Report on our trip to Israel and Jordan

We had more crammed into this trip than usual, and it took lots of walking, stair climbing and bus riding to get around to it all.

I took something like 500 photos (not all good ones, of course), but was not in contact with the Internet during what little free time there was on the trip.

So, I will try to provide a report on the trip, and hope I can keep the many places and things we saw straight this long after the fact. As time permits, I will add additional photos, and try to make it easy to look at the ones that are of interest to you.

The report is far from complete, but I will add to it as I have time, now that we are back.

Monday, November 5, 2012

United Boeing 777

Our group met in the church parking lot at 8:45 AM for the bus trip to RSW airport. We were at the airport until plane departed at 11:10 AM for Newark, EWR. Our arrival time at Newark was 2:00 PM. There were 21 of us in the group leaving Cape Coral, with two people joining us at Tel Aviv who were flying in from Boston.

We departed Newark on Boeing 777 at 3:55 PM for Tel Aviv (Hill of Joy in Hebrew). It was an Overnight flight with elaborate dinner and breakfast services. Full horizontal recliners in Business Class. We were awakened at 7:00 AM Tel Aviv time (midnight, Florida time) for breakfast.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Arrival in Tel Aviv

We arrived in Tel Aviv at 9:20 AM. The airport was somewhat screwed up, as the refueling facilities at the new, big terminal building were not working, so the plane was directed to the old terminal, where we parked outside. We were unloaded via a ramp to the tarmac, and taken to the new terminal in busses.Peshara Sikhi

We were met at the airport by our guide for most of the trip, Bishara Smeir, a Conservative Catholic Arab living in Israel.

The bus trip travel time to Jericho, our first stop, was supposed to take 1 ˝ hours according to Bishara, so some of the ladies opted to bypass the restroom in the airport, expecting we would be at our hotel after the 1 ˝ hour ride on our tour bus. Not so. We didn’t get to the Jacir Intercontinental Hotel until after 3:00 PM. Bishara takes English questions literally, and he wasn’t asked, “How long until we get to the next bathroom”, he was asked how long the next leg of the bus trip was.

Mount of Temptation

Mount of TemptationAround Noon, we were at the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus fasted for forty days and nights, and was tempted by the Devil.

There is a Greek Orthodox monastery clinging to the face of the mountain, which can be reached by climbing an impossible looking path. None of us tried it. Apparently, the ancient Jews were not the only people who liked to climb mountains, but the Greeks did not, it seems, care about being able to see over the top.

Zacharias' Tree

When we arrived in Jericho, we drove first to the Sycamore Tree of ZacharriasTree under which Jesus stopped to preach, and in which Zacharias, the Jewish tax collector for the Romans climbed so he could see over the heads of the crowds. Jesus singled him out to stay with him and have dinner with him, even though he was regarded as an evil man and disliked by the townspeople. The story is that Zacharias was converted, and promised to give half his ill-gotten gains to the poor and to repay those he cheated four fold.

We were not told if he really did, and this might not be the same sycamore tree. The moral of the story is correct, though.

Walls of Jericho

Before going to the hotel, we drove around the outside of the city and caught some glimpses of the excavations of parts of the original walls. The tops of them were well below the present ground level, and it was hard to get a picture of them. I checked to see if there were any good photos of the remains of the walls on the Internet, but apparently everyone had as much trouble as I did in getting a good photo. Here is a guess as to how the walls looked.

I was interested in filling in some of my gaps (yawning chasms) in understanding of biblical history. All I knew about Jericho was that Joshua fit a battle there, and the walls came tumbling down. Why, I asked Tim (the Pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church, and the tour leader) did Joshua have something against the people who lived in Jericho that caused him to lay siege to Jericho?

It seems that the Children of Israel had been wandering in the desert for 40 years after fleeing Egypt, with Moses leading them, but he died on Mount Nebo, just before crossing the river Jordan. Joshua was Moses' second in command, and took over the leadership and lead the Israelites across the river. Jericho was the first big city theyWalls - A better view than we got came to. It was sitting there in their promised land, so they figured it was theirs.

There had, apparently, been a city there for 5000 years when the Israelites got there. The city was surrounded by two rows of earthen walls, which were probably pretty old already, and not made of stone.

