Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Israel – Where Reality trumped Imagination

                                                                                               
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.

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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.

DSCF3228First 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 Jerusalem
Obviously 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.

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Tour buses and taxis for as far as one could see at The Mount of Olives
Despite the gaggles of tourists everywhere we went, it was interesting to finally see places that we’ve ‘known’ all our lives; places like the Garden of Gethsemane, the site of Jesus’s betrayal and the magnificent Roman Catholic Church, known as the Church of All Nations (aka as the Church or Basilica of the Agony), that stands next to it. 

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The Garden of Gethsemane
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Church of Nations
We followed a maze of narrow pedestrian streets through Jerusalem’s walled old city. Being on a tight timeline and being jostled and bumped by competing tour groups and local shoppers we had no opportunity to stop at the inviting stores that made up this bustling souk. Our path led from the Wailing Wall to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – on the Via Dolorosa, the route on which Jesus carried the cross to his execution (at least the route as it was defined later in history by the Crusaders).

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Stations of the Cross on Via Dolorosa drew the faithful to touch the walls
I couldn’t help but think of the story of Jesus chasing the merchants and money changers from the Temple when he returned to Jerusalem for Passover when I saw this sign along our route on the Via Dolorosa . . .

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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.

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Bethlehem
Our tour guide who'd been with us since boarding the bus and who provided most of our day’s narration was Israeli. Because Bethlehem is in Palestinian territory, another guide – a Palestinian – took over the narration and led the tour of that portion of the day’s outing.  She led us to the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square, both places where reality was very different from those Sunday School imaginary places. We went under the church to a stone-walled small room (not for the claustrophobic) and there peeked through a small hole in the wall at the room said to be ‘the manger’. As our slow-moving line inched past those who'd peeked into the manger, we decided the less time spent in this underground dungeon the better.
“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:

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Armed guards The Mount of Olives
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The Gate between Jerusalem and Bethlehem
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The wall separating Jerusalem and Bethlehem - Israel and Palestine
We'd had a long and interesting tour. Perhaps with fewer people and a slower pace, we'd have reacted differently to the sites we visited.  Many had told us in advance of our visit of their experiences in which they had wonderful - downright, moving - reactions to the place. We didn't. Someday, maybe, we’ll get a chance to return. We likely won’t go out of our way to do so.  There are many other places along our Magic Carpet Ride of a cruise route that we’d rather revisit.

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:

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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
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

34 comments:

  1. Yep, it's a strange reality we all live in here. I'm glad you came, even if for a few hours.

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    1. Dina, it is so nice to have your blog to help me see more of Israel, (I do think a few million less tourists would have helped my view of what we saw but then again you do need tourists)! Thanks for commenting.

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    2. Being packed in like sardines is no fun. Next time you come it will be off the beaten path.
      Hey! How 'bout you come volunteer for the olive harvest at Kibbutz Gezer next autumn?!
      see http://www.gezerolives.com/the-olive-blog/another-harvest-is-over and on Facebook

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  2. What a blessing for ya'll to be able to go to all these places...so so interesting...a dream come true

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    1. It certainly made me realize the benefits of taking a cruise through an area like this BJ, we were able to see so many places with ease and determine which if any we'd like to return to!

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  3. Israel is another of the spots that I can't convince to visit. So, thanks for the quick visit.

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    1. We'll if you ever get there, give yourself more than a day in which to see it. And spend some time away from tour groups! Thanks for the visit -

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  4. Sorry to hear that your tour of Israel was disappointing. I can understand why 12 hours and tons of tourists would taint your perspective. I spent almost two weeks in Israel, and absolutely loved it - so much so, that I'd love to go back.

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    1. I am not sure if it was the tour or Israel that disappointed. So in fairness it would be good to go back one day and spent some authentic time with local people and get a taste of real Israel. However, I have to admit the constant (everywhere) metal detectors, bag checks and other security measures did become a bit overpowering - I know (sadly) that they are necessary, but it is difficult to focus when constantly being reminded that you might not be safe here.

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  5. Obviously we went to similar Sunday schools as kids! I can remember my huge excitement when I ran into the Roman ruins underneath the city of Barcelona and realizing that, yes, they were the same Romans who played the part of the villains in THE BIBLE! How fun to see the real places that sparked your imagination as a kid for times long ago and places far away. Obviously a 12-hour tour is not the recommended way to visit "the land of milk and honey" nor is a corridor miles long of tour buses my idea of an ideal travel destination. Still... if I could figure out a way to spend several days in Israel (is there an off-season?) I think I'd jump at the opportunity myself!

