Wednesday, April 29, 2015

JERUSALEM: THE SOUTHERN WALL, HEZEKIAH'S TUNNEL, AND THE POOL OF SILOAM

Continuing on our way around the Temple Mount platform, we made our way to the Southern Wall, currently undergoing archaeological excavations--as it has been since the end of the Six-Day War in 1967. From that side of the Mount we had great views of Jerusalem. Below us was the Kidron Valley, and across the way was a section of the Mount of Olives--but not the one usually printed in vacation brochures.:
We could also see the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives with its 70,000 tombs, the earliest of which are in caves in the mountian. Burials started here 3,000 years ago and continue to the present time.
It's proximity to the Temple Mount is important as Jews believe the Mount is where the resurrection will begin. Over the years, many Jews have come to spend their final years in Jerusalem just so they could be buried in this happenin' place.
I am a great lover of good graffiti, and it was fun to come upon this gem on our way to the Southern Wall. Each bird has its own shadow, giving this painting a three-dimensional quality:

Friday, April 24, 2015

JERUSALEM: THE SOUK AL-QATTANIN AND THE WESTERN WALL

One of the exits from the Temple Mount is Bab al-Qattanin, or "Gate of the Cotton Merchants." It is an architectural masterpiece of nestled arches and domes built from three alternating colors of stone and adorned with muqarnas, hanging embellishments that resemble ornate stalactites.
Bab al-Qattanin, or Gate of the Cotton Merchants, Jerusalem, Souvenir Chronicles
The gate leads to the Souk al-Qattanin, or Cotton Merchants Marketplace, which was built in 737 AD, prior to the Crusades, and then re-built in 1394 AD after Muslims regained control of the Temple Mount.

The patterns on the doors remind me of a crazy quilt:
Once through those doors, we descended into the 310-foot-long souk, or market, marveling at its barrel-shaped vaulted ceiling comprising thirty sections, each with a skylight to let in natural light.
The protruding metal bars and racks were high above our heads and are for holding up goods for display when the 60 shops of the souk are open for business--unfortunately, not while we were walking through, though we did catch them open later. The sidewalk is an ingenious combination of stairs and ramps:

I have a thing for old doorways. This one in the Muslim quarter was beautiful in its simplicity, the patina of age reminding me of a beloved grandparent:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

JERUSALEM: TEMPLE MOUNT

My initial view of Jerusalem in the daytime was one of Those Moments that I want to engrave in my memory. We arrived at night, when light from windows and streetlights was reflected by the white Jerusalem limestone that everything seems to be made of. The following morning it was raining, the hills covered in a lush green, the Jerusalem stone buildings now an almost translucent white, and the blue tile mosaics and gold vault of the Dome of the Rock drawing our eyes like a magnet draws steel. 

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives / Souvenir Chronicles
View of the old city taken later in the week from the Mount of Olives
In his book Walking the Bible, Bruce Feiler writes, "Jerusalem is a geographic anomaly in the Middle East, a hilly, tree-shrouded city in the central elevations of Palestine that became holy three thousand years ago and remains holy for a third of the world. . . . Jerusalem today has some of the best traits of other cities--hills like Rome, stone like Athens; some of the worst traits of others--traffic like Bangkok, cramped housing like Tokyo; and light like no other place on earth. In the mornings and evenings Jerusalem is bathed in the most incandescent sunlight, an effusion of gold dust that flirts with the pink highlights of Jerusalem stone, winks off the polished roof of the Dome of the Rock, and seduces anyone within its gaze."

So true.

We were lucky to be there on a blustery day in March. The benefits were close parking to the Temple Mount and short lines. In fact, our guide, who has been there many times, told us it was the fastest he had ever gotten from the bus, through security, and onto the grounds of the Temple Mount. 