Joshua was told by God to circle the city six times and then blow the trumpet, and the walls would come tumbling down. So, he did, and they took the city away from the Arabs and either killed them or chased them away. That was considered normal in those days.

We checked into the Jacir Intercontinental Hotel for the night, and had dinner at the Hotel dining room.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This morning we were up at 6:30 so we could be on the bus by 8:00 AM for our drive across the Jordan River and the border between Israel and Jordan. On our way to the Jordanian city of Petra.

"Ace:, our Moslem Arab Guide in JornanThe border crossing involved checkpoints on both sides of a several mile wide strip of no-man’s-land with mine fields and the like. Bishara, our Arab guide, was not permitted to go into Jordan, because he is an Israeli. Even though both the Israelis and the Jordanians claim they are on friendly terms, and do many cooperative construction and conservation projects, neither is very trusting of the other at the border crossings. No photographs were allowed anywhere near the border.

We got a new guide and bus driver on the Jordanian side of the line. This one was a very outgoing Muslim, who said his name was Ace. Well, not really Ace, but that was probably as close as we could get to the way it should be said in Arabic.

Jerash

On the way to Petra, we drove past Jerash, Jerash - City of 1000 columns“city of 1000 columns”, which is a modern Jordanian city which contains the ruins of a Greco-Roman city with impressive amphitheaters, race courses, and avenues, one of which is lined with columns which stretch miles.View of Jerash from the hill

There are temples to both Greek and Roman gods, which date back to the time of Christ. We got out of the bus to take pictures, but didn’t actually get down into the ruins.

Unlike many of the historical sites in Israel, where new cities have been built over the old ones, so the actual ruins are 15 or 20 feet below the current ground level, the ruins in Jerash are the actual ruins, which have been excavated.

Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo is, sort of the last stop the Israelites Dottie, looking out onto the Promised Land, like Mosesmade on their trip from Egypt to the Promised Land, before they actually got there. I was impressed that the ancient Hebrews and Arabs all seemed to climb to the top of every mountain they came to. Mount Nebo markerEven with a bus to take us most of the way up, climbing these mountains is no fun. I suppose they couldn't see where they were going if they always stayed down in the valleys.

Mount Nebo Is on the Jordan side of the River Jordan, and it is where Moses was able to climb up and look across the river into the Promised Land, before he died.

There is a very large building being built over the Temple which was erected over the spot where Moses is buried, and this isn’t open to the public yet.

Here is a picture of Dottie looking across the River Jordan into Israel. It is an impressive sight.

Petra

Late in the day arrived in the city of Petra, and checked into the Petra Moevenpick Resort, which was a really nice place. Probably the best of the three we stayed at on the trip.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Petra Ruins

The narrow entrance to the Petra SiteThe Moeven Pick Hotel is right across a city street from the entrance to the Petra Ruins, so we were able to walk there, rather than take a bus. However, walking there involves a great deal of walking, so some of us chose to use public transportation.

Public transportation consists of either donkey drawn carts or camels. Neither will take you more than a small fraction of the length of this famous archeological site, which has been named one of the seven wonders of the world. Dottie and I chose to hire a donkey cart, which gave us a bone jarring ride into the part of the site of the city. The Treasury - First building you see at entrance to Petra Site

The entrance consists of a mile-long passage way between towering vertical cliff walls. The pathway between them must have been a river bed once, but it served as an access way to the wide canyon that contains all of the ruins. Although, they don’t seem ruined, in the same sense as the roman ruins. They are in good shape, having been carved out of solid stone

The picture above is a place called “The Treasury”, in that it was speculated that the inhabitants of Petra who did the carving of the stone used this building for the storage of valuables.

Housing for the workersMost authorities agree now that it was a ceremonial place, rather than a habitation, and it is unlikely that there was ever any treasure kept here. However, there are lots of small spaces cut into the sandstone mountains which look like living spaces, and may have been built for the people who spent years doing the carving of the cliff-sides.

The work was, apparently, done around 300 BC by some people called Nabataeans. The Treasury, pictured above, involves all sorts of symbols of various cultures, including both Greek and Roman architectural styles, as well as Egyptian. This is an impossible place to get to, other than by the very easily defended long, narrow, winding pathway over which Dottie and I had our pony cart ride. It is one of the few sites we have seen that wasn't destroyed by the elements, or by hostile armies.

The carving out of the mountains was really spectacular.

Wadi Rum

Today was a very full day. After a morning in Petra, we returned to the bus and went for a very long drive into the southernmost part of Jordan to the desert country, inhabited mainly by Bedouins, who still, for the most part, follow their traditional life style.

We went for lunch in a Bedouin camp, which Bedouin Camp at Wadii Rumis now permanently located in a place accessible to the tourist trade, but run by Bedouins. The Bedouins are known for their hospitality, and they served us a nice lunch and we were introduced into their elaborate coffee drinking ceremony which involves taking many tiny cups of their strong, black coffee, each of which is poured by the host, who stands and waits until you drink your little sip, and the refills your cup. He isBedouin BBQ forbidden, by courtesy, to leave your place until you have had sufficient coffee and signal for him to stop refilling your cup. Then he can move on to serve the next guest.

We were served chicken cooked by their ancient method, which seems to involve oil drums buried in the ground. These are filled with burning charcoal, and then the lamb, or chicken, or whatever, is placed in racks above the coals and buried. They do not cook inside their camel hair tents, and there are fairly rigid standards for how far away the cooking fires have to be, and where they place their sanitary facilities, etc.Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum

The Bedouins, of course, ride camels, and they had lots of camels for our group to ride, all at once if we wished. We did not all wish. Dottie rode a camel when she was in Israel the last time, 15 years ago. I never have, that I recall, but I did ride an elephant in Bangkok. Elephant riding was easier, to hear some of our group members describe the half mile or so they were on camelback, but still, I think it gives me a good excuse for staying off the poorly designed ships of the desert.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Early start for Jerusalem

This morning we had to get up at 4:30 AM in order to make it to the border crossing into Jordan before it closed. Israel is a Jewish Country, although a large part of the population are not practicing Jews. Saturday is their Shabat, or Sabbath, and it starts at sundown on Friday. The orthodox Jews aren't permitted to do anything that even resembles work on the Shabat, and it takes them a lot of time to get prepared to coast for 24 hours without doing anything.

Even simple tasks like pushing the elevator button to indicate the floor you want to go to is considered work, so all of the downtown buildings have at least one elevator that runs automatically, and stops at every floor, so the Orthodox Jews can use it without pushing the buttons. Part of our getting up early had to do with the fact that the border crossing station close well before noon on Friday, so the border patrol people can go home and start getting ready for Shabat.

We were on our bus at 6:00 AM, with our breakfasts in carry-on boxes prepared by the hotel.

Church of the AnnunciationChurch of the Annunciation

Our first visit this morning was to the Church of the Annunciation. This is erected on the site of the cave Cave beneath the Church of the Annunciationbelieved to be where Mary encountered the Angel who told her that she would become pregnant and bear a son to be called Jesus.

 

The cave, and the church, are located on a mountainside, and the climb from where the bus had to be parked was more than I felt like making at the moment. Dottie was spunkier than I was and made the climb. However, she had some leg pain as a result.

 

Jerusalem

Olive Tree HotelThe bus continued on into Jerusalem, to the Olive Garden Hotel, where we spent the next two nights.

Jerusalem is a big, modern city with the smaller, walled old city inside it. We got a quick tour of the city in the evening and had dinner at the hotel.

The hotel is within walking distance of the Old City, but we didn't feel up to going out after dinner.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Driving through Palestine

In order to get to the main tourist attractions in the western part of Israel, it was necessary for our bus to drive us out of the part of Israel controlled by the Israeli government and into the part which is under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, which is the operational governmental body in the region. The land is, technically, part of Israel now, but is populated mostly by Palestinian Arabs. The present rather strange arrangement was set up in 1994, when the Israelis and the PLO negotiated a cease fire of sorts.

The Israelis more or less keep their hands off the region now, and there has been no real conflict here in quite a long time. However, it is still like going into a different country, which the Israelis refer to as Palestine.

Although there was some red tape at the crossing of the line into Palestine, it was on fairly friendly terms, and did not delay us at all.

