Day 31: Archaelogical Dig at Beit Guvrin

Trip Start May 14, 2008
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Trip End Jun 17, 2008


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Sunday, June 15, 2008

You would think by now that we have had enough of archaeological sites, but since we really enjoy visiting these sites, we have arranged to join the Dig for a Day program offered by Archaeological Seminars (www.archesem.com).  It seems like an interesting experience to learn first hand about the process that has uncovered so many of the ancient sites we have enjoyed visiting!  

We are renting a car from Eldan today and taking this opportunity to see some of the countryside west of Jerusalem before meeting our group at Beit Guvrin at 2 PM.  It is important to reserve your space on this dig well in advance and we had signed up via email during our trip planning from the U.S.  

At Eldan, we ask for the excess waiver so we don't have to be concerned about possible this and thats upon return.  Our counter agent tells us that it is only available with rentals of a minimum of 3 days.  He speaks with his manager and says that even though we are renting for one day, we can buy three days of excess waiver and get the extra coverage! Such a deal!  Harvey does not like to yell so he asks one of the other agents if she would yell at our agent like an Israeli would.  Our agent replies that they are trained to handle that situation!  We decline the excess waiver and decide that we were much too nice to the agent.

Off on our drive!  At the start, we feel like pros as we recognize the roads we have driven on in the taxis to the Knesset and Yad Vashem.  We turn onto a small side road and wind our way towards Ein Kerem. Be careful navigating here, in the blink of an eye you can be through it, which is what happened to us!  We keep moving on rather than figuring out how to turn around on the windy, tight road.  Our plan is to take some of the smaller roads through the Judean Hills, following the suggestions from Frommers, to get a feel for the physical geography and some of the geographical challenges of getting supplies through to Hadassah Hospital and Jerusalem during the War of Independence.  These are rolling hills, deep valleys, winding roads.  We imagine defending the convoys and appreciate the difficulty involved.  We stop along the way and take a walk along a ridge line with beautiful expansive views.  It feels so good to breathe air and be out in nature again!  There are great views of the road twisting and turning as it hugs the side of the hills, uncluttered vistas with hills, rocks, and trees.  It is quiet except for the few sounds of birds, a light breeze and the occasional passing car on the nearby road.  We take a detour to check out some new development homes that we see advertised.  This involves driving on a winding road for a while.  We start to wonder where this will lead. Eventually we come to a gated community.  This is not like the gated community in which we live.  This one has serious gates and high walls with barbed wire above.  After evaluating the situation we decide to skip the sales pitch and return to the main road.

It is time to find our lunch place, allowing time for us to get lost. We get onto Route 38, where the hills are much lower and we can now see the agricultural area.  We have two restaurant suggestions and we are not sure which is the closest.   After turning into a moshav and asking for directions from a pretty young girl (Harvey always find pretty young girls) talking on her cell phone, we come to the conclusion that her directions couldn't possibly be correct.   So, we turn around and now I see on the map a town that seems to ever so roughly match the name that I wrote down from Hadass at Archaeological Seminars.  I had written it down as I had heard her say in on the phone, and that is always an opening for error for me!  Anyway, we go to another moshav and ask and they direct us back down the road just a bit.  We had seen something like an old home set in a grape field, but the signage was all in Hebrew.  This time, Harvey finds the dirt road leading through the grape field, we park and walk in and sure enough it as a restaurant AND is the one recommended by Hadass!

This restaurant is called Hapa'amim, or Bells Restaurant.  It is charming, in a country setting with a welcoming, friendly owner and waitress.  With their little English and Harvey's growing Hebrew vocabulary we do fine.  We are the only patrons in the restaurant so the service is great!  None of us can communicate regarding an item on the menu so the owner comes out with a fresh eggplant and says that it is his specialty. Harvey doesn't like eggplant, but I do, so we decide to give it a try for one of our dishes. I am so glad we did, because it is the best eggplant served over tahini that we have ever had!  

During lunch, Harvey talks again about when he dies he doesn't want to say "I only wish I had..." We talk about what we want and hope for.  We are surrounded by the cultivated grape vines, reminded that with sun, water, fertilizer as well as time, patience and care, they will grow into something special and be ready to harvest. Just as we can do with our own lives.  How many times do you put off doing something because you think you will have another opportunity?  Usually it is the things that we don't do that cause regret, not the things we do.

