Saturday, February 23, 2019

Saturday 23 February -- Jerusalem on Foot

Saturday 23 February -- Jerusalem on Foot
A long day of walking in Jerusalem. Because it is the Sabbath, breakfast at the hotel was very basic, compared to the wide choice we had yesterday. We drove first to the Saint Peter in Gallicantu Church, on the traditional site of the House of Caiaphas. An amazing bas-relief door depicts Jesus predicting Peter's denials of him. Under the church we visited the prison where Jesus was likely held overnight before his Crucifixion and heard the horrifying descriptions of the punishment the Romans used in this place.
The Last Supper Upper Room, our next stop, is not the real room, since all of Jerusalem has been destroyed twice since then, but is in the area where the Last Supper took place, an Essene part of the city.
We walked down through the Lion Gate to the Cardo, and through the very quiet streets of the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall. At the Tomb of David, along the way, women and men had to enter different areas. Photography was forbidden there and at the Western Wall (and all Jewish sites) because it was Shabat. At the Western Wall, most of us had prayers on tiny slips of paper to place in the wall. We had time to watch the comings and goings in the area and the devotions taking place in both the men's and women's sections of the wall. The sun had come out, and most of us shed our jackets.
We followed the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of the Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection of Jesus. It's a massive, dark, crowded place, but Ibrahim found an area with benches where we sat and heard the story of those days read from the Bible, and prayed.
Making our way into the Muslim Quarter, we enjoyed lunch at an indoor restaurant. We welcomed that, because the temperature was dropping and jackets were back on.
Walking through the bright, noisy, busy market area of the Muslim Quarter was an adventure in itself -- we kept losing track of each other amid the wonders of it all -- spices in vast, artful arrays, candy of every colour and flavour, every kind of clothing, shoes, toys, hanging whole lambs and other fresh meats, jewellery, and then at the very end, some kind of kids' carnival.
A short walk on city streets, and we emerged into the Garden Tomb complex -- a complete contrast to the market. It is beautiful, peaceful and holy. Some theorize that it might be the actual site of the Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection, and that theory was explained to us while we toured the site. That visit ended with a very moving communion service.
The bus picked us up (finally!) and moved us to the entrance to one of the Muslim cemeteries, through which we walked to the St. Stephen's Gate and to St. Anne's Church and the Bethesda Pools (dry now of course). We heard the story of the healing of the crippled man, and then went into the church to sing and enjoy the wonderful acoustics. When we faltered over the second verse of Amazing Grace, the priest started it from the back of the sanctuary and then led us into the third verse. After having been scolded by priests a couple times today, this was a breath of fresh air!
From there it was back to the hotel, but for several people (not us) that was just a short break before going out for dinner with local families.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Friday 22 February -- Jerusalem & Bethlehem

Friday 22 February -- Jerusalem & Bethlehem

 After a delicious buffet breakfast, we boarded the bus and road to Herodion, the hill fortress. Because it was not high enough to afford a view of Jerusalem, the height of the mountain was doubled at Herod's command. We climbed up the outside steps to the open top area, where Ibrahim explained the structure and the history of Herod and his complicated, dysfunctional family. Then we made our way downward through cisterns and tunnels.

At the Shepherds' Fields we gathered in a cave and remembered the story of the shepherds and their encounter with the angels. In the small church we found beautiful paintings representing the story of the shepherds and Ibrahim read us the New Testament account. We sang Angels We Have Heard on High -- with the benefit of amazing acoustics. It was a glorious way to celebrate hearing this story in the place where it happened.

We spent some time at the Christian gift shop in Bethlehem, visiting the wood-carving workshop below, first. This cooperative provides a source of income for struggling Christian families in the Palestinian area. Lots of lovely carvings and beautiful jewellery, all locally sourced.
A few of us stayed on the bus while the rest went to a restaurant for lunch, then we moved on to the Church of the Nativity. The bus parking is quite a distance downhill from the church and it was quite crowded.

We made our way to the church and joined the line-up to visit the cave where Jesus was born. The church still has a lot of scaffolding, but the restoration work has progressed a great deal in the four years since we were last here. There are wonderful mosaics high on the walls that are breath-taking in their beauty. The line wasn't too long, but it was prayer time, so we had to wait just over an hour before climbing down the 14 steps into the cave. Because so many were waiting, we had to move as quickly as possible, so had only moments to see the star marking the birthplace and the area where the manger stood. Then we took a very quick look at the Church of St. Catherine before struggling downhill to the bus. Of course, we had to pass another checkpoint, but we were waved through, so no delay.