The Masada

This was a place I had never heard of, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting, from both the standpoint of sightseeing, and historical interest. It lies on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, near the southern end, and is very distinctive, as it is a solitary mountain, standing apart from the nearly continuous chain of peaks to the north and south.Ruins of the fortress on the Masada

Masada means "fortress" in Arabic, and it describes a natural fortress consisting of a very steep mountain with a flat top. For a couple of centuries BCE, it had been used as a fortress by various people, who built all of the usual things fortresses consist of. Walls completely surrounding the perimeter, cisterns for storing water, granaries, living compartments, ritual baths, and so on. Cable car to the Masada

On one side of the mountain, a bit down from the top, King Herod the Great (not the one who washed his hands of the matter of Jesus' trial) built a summer home for his occasional use. But, by the time of the Jewish revolt against the Romans, it had been completely abandoned.

Some of the Jews elected to come to the Masada as a place of refuge, rather than being enslaved by the Romans, or killed, as was going on throughout Israel. Some 1000 or so of them fled to the Masada, and considered their position impregnable. However, they underestimated both the Roman's determination to rid the country of Jews, and their ingenuity and engineering ability

The Roman legions pursued them, and laid siege to the Masada.Ruins on the MasadaAfter a time of being unable to knock down the walls from below, they built an enormous scaffolding all the way up the mountainside, and brought in a huge battering ram, which they hoisted up and used to break down the doors in the wall. After a hard day's work breaching the wall, they went back down to their camp, prepared to march into the Masada the next day and capture the last remaining Jews in Israel.

The Jews, knowing their fate lay in either being enslaved or killed outright, elected to commit mass suicide that night. Each man was to slay his family, and then they were to take turn killing each other. The last nine men drew lots to see which of them would be the one to do the others in, and then fall on his own sword. The text of their leader's address to his followers that night, as well as the actual strips of parchment on which the last nine printed their names for the lottery have all been found and preserved,

I never understood when and why the Jews were dispersed, leaving their homeland populated by only Arabs, and it was very moving to see the place where the last 1000 made their stand.

Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

We stopped for lunch at a museum near the cliffs of Qumran, where the 972 parchment and papyrus texts were cached in caves in the cliffs.

Apparently, after the Jewish revolt against the Romans in the year 66 CE, the Romans decided they could get along without any Jews at all. They took as many as they could capture to be returned to Rome as slaves, and killed the rest of them if they could catch them. This is when all of the Jews survived by fleeing to other countries outside of Roman control at the time.

A group of reclusive Jewish scribes called the Essenes had lived in an isolated colony in Qumran for two hundred or so years, devoting themselves to just getting by, performing their rigorous religious rites, and copying old manuscripts, including the books of the Old Testament. T

The Romans heard about them, and came to either enslave or kill them. The Essenes heard they were coming, and put their scrolls in earthen jars and hid them in caves before they fled to the Masada, where they thought they would be safe from the Romans.

They were mistaken, and died along with the other few remaining Jews in Israel by suicide, rather then facing a life of slavery, or death by the hands of the Romans.

"Swimming" in the Dead Sea

Dottie looked forward to swimming in the dead sea, which is at the lowest elevation on the planet, and consists of Dead sea beaches1/3 salt and 2/3 water. On the way from the Masada to Qumran, we passed miles and miles of beautiful, deserted beaches, which looked very inviting. But, we were told, it was necessary to go to an approved swimming place, and there was one right next to Qumran.

So, after lunch we made our way down a slippery, steep slope to an unattractive "beach" which consisted mostly of rocks. Dead Sea "Beach"Slippery, irregular, treacherous rocks, to a point where you had to step off of very slippery rocks onto irregular slippery submerged rocks. I made it in up to my knees, while most of the members of our tour group who were staunch enough to put their swimming suits on stood on the edge and urged me to come back before I had a serious accident.

It didn't take much coaxing to get me out of the water. I have no idea why all of the beautiful, gently sloping sandy beaches were off limits, and this one unattractive and difficult place was OK. Dottie was very disappointed because she was looking forward to a leisurely soak in the brine similar to the one she experienced 15 years earlier.