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Our tour of Israel continued in the Old City of Jerusalem with a walk around the four quarters and visits to some of the holy Christian sites.

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Bullet holes can be seen in the Zion Gate from the battle in 1948 when the Jordanians seized control of the city.

Through the Jaffa gate, we walked along a main route through the Armenian section. Each section has one parking lot for everyone to house their vehicles. The Armenian one included an unexcavated Tel—one of many in the land. We arrived shortly at the Zion gate. This gate was riddled with bullet holes from when the British left and the Jordanians came to claim the city in 1948.

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The gates were at right angles to make it difficult for invaders, and hard for cars to come in and out.

Dormition Abby, David’s Tomb, the Last Supper

Beyond the gate, we toured the Dormition Abbey, a church dedicated to where Jesus’ mother Mary “fell asleep”. And then on to David’s tomb and also the site of the upper room of the house where the last supper occurred. It was somewhat difficult to really feel the presence of either of those places in its time. Nothing was there that looked like it would have back then. We were reminded once again that most of these sites are probably not where the actual events occurred or where David was buried—but rather a place someone—whether they be ancient leaders or more modern scholars—decided to put a marker on it as the official site. There was no dining room table or anything obvious like that—just a little church structure.

Up top at the four corners of the quarters.

Up top at the four corners of the quarters.

The Four Quarters

We continued through the Jewish quarter and climbed up onto a roof top area where we got a 360 degree view of the tops of the buildings of the city. This was considered the four corners—where the four quarters met. It was an interesting place—you could traverse across the roofs or go under and walk along the market alleyways.

There are no barriers between the four quarters (Christian, Jewish, Armenian, and Muslim) and everyone can walk freely through the city. The Armenians do have locked gates in some places because of previous violence but otherwise this city is a melting pot of cultures that most of the time live in peace.

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A look at the Cardo market from the rooftop.

Main Street and Shopping

The Cardo was Jerusalem’s main street about 1,500 years ago. We walked along this ancient thoroughfare, taking in the wonderful smells of spices and mid-eastern foods, browsed the touristy gifts and the linens and jewelry made by the shopkeepers and Bedouin traders, and felt some of the original stones that lined the ground. The Cardo was pretty wide, unlike the other narrow streets where the shops were just like they were thousands of years ago—pretty much cubby holes with men tending the store—some asleep in the heat, some chatting with friends, and others engaging tourists.

The smells of the spices wafted through the streets.

The smells of the spices wafted through the streets.

Negotiating is key in this culture. These guys were not afraid to start very high and I had to bring them way down and keep the shekel/dollar conversion in mind. I was delighted by one young man who made some earrings for me on the spot with pieces he had in bowls in his shop. Dad and I bought some gifts and trinkets and strolled through the markets on the Shabbat. We took a break at a nice little outdoor cafe and ate some more shawarma and falafel for dinner while watching the local kids biking and running in the streets. No playgrounds were in site but they found ways to entertain themselves and laugh just like the country kids. There were also a lot of cats who were fed by various locals and tourists—keeping out the rodents is a nice benefit of the strays in the streets.

Next time, we’ll explore the last of the Christian sites we visited in the Old City.

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A beautiful mosaic adorns the walls in the Jewish quarter.

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The rifle isn’t real, or at least not manned. This was a window in a wall above the street.

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Shopkeepers pass the time in the Arab market in the Old City of Jerusalem.

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The ancient stones line this street are beautiful.

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Children come out for play time in the open area where dad and I had dinner.

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It’s dinner time for these lucky kitties.

1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”

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The tunnel along the wall. The stone to the bottom right is original.

Our stay in Jerusalem began with a walk to and around the Old City. In the morning we went on a tour through the tunnels that ran under the Muslim quarter and along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. The city was built up upon platforms so there is room underneath the homes and businesses to walk around close to the foundations.

There’s something about touching stone that is thousands of years old. Imagining what it was like for the 150,000 slaves and 30,000 free workers who built Herod’s temple was a stretch. It was hard to figure out how they managed to move the one stone that comprised the Wall because it was—wait for it—560 tons.

Let’s digress for a moment and ponder how heavy that is. When fully loaded at take-off, the massively huge A380 Airbus airplane we flew out on weighs as much as 110 adult elephants, which coincidentally is about 560 tons. I’ll let you think about that and then imagine a bunch of ancient slaves heaving that up Mount Moriah and into place. I walked up that hill from the valley with just a back pack and thought I was going to faint.

The wing of our Airbus stretched very far out and  were huge.

The wing of our Airbus stretched very far out and were huge.

