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.
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.|
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.
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.