Saturday, March 17, 2018

Peaceful Sabbath

We've been eating buffet style in the hotel in Jerusalem, which basically means we're stuffed all the time! We're slowly learning how to pace ourselves and not eat everything in sight. They have some delicious sliced oranges and grapefruit, which we're really enjoying. Laurie had a plate full of healthy options!

We started the day by attending church at the BYU Jerusalem center. It is a beautiful, arched building built about 1984 right on the top of Mt. Scorpus.

From the garden patio they have spectacular views of the temple mount, as well as the rest of the city!

We arrived early enough to check out the gardens before church, which started at 10. They were in full bloom!

The grounds were really beautiful with lots of contemplative places to rest and enjoy the view. There was even a little stream going through them.

The olive press on display actually turned so you could get an idea how they extracted the olive oil.

There were so many other tour groups that we filled the auditorium to capacity for church!

We had super lessons in Sunday School and Relief Socity. We especially enjoyed a piece of cake they had brought to celebrate the 163rd birthday of Relief Society!

After church we walked along the Rampart wall of the old city from the Jaffa Gate to the Herod Gate.

It was interesting seeing so many homes right within the old city gates had satellite dishes and solar panels for the hot water heaters on the roof!

We had a nice view of the Dome of the Rock, but the section of the wall closest to it is not open for walkers.

We enjoyed walking through the market area. I would have bought some of the spices if I had any idea how to use them!

The Muslim women dress very modestly and there were lots of shops with ready made clothes for them.

We had a bite to eat at a restaurant in the old town.

We tried out some humus plates with beef and chicken shewarma, as well as some grape leaf-wrapped beef.

One of the men helping in the restaurant was a musician named  Jamal al Huseiny, who is a professional musician who lives in England. He shared his YouTube channel with us at:

Ken became a groupie!

We got back to the hotel in time for more buffet, but since we'd already eaten we went light. But, there's always room to try out some of the desserts! Today was a relaxing day, and hopefully we'll be rested up for our 7 a.m. start tomorrow to see the Temple Mount!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Jordan River and Mount Tabor

We started the day today with a visit to the Kassar el-Yahud baptism site on the Jordan River. Although there is a disagreement whether Christ was baptized from the east or west side of the river, Israel has won out in the tourist game. There was nobody visiting the Jordanian side of the river (to the left)!
There were quite a few groups on our side of the river. They did self-immersion, dunking themselves 3 times. We saw groups from many different countries. Happily for them, the weather was beautiful!

While we sat on the river's edge, Daniel told us stories not only about the baptism of Christ, but about the prominence of the River Jordan in the Old and New Testaments.

I was surprised how small the river was. It didn't seem like crossing it should have been such a big fuss, but maybe when Joshua caused the river to stop flowing so the Israelites could cross over with the ark it was a bigger river. Now there is a dam at the Sea of Galilee which controls the flow. (And several bridges, as well!)

There were lots of signs of spring out, and it made me glad we came in March! It also made me wish I knew the names of all these plants!

We were so impressed with the agricultural cooperatives we passed along the way as we drove through the West Bank!

Our next stop was Kursi National Park, a peaceful site with the remains of a Byzantine monastery. This site is associated with the miracle of the swine, where Jesus sent a legion of devils from a possessed man into a herd of swine that ran forthwith into the sea of Galilee. We felt sorry for the pigs.

We gathered around to talk about the story. Today we tend to think the man had mental illness, which Christ was able to heal him from. But, like the possessed man, aren't we all a little unhinged at times? We could use some help, too!

Laurie and Ken found a nice bench with a back on it, where they could look at the ruins and contemplate as we listened to Daniel. There is some disagreement about whether Ken was contemplating or napping. We'll never know, because of the sun glasses!

The monastery had some beautiful tile work on the floor, open to the elements. The whole complex wasn't uncovered till it was discovered by a road construction crew after the 6 days war!

We drove by the Sea of Galilee, which is in reality a very beautiful lake.

Our next stop (after a shewarma lunch) was the Church of the Transfiguration atop Mt. Tabor. It is a beautiful church owned by the Franciscans, who keep the church and the grounds meticulously. It was built on the ruins of a Byzantine monastery, and was finished in 1924.

The light, clean lines and beautiful tiled art reflect the feeling of light coming upon Christ as he spoke with Moses and Elijah.

The view of the Armageddon Valley from the church is spectacular! It is such a verdant expansive valley! It is hard to imagine any end-of-days war occurring here. It is interesting being here and realizing that Israel is a cross-roads of the mid-east. I think I've always pictured it a a hot, dry, hard-scrabble piece of land. This looks like land worth fighting for!

A very friendly cat cozied up to Ed and I as we gathered with the group to talk about the transfiguration. It looked (and acted) just like Brittany's Roo! Daniel Rona called it a Roman (roamin') cat. He likes to make puns which I find mildly entertaining, but nobody ever laughs at them!

