June 25, 2011

Happenings in the Holy Land

Note: There are far too many sights and experiences from my Discovery Expeditions tour of Israel to put in one blogpost. But I'll share a few highlights just to give you a taste.
Delayed Arrival
Air Canada screwed the pooch on this one. They overbooked the flight to Israel by ten (yes, I said ten!) people, and I got bumped. Frustration ensued. Stayed the night in Toronto. Was re-routed through Frankfurt, Germany. Finally arrived in Israel a day and a half later than I should have. Grrr.
With some of my bumped friends
Garden of Gethsemane
Such a peaceful place. After a quick tour and a short devotional, we had time to go off on our own and ponder on the events which occurred here. Very humbling and profound to sit so close to where the Savior suffered and atoned for our sins. Not as "garden-y" as I'd expected, but still beautiful and calming to visit.

The Western Wall
So much devotion. This spot was also a cultural gathering place for the Jewish people, which was interesting to observe. We made sure to face the wall while approaching and withdrawing, and yes, I did place a prayer in the stones. Different areas are set up for the women and men, and Jim Gee (our amazing guide) told us a lot about the history of the place and the wall excavations going on far below ground.
The Temple Mount
After some negotiation and tense moments with the modesty police, our shorts and shirts were accepted and we made it in. The Dome of the Rock is an exquisite building [from the outside at least--only Muslims can go inside]. Also a cultural gathering location, but for the Muslim people.
With Jasmine and Angela
We also walked around the southern end of the Temple Mount, which is where Jesus would have entered and exited on several occasions. When the temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans, huge stones fell from the walls. Here Chelsea and I stand by some of those stones:
We weren't done touring the Old City yet. A group of us set out on a walk around the ramparts, passing several of the wall's 7 gates before we came down. I was surprised to see a sign for Goliath's Tower. According to tradition, that's where David buried the giant's head.Lazarus' Tomb
It's one of the most famous of Jesus' miracles. Seeing the actual tomb was awesome. Very cozy down there, but I could just imagine the scene and how powerful it would be to see Lazarus come forth. Hopefully it isn't sacrilegious, but I thought a zombie pic would be humorous...
Golgotha and the Garden Tomb
Along with the Garden of Gethsemane, these locations are probably of the highest religious importance we visited. I had no idea they were so close to each other, but it makes sense as there wasn't much time between the Savior's death and his needing to be interred before the Sabbath. Again, after a tour and devotional (this time a testimony meeting of sorts), we had time to be alone in the Garden, and I really appreciated that.
With Angela at the tomb's entrance
This hilltop fortress was incredible. It's out in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the Dead Sea. Lower sections of the original fortress walls still remain (below the black line in the pic below), including some of the paint/drawings. Remarkable how well they've held up over the centuries.
Beit She'an
Ancient architecture didn't fare well against earthquakes. We saw the ruins at Beit She'an and I was astonished at the destruction. Archaeologists have been able to re-construct much of the city and are uncovering more ruins.
On the way to Nazareth, we stopped for a little taste of home. Yes, McDonalds. Pretty much the only differences were the additions of McShawarma and McFalafel to the menu, and the non-working ice cream machine.
Nazareth Village
In this re-creation of Nazareth in Biblical times, we were shown how several of Jesus' parables would have been applicable in the people's lives: wheat & tares, olive-pressing, watchtowers during harvest, etc. The wine press in this pic is likely the one that Jesus would have used, as it's close to where the small village of Nazareth was in Jesus' time, and wine presses were often communal.
Sea of Galilee
Ever been on a super-old-fashioned boat? I have. We went for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and had a devotional and lesson. While our water was calm and the weather beautiful, I loved imagining the Savior and His disciples out there in wind and waves, as He commanded the elements to settle. Or of Jesus walking on water and bidding Peter to join him.
Ladies soaking up Galilean rays on the boat's bow
With Aladdin and Mike, enjoying bow seats
Jordan River
The site of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. Since it has historical significance, many churches still travel here to perform their baptisms. Also, there are muskrats the size of small dogs. Yikes.
Our hotel was in Tiberias, and we had a lot of fun there in the evenings, including swimming in Sea of Galilee, even when the swim zone was closed and the hotel worker kept giving us "just 5 more minutes" for about half an hour.
We also enjoyed the downtown and especially the boardwalk area, where we watched a water and light show on two nights. Plus, Angela talked the carousel operator into giving us a free ride. She sure is persuasive!

Our last morning in Tiberias, a small group of us woke up early to see the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. The sunrise was gorgeous, and singing a few hymns added to the experience.
The early morning crew
Caesarea Maritime
Our last day in Israel, and we made it count. We saw Herod the Great's summer palace, built right on the Mediterranean coast. The theater was humongous, aqueducts were used to bring water from far away mountains, and a velodrome existed for chariot races.

Enjoying the Mediterranean breezes
Look at the jellyfish Chelsea found on the beach!

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