Trip Start Sep 05, 2012
25Trip End Feb 07, 2106
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So I'm back in Birmingham for Christmas with the James family. They have a house in north Wales that they inherited, so we'll be heading up there for Christmas next week. Cool thing is though is that the house is just a village away from the Bron Wendon crew that I run that Christian conference I went to at the start of my trip, so ill pay them a visit or two if I can.
Anyway I'm just going to blog about Israel, and will be from a Christian view. I'm a Christian, so if your not really into spiritual stuff and hate hearing about it, or your not of the same faith and hate hearing about Christianity, tuff luck and don't read this post.
So day 16 we set off from Jordan to Israel. Boarder control is pretty intense as you can imagine, especially on the Jordan side. so me, with my massive bushranger beard, got questioned quite a bit, but I got through ok with a smile and an honest answer or two.
We got into our motel, which was the last motel we stayed at of the tour. It was about 5-10min walk from the old city of Jerusalem. That afternoon it was poring with rain so it was until late that ben, tess and myself got to go for a walk down to the old city. We didn't get to see a whole lot, but we did walk through a cemetery that was just outside the Islamic quarter and overlooked the Mary Magdalen cathedral and the garden of gethsemane (the garden Jesus prayed at the night before his crucifixion).
Day 17 was the most amazing and most spiritual day of my whole trip. We started the day off by meeting our guide, David. David is a Palestinian Christian, who was full of knowledge about religion and history, and was pretty passionate about it.
We started the day by heading up tot he mt of olives. That's was pretty cool because we got a good view over the city and David gave us a good summary of the history of Jerusalem.
After that we went back down the mount to the garden of gethsemane. The garden of gethsemane is now a cathedral, with a really pretty garden of olive trees. One of the trees dates back to when Jesus was kicking about. Inside the cathedral at the alter on the ground is the rock which Jesus prayed on before his crucifixion. The cathedral has no natural direct light shining in and is fairly dark, with just a light in the rock. The windows are heavily tinted purple, the colour of royalty, the same colour he was cloaked in by the Romans when he was crowned with the thorns. From the moment I walked into the garden I felt an intense feeling which was further intensified when I saw the rock at the front of the church. The feeling was like no other, kind of a mix between anxiety, love, sorrow, and a pinch of anger and confusion, but all at the same time being gobsmackingly humbled, or maybe it was all these feeling I felt on continuous rotation, or furthermore was it a feeling I felt that I was not meant to understand because I'm not Jesus or god?
So if your a bit confused because your really not sure about what I'm talking about, the garden of gethsemane, like a said before, is the garden Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. Its also the garden he was betrayed in by his disciple judas to the Jewish leaders. After this point he was in the captivity of the Romans and the Jews and had no further choice in the matter, I guess that's why it felt so intense because at this point he still had the choice and asked for another option. I mean, he had the power to perform any miracle, but he gave in to his fathers will.
Im not trying to preach, but The bible says in mark 14:36, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" and similar in luke 22:42 "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." So he didn't really want to die, and he was extremely stressed about it too, so much so that they say he sweat blood. Luke 22:44 says "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." At this point he had the choice to do his own will, which probably would have been to avoid the whole thing and make a run for it, or his fathers will, which was to give in and die on the cross for our sins.
Some would say that it this point and location, Christianity was born, some would also say it was born in Bethlehem, or nazareth where mother Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. either way the Garden of gethsemane was a vital, if not the most vital, point in Jesus's life, and feelings when visiting it is very hard to describe.
Afterwards we walked over to the tomb of mother Mary, which is empty, and is now a Armenian Orthodox Church, we walked in on one of the daily prayers carried out by about 5 -10 priests with singing and smoke things on the end of chains. It was very smokey but pretty cool. It's believed that Mary's body was berried there, but angels came down and took it to heaven. I'm not really sure where that story came from but David was pretty insistent it was the truth, and that's what that church believes anyway.
After that we went inside the old city and checked out the western wall, aka the wailing wall. It's the western wall of the temple of David (the Star of David, David), well it's actually just the bottom 2-3 blocks of it, but it means a stack to the Jews as you can imagine. The Jews go every day, especially on Friday nights and pray, sing, dance, cry, read the bible etc. the wall is divided into one quarter for the women and 3/4 for the men. This is because the men find it distracting having the girls within sight of them while praying. The Jews are really friendly and are happy for tourist to go down to the wall and pray, take photos and what not, just as long as you put on a kipper (Jewish cap) that they supply. It was really cool.
After that we went up to the church which is built over the gate which all people had to crawl through when being crucified. Then we went up to the epic cathedral built by the crusaders, that covers the spot where the cross was positioned, the tomb was found, and the cross was found by lady Helena. The cathedral was really epic with some really beautiful mosaics, but the decorations took away from the sites I think. Also I didn't really get as much of a feeling as I did with the garden of gethsemane, maybe because of all the distracting decorations, but I think like a said before that Jesus had already given in to gods will and the bad stuff was over or almost over at this point.
After this we had some lunch and then took of into Palestine territory behind the guarded walls to Bethlehem. Once again the manger was covered with another cathedral, this time a Greek Orthodox one. The manger is actually under the alter, and the little wooden ,anger you see in the movies is actually built into rock. Going in there was really cool, I couldn't help but be in a really happy excited mood there, also there was nigerian tour group under there that started to pray and sing and clap their hands... I got involved with some amens and hallelujahs!!!
After that we went to the holocaust museum. It's really cool, and well worth visiting, except we only had about 90min to see it and the workers started ushering us out after 30min. so we didn't get to see it properly, which was very disappointing.
