Thursday, 19 December 2019

Israel and Jordan, in the Footsteps of Jesus - Fall 2019

Israel and Jordan - Fall 2019
In the Footsteps of Jesus

Lapping up the sun in Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey
Cher and I recently checked off one of our longstanding bucket list items – a trip to Israel.  We traveled on a pre organised tour along with three other couples; Ed and Andrea Zak, Dirk and Helen van Vliet and Bill and Sharon McMinn – all from our part of the world in Ontario. We were with the same group of 36 fellow travelers for the week. This is a great way to travel. We had our close friends, for daily company, and then a group with whom we drew closer together as the week went on.

Starting third from left:
Dirk, Jim, Sharon, Helen, Andrea,
Ed, Cheryl, Rob
Our core group from Canada had decided to extend our time by 2-3 days and add on a side trip to Petra in Jordan.
We were so close; it would have been a pity not to include it.

Following that line of logic, Cher and I had decided that we were so close, we might just as well throw in a nine-day trip to Turkey. So, for us this was to be the trip of a lifetime; a three-week extravaganza of history, biblical context and ruins galore. We were to breathe the air of our biblical ancestors and experience some of the sights and sounds that they would have. We were not disappointed. Our blog tells the story.

srael Sunday October 27th, (Tel Aviv) 
  • We flew into Tel Aviv airport and got through customs and immigration easily enough and were shuttled to our lovely Renaissance hotel with gorgeous sea front views of the Mediterranean. This was the first of a multiplicity of Mercedes van drives which we were to have over the next three weeks. Folks in this part of the world are clearly picky about what kind of vans they are willing to drive and be driven in.

    Lovely Mediterranean outlook
  • We had decided to arrive a day early to give us time to catch our breath before starting our tour. Cher and I had planned to meet with Steph Oren (nee Baird) from our Zambian days. Steph had met and married an Israeli sea captain, Yossi, when we were first married, and they are now living in Haifa. We hadn’t seen Steph for over 40 years.
  • Steph arrived soon after we checked in and we spent a wonderful afternoon reminiscing and catching up. We took a walk along the waterfront, which was teeming with people enjoying the beautiful weather. Lovely atmosphere and a great visit with one of our earliest friends. Amazingly Steph had barely changed in forty years and she assured us we were the same. Mutual self delusion is a wonderful thing.

    Israel Monday Oct28, 2019 (Tel Aviv, Joppa, Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, Nazareth, Tiberius)
  • Our hotel had been designed to optimize their sea views. We enjoyed a bountiful breakfast along with a spectacular view.  We sneaked 2 apples for our lunch.
    Joppa - the old city
    Tel Aviv viewed from Joppa
  • 1st stop Old Joppa/Jaffa to meet our guide Rani and get oriented. Rani is an ardent Israeli with an interesting past. He has travelled widely, been an archaeologist, done some exploits rescuing Ethiopian Jews via Sudan and generally lived a full life.
  • Joppa is the original ancient port of Jaffa which we read about in the Bible and is the closest port to Jerusalem. Beautiful views over sea and Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is the centre of high tech, second only to Silicon Valley. What the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) cannot develop they buy from Israel according to Rani. Every Israeli mother’s dream apparently is for their sons to have a Nexit - develop a successful idea and sell it to the USA for $1bn and go to the beach.

