Thursday, July 30, 2015


We arrived at our hotel in Taba in the late afternoon. Our tour company's plan was to give us some much needed down time the next morning, then get us on a flight to Aswan later in the day. If you have to sit around somewhere, the Sofitel Taba Heights is not a bad place to be.

We were welcomed with glasses of chilled hibiscus juice, a refreshing drink I grew to love while we were in Egypt:
Photo from here
The oculus in the hotel lobby:
Another shot of the lobby (photobombed by Stan):

Sunday, July 26, 2015


In his book Walking the Bible, Bruce Feiler notes:
The distance between Jerusalem and Cairo is almost impossible to measure. By foot it should take about a month, by camel two weeks, by bus a day. But for most of history, such conventional means rarely worked. Abraham made it fairly easily, as did Mary and Joseph when they fled Bethlehem with the baby Jesus to escape the wrath of Herod. But Moses, going the other way, took forty years, and still fell short. Napoleon got bogged down in the dunes, as did the English army a century later. During the first thirty years of the Israeli state, the 250 miles from one city to the other was wider than any desert, and more impenetrable. Even the advent of air travel, which has reduced the trip to an hour, has done little to reduce the distance.

Sad but true. We were surprised to learn that we would not be flying from Israel to Egypt. We were told that there are not flights. Really? I did my own search on Travelocity and saw that there are indeed a few flights, but not any that are direct. A one-way ticket from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Aswan, Egypt, a distance by air of 570 miles, makes a huge detour to Istanbul, Turkey, and costs $1850; a round-trip ticket is $2,800. WOW. Granted, Aswan has a pretty small airport, so I checked to see if there are flights from Tel Aviv to the much larger Cairo airport. That flight costs much less--$480 round-trip--but that's a distance of only 250 air miles. Oh wait. It stops in Amman, Jordan. So I guess the truth is that there really are no flights from Israel to Egypt, at least none available through Travelocity. You have to fly somewhere else, then fly to Egypt. Crazy.

Instead, we had a great drive through the lonely and forbidding Negev Desert to a border crossing near Eilat, which gave us exposure to an area of Israel--and Egypt--that we would not have otherwise seen. We crossed the border into the resort town of Taba, then flew out the next afternoon from the tiny Taba airport to the tiny Aswan airport. It worked, and the itinerary meant we got to see the beautiful Gulf of Aqaba inlet of the Red Sea, thereby completing the Israeli Sea Triumvirate of Med, Dead, and Red. (Unfortunately "Galilee" doesn't rhyme to make it a foursome.)
We started off driving alongside the Dead Sea:
We passed several salt processing plants:

Too bad there isn't something like this on the shores of the Great Salt Lake:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I have a hard time deciding whether it is better to read books about a country before a trip or after. If I read before I travel, I have a broader base from which to draw as I see new things. If I read after, the book tends to have more meaning because I have context for the informatoin. It's a conundrum, and the only real solution is to do both, which may also mean reading a book twice.

I read quite a few books pre- and post-traveling to Israel. Some I've already reviewed and appended to my posts, including:
Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler
Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by       John Esposito
From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman
The Lion's Gate by Steven Pressfield
Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright 

There are many, many other books to read about this fascinating country, however, and I keep finding them.  Here are a few more suggestions of good pre- and post-travel reading:

Sunday, July 19, 2015


On our final day in Israel, we made our way south to the eastern Israel-Egypt border crossing. The further south we went, the drier it got. The terrain was not so different from the southern Nevada desert, a stretch of highway I've driven through many, many times:
On the west side of the road there were barren mesas and sand dunes:
. . . and on the east side was the Dead Sea:

Earlier in our trip we had seen Herod the Great's palace-fortress in Caesarea, overlooking the jewel-like Mediterranean and cooled by ocean breezes. Our last stop was going to be another of Herod's palace-fortresses, the famous site Masada.

Masada was built by the Hasmoneans on the top of a mesa in the driest, most inhospitable of climates, the eastern Judaean desert. About 100 years later, in 37-31 BC, Herod had it fortified so he could use it as a refuge in case he had to escape from a Jewish revolt. Herod died in 4 BC, and in 66 AD the revolt he had feared did happen, and Jewish extremists called the Sicarii captured Masada and established their own fortress there. When the Romans seized Jerusalem and destroyed the temple four years later, many Jews fled to Masada.

Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist sites in Israel.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Israel really has a thing for lookouts. If there is a prominence, it has a lookout on it. But who can blame them when this is the view?
Before we went to Beit She'an National Park, we stopped at the Beit She'an overlook, which has a great view of the junction of the Jordan River Valley and Jezreel Valley.  
It's a popular place among the locals. We saw a few groups of picnickers having a good time:
We made our way back down to the valley, passing the ruins of what Wikipedia says is a Crusader castle. (Sometimes I get lucky with my random photos):

The region was first settled 5,000-6,000 years ago. It was conquered by the Egyptians 3,500 years ago, and then by the Philistines. When King Saul killed himself in battle on Mount Gilboa rather than be killed by his enemies, the Philistines recovered his body and hung it up in the city, which by then was known as Bethshan or Beit She'an (see 1 Samuel 31). In about 700 BC the city was destroyed by fire, then rebuilt by the Greeks, and around 400 AD during the Roman era, it reached a peak of 30,000 to 40,000 inhabitants. It is the remains of that era that comprise the Beit She'an National Park.

Monday, July 13, 2015


One of our excursions took us north towards Mount Hermon, which is situated on the border of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. The Golan Heights are located on the southern slopes. I was surprised this area was part of our itinerary because of the repeated conflict that has occurred there.
The Golan Heights were part of Syria when Israel seized the region in the Six Day War of 1967, and it's been a hotspot ever since. Mount Hermon, which straddles Syria and Lebanon, is a natural buffer between Israel and Syria, a strategic lookout point, and a highly desirable piece of real estate. 

We started out at the Tel Dan National Park, a nature reserve that includes some ancient Canaanite ruins. The snowmelt of Mount Hermon collects in the Dan River, which flows through the park and feeds into the Jordan River. A third of Israel's water comes from this source.
It is a picturesque setting, peaceful and unspoiled.

We were there in March, prime time for spring run-off, and water was plunging down the channel:

Friday, July 10, 2015


I thought Jerusalem, with its complex history and many cultures, was intense and that when we went north to Galilee, the pace would be a bit more relaxed.  Ha. 

The area surrounding Galilee is full of stories that are illustrated by ruins and vistas that all call to be seen. There is no way to see everything in just a few days, and although we did manage to see an amazing number of sites, this is an area (along with Jerusalem) that we hope to return to some day for a little more in-depth sightseeing.

On the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee three km from Capernaum is a spot where many believe Jesus delivered his most famous sermon, the Beatitudes. On our walk from the bus to the famous hill, we passed many reminders of the Sermon:

Next to this interesting fountain and pool . . .
. . . was this scriptural passage:
. . . and this caveat:
Two stone fish and five stone loaves of bread on a stone table remind visitors that after his sermon, Jesus fed 5,000 people with two small fish and five loaves of barley bread:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Capernaum, known as "Capharnaum" in Israel, is located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee about 30 miles northeast of Jesus's hometown of Nazareth. During his day it was a prosperous and crowded region, and it was here that Jesus lived after he began his ministry. Matthew says it was "his own city" (Matthew 9:1). 
Capernaum is mentioned in all four Gospels and was the home of Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew.

A Franciscan monastery stands guard over the site:

It was in Capernaum that Jesus recruited Peter, James, and John to be "fishers of men" and where he called the publican Matthew to join them. It was where he began his ministry in the synagogue and taught his first parables. And it was here that he performed eleven of the thirty-seven miracles mentioned in the New Testament, including healing Peter's mother-in-law, healing the centurion's servant, curing a man of an unclean spirit, healing a man sick with palsy after he was lowered through the roof into the room where the Savior was preaching, raising the daughter of Jairus, healing the man with the withered hand, detecting the touch of the woman with the issue of blood and then healing her, and directing the apostles to catch a fish and find a coin in its mouth with which to pay taxes.

Friday, July 3, 2015


One of Bob's great disappointments is that our tour did not take us into the heart of Nazareth. There were several churches and monuments there that he wanted to see, and the thought of wandering the streets where Jesus grew up and prepared for his ministry was very appealing to both of us.
When Bob pressed Michael, the tour lecturer, about why the tour didn't go into Nazareth, Michael said that its nearly impossible to navigate by bus; the streets are narrow, the traffic is unbelievably bad, there is no parking, etc. When Bob asked about the feasibility of taking a cab from Tiberias, where our next hotel was, Michael looked at him in surprise and asked, "Are you Catholic?" We laughed a little about that, but if we have one criticism of this tour, it's that it didn't range out to include other religions quite enough for us. (E.g., The focus was on the Garden Tomb and there was no escorted trip or guidance for Church of the Holy Sepulchre.)

We did drive up to the Mount of Precipice lookout point, passing this quarry on the way. . .
. . . from which we got an excellent view of the city of Nazareth . . .
. . . and we had to admit it looked pretty intimidating.

We stopped for a lecture just before we reached the summit. It was windy, and we had a little more protection on the side of the mountain than we would have had on the top: