It was all there: places we’ve ‘known’ since long-ago Sunday School teachers introduced us to Bethlehem and its Manger; Jerusalem and its Tomb. Our young imaginations were unleashed by those lessons and stories, in turn, enabling us to create images of both places and people.
However, as a child the thought of ever seeing these places was really quite unimaginable.
Then, decades later, on a warm spring Saturday we found ourselves in Israel. Finally, those imagined places would become reality.
|Dome of the Rock|
It almost seems sacrilegious to cram a visit to Bethlehem and Jerusalem into a single 12-hour period. There is far too much to see and far too much history to absorb in such a short time. But sometimes travel reality trumps the imagined itinerary as well.
We’d lost one of two days planned for touring Israel when our cruise ship was delayed for a full day in transiting the Suez Canal. In order to see as much as we could in a single day that we had remaining, we signed up for a big-bus cruise ship tour (12-hour, $195 p/p). We’d depart from Oceania Nautica’s cruise ship, docked in Haifa, at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.
First stop, some two hours away, was the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view that stretched out over the old –walled city of Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock and the sprawling modern city that has grown around them.
In this small, overly-crowded area we had one tourist tout leading a camel and offering rides; he competed for business with the man, walking along side his donkey carrying a sign that read, “Take a ride with Jesus”. For a price you could have your photo taken atop the donkey with the Jesus impersonator.
“We’ve got Egypt to the south, Syria to the North and Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan to the east. That’s the neighborhood. It’s a tough one. Thanks for coming to visit. I am sure you got those looks from family and friends when you said you were coming here.”
- Our tour guide, as we traveled past Tel Aviv en route to JerusalemObviously from the crush of tourists – all vying for the best view point, the best photo angle and the best selfie, there were a lot of people visiting despite real or imagined threats to safety. A parade of tour buses stretched for miles on this warm Saturday morning. The Israeli/Palestinian unrest wasn’t keeping everyone away.
|Tour buses and taxis for as far as one could see at The Mount of Olives|
|The Garden of Gethsemane|
|Church of Nations|
|Stations of the Cross on Via Dolorosa drew the faithful to touch the walls|
We merged into other tour groups squeezing into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place housing both where Jesus was believed crucified and his empty tomb. It was a claustrophobic sort of tour . . . but nothing as claustrophobic as our afternoon visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
“Palestine and Israel talk of ‘quiet’ not ‘peace’ for the sake of tourism”- our Israeli guide
In addition to the Holy sites our whirlwind tour had taken us past lush agricultural fields and suburbs with towering high-rises that housed some of the world’s tech giants.
Sadly, what may have been far more moving than scenes dating back 2,000 years, were those, like 'the wall' that spoke of the present day:
|Armed guards The Mount of Olives|
|The Gate between Jerusalem and Bethlehem|
|The wall separating Jerusalem and Bethlehem - Israel and Palestine|
The brief stop did spark an interest in knowing more of the story and for those of you history buffs out there, we highly recommend, Jerusalem, The Biography, by Simon Montefiore:
Next week, we’ll conclude our Middle East cruise tales with a stop in Turkey. Then we'll be heading back to our other life at The Stone House on the Hill in Greece and we've got some road trips to take you on while there! As always thanks so much for the time you spent with us – hope to see you back again soon. Happy and safe travels to you and yours~
Linking up with:
Mosaic Monday –
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Travel Photo Thursday –
Weekend Travel Inspiration