    Caesarea - the site of Herod's the Greats' Palace
     and Hippodrome - magnificent
  • Next stop Caesarea, about an hour’s drive north – the place was swamped with tour buses and we are in the low season. Typical Greek theatre and Herod the Great’s palace and waterfront hippodrome (racetrack) complete with freshwater seaside rock pools. This place was visually stunning.
  • Next up - Mt Carmel overlooking Jezreel Valley alongside Mt Carmel nunnery. Views in all directions including Megiddo plain of Armageddon. Met a Zimbabwean lady in front of Elijah’s statue who recognized our accents. Turns out that she too, was an Arundel alumnus. Great celebration. It’s always good to find a kindred spirit.
    Arundel school in Zimbabwe
     alumni, enjoying a reunion
  • Mount Carmel was the beginning of a gentle tension that went on all week for me. I found myself lining up my “until now” imagining of the biblical story, alongside the often-overbuilt current view and then trying to reconcile the two to what it might have actually looked like all that time ago, now that I have seen it in person. Whew. No wonder I was tired by the end of the week.
  • First impressions- some of the countryside is a bit run down and lots of litter. Ugly squat apartment blocks seem to be the building of choice. Roadside outdoor restaurants with plastic chairs. Israelis or Arabs?? Paid $5 for a coffee for lunch. Tour buses abound and squeeze into incredible spaces.
  • Stop number 4 - Megiddo National Park (World Heritage Site). Amazing place. It is a hill comprising 25 layers of succeeding generations of civilizations. It overlooks the Armageddon plain. Megiddo sits astride a major entry point into Israel from the north, hence strategic for defense. It is mentioned in the Old Testament as a place that Solomon strengthened for strategic reasons. Meggido’s spring was initially outside the city wall. Occupants dug a tunnel into the city to divert the spring inside the walls, so that it could not be diverted by enemies. This tunnel is now walkable, but we did not have time to do it unfortunately.
  • Moving along – Nazareth, Mount of the Precipice. Beautiful spot overlooking the town and a precipice. This could have been the site where Jesus was to be thrown over a cliff after he made his first claim to be the Messiah. Nazareth is now 100% Arabic of which 25% only are Christian due to high Muslim birthdate. Garbage everywhere is a sign of different Arabic priorities according to Rani. Major traffic congestion slowed us down.

    Rani - on edge of precipice
     in Nazareth area
  • It was a long, dark, congested trip from Nazareth to Tiberius and our 5-star hotel, the Leonardo Plaza. We were pre checked in so saved a long tedious process. Lovely dinner with 5 choices of meat, followed by a walk around the waterfront and some of the real shops. Cher found a replacement for her watchstrap which we had been looking for. Thank you, Lord. Home for an early night - early start tomorrow.
  • We are starting to notice groups of people from all tribes and nations, visiting the various sites and making their pilgrimages. It stirs something in me, to see the magnitude of what was given birth to in this place. So much history. So much significance. Lord help me to savour every moment.

    Israel - Tuesday 29th, October (Tiberius, Lake Galilee, Golan Heights, Caesarea Phillipi, Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, Magdala, Tiberius)
  • Galilee from our hotel window - very special
  • Our early morning alarm gave us time to watch the sun rise over Lake Galilee from our waterfront facing room. There were some folks in the distance swimming in the lake. There were three others on the waterfront below, singing praises to God with a guitar. What a treat. Thank you, Lord. These are unrepeatable events.
  • Our group convened in the foyer at 8 am for a short walk to the waterfront to catch a boat to Magdala to see something unique. En route the boat crew got us all singing USA, Canadian and Filipino anthems. Then we learnt some Hava Nagila dancing. Our group is loosening up.

    Anthem singing got us loosened up
    Our group - pumped and ready for action
  • We docked in Magdala to see the museum specially built to display Peters Boat, a boat discovered in 1987, by two brothers who were hobby archaeologists. Quite fascinating. Carbon dating dates it back to biblical times, so Peter may well have had a boat like this.
  • Next up was a drive to Golan Heights en route to Caesarea Phillipi. Rani, our guide explained the significance of Israel needing to take the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war. The Golan Heights dominates a huge chunk of Israel’s eastern border endangering farmers and settlements to the west. They are also the source of two of three springs leading to tributaries of the Jordan river. The third one is in Lebanon. Prior to 1967 Syria had been planning to divert the two springs away from Israel. Capturing the Golan Heights assured Israelis of their primary water supply.
  • Caesarea Phillipa arose from a spring in a cave named Panyas after the Greek god Pan. This was later changed by Arabs to Banias. Romans changed the name to Caesarea Phillipi. Jesus visited the area (Matthew 16) and it was here that Peter declares Him as the Messiah and Jesus names Peter as the Rock on which the church would be built. Nearby Mt Hermon, Israel’s highest, is possibly the “high mountain “on which the Transfiguration took place (Matthew 17). The Temple of Panyas was discovered by the Israelis after the 1967 war and the area came under their control.

    St. Peter's Fish Restaurant - for the masses
  • Retracing our steps, we had lunch at St. Peter’s Restaurant for a mandatory fish lunch on the west shore of Galilee. Gorgeous location but a tourist trap par excellence literally pouring people in and out by the bus load. Service was fast- other bus loads were waiting. Tilapia compliments of Israeli fish farms were on the menu. Fish for lunch - Lake Galilee. Once in a lifetime stuff. Thank you, Lord.
  • Next stop after lunch was Capernaum, where Jesus did much of his ministry. Why did Jesus spend time there and not somewhere else? It was away from Nazareth, where he was persona non grata. Next north along the Nazareth Way was Tiberius, which was a Roman town, so not suitable. Next north was Magdala home of Mary Magdalene, and then Capernaum. Capernaum is the home of a large 3rd century synagogue along with Peter’s house and a chapel built above it. The chapel has a glass floor overlooking Peters house and the Sea if Galilee. Amazing. Onwards and upwards to the possible site of The Sermon on the Mount.

