Israel


1 Joffa

Tel Aviv.

Our last nights in Israel were spent at a hotel in Tel Aviv very close to the beach—just our style. The hotel staff were very polite and helpful and directed us to a nice little restaurant with an outside deck where we could people watch and enjoy the cool evening.

We tuned into the news that evening and learned that there had been some shooting in the streets of east Jerusalem that day. We had originally planned on being in Jerusalem at the end of our trip, so we were fortunate our schedule was changed and we were out of the area at that time. This event was a repercussion from a terrible tragedy that occurred earlier during our stay in Israel. These two events would be the match that sparked a recurrence of violence between Hamas and the Israeli government and armed forces. Having met so many citizens of various religions and backgrounds, I have been saddened by the news that so many innocent people are being hurt, both physically and economically. Tourism pays the bills for a lot of people there and I’m sure they aren’t hosting many visitors.

The horned-rimmed altar at Tel Be'er Sheva.

The horned-rimmed altar at Tel Be’er Sheva.

Tel Be’er Sheva

For our last bit of sight-seeing, we drove a couple of hours to the Tel Be’er Sheva which is believed to be the biblical town of Beersheba. That bit of information didn’t tell me anything, but when we discovered this was the place where Abraham lived for a while and the well outside the gates is called Abraham’s well, I became more interested. When we arrived, we checked out a replica of a horned altar, which in biblical times was a square structure with four “horns” on the top of each corner that acted as a sanctuary for anyone running from the law or vengeful parties. If you grasped one of the horns, you were “safe.” You couldn’t be taken or killed or tried as long as you held a horn. In other times, the Jewish Kings set up a system similar to this but they designated entire towns where people could run to and be free from persecution–whether they were guilty or not. An interesting system–sorta, kinda of reminds me of that old movie “Escape from New York.”

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The steps down to the cistern at Be’er Sheva.

We also stopped by the well just outside the gates. An interesting factoid: in ancient times, the wells were located outside the city walls because their traditions hold that anyone who journeys through that land will be given access to water. In that environment, water is life and if the gates were closed at night and travelers came by, they could get water from the well. Not a great system for a defense of a city when under siege, but very hospitable.

We walked among the ruins that have been excavated on this hill overlooking grassy fields. The Tell had multiple layers of civilizations—some were from the Chalcolithic period, which was about 4,000-5,000 years B.C. Some of the walls were from the Roman period. We walked down uneven steep stone steps that ran along a square area (for lack of a better description) holding tight to the railing that led down to the huge cisterns. Again, a sophisticated system of water storage kept these people alive through the hot sun and long droughts.

It made sense that a community sprung up here as it was located at the intersection of two rivers. Through my camera lens I could see camels wandering around some of the fields—like the cows do at home. There are even camel crossing signs along the road.

All in all, a nice last stop to ponder the history of this ancient land.

The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

Shopping and the Soothing Sea

At this point we were done hiking around archeological sites and were in the mood for a relaxing final afternoon. So, our guide dropped us off at the beginning of the Carmel market and we enjoyed a final Shawarma before hitting the market for our last chance to pick up gifts for some of my favorite little people back home. There were all sorts of products and food sold up and down this street. Just like in Jerusalem, the shops were small little cubby like holes with tables out front. I saw so many products—cell phone covers, backpacks, t-shirts, spices, sweets, jewelry, shoes, tourist gifts, and more. I had to get some shirts for my buddies Cayden and Carter. Wasn’t sure what their sizes were so I just told the man their ages and he did a pretty good job of picking the right shirts.

The beach in Tel Aviv.

The beach in Tel Aviv.

Back at the Embassy Hotel (which coincidentally was right next to the American Embassy), my parents took a nap and I headed across the street to a lovely beach. I paid some guy in an official looking t-shirt a few shekels to sit on a lounge chair and just enjoyed the sun and cool breezes. I went into the Mediterranean a few times—the water was so nice—not too cold and the waves were mild enough not to be scary. The crowds were sparse as it was a work day but one woman did come by and wanted me to get some kind of massage. After saying no thanks and her continuing to touch my legs, I had to get a little more firm in my tone, but she left and I thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing and wonderful day on the Tel Aviv beach before heading back to the hotel.

Smut cards scattered on the ground.

Smut cards scattered on the ground.

For our final dinner, my parents and I found a pizza place on the beach and had wonderful service from very friendly American transplants. We didn’t go looking for an American restaurant, it was coincidence and a nice one at that. On the way back to the hotel, I was surprised to learn how the smut industry in Tel Aviv conducts their marketing. They scatter business cards over the street where people will see them as they walk home. So basically the filth creates even more filth that someone else has to clean up.

