Tuesday, June 23, 2015
An amazing trip, our experiences ran into each other. Walking down the Jerusalem sidewalk to the Tower of David Museum for the Night Spectacular Light Show was much like walking in any city. The Spectacular, using 3-D technology with a name that means "deceiving the eye," projected onto the Tower's walks, walls and turrets the history--Greek, Roman, Crusader, Ottoman--with life-like soldiers on horses, with armor, people hiding, and then breaking into song. Our guide said that she had been a member of the children's choir whose voices were used in the drama. Walking back through the old city, I stopped with other women in a couple of shops--art and skin care, different only in that Dead Sea skin care products were featured and prayer shawls and Jewish art was on display.
We were reminded by Dena, our guide, and anyone else who had an opportunity that Israel wasn't an aggressor, but was protecting herself. Their neighbors didn't want them to exist so self-protection was essential. She told of two narrow escapes, barely missing buses that were blown to bits a few blocks later. No buses had been bombed since the wall was built. She was sorry that some Palestinians had difficulties, but Israel needed the wall for protection. With her experiences, it wasn't hard to understand her point of view. I mentioned the second guide in the tunnel and his more extreme view. Our driver was the most even in his attitude. Members of the family who hosted the Shabbat dinner who had or were serving in the military were proud of their service, but didn't speak so stridently of Israel's choices of protection. The two speakers at Independence Hall were not only proud of their country and its heritage, but vehement about Israel's need for protection and the prejudice of the international press. Our Druze host was proud that their Arabic-speaking young people serve in the Israeli military in greater numbers than most other groups. I was struck by the pride of Israeli Military service. Our former Californian guide at the Bio Bee Kibbutz was proud of her military service too. It echoed the feelings of those Americans who fought in our World Wars I and II--fighting as righteous warriors against evil aggressors.
I visited with my massage therapist in the Mizpe Ha-Yamim Hotel. She, too, expressed vexation with the news media. From Detroit, she was an Israeli citizen but visited relatives in the US. She was more sympathetic with the difficulties of the Palestinians but like others, felt that what Israel was doing was self-preservation.
The bus drove us from one interesting spot to another, often stopping only long enough for a vignette. There are a few more stops that merit mention. Before our arrival at the International Dance Village, I wondered why it was on our agenda--and learned, after expressing my delight at the inspiring dance performance we saw, that it was one of the several stops on our agenda that had been a guess--this a lucky one. First we observed a class session where some of the movements we saw in performance were taught. Instead of eating lunch in their cafeteria, Simone and I walked through the village, enjoying the park-like spaces and walking down through an area of cottages where it appeared that students lived. We were told that the dancers come from all over the world.
Had we needed to hire a driver to take us to the Sea of Galilee, we might have missed one of the most inspiring of our stops--the Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed, also known as the Ziv Hospital, treating patients from the Upper Galilee and the northern Golan. The tour agenda said "Emergency Medical Services in Times of War." The folks above were sitting in the hospital's courtyard. One of few Israeli hospitals that treats patients from other nearby countries--Syria in this case, the area served is multi-cultural, and the hospital staff reflects that diversity. The Christian social worker who does intake spoke to us. He acknowledged that talking to Syrian young men who were likely soldiers after atrocities focused on Christians was hard at first, but their mission was medical care. The Syrians are brought to the border by their soldiers and transferred to the hospital by Israeli military ambulances. Some they treat are children and women, but the majority are young men of fighting age from the rebel armies. An Israeli surgeon, when questioned about whether the caring medical treatment received changed any minds and hearts, told of a young girl--nine or so years old, who after thanking him for her care, told him she would be back to kill him. He also told of a mother who managed to get her daughter back for a follow-up visit and was very grateful. He said the Syrians were taught to hate Israelis from birth and receiving good medical care at their hands didn't necessarily make a difference. (Recently I read of a Druze mob forcing a military ambulance to stop, attacking the Syrian occupants, after a Druze community in nearby Syria had been attacked by rebel fighters.) The hospital staff wanted their stories told, as they, like other Israelis we heard or met, believe the international press is prejudiced against them. Hospital lobby below:
The town of Safed was was filled with artists and art galleries of all varieties. We also heard a lecture/sales pitch from a Kabbalah rabbi (whom those of Jewish faith thought was bunk!). In the ancient city part of Safed, we visited a prison museum--a foreboding place.
Leaving Tel Aviv, after a delayed start with bus trouble, for our long ride to Eilat, we were fortunate to keep our planned stop at the Bedouin town of Lakiya. There we learned about the weaving that the women in that village were doing to earn a little money. They work in their homes as they aren't allowed to work outside. Our vivacious guide was new to her task and more friendly than expected. Others served us small cups of tea and/or coffee while we watched a demonstration of their weaving process. We hoped that in their homes with small looms, the women wouldn't be down on their knees while weaving!