    Gardens overlooking Galilee at site of Mount of Beatitudes

    Chapel with glass floor built over
    top of "Peter's House"
  • Mount of Beatitudes- overlooking the Sea of Galilee this had beautiful gardens, and a restful chapel where people were praying. It was easy to imagine this is where Jesus delivered these history changing words. Thank you, Jesus, for coming to show us a better way.

  • Onwards - next stop the village of Magdala where a major archaeological find was made in 2006 when a hotel had to excavate before building was allowed.  A whole first century village, coinciding with the time of Jesus, was uncovered, including a synagogue along with homes, purification tanks and drainage systems. It’s very likely that Jesus would have taught in this synagogue.

    Glass front of chapel overlooks
    Galilee with replica fishing boat
    A church has built a spanking new “chapel “ here which is exquisite, especially with its view overlooking Galilee via a glass wall complete with replica fishing boat in the front. It was very exciting to be in this relatively freshly discovered site and to sense the possibility that Jesus had been right there, breathing the same air as us.

    Israel - Wednesday 30th Oct, 3019 (Sea of Galilee, Jordan River, Beth She’an, Dead Sea)
  • Jesus forgiving and
    commissioning Peter
    Mensa Christi built over the rock
     (altar) on which Jesus gave
    the disciples breakfast
  • Early start today - 1st stop was the Church of the Primacy. The Franciscans claim it is the site of the Sermon on Mount, Feeding of the 5000 and the Commissioning of Peter (John 21). Our tour guide focused on it being the site of Peter’s commissioning. There is a chapel built over a flat raised rock, now called Mensa Christi where it is believed Jesus prepared the meal for His disciples after the resurrection (John 21). We were able to go down to the water and walk in it, take samples, and “borrow a rock from Galilee”. This place had a similar feel to the synagogue at Magdala. Jesus had been here. Wow. Thank you, Lord, for these experiences.

    Ed and Andrea renewing their baptism vows
  • Next - Baptism site on River Jordan at foot of Lake Galilee. About 15 of our group of 36,  including three of our Canadian group opted to do it. Two of the young women in our group who describe themselves as “ministers” performed the baptisms. They did a wonderful job and were clearly doing it from the heart. They ended by baptizing each other. The rest of the group sang “We have decided to follow Jesus”’as each one came up from the water. Thank you, Lord, for a lovely experience.
  • Next up - Beth She’an. We noticed no other buses were at the scheduled hole in the wall lunch stop so decided to have an early lunch stop at 11.15am. This place made N. American fast food joints look like they are asleep at the wheel. As we got our food about 15 other buses arrived in quick succession. Whew. A good call by our tour guide. We walked to the 1980s excavation site. The excavation was done to provide work for the unemployed in Israel. They knew there was stuff down there but had no idea what. It has turned out to be a massive Greco-Roman city down at ground level with a Biblical era town at the top of the Tel behind it.

    Beth Sh'ean main street -
    incredibly impressive
    Greek technology allowed for water to be delivered in drains to the city so they could build at ground level. This was just fascinating. So much of the city, destroyed in an earthquake, has been reconstructed that there was a lot to take in, all the way down to the public “crapatorium”. I’m not sure if the tour guide was joking with that word. Apparently men and women sat side by side to do their business sitting with one cheek each on side by side stones with a gap in between. The outflow was taken away by a running water drainage system. Those Greeks and Romans really knew their stuff.

  • Final stop- Daniel Hotel, Dead Sea, 1200 feet below sea level - lowest in the world.

    Dead Sea - as close to weightless as we'll ever get
    First order of the day was to swim in the Dead Sea before the light ran out. We donned our hotel issue gowns and went to go and enjoy the “healing” waters along with a bunch of other likeminded souls.
    Oh, my goodness, what an experience? It is almost like being weightless. Who would have thought one could lie flat on one’s back and float comfortably? Try floating on your stomach? Forget it. It’s a formula for rolling over and getting very salty water in the eyes.