The very first thing we did in Jerusalem was visit its most recognizable building, the iconic Dome of the Rock. It's a good place for a Jerusalem Newbie to start.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

ISRAEL: JAFFA AT NIGHT, Part II

A day in slowly-moving Jaffa is a nice rest between the insanity of Los Angeles and the crowds of Jerusalem. Jaffa is clean, picturesque, historic, and uncrowded--at least in mid-March. As is the case in so many foreign places, it seems that there is something beautiful or captivating in every direction:
Jaffa 2
Jaffa 1

I'm not sure what the sculpture on the left is supposed to represent (maybe tae kwon do?), but the lines almost exactly (and randomly) mimic the tree on the right:

Al-Bahr mosque, completed in the 16th century, is quite close to St. Peter's Church, testifying to the years of religious cohabitation in this area:
Al-Bahr Mosque, Jaffa, Israel

Saturday, April 11, 2015

ISRAEL: TEL AVIV, JAFFA, AND A FEW MIRACLES, Part I


Airport art: David Ben Gurion,
Israel's 1st President and
the airport's namesake
The Israeli port city of Tel Aviv is the entry place for most Westerners visiting Israel. A "tel" is a hill made by layers of human civilization, an archaeological goldmine. "Aviv" means "spring," implying renewal or rebirth. Together, "Tel Aviv" signifies the rebirth of an ancient civilization. Tel Aviv is a very modern city born out of the ancient city of Jaffa, which today is the Old Town section of Tel Aviv.

Although Jerusalem has almost twice as many people as Tel Aviv, there is only a small international airport there, and it has been closed to civilian traffic since 2001. While Jerusalem may be the religious and cultural center of Israel, Tel Aviv, the business and technology hub, is a thriving metropolis and has the second-largest economy in the Middle East, behind only Dubai. It makes sense to put the main airport there.

Tel Aviv was our first destination.
Paranoid about Los Angeles traffic, we left our home about five hours before our flight time. It usually takes us from one-and-a-half to two hours to get to LAX, but if there is traffic, we may spend three or more hours in gridlock. Happily, we arrived with lots of time to spare, enjoyed a meal in the Lemonade Restaurant (amazingly good organic salads and our favorite place to eat at LAX),
Picture from here
. . . departed LAX almost an hour late, then flew from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv with a too-short, sweat-producing 30-minute connection in New York City, a total travel time, if we count our drive time from home, of almost 23 hours. The long flight had its bonuses, especially the last segment. We enjoyed sharing the plane with quite a few restless Hasidic Jews, who walked up and down the aisles wearing their black hats and heavy black coats during the entire flight. (Somehow their women managed to rest peacefully in their seats while more or less controlling the children.) Also, I met people from three different churches who were on a Holy Land pilgrimage with their pastors and others from their congregations. Not your usual passenger list.
Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv
Classy and clean Ben Gurion Airport
After going through immigration at the Tel Aviv Airport with no problems, we were met by a representative of the private guide we had booked for the day, and within minutes of meeting him, another couple from our group also arrived on schedule, and the four of us left the airport with the young man sent to collect us.

Just a word about airport meet-ups.  It is a bit presumptuous to think that you can fly half-way around the world on different planes, even different airlines and different routes, and arrive on time and meet up as arranged. However, that's exactly what happened on this trip.  Four couples, four schedules, four safe and timely arrivals (the second two couples did make the last leg of the journey together). One BIG miracle.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ISRAEL, EGYPT, AND JORDAN: A GRAND PILGRIMAGE, MARCH 2015

When my husband and I were dating, he had plans to save his money and travel to Israel. Well, one date led to another, and pretty soon any money he had was being set aside for our journey into marriage. Israel was placed on the back burner--for 36 years.

We had been watching for the right tour to the Middle East for a couple of years.  Last year we learned of one scheduled for 2015 that had everything we were looking for: the right tour company with a lecturer we had on a previous trip and really liked (Fun for Less Tours with Michael Wilcox), the right date (March, including my spring break), and the right combination of destinations (Israel, Egypt, and Jordan).
Once I started looking at maps, I was
shocked by how tiny Israel is
in comparison to its neighbors.
We enlisted my sister and her husband and two other couples who are good friends to join us in our grand pilgrimage, we all signed up, and we waited ten long months for the day to come.

Our four couples planned to fly separately (from the larger group and from each other) and to meet up in Tel Aviv, Israel. After a private tour there, we would join the larger tour group in Jerusalem and sightsee throughout Israel before taking a long bus ride to Taba, a resort town in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. From there we would fly to Aswan, Egypt, take a river cruise down the Nile River to Luxor, then fly to Cairo. After seeing the pyramids and other sights in Cairo, we would fly to Amman, Jordan, explore the country north and south of the city, and then fly home.  It would be an ambitious trip encompassing eighteen days.
White lines represent flights; blue lines are land and water travel.
Miraculously, it all turned out exactly as planned.