Security

The next morning was an early one—which is never fun for me. As our guide was driving us to the airport at five in the morning she gave one more plea to us to tell our friends how safe it is in Israel and how there are no issues between the religious groups. The drive was a bit silent, not just due to the hour but we were all wondering if she had her head in the sand the last two days and didn’t notice TV reports of gunfire happening in the streets of Jerusalem and the tragic deaths of several boys on both sides.

I found it interesting that as fast and easy as it was to enter the country, it was a long, multi-layered process to leave the country. You would think it would be the other way around. Israel is known for its expertise in security (go figure). First was the very long line to get through the first part of the airport. This was just to check passports and have a quick (in our case) or long (for the single men and a few young couples) conversation with some guards. Next a quick stop at the airline counter, then on to what we would consider security in the U.S. They manage to do all this without making us take off our shoes. Hmmmm.

The Carmel market in Tel Aviv.

The Carmel market in Tel Aviv.

Final Thoughts

It was wonderful to see ancient biblical sights and rediscover the stories of the bible in the context of where they happened. There were beautiful places with grass and flowers and hills, and other places in the sandy wilderness where the ancient people learned how to survive without electricity and cell phones.

Going with a private tour guide had its pros and cons. We could map out our own itinerary (except we weren’t able to go to a couple of places because our Jewish guide was not allowed in the Palestinian towns). We were able to go at our own pace and change our mind as we went according to our moods and didn’t have to wait on others. But, if you’re going this route, make sure to have multiple conversations with multiple guides to make sure you are a good fit for each other as you will be spending a lot of time with this person. Our guide had some good points and some not so good points and at times we were annoyed with her, but all in all we tend to be grateful for our blessings, and when we travel we want to keep it positive and look to make it a great experience.

Lots of people hitch hike from the bus stops, not wanting to wait.

Lots of people hitch hike from the bus stops, not wanting to wait.

We learned quite a bit about history, archeology, the culture, and even some modern day politics from a number of guides, movies, books, and more. If you’re a Christian and want to have a spiritual experience along with a vacation, I would recommend going with a church group led by someone you’ll have a lot of fun with who knows what they are talking about.

We had a great time and as usual are grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the wonders of our world.

Genesis 26: 3-4

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.

Revelation 21:1-3 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

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The land is barren and yet sometimes filled with Date Trees and other life sustaining elements.

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McDrive.

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The roofs are covered by water tanks. One of the ways people of the desert use resources to survive and thrive.

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Not just ancient stones and churches inhabit Israel. They also have interesting modern structures.

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A random scene of life in Tel Aviv. Old friends chat, others eat lunch and shop.

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A view of Tel Aviv from Jaffa.

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Goodbye Israel. A view of the coast from the plane.

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The land of Jesus. Carvings on the ship altar in the church of Magdala.

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So many gorgeous stain-glassed windows. This one in the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth.

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Another beautiful scene adorning the Church of Transfiguration.

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Roman pillars at Caesarea.

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A Roman aqueduct near Caesarea and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.

A section of the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa.

A section of the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.

Our journey through the Holy Land was coming close to the end. We reluctantly left the Sea of Galilee and made our way west back toward the Mediterranean coast. It was fun to see random ruins along the side of the road. Our guide explained that in ancient times, inns dotted the roadway and were spread apart within a day of walking so travelers always had places to stay.

We drove through the Jezreel Valley, the area where Elijah worked and lived. It was in this region he met a widow and her son who were about to starve to death but fed him anyway and in return God took care of them. The drive through the country didn’t take long—it’s a pretty small country, so in no time we were on the coast at the port town of Haifa.

A cascading waterfall leads down to the bottom of the Baha'i Gardens.

A cascading waterfall leads down to the bottom of the Baha’i Gardens.

Baha’i Gardens

A friend of mine whose family lives in east Jerusalem and who visits her family each year, gave me some invaluable advice on what to do and see while in the Holy Land. I was very grateful for her suggestions, especially the recommendation to visit the Baha’i Gardens. We parked on the street and walked up to the entrance, all along getting a spectacular view of the steep hill filled with gorgeous trees, greenery, flowers, and a waterfall.