    Dead Sea mud - reputed to be
    good for one's health
    We laughed at two couples basting themselves in black mud – we kidded them that they looked 10 years younger. Much fun, supper and off to bed for another early night.

    Israel- Thursday Oct, 31 (Masada, Qumran, Jerusalem, Jaffa Gate)
  • First stop - Fortress of Masada. It is visibly impossible to attack, but at same time hard to comprehend how Herod the Great built his get away palace there in the first place as the cliffs are so sheer.
    Masada - it took the Romans
    three years to dislodge
    the rebels who held it. 
    Most important was how to get water to the top of a high mountain. Turns out that Masada is at Sea level and it was possible to divert water draining from the mountains behind into large cisterns which could store enough water for 1000 people for seven years. The story of how the Jewish rebels held out against their Roman attackers for 3-4 years is remarkable ending with the mass suicide of over 900 Jewish fighters, women and children, rather than be taken as slaves by the Romans. For modern day Israelis, their mantra is “Masada will never fall again”.
  • En route to Qumran we paused at another fast food marvel at a rather seedy roadside stop with dozens of bus loads of other desperately hungry pilgrims. Qumran is an amazing story. We watched a movie giving information re the Essenes and then did a short walk around the area to understand how they lived. We took a close look at Cave #4 which is the only one easily visible. None of the caves are open to the public. Rani, our tour guide, caused some unhappiness with his comments about the accuracy of the Jewish scriptures versus the “inaccuracies” of the Bible.

    Israel in the background and Bedouin shacks in
    the West Bank behind The Wall.  
  • From Masada it was a surprisingly short ride into Jerusalem from the East via the West Bank. En route we saw some awful hovels and shacks which are Bedouin homes. We also saw “the wall” separating parts of the West Bank from Israel. For all if it’s negative press it has been effective in curtailing terrorist attacks.
  • Once in Jerusalem we drove to the Hebrew University where there is a look out point overlooking Jerusalem. It was our first sighting of the city and not that impressive. It wasn’t a good view as we were looking into the sun. No one burst into tears as does happen, on occasion, apparently.
  • On to our hotel the Leonardo Plaza. Definitely a step up on our other five-star hotels. So much so that the elevator system was so clever we couldn’t figure out how it worked. We had to press our room floor and the computer told us which of the four elevators would take us there in the shortest time. The plugs in our bath and sink were still flaky though, apparently a necessary feature of Israeli 5-star hotels.
  • After dinner, which was definitely five star, our companions headed for bed, but Cher and I decided to do a bit of a walkabout – our first opportunity in Jerusalem, the place we have read of all of our lives. We were told it was perfectly to safe to go out at night, so we enjoyed our little explore. We walked through an outdoor/indoor mall – it felt like we were indoors, but the sky was open above us. It was very modern an up to date. At the end of the mall we saw the Old City wall and decided to explore. We entered the Old City by the Jaffa (Joppa) Gate. Once again it was a shopping mall, but now the shops were little one man show stalls, packed with colorful goods of all kinds on either side of a narrow cobbled stone street. It felt as though we had stepped back in time a couple of thousand years. We window shopped a bit, but it was getting late and the stalls were closing. We didn’t fancy being stranded in the dark in a strange place so headed for home, tired, but pumped for what we would see on the morrow.

    Israel- Friday Nov 1st, 2019 (Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Bethlehem, Jerusalem Old City and Wailing Wall
  • Off for another 8am start to take in the Mount of Olives and then Gethsemane.
    Jerusalem - so much history in such a small space
    The place was a zoo of tour buses. Rani our guide took us to one level lower than the mob and we had a lovely quiet spot overlooking the Eastern wall of Old Jerusalem. Rani went through the biblical story of Jerusalem pointing out where it all took place. He spoke for about an hour and it was fascinating pulling all the threads of the Bible story into the context of the Jerusalem we were looking at. Wonderful. This hour alone would have made our tour worth it. Added to the enjoyment of the lecture, Rani was unwittingly standing on an ant’s nest and after a while he started hopping up and down much to our amusement.
  • Onward and downward- we walked down a very steep narrow lane to Dominus Flevit commemorating where Jesus wept.
  • Then on down to Gethsemane and the mother of all crowds. Today there are 16 tour buses from a couple of cruise ships docked in Ashdod, a port just south of Joppa. Rani is in despair at the overloading of the city. The garden had a fairly narrow walkway around it which was standing room only all the way around to the church commemorating Gethsemane. One had to shove to push through the crowd to get in for a quick look see before shoving our way back to the bus. Whew, this pilgrim touring takes staying power. I guess there’s a sermon in there somewhere.
  • Next stop was Bethlehem and shopping for trinket essentials at a local Christian store which our guide tries to send business to as they are a declining minority in the West Bank. Olive wood was their specialty but prices were a stretch by any measure. They were also offering a nice little diamond brooch necklace which I backed off from buying for Cher when, even after a 20% discount and no tax, it was only $2600 (US). Sigh, such is life.