Ein Karem, the home of John the Baptist, was our last stop of the day. When we got there, about 15 minutes before the posted closing time, there was a crowd at the locked door. After a few phone calls and a walk through another path, we were finally allowed in. Just as we got to the steps down to the important area of the church, another guide came through, shoving us out of the way and his group followed to the bottom of the steps, blocking us. I never got down there, though most of our group persisted until they had seen what was down there. Wasn't such a spiritual experience for me.
Then back to the hotel and a bit of rest and refresh before dinner.






More Photos of the Day at Jerusalem and Bethlehem

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Thursday February 21 -- Dead Sea to Jerusalem

Another very early start as we set out under cloudy skies to Mount Nebo. It's a long, steep climb and we were very glad to be doing it by bus.
It makes you really respect Moses for doing it on foot at the age of 120. Twice! The view was slightly obscured by haze but we could see Jerusalem and Jericho.

Pastor David read the story of Moses' visit from Deuteronomy 34.

Inside the church, we saw mosaics dating from the 4th to the 8th century AD. There has been a church on that site for that length of time, but it has been changed and rebuilt a few times, so it's a wonder the mosaics are in such good shape.

A mosaic workshop, established by Queen Noor to provide employment to people with physical limitations, was an interesting stop, with many beautiful creations. A few people bought pieces.

In Madaba, we walked uphill through the old town to St. George's Orthodox Church, where a Byzantine mosaic map forms part of the floor. It had been unknown for many years  but was uncovered in 1980.
   Our border crossing to Israel was a bit tedious, but non-eventful. We have a new bus, driver and guide. We started in right away with a late lunch in the chaotic cafeteria at Qumran, followed by a quick look at the  Essene waterworks 

and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. It was cold, very windy and a little rainy, so we weren't tempted to linger.
On to a viewpoint from which we could see the Mount of Temptation.

A large monastery clings to the side of the mountain, with a small church that was built around what is said to be the rock on which Jesus sat during the first two temptations. There are also hermit cells a bit lower down the mountain.

Our final stop of the day was Jericho, the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world. We didn't go inside the ancient archeological site, but could see the remains of the old cities and walls, and
the Elisha fountain. We sampled Jericho dates -- very moist and sweet, but one was more than enough for me.
We were in the Palestinian Authority area, so had to go through a checkpoint to get to Jerusalem. We weren't stopped, so we were soon at the Olive Tree Hotel. We were warmly greeted by our EO host staff and soon in our comfortable room. Dinner was nice, with lots of choice for most people (not so much for me; it's a garlic-heavy menu) and some good conversation.

More Photos from the Day - Dead Sea to Jerusalem

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Wednesday February 20 - Petra Jordan

   We're thinking of our family back home today as they gather to remember and celebrate the life of Janice's aunt, Della Patterson, a very funny feisty beloved woman. RIP Aunt Della.
   Really slept well and had no trouble waking up at 5am. Walking over to the main building for breakfast we realized we could see the Dead Sea. We hope to have a chance to get into it before we leave.
   On the 4-hour drive to Petra we saw the agricultural land of the Jordan Valley give way to grazing (herds of sheep and goats), then to semi-arid and desert areas with mining and processing of phosphates as well as uranium.
Power lines cross the area, bringing electricity from Egypt. We saw solar panels in fields and on houses, as well as a couple of wind farms in the hill areas. Most dwellings have stone or concrete block walls enclosing them. Neither landscapes nor dwellings have a lot of colour.
   This is near where the Israelites spent 38 years in the desert before spending 2 years in Jordan to reach Mt Nebo. Sadly, as in so many parts of the world, roadsides and even fields are heavily littered with plastic trash. As we climbed closer to Petra there were small patches of snow in the fields, remnants of a heavy fall just a few days ago. From our lunch stop we had a wonderful view over the entrance to Petra and in the other direction to hills in another colour, made of harder material than the softer red sandstone of Petra.
   Larry and I chose the "carriage" option for the trip through the siq to the Treasury. It's a long, rough walk and we wanted to try and go farther into the site. We were then able to walk into the area we hadn't seen when we were snowed out of there before. It is an awe-inspiring place.
Great beauty. Amazing workmanship. The siq -- the long canyon entrance -- is a surprise at every turn, and so narrow that I was afraid we'd mow down unsuspecting pedestrians as we bounced behind the trotting horse! We missed Kusai's explanations and also the group photo at the Treasury, but the trade-off was worth it, as was the long, cold wait for our return carriage.