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    1. A friend who worked there told me the best time to visit I in the early morning before the buses arrive when you have the place in more a normal sort of way. . .however, it was the Sabbath for a lot of folks and therefore we got a taste of how many turn out for prayer at the Wailing Wall and other places.

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  6. Nice to see a dream fulfilled yet I just couldn't handle those kinds of crowds.

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    1. As I told Anita above it was the Sabbath so a lot of the crowds were 'local' and not tourists as tourism, here like Egypt has tanked because of security concerns. I am still grappling with why we reacted as we did to this stop - it has caused us to stop and ponder the point on several occasions.

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  7. I think you would have enjoyed it more with more time and a smaller tour group. I've not been there, but the bus trip and rush didn't sound appealing to me. Maybe less sights and a more relaxing pace would be good. I'll remember your experiences if we ever get there. It is strange thinking of the places in the Bible Stories as "real".

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    1. I think that was the hardest part of the stop Jan, wrapping our heads around the 'real' in the Bible stories. Real places - most amazing and even more so had we had the time to absorb the enormity of the history of the place.

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  8. I agree 100%. There are tourists all over Israel. We were self-driving, so we had the flexibility of waiting until one bus-load finished and seeing it with only a few people before the next bus-load came...but it was difficult. People everywhere. It is an amazing place, though, isn't it?

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    1. It was amazing, Corinne and I was surprised at the volumes of people swarming around all of the sites/sights. Guess I had thought with tourism down it would have been more like we found Cairo last December. You did it right - on your own!

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  9. "There is far too much to see and far too much history to absorb in such a short time." So true! But so glad that you've shared your beautiful pictures with us!
    Always lovely to have a historical tour! Best regards!

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    1. Oh thanks for recognizing my disclaimer there - way too much to do justice to this place in a matter of hours, a few photos and a blog post! Happy week ahead -

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  10. Wonderful to see that the unrest and uncertainty doesn't deter the tourists :) but obviously not so good from a travelling point of view. Fascinating place though and it must have been a privilege to visit. I'd love to go one day.

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    1. I can only imagine the crowds if tourism were at 'normal' levels! Hope you make it there, it is amazing.

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  11. I was in the old town of Jerusalem about 40 years ago and I still remember it as one of the most amazing places I've ever been to. As you say, we've all heard of those places and there's something quite special about seeing them in reality. But it does seem that it is on the "tourist map" now, and that the experience could be quite different if I repeated it.

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    1. It really is amazing to make the Bible's stories real - I remember as a child thinking all of that was a wonderful fantasy but that certainly real people and places weren't involved! Ha, reality trumps imagination. Thanks for the visit Karen!

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  12. these aphs brought back so many memories from visit this wonderful lace twice.

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  13. You saw a lot in a short time. Perhaps you would have been more moved by the sights (Dome of the Rock and Church of Nations look pretty impressive in your photos) with more time and fewer people. I am also struck by the contrasts with today's reality and would have found that disturbing.

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  14. I'd love to be able to visit the Holy Land some day.
    I hope you'll come drop by http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/03/spring-has-finally-sprung.html and link up.

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  15. Hello, it is amazing place to tour even on a short visit. The Dome of the rock is beautiful! I enjoyed the photos of the sights you did see, thanks for sharing. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week!

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  16. You're right, all the places we grew up hearing about every Sunday, and to see them in person may or may not be gratifying. While the tight schedule and the circumstances may have contributed to a less than stellar experience, your photos are wonderful. I was so moved by the one of the garden of Gethsemane, which has always seemed to me to be the holiest in a place filled with holy places. We're not planning to visit Israel any time soon, so I appreciated this post.

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  17. I'm glad you could appreciate some beauty and history despite the goings on of security.

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  18. It is quite an amazing place to visit so I'm glad you were able to/decided to go, Jackie. Interesting comment from the tour guide.

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  19. Israel is a country that's high on our wish list but we'd plan to spend more time there than you had. I'll have to reassess the time of the year we go to try and avoid as many tourists as possible. The history fascinates me so I can't wait to go!

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  20. You made one of the top journeys that I have often thought I would so enjoy. How meaningful this had to have been or you. Beautiful shares~ Happy Easter~

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  21. What a packed day! We haven't had the chance to visit the Holy Land yet, but it looks like a tour like this is a good introduction. Like you say, it is a good way to find places that would be nice to return to with more time.

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  22. The amount of places you've been to on your cruise is amazing~ I've loved following your adventures.

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