Our bus continued to have problems so we were delighted when a new bus arrived driven by our regular driver. We still had a long drive ahead!
Our next stop was at the Mitzpe Ramon natural crater's visitors' center. This is not a crater as we think of it but a sizable area of erosion in the desert. From the edge of the visitors' center, we had an expansive view of the desert crater--sculpture-like formations and a vast area with a tiny bit of green here and there, a view of the highway we would be taking and distant hiking trails. We enjoyed our brief stop, moving quickly to board the bus for the rest of our drive through the desert to Eilat.
Playing for money, he wasn't shy about asking!
I was fascinated by the desert and took many photos from the bus as we drove through. It was unlike any desert I had seen with so little vegetation. If I didn't say so in my Petra blog, we drove two hours through the Jordan desert to reach Petra and saw traditional Bedouin tent communities in the distance. Our Jordanian guide said that the Bedouins are committed to educating their children so more and more, they are abandoning their nomadic ways.
Eilat is a tourist city with many huge hotels. All our rooms had a Red Sea view. It was for those who wished, a shopping mecca. We arrived in time to unload suitcases and do a quick sea walk or shopping (both for some) before eating. We were in Eilat one full day before we left for Jordan and Petra.
My foray into snorkeling in the Red Sea wasn't the best, as the sea was rough, the life "booster" minimal, and my mask never quite fit. The underwater photo is from the Underwater Observatory Marine Park--a delightful place. I did see beautiful coral in the sea, but not in the comfort I experienced other times.
Petra was a fitting ending to a marvelous trip--so much to see and take in, and such a varied and fascinating country! We flew back to Tel Aviv to spend the final afternoon and evening, with a 4 am bus to the airport. My final afternoon wasn't one I had planned. Simone and I agreed to go for a walk and a little shopping with a small woman doctor with more shopping energy than either of us had imagined. We shopped at an Israeli Mall--not one known for catering to tourists. We were certain of the customer base as our companion who wanted to do a "little" shopping bought several items for which she needed the VAT forms. After she seriously considered a briefcase in one high-end shop, the shop borrowed forms from another store to be ready when we returned. Our sushi lunch was at a bar-type place in the middle of the mall where we communicated by pointing and a few words.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
On the bus going out of Jerusalem, our guide gave her version of the settlements, describing what was "C" land, approximately 60% of the West Bank, and A and B lands. (Much displacement and hardship comes in the C land as a result of Israel's control of security matters and civil matters such as zoning and building permits--a simplified explanation.) She said this land is sparsely settled, and the Palestinians could live in Area A communities, which comprise about 18% of the land and all of the Palestinian cities.
Since I've covered Galilee, where we went from Jerusalem, I'll move on. From Galilee, we stopped at the Baha'i Gardens in Halfa--a beautiful place. We could only walk in a small part of the gardens as we weren't Baha'i, but viewed them from the top.
Traffic in Halfa and that leading into Tel Aviv made our travel slow. In Tel Aviv, we checked into another luxury hotel, this one with dramatic public spaces. The huge bathroom had only one sink and the shower was in a high tub with a small stationary shield to keep the water from the rest of the bathroom. I was not impressed with the design.
Eating and shopping seemed to be the primary agenda for most folks in Tel Aviv. Simone and I walked to Old Jaffa, beautiful along the sea, and found a delightful small Greek restaurant in which to dine. It was my favorite restaurant during the trip, though the next evening's dinner with the women from Atlanta was quite enjoyable too.
Simone and I spent the next day--Israel's Independence Day--away from the group. During the morning when most endured (or enjoyed) talks, we went to the Tel Aviv Art Museum--WONDERFUL! Arriving shortly after opening at 10, we left as the doors were closing at 2 pm--early because of Independence Day.
At the Greek restaurant in Jaffa
More happened in Tel Aviv--the birthday dinner for my benefactor and pushing through the outdoor market place. Try, on a Friday afternoon, arranging a dinner for eleven on Friday night in a busy city, especially one where many are closed for Shabbat. At the last minute we had a change and dined in a restaurant that was not on the tourist circuit. Yeah!
I will write one more post--overall impressions. In that post I will include the amazing staff at the hospital in Safed where they treat patients from across the border in Syria and the Bedouin women weavers.
Now Petra: First we had to cross the border into Jordan--at least a two-hour ritual of going through one check point and then another--two in each country--and there were thirty-nine of us. We then traveled by bus for another two or so hours through the desert to Petra.
Petra was created and settled by the Nabataeans, ancient Arab tribes who settled in Jordan more than 2200 years ago. They were clever and achieved a thriving kingdom that stretched to Damascus, including parts of the Sinai and Negev deserts, ruling the greater part of Arabia and controlling trade routes. This I learned from travel books and the brochure we were given in Petra as I only faintly knew of these ruins before looking at our travel agenda. It would have taken three or four days to do justice to these amazing ruins. We had about three hours, and folks moved slowly, limiting our tour sites.