Day 18. In the morning we set of for Nazareth. It's a pretty cool place, a lot bigger then described in the bible. It's a city now, where in the bible days it was about 300 people large. We walked up the hill to the Church of the Annunciation, which is a double story Catholic Church over top of the site where Joseph's house was, and where the arch angel Gabriel came to mother Mary the night she was conceived. It was a really beautiful church, again more mosaics, and it was well lit with lots of colours. I didn't get too many vibes, or I did but none measured up to the ones I got in the garden of gethsemane. Anyway, it was really cool to go see and a must if your going to Israel.
After that we took off to the Sea of Galilee (which is actually a lake) and is mentioned in the bible numerous times. It's the water Jesus walked on, the place he calmed the storm when his disciples all thought they were going to capsize and drown, actually it's around this sea/lake he performed stacks of miracles mentioned in the gospels. We spent the rest of the day along the side of it at different locations.
First we checked out the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes. It's said that this place is the place where Jesus fed 5,000 men with just 2 fish, and 5 loaves of bread, mentioned in the gospels Mathew and Mark I think. It was a cool place, there is a rock at the alter which was used as a sorting and preparation rock by the fishermen of the day. Also they believe this is the place because they found an ancient mosaic of 2 fish and a basket of bread just below that rock, which would have been part of the original church built there.
second we checked out the ruins of Capernaum, which is the town Jesus used as his home when he was older and started doing the works of his father, kind of like a head quarters. It's said that this town was full of sinners a low life's, so Jesus based himself there because he came for the sick and needy, not the healthy and wealthy. Also this is where the disciple Peter's mothers house was, which is the place where Jesus stayed and set up his preaching. The synagog where Jesus use to perform miracles on the Sabbath is just across the way as well. A new Synagog was built on top of it since during roman times, but some excavations show the foundations of the original synagog.
After capernaum, we had lunch, and had a whole deep fried St. Peter fish. It's the same breed of fish that the disciple Peter found 2 silver coins inside after being told by Jesus to go catch a fish. 2 silver coins was just enough to keep the tax man happy.
After that we went up to Mount of Beatitudes, where a there is a chapel at the top of a hill that commemorates Jesus's delivery of the Sermon on the Mount. It's been tested that the acoustics of the Sea of Galilee and is banks are so good that you can hear a loud mans voice from all the way around it.... It's a pretty big lake! But it was retested only recently. So they believe that people on the Jordan side of the sea could have sat on the bank and listen to Jesus preach.
Day 19. First we we to the baptismal site on the Jordan river, where John the Baptist use to call people to repent and be baptised, and where he baptised his cousin, Jesus. The river is more like a creek these days, and the actual site is on the Jordan side, about ten metres away. Except for the road into the site, about 1km wide, along the Jordan river is no mans land with mine fields and what not. I understand why Israel do this, but it kind of takes away from the holy baptismal site when you have a bunch of dudes marching around with machine guns, and massive mine fields and the like.
After that we went to the Jewish fortress of Masada, which was used by the Romans and heaps of different kings and what not during different times. It's a massive mountain with a flat top which was used as like a naturally fortified town. It's most popular for the epic tale of the zealots (I think jewish rebel group?) who ran from the Romans to the top Masada. They camped out there for ages until the roman built a ramp up, which is still there, then they all decided to kill one another apposed to becoming roman slaves. You oldies might remember the epic block buster 'Masada' released in the 60s or 70s i think, which tells the story.
We then had lunch and drove over to the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. That wasn't that cool, but the ruins of a trippy all male Jewish sect that wrote the scrolls was interesting. These guys were pretty intense, the all bathed 3 times a day in the same bath water day in day out, ate stacks of garlic, leeks, and dates (which dates causes your bones to become pink, so they have found), and were not allowed to poo or wee from Friday morning until Saturday sundown. Trippy dudes but they are the reason we have the Dead Sea scrolls today.
After that we took off to Jericho. We were only there for about 30min. But it was cool to see the oldest functioning city in the world. There isn't a lot there except they have excavated up a corner part of an original city wall, known as the tower of Jericho. They reckon it dates back to 8000BC. Look it up! Pretty interesting stuff. From that point you can look over to mt Nebo (the place Moses stood when he finally saw the promise land. What was the most amazing thing though is that Jericho is part of the West Bank (Palestine), and when you go across the boarder it kind of turns very third word again, I mean I expected poverty and what not, but even the driving became crazy again.
After that we went back to the wailing wall to check out a Friday evening. It was going off! It was completely chock a block full, with people singing and dancing in their Jewish dancing circles, and are more then happy for people to join in. There are stacks of young army guys and girls jumping around enjoying the afternoon off, and celebrating, they still have their machine guns with them though. All of Jerusalem has army kids kicking about, and yes they are kids because they are conscripted at I think 16 or 17, and they get sent around the country to important locations learning about their own history and what not.
That was it for the tour. Day 20 wasn't really a tour day, I just sat around waiting to go to the airport. The airport was pretty extreme, again with my beard, I got stopped at every check point and questioned, and they check every bit of luggage you have even before you check in. I can understand why though.
I had a ball in Israel, I think it was my most favourite country, I guess just because it means a lot to me, but it is kinda cool too. People are very friendly, you don't get hassled all the time by vendors and this are still fairly cheap. Also it's very clean. I had a heaps good time kicking about with ben and tess, because they are both Christian and love chatting about that sort of surf too. The rest of the group were all pretty cool too and made the whole trip fun and were always good for a laugh.