    Byzantine mosaics at top
    at St. George's Cathedral
    St. George putting the
    dragon in his place. 
  • Next up was Bethlehem downtown and Church of the Nativity, birthplace of Jesus. As we were in the West Bank, we were required to be assigned a Palestinian tour guide. Our guide was Fayrooz, a Christian lady. We were unable to visit the actual “site” of the birth as the line up was 3-4 hours long, compliments of the cruise ship crowds. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see St. George’s Byzantine style church over the top, which has had an interesting history. We followed up with an authentic Palestinian lunch at St. George’s Restaurant. St. George, of dragon slaying fame, seemed to be a big feature, of this area.
  • Back to the bus and then on to Jerusalem and the Old City en route to the Wailing Wall for the end of the day. First stop was the site of The Last Supper and also Pentecost. Once again it was cruise line chaos. Our tour guide gave up apologizing for the crowds. We were in the church when a large group started to get into the spirit and the noise level became unbearable. A security guard came and asked them to quieten down, but they ignored him, at which point he activated an ear-splitting siren. It was a standoff, but the guy with the siren had the biggest toy and eventually the noisy group conceded and vacated the building. Obviously, this kind of thing had happened before.

    Roman columns below
    current street level
    Roman roadway underneath new Jerusalem homes
  • From there we walked through the Armenian then and on into the Jewish Quarters, observing the incredible multiple levels of ruins and excavations including new houses built after the 1967 Six Day War after the Jordanians flattened the Jewish quarter after taking it from the Israelis in the only battle lost by the Israelis in the 1948 war.
  • Final stop of the day was the Wailing Wall about 45 minutes after the Shabbat (Sabbath) siren went off at 4pm. We noticed black coated, and large hatted, Hassidic Jews streaming down the lanes and alleyways towards the wailing walls. Many were decked out in amazing headgear, each of which are made of mink and cost about $2000.

    The Wailing Wall. Hassidic Jews gather here
    every Sabbath to pray fervently
    After making sure we all had adequate head covering, we could go down, men on the left, women on the right and blend in with crowd who were praying, singing, chanting and dancing. Some of the young men particularly were almost in a religious frenzy. It was very impressive. Rani, our tour guide is not one to mince his words. His opinion of the Hassidic Jews is that, “They are the scum of the earth. They refuse to do military service, don’t pay taxes and don’t work. They are parasites.” Whew. Harsh words, but not enough to mute the pleasure of a very special experience.
  • Finale - the dinner hall back at our hotel was wall to wall crowded. Many of the Hassidic Jews were coming to enjoy the fruit of someone else’s labor in having prepared a lovely meal. As Rani says, “they always figure out a way around their own rules”.

    Israel- Saturday Nov 2nd (Israeli Parliament, Garden Tomb, En Kerem, Via Dolorosa Jerusalem)
  • Because of the crowds Rani has suggested we do the 14 Stations of the Cross in reverse. We took his advice, which by and large worked out, with one or two notable exceptions.
    Giant Menorah close to
     Israeli Parliament 
  • We began with a visit to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. We also saw the massive Menorah donated to Israel by a German Jew who moved to UK in 1933.
  • Next stop - the Garden Tomb. This is run by a Christian charity using volunteers from all over the world. Our guide was Stuart Bell, a retired pastor from Wales. Man, he was a preacher par excellence. He took us to the site of Golgotha and did an excellent job of explaining why they believe this is the authentic location of the crucifixion versus the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which we’ll visit later in the day. Stuart then took us to the tomb once again doing a great job of explaining why they think it is the actual tomb in which Jesus was laid.
    This could have been the tomb where
    Jesus was laid to rest. 
    It had the right feel to me. We then went on to a spot in the garden where we could have communion. Jasmine and Devon, our two young lady ministers did a wonderful job of leading us in communion and a song or two. This experience easily is the most meaningful to date. Thank you, Jesus, for what you suffered to pay my penalty in full. I love you Lord.
  • On to En Kerem in the hills of Judaea to the site which commemorates the birth of John the Baptist including the cave where they hid baby John when Herod sent out his “kill the babies” edict. It is an Orthodox Church, but in process of being renovated so the visit was a bit of a dead loss.
  • Back to Jerusalem for the final leg of our tour to the Jaffa Gate and the Old City.
    Jerusalem Old City
    has a multiplicity
    of small shops
    Rani took us down through the narrow lanes and alleys of the Muslim Quarter to the Christian Quarter for us to browse for some lunch and do some last-minute shopping. I think he doesn’t like his clients to give business to the Muslims unless absolutely necessary. Cher and I went looking for a coffee and then wandered looking for deals. I found a large peanut/ nougat bar which initially cost $5 but finally dropped to $3. When carefully counting out my notes the young guy kept snatching at my wad and I had to keep swatting his hand away. At the end he laughed as he had just been pushing his luck. We found some nice souvenirs in a shop owned by “the last Armenian in the Christian Quarter. He said to us “you don’t look like Americans; you must be Canadians”. I said “l’ll take that as a compliment and he nodded his head emphatically. Us Canadians are such nice people.
  • After lunch we went off to tackle the Via Dolorosa in reverse. This is the route that Jesus walked to Golgotha.