As we walked through the narrow tunnel and touched the ancient wall, we got closer to the holiest place for the Jews. Why so holy? Well, back several thousand years ago when Abraham was living in this land, God told him to sacrifice his youngest son Isaac. Abraham was going through with God’s command but was stopped by God at the last minute. It was on that sacrificial rock that the inner most room of the temple was built and where the ark of the convent was kept. (You remember Indiana Jones, right?)

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The view of the Western (Wailing) Wall with the Dome of the Rock on top of the Temple Mount.

Only one guy could go in to see the ark and only once a year. The room was called the holy of holies. The closest place to the holy of holies along the walls of the Temple Mount, is a spot in the tunnels. Not everyone can go there at will, so most people pray along the plaza of the Western Wall.

We also went to the plaza area. It was separated into two sections, one for men and the other for women. Standing there, touching it and looking up at how high it was and being so close to something so ancient and so famous throughout the world was a unique experience. My parents and I wrote out blessings or prayers and placed them in the cracks of the walls. Our guide said those notes are considered holy and are collected and buried.

A number of young men have their bar-mitzvah celebrations at the wall.

A number of young men have their bar-mitzvah celebrations at the wall.

We beheld so many historical places on our trip through the Old City that it can’t be told all at once. So for now, I’ll end with our quick trip to the museum which was very nice—a good place for visiting if you make it to Israel when peace is at hand.

Israel Museum

We were pretty tired after a day of walking and decided to drive over to the Israel museum. Nice and cool, out of the 100 degree heat, we strolled through more ancient relics, artifacts, anthropods (kind of like an Egyptian sarcophagus), ossuaries, and more. We viewed an amulet with a scripture from Numbers, and some of the Dead Sea scrolls that were actually the book of Isaiah.

To keep costs down we stopped at a market and picked up some dinners and snacks and Israel wine and enjoyed a nice meal on our terrace patio.

A view of the wall from the steps down from the city that open into the plaza area.

A view of the wall from the steps down from the city that open into the plaza area.

This post is the second installment in the Holy Land series of our 2014 trip. Fresh off the plane, we got out of the airport with very little fanfare. An interesting tidbit about passport stamps in Israel—they gave us a small slip of paper that had our photo on it—a visa stamp that was not a permanent stamp in the passport. I’m thinking that’s to avoid complications for travelers who want to visit countries not so pro-Israel. Upon exiting the concourse, I saw a huge mezuzah adorning the wall. (A mezuzah is a blessing that is wrapped in a case—something you’ll see on the doors of Jewish homes and businesses.) Anyhoo, we were met by our guide and whisked off to stretch our legs in the ancient city of Jaffa.

First Stop: Jaffa

Jaffa is a 4,000 year old town on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, which is only about 100 years old. In Israel, our guide says that in order to be considered old, a building, ruin, or relic must be about 1,000 years old or more. Several hundred years is considered new.

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Andromeda’s rocks in Jaffa.

We walked to the top of a Tel, a man-made hill, and saw layers of excavation revealing the remnants of cultures from thousands of years ago. Before the modern age where we demolish and remove structures, people established towns by building on top of the ruins of previous inhabitants. This created layers of history that we now explore and learn from.

Jaffe is on the coast of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. As we looked out over a marina, our guide told us the story of Andromeda and Perseus—the rocks Andromeda was placed on as a sacrifice (and that represent her) are said to be located off the shore near this little marina.

The Adventure of the Israeli Meal

After walking through a lovely artistic area, we sat down for our first meal. The owner placed a number of small bowls of various items on our table. Evidently in Israel, traditionally you are given a salad which is comprised of a number of bowls filled with delicious treats such as carrots, potatoes, eggplant, corn, humus, and baba ganush (among other dishes). The baba ganush was yummy and so were the flatbread pitas they brought us. We ordered some falafel and enjoyed the outside café with our new feline friends who came by for handouts. LOTS of cats run around wild in Israel. People feed them scraps and they earn their keep by keeping the rodents away.

Shwarma in the Old City.

Shwarma in the Old City.

Throughout our stay we tried a number of dishes we weren’t quite sure about that turned out to be delicious. A staple over there is a sandwich called a Shawarma—turkey that is cooked in lamb’s fat or oil, salad items, and humus wrapped in a big pita. YUM! On our first night, mom and I went exploring and sat down for a meal where the language barrier was a challenge. So we tried some soup called Kubu which turned out to be a delicious stew. We identified some meat and beets and decided it deserved two thumbs up.

Home Away from Home

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The Avissar House in Yemin Moshe.