Benjamin Disraeli said, "I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen." This is an excellent description of what our weeks in the Middle East were like for both my husband and me. Between us we took about 8,000 photos, and I took 120 pages of notes. (Granted, my notebook had small-ish pages, but still!) Honestly, I don't know how anyone can fully appreciate a trip like this without addressing it in retrospect in a methodical, day-by-day fashion.  A blog is a perfect vehicle for that kind of exploration.

We've been asked many times what our favorite part of the trip was. How can we choose? Was it the private, back-room tour of the Franciscan monastery in Tel Aviv? Our first sighting of the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock? Plodding through water well over our knees in Hezekiah's Tunnel? The peaceful Garden of Gethsemane? Singing "I Am a Child of God" in the church at the Pool of Bethesda? Or was it the archaeological dig Beit Lehi? Or the night-time boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and the lecture about Jesus walking on water? Or wading in the Mediterranean Sea at Caesarea? Or surveying the broad valley where David slew Goliath?

Wait! What about Egypt and the pyramids and the ruins and the museums and the river cruising? Or maybe our horse and carriage rides in Luxor or our hot air balloon ride near the Valley of the Kings? What about Jordan--Amman's Old City and Petra and Jerash and camel rides?  What about some of our amazing dinners or delectable street food treats?

It's impossible to choose a favorite moment, or even ten favorites!  I'm looking forward to reliving them all as I process my notes and pictures on this blog.

As usual, I've done (and continue to do) a fair amount of reading in connection with the trip. The two books I read while we traveled provided a particularly good overview of Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. I'll be using quotes and insights from both of them in many of my posts.

READING

We don't think about our lives in terms of "making pilgrimages," but all of us are on a journey of some sort, whether it be a physical or spiritual journey. The idea of a spiritual pilgrimage is as old as Adam and Eve finding their way back to God in the lone and dreary world.  In describing the origin of this book, author Bruce Feiler notes, "This elemental act [of walking] has always been deeply connected to our spirituality. For as long as people have walked, they've walked to get closer to their gods."  In search of an understanding of his Jewish past and spiritual heritage, Feiler undertook a 10,000 mile pilgrimage through the lands discussed in the first five books of the Old Testament. His insights and personal growth are the subject of Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land through the Five Books of Moses.  
"Instead of just accepting a tradition that's been handed down from others," Feiler writes, "a traveler is forced to engage, to consider, to decide. But above all, the sacred journey is a chance to experience. In a world in which more and more things are virtual and ephemeral, a trip like [this one] makes you feel something real."  Feiler's book as background reading for our own walking in the Holy Land merits five stars.


The Innocents Abroad  is Mark Twain's chronicle of his somewhat frenetic journey through Europe and the Holy Land with a boat-load of Americans in 1869. Assembled from a series of newspaper articles Twain sent back to the States for publication, this book is a typical Twain-ian pastiche of humor and wisdom. It became one of the best-selling travel books of all time and was the best-seller among Twain's books when he was living. Irreverent though it may be (Take, for example, his description of his room on-board the ship: "Notwithstanding all this furniture, there was still room to turn around in, but not to swing a cat in, at least with entire security to the cat"), it is full of great descriptions of what Israel and Jordan were like almost 150 years ago--in some ways the area was very different from today, and in others almost shockingly identical.  Twain also tosses out plenty of nuggets of travel wisdom, including:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.

Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.

One must travel to learn. Every day, now, old Scriptural phrases that never possessed any significance for me before, take to themselves a meaning.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

PORTLAND, OREGON: JAPANESE AND CHINESE GARDENS

Portland has both a Japanese Garden and a Chinese Garden. My daughter and I thought we would only have time for one or the other, and so we read the descriptions and reviews of both gardens and tried to choose just one. They both got rave reviews, but as my daughter had lived in Japan twice, we opted for nostalgia and the Japanese Garden. The evening before we flew home, however, we discovered that our flight had been changed, giving us just enough time to add the Chinese Garden.

So which was better? Having been to both, I still can't make a recommendation of one over the other. 

THE JAPANESE GARDEN covers 5.5 acres in Portland's West Hills neighborhood, a nice break from the noise and commotion of the city, which is important as traditional Japanese gardens seek to unite the visitor with nature and provide a sense of peace and tranquility.
We visited the garden at the end of the day when there were very few other visitors, and it was definitely peaceful and tranquil.



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