    Worshippers laying prostate over
    Jesus' "tombstone"
    The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was next and en route we saw a group from Bus# 30 from MSC Cruise Lines and we knew we were in trouble. This church was ornate to the nth degree, but the most fascinating thing was the behavior of many folks. Kneeling and kissing stones, lying on altars and rubbing cloths and scarves on the stone that Jesus reputedly was laid out on were all the order of the day. We observed all of this whilst pushing our way between bodies to keep moving forward. I dread to think of what might have happened if anyone had called out “Fire”. We were glad to get out of there. The rest of the Via Dolorosa was in reverse and the crowds slowly thinned out.
  • We ended our tour at St Anne’s Church, commemorating the healing by Jesus of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. The church was built by the Crusaders about 800 years ago and had 9-foot-thick walls giving it great acoustics. Group after group was coming to the front and singing acapella. It was an exquisite way to end our tour of the Holy Land watching the nations from every tribe and tongue singing God’s praises. Thank you, Father God, for a wonderful pilgrimage to the where it all began and, as we were reminded this morning, by Steve Bell, at the Garden Tomb, the church just keeps growing apace. These memories we will cherish for the rest of our days.

    Jordan - Sunday, Nov 3rd (Jerusalem, Jaresh, Amman)
  • Sadly, we are departing Jerusalem. Our hotel had the cleverest elevator yet known to mankind- at least to this man. I may be a slow adopter of technology but am happy to be a distant admirer. In this case, my hand was forced. If I didn’t learn how the elevator worked, I had 20 stories to climb.
  • We were met in the lobby by a rather grumpy older man, working for our tour company, who said one word and beckoned us to follow him. Turns out we are traveling with a bunch of South Americans and our “guide” seems to speak Spanish more naturally. We’ve done our fourth hotel pick up and are on our first 2.5-hour trip to the Jordan River border crossing with Jordan.
  • Leaving Israel and getting into Jordan has been a bit like moving from first to third world in the space of a few hours.
    Hot, tired and frustrated. Israel and Jordan are
    formally at peace, but you wouldn't know it
    from their border crossing. 
    The border crossing was tedious, lengthy, chaotic and hot. It was not helped by the fact that our tour company was splitting us into an English and Spanish group halfway through the border crossing. When we finally boarded the two buses some of the Spanish group had jumped ship and joined the English bus. This apparently was not allowed, and the culprits outed. Then they were called back when it was realized they would have to move their suitcases to the other bus involving emptying the whole bus. Having now produced our passports for the umpteenth time, we are about to leave having been here for about three hours.

    Rocky Jordanian countryside
  • We took a very interesting drive on a short cut route through the Jordanian countryside. It was very pretty with the hillsides covered with olive trees and a variety of other crops. There are an unbelievable number of stones and rocks everywhere so much so that all of the farm “hedges” are built of three foot wide rock fences. Much of the countryside is just undeveloped bush.
  • We arrived at about 3.15pm for our lunch stop. We were expected. The wait staff were all lined up outside greeting us like royalty as we filed in. We felt like lambs to the slaughter.
    "Upside Down" dinner
    We were offered a very nice buffet the centerpiece of which was a gigantic pot of “upside down”. They demonstrated how it was served and we all dutifully applauded. It was a very nice meal. We won’t be needing any dinner.
  • Due to the slow border crossing, by 4 pm we were rushing to see the Greco-Roman ruins of Jaresh as sundown was around 5pm. Also known as the city of a thousand columns it was spread over a massive area. Unfortunately, we only got about halfway through when the guards turned us back as it was closing time. Too bad as it was very impressive.