Here -- the treasury, the jewel of Petra, comes into view from As-Sig. It was the tomb of a great king and perhaps was later used as a temple. You can gauge it's height by looking at the people below.
Most of our group walked beyond the treasury and saw more elaborate tombs of royalty.
Smaller tombs were those for the common people.
And we were supposed to climb these steps cut into the rock to the view from the High Place of Sacrifice--but most of the group ignored the pace of the guide, and again, a late lunch at a nearby restaurant was a priority.
After a quiet personal visit to the women's side of the Western Wall, we headed to the Mt. of Olives. Our driver wanted us to stop at the Church of the Pater Noster, celebrating the place where Jesus taught his disciples to prayer the Lord's Prayer. The prayer is on the church walls in many languages (in French above). An olive garden is open for walking. We stood in the garden at 10 am watching the streets in the distance as the siren to observe Holocaust Memorial Day sounded. Traffic came to a standstill. Tourists were silent. It was a striking minutes. On our return to the car, our driver was angry that many of the Arab drivers hadn't stopped.
Our next stop, the Garden of Gethsemane, was one of my favorites. The ancient olive trees were fenced, but we stood close on the walkway around the garden and experienced the trees, some, as the one below, perhaps old enough to have been young trees when Jesus walked this area. The church, built over the rock on which Jesus (supposedly) prayed before his betrayal and called the Church of All Nations, was built with funds from a number of countries, a number of denominations. It is a Roman Catholic church but can be used by other Christian denominations.
We walked to our next stop, recommended by our driver--the church where Mary, mother of Jesus is said to be buried (one of two or three). A man kept walking beside us, telling Simone that our driver had told him to give us a tour. Our driver had made a point of saying this might happen, but not to believe anyone saying he had sent them. The man said he would guide us around free. As in Bethlehem, I was let into the "tomb" area from the opposite side from the line, to light a candle there. It happened quickly, and I barely realized the significance. On our way out, the man asked Simone for money. She was adamant that he had said he would be our FREE guide. When we got back into the car, he beat on our driver's window, and they spoke. As we drove away, Devon said that was the way the man made his living.
Before going to the next stop on my agenda, Devon took us to King David's "tomb," and to the room on the site where the last supper was said to have been held. There were several tour groups there, seeming to be moved by this spare room. I wasn't among them.
We drove to the Bethesda pools and St. Anne's church, on my agenda from a book loaned by a Boulder church friend. The brochure we received upon paying our entrance fee said that pools beside the reservoir, which dated far earlier, were used for healing from about 150 BC and 70 AD. The excavations began in the late 1800s. The ruins are evocative. I found it easy to imagine Jesus healing a man by these pools.
Again the church was built on the site of an ancient church, one that commemorated Jesus' miracle and the birthplace of his mother, Mary. The spare church with few visitors had more sacred energy than the opulent altars surrounded by crowds. Here, I prayed at a side altar.
The gardens were also lovely, and we enjoyed them with few visitors in sight.
This ended our Christian tour. Next we visited the hospital where our tour group was scheduled to see the Chagall windows. The guide turned on the 30-minute DVD that acted as our guide and leftthe two of us to enjoy these marvelous creations by ourselves. I photographed most of them as I especially like both Chagall's work and glass creations. Below are two:
Yes, all the symbols have meaning; however, I chose to enjoy them rather than take notes.
We ended our day spending a couple of hours in the Israel Museum--a wonderful place--knowing that the next day's visit would allow barely time for viewing of the Dead Sea Scrolls, an awesome display.
On the day we saw the Dead Sea Scrolls, we also visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum--all moving, but for me, especially the Children's Memorial. It is hollowed out from an underground cavern, candles reflected in the dark space give the impression of stars shining in the heavens. The children's names, ages and places of birth are heard in the background. About 1.5 million children were murdered during that dark time.
Our last day we rode the bus--first to the Masada, where I looked longingly at those folks who had time to hike the switchbacks to the top while we stood in line for the cable cars to take us up. We did a quick tour, our guide and the couple leading making sure we didn't over tax those few who weren't so able. It is an imposing place but the rushed tour simply made me hunger for a more leisurely experience.
We needed to rush around the Masada because we had to make lunch at the Dead Sea. Lunch was as large and varied, spread on several tables and stands, as any of our breakfasts. Some had scheduled massages or facials too. Simone and I changed into our bathing suits and headed for the Dead Sea and our experience of floating in the salty water. My feet simply rushed out from under me. The photo is taken nearer the shore, but we floated farther out too. It was hard to do otherwise! The excitement was later, trying to get into a shower to rid our bodies of the salt and dress for our return trip. A bevy of Russian women were in the showers, shampooing their hair, bathing leisurely and letting another of their group into the stall before they exited. I made it to a shower and let one of our group in as I came out. Simone had given up and dressed.
That evening Simone and I looked out our window at the city, feeling that our visit to Jerusalem was too short.