Our home in Jerusalem for the next few days was an apartment, the Avissar House, located just a few minutes walk from the Jaffa Gate. It had a little terrace on the roof where I spent several wonderful nights under the stars looking across the road at the walls of the Old City and listening to the sounds of the night—a concert, some young people laughing, dogs, and the breezes through the pines around the neighborhood. Our landlord Yoseph was a kind gentlemen and we loved our accommodations nestled in a very cute pedestrian cobble-stoned street below the Montefiore Windmill in Yemin Moshe. Once we got settled and had a nice walk through the neighborhood to explore, we prepared for the day ahead, and with that we’ll explore the Old City of Jerusalem in the next post.

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The Yemin Moshe neighborhood–our apartment was below the windmill. This is a view from the Jaffa Gate.

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The view from Avissar House. The building across the road is David’s tomb and the “location” of the last supper.

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View from our terrace. The Jaffa Gate and walls of the Old City in Jerusalem.

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The Italians could take a lesson from the Jews. This is a typical meal–all the little “salad” bowls go with all the meals.

IMG_9833 The street sign in the artistic area displayed zodiac signs on pretty tiles.

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The street sign in the artistic area displayed zodiac signs on pretty tiles.

I love the Olympics. When I was a kid I dreamed of someday competing as as swimmer. Later I had hopes they would make lacrosse an Olympic sport and dreamed I would win gold with my American teammates. I now live that dream vicariously through the athletes who hurl themselves down mountains or over mile-high jumps or dance their way across ice. And sports that I wouldn’t watch on a normal day are for some inexplicable reason, fun to see every four years on the Olympic stage.

This year I’m loving the snowboarding event. There’s something wonderful about seeing these daredevils fly over the jumps, spinning and turning high in the air with the snow-capped mountains and blue skies as the backdrop. It’s so stunningly beautiful I just want to hop on a plane and visit Sochi.

My two nieces and and one nephew were born in Russia. Tonight I told my niece if she wanted to compete in the Olympics, she could represent Russia or the USA. And then I remembered the time I took Zenia and Julia snowboarding and thought, well they would probably not go so much as competitors but perhaps as spectators. The little hill we went down proved too much for Julia as she went home with a broken arm. I’m pretty sure the slopes of Sochi would land us in crutches warming our toes by the fire in the lodge. Actually that doesn’t sound so bad (minus the crutches.)

Good luck to our American teams—we are cheering you on and hoping you are having the time of your life. We our proud of all of you.

Here’s a quick video of the awesome talents of my nieces on their first snowboarding experience. Don’t try this at home folks. The face plant at the end is priceless.

I believe in rewarding companies that go out of their way to care about the people who are supporting them (e.g, buying their products and keeping them in business). I also believe in giving companies who aren’t quite up to par a second chance to do what’s right. If they don’t, then I believe in letting the entire universe know about my experience and letting the market decide if they want to keep that company in business.

Smiles and Kudos

I’ll start with a great example. The JW Marriot in Palm Springs just absolutely WOW’d me. From the moment I stepped into the hotel, nice employees were engaging me with smiles and helping me get where I needed to go. I spent a few days there last month and everyone—from the check-in manager to the guy who delivered my room service, to a maintenance guy at the pool—were ALL superb in their communications with guests. Even when some guests weren’t following the rules, the pool guy offered alternate solutions that showed initiative and friendly help. LOVE them! I have not seen that kind of service in a long time and I’ve stayed at enough four-star resorts and flea bags to know what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s excellent.

Poop and Pitch

So now on to the terrible. I’m sad about this because this is a company that I previously really liked. The Byer’s Choice company makes these unique Christmas carolers that I collect. This past year my parents bought me a caroler that I had just purchased so I ended up with two of the same kind. When I wrote to the company, the first response from them did not address the problem I was asking about—instead I got a curt note that was not personalized, not friendly, and not at all helpful. When I responded again to clarify my request, I got another impersonal, unfriendly, unhelpful answer. No salutation, no name of who was writing to me, and no effort. Their policy is that they only take back the caroler (within 30 days of purchase) if there was a receipt and then they could give a credit to the person who bought it. That doesn’t help me at all.