If you would like to eat at Hapa'amim, note that all the signs seen from the road are in Hebrew.  Take a look at our photos so can see what the building looks like.  It is on Route 38 south toward Beit Guvrin. After the turn off for 375, start looking on the left for Giv'at Yeshayahu.  Right before the left you will see the restaurant on your left in the field of grapes.  Make your next left and the first left onto the dirt road that takes you through the fields and to the restaurant.  You can call for detailed directions (02-9951944).  Another restaurant that both Hadas and Madeleine Lavine had recommended is Tavlin, which is a dairy restaurant that also has on its grounds a spice store and wine boutique.  This is near Moshav Esh Taol, 20 minutes from Beit Guvrin.  Based on the small road that we had driven on, we ended up too far south on Route 38 to consider this option.

From Hapa'amim, it is a short ten minute drive to the gas station where we meet the Archaeological Seminars tour for our Dig for a Day program at Beit Guvrin.  We arrive a few minutes early, park the car, purchase some drinks from the convenience store and sit down to wait.  After a short time a group arrives and greets us.  They sit at the next table and surprise one of their members with a birthday cake.  They have extra so they offer us some, but we can't eat creamy rich foods.  Pity!  We are wondering if anyone else is coming.  Then they arrive.  Most of the people show up with guides and vans.  There are several groups of about 15-20 people each.  The three hour program is over in the blink of an eye; we are busy every minute and it is both fascinating and fun!   We walk over to the live archaeological expedition cave and get the cliff notes version of how to dig, using the pick and trowel.  We learn to look for pottery, bones and coins, how to recognize them and to clean them.  

We walk over to the entrance and the guides decide that we should separate into two groups.  The kid's enter here.  The adults are marched over to another entrance that is wider and less steep.  Most of us have no problem going down.  However, one woman refuses to enter because she is concerned about going down a ladder. What a shame to have come all this way, knowing what to expect and then giving in to your fears.  Within minutes of trolling, we are uncovering pottery shards!  I have been crouching down to do this and just get caught up in the excitement so that I get on my knees, then just sit down in the dirt and dive right in, dirt, dust and all.  I just let go.  We can't believe it when Harvey uncovers a pottery piece with markings! I uncover a part of a handle. Right here! We are sure they had been planted there the previous night for us to find.  We are part of the bucket brigade carrying up the dirt and stones from underground.   Above ground, we use another contraption to sift through the dirt to see what we may have missed in the poor light below.  We find a few more pottery shards and bone fragments.  Included in the afternoon program is a tour of an underground olive press, which we finally get to see.  Now on to an unexcavated cave and a bit of spelunking.  Candles had been placed strategically so we could see where we are walking.  We can see man made bricks.  We get on our backs and slide through short holes from one section to another.  Very cool! We end the Dig at the pottery shed where we see other finds from the area.  They show some gold earrings that someone had found in the cave in which we had worked.  This is unusual.  Someone must have dropped those earrings and lost them over 2000 years ago. We are allowed to choose some pottery shards to take home, which I do.   It is hard to believe that I am holding in my hand pottery remnants 2,300 years old!  All and all, this was lots of fun and we learned a lot and now we will have more appreciation when walking through archaeological sites.  

We could easily have spent the day at Beit Guvrin, with three hours for the Archaeological Seminar Dig and then a few hours seeing other parts of the park.  But, we have a concert at 8 PM in Jerusalem waiting for us.  Like old hands, we navigate and drive back to our hotel on Route 1, so much shorter going back on the direct route!

The surrounding area of west Jerusalem, like everywhere else in Israel, is full of small interesting places waiting to be explored.  There are plenty of options for several days in this area.   For ideas, refer to this web link:  http://www.touryoav.org.il which does have English pages.  For us, that will have to wait for a return trip to Israel.

Back in Jerusalem, we take a quick shower and walk over to the Tower of David.  What a place to be at sunset! And what a beautiful, unbelievable setting for a concert!  We listen to two jazz bands, one from Germany and the other from Brazil.  The musicians use their instruments to communicate, as in another language.  One soloist is surely communicating from his heart.  We meet two young ladies at the concert.  One is a medical student from Italy who is doing an internship at Hadassah Hospital.   The other is from Germany doing an internship in the organization that coordinates all the concerts during the festival. What a way to end the day!
 
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