD 66 to 70, so this is likely the only one we are ever going to find.  Very cool!

The “Jesus Boat”.

So it turned out that we were literally 100 feet from our hotel, so we gathered our stuff off of the bus, and getting back to our room, sigh.  Have a few glasses of wine, then off to dinner, more wine, then… time to sleep.  Tomorrow not quite as early, 06h00 wake up call, ugh.

Mini ha ha and a warning about time zone changes and wake up calls!

Ha ha, just had to share this.

One of the first nights that we were in Egypt (Cairo, well actually more properly Giza), apparently George & Donna (tour hosts) failed to adjust their clock to account for the time shift.  The alarm went off, they felt like crap, but hey they’ve just travelled a day to go half way around the world.  They got up, showered, dressed, and went down for breakfast.  It was still dark, but what the heck, it’s 07h00 and who knows when the sun comes up.  There was nobody in the breakfast area, and the staff looked genuinely perplexed when they asked for food.

You can guess the punch line – it was 02h00 instead of 07h00, they were five hours early.  Donna was not so happy that day.

Last night, at the Amman Mariott (love that hotel!), someone called their room at 23h00 or so.  Well, George thought it was the 06h30 wake up call, picked up the receiver, didn’t even listen, said “thanks” and hung up.  He then got up, showered, and got dressed.  Donna, wise to the game, finally looked at the clock and told him in no uncertain terms to get back into his pajamas and back to bed!  So who knows who called them last night and why, but they sure got Donna excited!

Maybe we should get them a better alarm clock!

Rant about hotel Internet access while in the middle east

The one thing here that has been annoying right from the first day is the cost of Internet access.  In North America, it’s expected that Internet access will be provided free with the rent of a room.  Here, it’s an add on cost, and it’s generally quite expensive.  At the Taba resort, it was something like US30 each 24 hours.  Here at Nof Ginosar, it’s US20.  Oh well, it’s worth it for my friends!