We were on Mt. Tabor in the late afternoon, and the sunlight breaking through the trees felt appropriate for a site that is associated with such pure light!

Crystal was asked to hold Daniel's umbrella while he talked. After 20 minutes she started to feel a little like Moses holding up his staff so the army would win. Ed volunteered to play Aaron for her, but she just soldiered through!

We got our room upgraded to an adjoining suite after we found out the Sardoni's, as well as everyone else in our group, had an executive suite for just the two of them. They didn't have any of those left, so gave us a junior suite instead!

Crystal gets to sleep in the Harry Potter room next to the elevator. It's not Executive suite, but it does have it's own bathroom!

We're looking forward to sleeping longer in our rooms tonight. Tomorrow is church, as the BYU center has church on Saturday to go along with the Jewish Sabbath. We get to meet at the bus at 8:30. Yay!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Holy City

Today we saw Jerusalem. I thought this picture of us in an olive grove was a fitting one for a trip through Bible times!

We had transportation in a nice bus with plenty of room for just 21 people. It also had wi-fi and USB chargers in it!

We entered the Holy City through the Jaffa gate. Our tour guide, Daniel Rona, explained that this small door could have been the eye of the needle referred to in the scripture. It's hard for a camel to fit through that door when a merchant arrives at the city after the big gate is closed.

Ken and Laurie posed in front of this "loophole," the thin window big enough for someone to shoot at invaders!

We walked through some shops in the Arab quarter, and got to see (and smell) some real Frankincense burning. I thought it was funny that I never noticed the word "incense" in the word "frankincense before".

We visited the church of the Holy Sepulchre, which claims to have the crucifixion site as well as the burial tomb of Christ all with the city limits. It is all pretty unlikely, but Catholic pilgrims have been going there for years, so it's historic for that point alone. We decided not to wait line to go down in the crypt. It's empty, anyway!

There was a very pretty mosaic mural depicting Crists's death and burial, but surprisingly not the resurrection!

We enjoyed walking along the Cardo, the market street built by the Romans. Lucky for us, we had started early, and most of the shops were still closed! But we were still able to enjoy the pretty artwork along the way!

We didn't go inside the beautiful Hurva Synagogue, but enjoyed it from the outside. It was reconstructed in 2010 after having been destroyed for the second time in 1948 in the war for Independence.

In the Herodian Quarter of the Archeological park, Daniel showed us how they have pieced together an understanding of life at the time of Christ. Many of the stones in this display were original, and many of the structures were commissioned by Herod the Great!

Today is Thursday, and that means Bar-Mitzvah day for many of the young men in Israel. Daniel explained to us the special clothing they wear for the occasion!

The men went to the left and women to the right as they approached the wailing wall. The young men and their family male members participate in the bar-mitzvah. Female family members, (and inquisitive tourists), watch by peeking over a high fence!

It wasn't too bad, though as we had headphones supplied by the tour company, and could hear most of Daniel's explanation as we went along!

Each boy had a group of musicians as well as their family  follow the boy as he approached the wailing wall. They also walked under a canopy (not pictured here).

For lunch we had falafels delivered to us and enjoyed seating outside under a shady tree!

In the afternoon we visited the Davidson Center, which not only had more remains and re-construction, but also had on-going excavations continuing on its premisis.

We had more time to sit after lunch. I was really glad that the tour provided little stools we could carry around and sit on from time to time.
The Davidson center had pretty views of the city as well as view of the temple steps.

We walked today where Jesus walked. It was amazing to think that these were the original steps to the temple, and the stories in the Bible about Jesus in the temple actually took place on these same steps. The top layer has been replaced on the steps, but the bedrock is the original steps that are 2000 years old!

We enjoyed this low ceiling warning for Segway drivers. It looks like it is also a good morning for the rest of us! Crystal only had a few inches to spare!

We spent a little time on the hillsides above Bethlehem looking at a protective "cote" for sheep. Crystal did get a head-bonking in there. I was glad she took one for the team, because her cry of pain made me watch out before I stood up!

I enjoyed seeing all the wild flowers at the Elias church which overlooks Bethlehem. They had daisies, cyclamen, olive trees as well as red poppies known as "lilies of the field!"

We finished up the day listening to Daniel tell us some Bible stories about Bethlehem. It really helped us understand more about the area we were in, and the connection King David had to Bethlehem.

We also sang some Christmas Carols together. I know it wasn't snowing out, but we had all come under-dressed for the light breeze and overcast skies, so we were happy when we sang Joy to the World, and scurried back to the bus!

We ate dinner at an Arab restaurant called Philadelphia, and then came back to the hotel exhausted. Vacation is not a vacation!