Our guide once again tried to dissuade us of going there but I ignored her and walked up to the entrance and into the gardens. I climbed up the first level easy enough and although the top portion was locked, I was able to see the garden up close. I grew up only two miles from one of the best botanical gardens in the country, Longwood Gardens, and have had the joy of seeing some beautiful artistry. But even with that comparison, I was very impressed by the clean lines of trees and flowers and the symmetry that went on and on up the hill to the temple at the top. The Baha’i religion is fairly new and I don’t know much about it, but they sure do have a wonderful garden in Haifa overlooking the port and the sea beyond.IMG_1594

From the gardens we drove to our lunch destination at a wine and chocolate shop. This was a happy place for me. We had a yummy pizza for lunch and I got to sample all four of my favorite food groups; chocolate, wine, bread, and cheese. They also had a very cool system for people who bought some sort of membership or subscription—a vat of wine stood in one of the dining areas where you could bring in your own bottles and fill them up with the current selection of wine. Yes, I want one for Christmas. Filled and smiling, we made our way to Akko.

The Crusader Latrines at the castle at Akko.

The Crusader Latrines at the castle at Akko.

Akko

This ancient city’s name is spelled a number of different ways; Akko and Acre among them. It has excavated castles and ruins, some built back in the Roman times and most of the current structure that has been unearthed stems from the Crusader period. It had been buried for a long time because the Bedouin leader who took control after the Crusaders, filled most of it with sand, knocked off the top part, and the built upon that. In more recent times it was used as a prison by the British during their occupation. In addition to parts of the castle including a Knight’s hall, a dining hall, tunnels, a sort of morgue, and a courtyard, we also toured a Turkish bath house (complete with a cheesy movie narrated by a fictional Ottoman). We learned a lot about the history and the centuries of invaders, but to be honest, I pretty much walked away more impressed by the Crusader latrines that had two levels, rows of toilet seats, and a sophisticated system of plumbing (at least for those days).

Caesarea

Looking down the Hippodrome at Caesarea. This middle part is where the chariots raced around.

Looking down the Hippodrome at Caesarea. This middle part is where the chariots raced around.

Down the coast we made a stop at a national park that was known in ancient times as Caesarea, a city built by Herod and named in honor of the Roman Emperor. I liked touring these ancient ruins and the location was lovely. My blood pressure always goes down when I’m walking along the sea coast, so a stroll down the path along the hippodrome was calming, even with the sea spray covering us and cooling us off.

We watched a great movie about the city and its history before walking up to the theatre. The seats seemed steep and we could see some of the original stone. As we descended the steps, a modern company of thespians were setting up for a concert of sorts to perform later. From there we stood among a few leftover pillars of Herod’s palace.

Caesarea was also the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who was the first gentile convert to Christianity. He was a God-fearing man who was given a vision. He sent for Peter, who came to visit with him. This was a monumental event, because the Jews—the first apostles were all Jewish—did not mix with gentiles. It was considered an unclean act. But Jesus wanted His lessons and His grace extended to everyone and now it was time to spread the Word to all parts of the world.

An ancient Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

An ancient Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

Nearby we made one last stop at a section of an ancient Roman aqueduct. It was massive and stretched on for what looked like a quarter of a mile. It had large openings where some lovebirds were getting their wedding photos taken.

Our final destination was Tel Aviv, which I’ll cover next time.

Psalm 139: 9-10

If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets, even there your hand would guide me and your right hand would hold on to me.

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A view from the first level of the Baha’i Gardens out to the port at Haifa.

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Looking up the steps to the temple building of the Baha’i Gardens.

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The main courtyard area of the Crusader castle at Akko.

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The Roman aqueduct near Caesarea.

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The stands of the hippodrome at Caesarea. The colored blocks are depictions of how the walls were decorated back in its heyday.

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The remainder of the palace at Caesarea.

The self-service wine vat at the restaurant.

The self-service wine vat at the restaurant.

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The Baha’i Gardens.

 

A walkway at the Arbel Guest House.

A walkway at the Arbel Guest House.

Continuing our time in the Sea of Galilee, our accommodations at the Arbel Guest House were like staying at a cozy home. We had a two bedroom apartment with a mini kitchen and living room area and outside our door was a patio with table under a wood roof with lights. Upon arrival we went right over to the pool and had a glorious swim. A cute dog followed me to the pool and I looked around the gardens before getting ready for dinner. The Arbel Guest House is owned by the Shavit family. The father is a wonderful cook and we enjoyed one of our best meals in Israel—a pot of

Our apartment at Arbel.

Our apartment at Arbel.

lamb stew topped with ice cream for dessert. The entire surroundings—in and out—were homey, lovely, and comfortable. At night I lingered on the patio where I watched a group of tiny kittens skirt around the property playing and looking for food. After they ran off we got more visitors—some neighborhood dogs who were very friendly and also looking for the free handouts the owners put out when the dining room closes. The family was very friendly and helpful and I highly recommend this place—it’s even easy on the wallet!

Cana

Two of the Mary mosaics at the Church of Annunciation.

