Our Lufthansa flights over were wonderful--two seats shared with my roommate at the front of the upstairs cabin with a stewardess who seemed to think she was our personal server on the long flight from Houston to Frankfort, and we had a pleasant flight on to Tel Aviv. On arrival we were to look for a man holding a sign that said "Creativity and Madness." We searched and looked and didn't see him, nor did we see our friends who were on the same flight. They finally came, but we hadn't found our driver to take us to Jerusalem! We finally resorted to the emergency number we had been given and explained that with our flight late (about 30 minutes), we had missed him. No, he had been there. Whatever! We joined our two fellow participants who had been waiting, lovely Atlanta ladies in long skirts who didn't seem particularly glad to see us. (They would be two of my favorite people in the group!)
On our arrival at the King David Hotel, our home for the first five days, I was amazed that we were there! Our lovely room had a small deck, and the view of the old Y welcomed us.
The next morning, I entered the dining room for breakfast ahead of my friends, to find such an amazing array of food spread on several tables, that I wandered from one to another looking for something I considered eating at 8 am. As I looked, I noticed that others from our group were hugging and exclaiming greetings to each other. Obviously many or maybe most had been on other "conferences" with Creativity and Madness. And as a woman I connected with at breakfast a couple of days later said, they didn't reach out to her or did they to me. I found the eggs, fruit, yogurt, croissants and tried a couple of items I still can't name, found an empty table, and looked for a server with coffee. By that time my friends arrived.
Our first day was spent in Jerusalem's "Old City" with LOTS of walking on uneven streets and dark tunnels. We had arrived at the hotel about 5:30 pm, but others had arrived much later, and some weren't the most able for all the walking.
I spent the first part of the tour more in awe than with complete attention to all that our guide was saying and was glad I had read a lot before the trip. We walked by the Armenian Quarter, which doesn't welcome tourists, and headed into the cobbled streets, walking past many shops, stopping when our guide described ancient points, looking down through layers of stone. Our most memorable sight early was the Western Wall which we didn't get close to as we were headed for the underground part of the wall. My roommate and I would later go back to the women's wall and pray with women who were reading from their prayer books, a moving experience.
Before entering the tunnel that traced the length of the wall, we split into two groups, and I was with a young man originally from California, who had become an Israeli citizen and was an excellent guide insight the tunnel. At one spot, there were several women seated, with open prayer books praying softly. I took no photos of the women praying at either place as it seemed to be intrusive, but of all the sights in the Old City, it is the commitment of those women to prayer that has stayed with me. In the tunnel, our guide pointed to Herodian and older signs of civilization.
Our group went ahead of our regular guide's group, so waited on the street for them with folks questioning the young man about political issues. He was so adamant that only Israelis should be in any of the land, no Palestinians anywhere, that I walked away and right into a Christian station of the cross. The stations are all through the old city, many only a sign on a building hardly noticeable with throngs of people walking by. When Dena came out, she talked about the one below--where Jesus falls with the cross the first time.
To the side, both the entrance to and the walkway between two Franciscan chapels traditionally thought to mark the area where Jesus was condemned to death. I walked the portico alone so I could give its meaning thought, the only place of quiet I found around the stations. Then I was joined by a woman from the group, a Lutheran who was a bit annoyed that Dena said only Catholics honored the stations of the cross.
After this we disbursed for lunch at various cafes in the area, one group, including my friends, left for a Kosher restaurant farther away. My roommate and I went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, up the stairs to the chapel of the stripping of Jesus garments. That entire area was filled with people, the line to kiss or touch the stone that was supposedly cracked by the earthquake when Jesus died, stretching long. I did stop and look at the statue of Christ on the cross over the ornate Greek altar that stands over the rock, but had a hard time envisioning the crosses of Calvary in all that glitz. Obviously others felt differently.
The stone that represents the stone of unction, where Christ's body was prepared for burial is in the area where we first entered the church, realistic enough to touch and feel what it might have been like, and without a big crowd around.
The dome of the cathedral was lovely, and few were noticing. We rushed back to find a quick salad lunch, helped by the owner of a sidewalk cafe who was jolly and helpful, knowing that we had yet another tunnel to walk through. It was the City of David tunnel that slopes down over wet-slick stones to a point where one can view the spring of Gibon, given its name by King David when he conquered the city. It is possible to go into the spring and wade, but we did not do this. The tunnel isn't the one King David used but was hewn in a later area, but another route to the spring has been discovered so the story remains. This tunnel was often poorly lit and even those of us who were sure-footed touched the stone to be sure we were going down the stairs and passed along warnings of puddles and uneven stairs. Interesting yes, but there were shouts of joy and clapping (as soon as we could free both hands safely) as we saw daylight ahead.
We had the area below pointed out to us a couple of times--an Arab community across from the old city, with a sign for a food bank, built above a cemetery, where it shouldn't have been--and the Israeli government had left it alone, providing services as in the entire city.
A very few of us stayed on the bus when others embarked at the hotel for a shortened version of the promised panoramic tour of the city. We were taken to a great city overlook where merchants and owners of a camel and a donkey pushed their wares. My roommate and I posed by the overlook's fence. The foreground of the photos below show a Jewish cemetery. Back at the hotel, we showered and dressed for the conference's opening dinner.
The next day's driver tour that took Simone and me to the Mt. of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and other Christian and interesting sites will have to wait for the next blog!