    There were some grand ruins
    at Jaresh - too bad
    time ran out on us. 
    Jaresh Postscript – we heard on the news two days later, that a knife wielding individual had attacked a group of 8 tourists in Jaresh, badly injuring four of them. The irony is that we had felt so safe, everywhere we went.
  • Back in the bus for a 1.5-hour ride to Amman to our very nice hotel in quite a nice upmarket part of the city. Our guide has just announced we have a 7.30am pick up tomorrow morning. It’s a long drive to Petra and we will have thousands of other keeners like us to wrestle with when we get there.

    Jordan - Monday, November 4th (Amman, Petra)
  • Up early this morning for the great Petra adventure. We were asked to be waiting ready to go for 7.30 am. The bus was ready for us with the rest of the group from the other hotels by 7.20am. Well wouldn’t you know we were in the bus and waiting by 7.30pm - except for one couple who eventually turned up after 8 am. There was a deathly silence in the bus as they endured our scorn. I don’t think anyone is talking to them. They didn’t even have the good grace to mumble an apology. Grrr.
  • By then our planned tour of Amman, which was supposed to happen yesterday was canned as Petra really is the goal for today. We drove through a few nice neighborhoods on our way out of town and then we hit the road for a 3.5-hour trip to Petra. Our tour guide, Aladdin, who is a very laid-back character, said he would now only allow one washroom break. Let’s hope his bark is worse than his bite.
  • The landscape en route was flat and brown, dotted here and there with the occasional signs of settlements or factories and of course the mandatory mosque wherever people live. Occasionally we would see flocks of sheep being watched by a shepherd. A proliferation of litter, lining the road on either side, is the one constant throughout, apart from the upmarket area we went through this morning.
  • We stopped for the promised washroom break. The toilet I went into did not have a seat and the rim was splattered beyond comment, along with no paper. I decided I wasn’t that desperate. Hopefully Petra would hold more delights than just ancient ruins. I emerged to find Cher in the shop in deep negotiations re a ring she had set her heart on. The deal was done, and Cher was a happy customer. Happy wife, happy life.

    These fine chairs can be had
    for a mere $20,000 (US)
  • We left our “five minute” stop after about 40 minutes with Aladdin announcing cheerfully that if anyone else needed the washroom before Petra he would be happy to stop by the nearest bush or rock. Cries of horror all around. Our daylight time in Petra is now nudging closer to 4 hours. We’ll see.
  • Finally, we arrived in Petra about 12.30pm and leapt into action. We had come a long way and spent thousands of dollars for these few hours.
  • Aladdin accompanied us about a third of the way in and then left us to do our own thing. Adjectives defy description as we walked down into the ancient city of Petra, but I will try. Grand. magnificent, spectacular, impressive and on and on.
  • ......and then it merges and pedestrians
    have to watch out!

    Entering Petra starts with a lane
    for pedestrians and one for horses.

    The narrow canyon was easily defended
    The path in starts off in the open. At the outset there is a track for the horses and carts and one for those on foot. The
    path is downhill all the way in. It is about 5 kilometers long all the way to the end, that is without detours and side trips. After about half a kilometer the cliff walls close in and we enter the Siq (canyon) proper. Visually it is breathtaking again and again. Probably the single biggest gasp moment was when we came upon the Treasury as we spied it through the gap between the rocks.
  • At this point Aladdin left us to explore. Time for a quick pit stop and a bite and then back on our way. It’s unlikely we will ever be back. We had to make the most of our time.