So, I thought maybe there was just an inexperienced person who responded or they had a bad day. My next and final attempt was to call directly. I got a guy who said the same thing. When I asked if there was a supervisor I could talk to, he said he was the customer service supervisor. When I asked if he was empowered to help me out, he repeated his company line again, “That is not something we normally do.” Okay, well how about doing something not normal? I tried to be nice and let him know that this was not a customer friendly policy and that I can’t understand why (if I had the packing slip and the original box and a caroler in its original packaging) that I couldn’t swap it for another one that was the same price. Nope, still no deal. He then went on to make it worse by asking me when it was bought. When I said some time before Christmas (again, it was a gift), he said they had a 30-day return policy. Thanks dude—now I have another reason to not ever buy from you again.

This company relies on people like me who collect these figures to keep them in business. It’s not a commodity and they aren’t cheap. I’m disappointed and will be telling my friends about the terrible customer service displayed by the Byers’ Choice company. Too bad, I hope it was worth it to them to lose my business and the business of anyone who sees and cares about all the reviews I will be leaving on the Internet about their customer service policies.

If you are a business owner in this day and age, why—when customers make purchases largely based on reviews by other customers—would you hold fast to a policy that is so strict and let’s be honest, unreasonably ridiculous?

I have a song in my head. You know how that goes. You go about your daily routines, working, scanning social media sites, talking to friends, checking the to-list and all the while, it keeps creeping back and won’t loosen its grip. Many times I wonder at my brain and the selection it makes in looped musical torture, but not today.

Today I know exactly why this song is in my subconscious repertoire. “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me.”

In case you aren’t familiar with the big blue furry monster and his obsession, here are some of the lyrics to that song.

C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me (x3)
Oh, cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C!
Hey you know what, a round cookie with a bite out of it looks like a C.
A round donut with a bite out of it also looks like a C.
But it is not as good as  a cookie.
Oh and the moon sometimes looks like a C but you can’t eat that.

No cookie monster, you can’t eat the moon. And if you could it would probably taste like the tofu cheese I’ve been eating as part of my Daniel fast. Don’t get me wrong, the food that God provides is delicious and nourishing. I’ve had some great meals these last eight days. But the thought of cookies has me really wanting the next two days to go by super fast.

If you were to go without your favorite things for 10 days, what would you want to do on the first day after the fast? Or maybe you don’t care about food—what else would you sacrifice that would make you dream of proverbial cookies?

I’m torn between these items on my first day after the fast:

  • Coke
  • Reese’s peanut butter cup
  • Steak sandwich
  • Wine
  • Cheese (some seriously yummy gourmet stinky variety)
  • Cheeseburger
  • Big piece of yummy bread smothered in butter

Or maybe I’ll just have another salad with water.

What would  you choose?

There is a theme to this week here at the Crowe house. Plumbing. Mechanical, physical, and spiritual. I’m practicing that thing the experts say to do—try committing to 15 minutes a day in order to get something done. Well I’ve decided to work on a schedule of 15 minutes of exercise, 15 minutes of bible reading, and 15 minutes of working on other projects I have going on around the house. And now I’m going to segue into the plumbing theme…(too much of a stretch?).

My new friend Julio, a competent, friendly and honest man is at this moment fixing all the leaky old pipes in my house and putting in a new faucet on my big bathtub. You may be saying, so what? Well, smartypants,  a) the tub is why I bought the house and b) do you know how hard it is to find a good, honest plumber who doesn’t charge you an arm and a leg?

I like Julio. It’s a bit strange that he hugs me (we don’t really know each other), but I think he’s a Godly man and he’s got a great smile and a cheerful spirit. But as much as I like him, I can’t wait for him to be done so I can work on the physical plumbing. That 15 minutes a day exercise has put the muscles in my neck and back in a spasm of mighty pain, so I want to heal a bit with some warm water and bubbles.

This weekend I’m also preparing for 10 days of cleaning the spiritual and physical pipes by means of a Daniel Fast. I did it last year and our pastor is encouraging us to do it again as a way to begin the new year firmly grounded with the will of God in our plans. I talked about promises in my last post and before I make any serious ones, I’m going to focus on God and hope that I can calm my mind enough to see His will for me. A good way to do that is through this fast.

So Monday begins the 10 day journey of eating only things from plants and seeds. Veggies, fruits, nuts, whole wheat and only water to drink. Nothing processed, no yeast, no caffeine or tea or dairy or meat. All the things I love and struggle with. I’m going to miss my bread, cheese, and wine—I’ll admit that because anyone who knows me knows I’ll be hankering for those temporary thrills. But, without sacrifice you can’t see the majesty of what God can do in your life.

I want to finish this off with some witty, final metaphor that will explain the title but I think we all have had to deal with that pesky toilet handle problem. Just one of life’s fun quirks that shows us things aren’t always perfect but they can still work.

…A now a minion version of how yummy (not) a fast can be.

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