   We were ready to depart about 90 minutes before its scheduled return, but had to abide by that time. Pastor David was about to walk out, saw me shivering and gave me his jacket. Blessings on Pastor David! He gave me the coat off his own back!

While we were waiting for our carriage some of our group returned on their camel transport.  We were last out, so when we arrived everyone headed back to the bus. Meanwhile, we had chatted with several interesting people who were also waiting for carriages. The 4-hour trip back to the hotel involved quite a bit of dozing on the bus, and was broken only by a 15-minute pit stop.
   We were given another tasty late dinner and will be retiring early because it'll be another 5am wake-up call as we prepare to leave for Israel in the morning. No Dead Sea floating this time.

 Link to Other Photos of the Day at Petra

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Tuesday Feb 19 - Enroute to the Dead Sea

    The overnight flight wasn't too bad and most of us got some sleep. Frankfort Airport was another whole stay.  Although Nanci had had a wheel hair in New York, there wasn't one for her here, andwhen we asked to be transported on one of the motorcarts, the driver rudely shoo'd us away exclaiming that she'd loose her job if she gave rides to anyone who hadn't reserved.  She said we could reserve it now and wait 45 minutes.
    So we walked, very slowly, from concourse Z to concourse B - part of it by train. Nanci, Larry, and I were the only people in sight through several vast corridors.  Nanci wondered if the Rapture had occurred and we'd been left behind. Somewhere along the way, the lady who'd refused to give us a ride, whizzed by with her empty cart and we saw several others sitting idle.  Not at all like previous experience in this airport.
    Finally we arrived at Security, where David had been pacing and looking for us (he had Nanci's passport and boarding pass).  But we still had about 20 minutes before pre-boarding.
Once we were sent down the Jetway (as the first of the fully-booked hoard) we found the door into the aircraft closed aqnd locked.  Another gentleman knocked on the fuselage and the cabin crew were most surprised to see us when they opened the cabin door.  So we waited another few minutes, then boaarded.
    Lufthansa at least seats couples together and their groups in near proximity, and that's nice. Also pretty good food - smoked salmon and potato salad and horseradish, chicken with orange sauce and  rice, Camembert chocolate-walnut brownie and wine.
    With a 4-hour flght to Amman we landed at 7:30 local time and an EO rep met us and walked us through the formalities.  The bus ride to the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea Resort was about an hour, so he gave us some insights into Jordan and pointed out the lights of Jerusalem and Jericho.  The hotel is beautiful and they had held dinner for us, kept the dining room open for us until 10:30.  It was delicious.  We're exhausted but needed to get organized so it won't be many hours sleep before the 5am wake up call for our day in Petra.

Monday February 18 - Enroute

    Clare Shore was kind enough to run a shuttle for several of us to BPI.  First, Bill and Teresa, then she came back for us, and finally Pastor David and Nanci.  Good they were not last since I managed to leave my day-pack in the car.  David and Nanci brought it with them and all was well, but it was a shaky start to the journey.
    Larry and Nanci were able to board early since both are using canes, so we got settled in for the trip to J.F.K. New York.  We were disappointed to learn that we had to get our bags there and re-check them and that we had to pay for our check bags on this leg of the flight. All apparently because our lay-over would be more than 5 hours.  Also that means plenty of time to deal with it. 
    At JFK it took a while to retrieve our luggage and make our way from Terminal 5 to Terminal 1 by train, the we found that we couldn't check in for our Frankfort flight for another couple of hours.  We took turns guarding the pile of luggage and going to eat. Mike and Jan Schooley caught up with us just as we were checking in again. Eventually we transferred to the departure lounge for another few hours of waiting.
  While we were waiting, we were delighted to discover that about 20 members of the National Ballet Theatre of Odessa were waiting for the same flight. These beautiful young people were full of energy and excitement as they finished their 3-month North American tour and started home. At one point several of the young men took over a large open space and entertained us with a lively dance number. Isn't cultural exchange wonderful?   Link to Video of JFK Spontaneous Dance

Monday, January 14, 2019