    The Treasury coming into view
    The top of the Treasury

    Cher, performing a stunt at The Theatre
  • On we went. The Theatre, Tomb of Kings, the Great Palace, Byzantine Church. Massively impressive. Such grandeur and in the back of one’s mind the knowledge of how the mighty have fallen. Is this our fate, or that of our children and grandchildren? Thank you, Lord, that whether we live or die we get to be with you for eternity. Whatever happens our story ends well.
  • Exhausted, we ended the long uphill walk back with a 0.7 km. horse ride back to the Visitor Centre and time for a quick tour of the Museum. It is extremely well done and answered a lot of the questions we had had along the way.
  • Further description is pointless. Save your pennies and plan to visit Petra. It is a bucket list must.
  • On to our hotel in nearby Wadi Musa for what would prove to be the best stop-over of our trip so far. The hotel has been designed as a mini ancient village. No high-rise buildings. To get to our room we walked through streets of mini houses (rooms). The rooms were large and spacious and lacked nothing. The best was yet to come.
  • Dinner was a buffet that would give the average member of royalty pause. The choice was staggering. We did our best but failed to empty the coffers of their exquisite cuisine. The Maitre’ D stopped by to check if we were happy. We showered him with praise, and he opened up to us. The hotel had been opened two years ago and was now owned and run by the local community. His grandfather had owned a plot of land where the hotel stood. All the staff are locals. A happy and proud man - he announced that the buffet we had just enjoyed was one of seven different menus for each night of the week.

    Wadi Musa - Actual ruins
    interpersed with hotel rooms
    Wadi Musa Hotel - designed to look
    and feel ancient. 
  • We took a walk around the hotel “village” to burn off our dinner. We came upon the indoor pool, gym and sauna, all deserted, manned by three young guys all looking bored stiff. The lifeguard, Aram, offered to show us around the property. He was another very proud Jordanian and showed us how the hotel was built around ancient ruins and how the ruins were incorporated into the design. Great fun listening to him and thanks to Google Translate, communication worked well.
  • Towards the end of our impromptu tour we spotted a little man in the hotel lobby making sprinkled sand bottles commemorating Petra.

    This man's work was exquisite
    For a small extra fee, we could personalize them by having him paint the names on the inside of the bottles. Our grandchildren will each have a small “wish bottle” to add to their own bucket list and hopefully it will still be possible for them to appreciate this Wonder of the World that we have enjoyed in the last 24 hours. Thank you, Lord, for yet another gracious blessing.

  • Jordan - Tuesday November 5th (Petra, Madaba, Mount Nebo, Allenby Bridge Border Crossing, Tel Aviv)
  • Today is a long bus drive back to Tel Aviv via Mount Nebo. I for one am happy for a day to tune out and catch my breath. Israel and Jordan have been wonderful. Turkey for nine days is next. Could it be as good? Will we last the rigors of such high impact tourism?
  • We pulled into the city of Madaba, near to Mount Nebo to see St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church. Downtown Madaba was a zoo. Our driver got stuck halfway across an intersection as there was a parked Mercedes sedan blocking the way ahead of him. For about 15 minutes traffic in four directions was blocked while the driver of the Mercedes was located.
  • We walked up through some touristy shopping streets to the Church, where we got a brief lecture on the early Mosaic Map of the Biblical world at that time (approximately 600 AD) which the church is famous for.
    Pomegranate squeezing - a common sight
  • On the walk back our guide, Aladdin, had arranged for us to buy a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. Madaba was a pleasant stop on a long drive. On to Mount Nebo.
  • Next up was the Arts River Works shop which specializes in modern day mosaic work but with lots of biblical themes. They give work to 400 handicapped folk who work from home. We were given a 10-minute display of how the work is done and then let loose to shop. Oh, my goodness the prices were not cheap, so we fed our shopping need by window shopping instead. Onward and upward.

    Mosaic artwork technique
    on display
    Tired, but not defeated
  • Mount Nebo - the mountain top from which Moses saw the Promised Land before dying. Unfortunately, the view was very hazy, but he would have had a very good view from there.
    The site from which Moses viewed
    the Promised Land
    The area has been bought by the Franciscans. They have excavated beautiful Byzantine church mosaics dating back to the mid 500s AD and built a new church over the top incorporating the ancient mosaics into the floor under glass. This was the end of our tour of Jordan and a fitting way to end our visit to the Holy Land. Thank you, Father, that we are inheritors of the promise and that so much that we have seen has been anticipating or confirming that. Next stop Tel Aviv before embarking on Chapter 2 namely Turkey.
  • It was a long trip back to Tel Aviv for our final night. The eight of us needed some supper so we ventured out and finally found a pub nearby. It was sad to think this would be our last time together, but it was good to review all we had experienced over the last 8-9 days, marveling at our good fortune at all we had opportunity to enjoy.

    Our travel buddies - we shared some great moments together. 
  • The eight of us had a final breakfast together before heading for the airport and back to whatever came next for each of us.