Two of the Mary mosaics at the Church of Annunciation.

In the morning we were picked up by our guide and began the day with a trip to Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle. He was attending a wedding and when they ran out of wine, His mother asked him to do something about it, so He turned some of the water jugs into the best wine they ever tasted. The bride’s father even mentioned how good it was because normally they serve the best first and the dregs last, but this time the best wine came last. Jesus did this because He was thinking about how wonderful it was going to be when we became the bride of Christ.

Here’s the context. Back in ancient times, when a woman and man became engaged, they went back to their respective homes and waited for the wedding day. At that point the man needed to build a house for his new bride and prepare a home for her. Once the house was ready to go, he could come and fetch her. When he did, everyone in town dropped what they were doing and they had a week long party (a.k.a. wedding reception). A motivated man would finish his house in a hurry. We are the bride of Christ as He is preparing a house for us in Heaven. We don’t know the exact date it will be ready, but when it is, He will come back for us and we have to be ready to go at that moment.

A reflective wall of stain-glass windows in the Church of Annunciation.

A reflective wall of stain-glass windows in the Church of Annunciation.

We went to the church in Cana and spoke with one of the Monks there. He said he goes where they send him but some places are better than others.

Nazareth

From Cana we climbed the hills of Nazareth, parked in a tiny gravel lot, and walked up the street to the Church of Annunciation where Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she was going to have a baby. The church was very large and quite beautiful with interesting stained-glass windows adorning the walls. Outside the church along a long porch we viewed the many mosaics of Mary and Jesus that were designed by artists from countries across the world and given to the church. Each mosaic depicted Mary as she would have looked if she came from that culture (e.g., the mosaic from Taiwan depicted an Asian-looking Mary in clothes that are worn in that culture). Inside the church we viewed a grotto area where Gabriel spoke to Mary. Ruins of the old town of Nazareth, which was very small, were visible underneath part of the church.

The ruins of Nazareth under the church.

The ruins of Nazareth under the church.

Somehow we made our way out of the town (no street signs in this place) and had lunch at a place called Meat the Best. We had another yummy meal with 20 bowls of salad and Shawarma.

Mount Tabor

In the afternoon we made our way over to Mount Tabor which is the site of the transfiguration. Jesus took two of his buddies (John and Peter) up a very steep and big hill (mountain) to the very top—maybe being closer to heaven made him feel closer to God or maybe the long, arduous walks were good for the soul. Once at the top, Jesus had a moment. I’ll let Mathew tell it. “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

A monk meditates on the view outside the Church of Transfiguration.

A monk meditates on the view outside the Church of Transfiguration.

The church grounds were lovely and we walked around looking out over the valleys and hills around us. More beautiful mosaics lined the walls and monks wandered silently around us.

Megiddo

Our last stop of the day was to the Tell at Megiddo. This is the site where the end of the world will come to a crescendo. The Hebrew word for mount (as in Mount Megiddo) is Har. If you put them together it’s Har Megiddo (keep going with it in its Greek form and you get Armageddon). Many major battles over the centuries have taken place here as it’s a major crossroads from and to the major cultural centers of the world such as Syria and Egypt. As we lingered at the top of the hill I could see the Jezreel valley below and the intersection of two roads. I took some video of the view (see below).

Excavated ruins on the Tel at Megiddo.

Excavated ruins on the Tel at Megiddo.

We walked around the site viewing the various ruins of the ancient city. There are 26 layers of ruins here—a testament to the importance of this area. And when Jesus returns, this will be the location of the last big battle between good and evil. Jesus will lead the army of heaven and defeat Satan and his cronies. I was imagining that battle as I looked at the horizon around us.

Back on the road, we journeyed back to our home at Arbel and another wonderful night in the pool and hanging out with the neighborhood pets before setting out for the coast the next day.

John 14: 1-3

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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Making pancakes (or something) on the street in Nazareth.

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Mosaic of Jesus’ transfiguration (with Moses and Elijah and John and Peter looking on).

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An outside altar and benches on Mount Tabor. The hot sun shines through the slits in the ceiling cover.

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The Church of Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

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A lovely stain-glassed window in the Church of Annunciation.

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A Mary and Jesus mosaic from China (on the porch wall of the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth).

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The pool at Arbel Guest House is cute, comforting and refreshing.

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The dining room at Arbel Guest House.

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Dessert was done in style!

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Lovin the cool waters after a day of hiking the gospel trails.

 

A door at the church in Cana with the Franciscan cross.

A door at the church in Cana with the Franciscan cross.

A short video view of the Jezreel valley from the top of Mount Megiddo.

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