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Friday, August 27, 2010

There is so much more to catch up on.....

I don't even know where to begin past Israel. But I think I will just shoot out some random things that I haven't blogged about yet.

In May I was the housekeeping departments nominee for employee of the month. I got a certificate, a $200 bonus that was taxed :(, 10 ticekts for lunch in the staff cafeteria, and two dinner vouchers for Pullman Place the nicest restaurant in the hotel. I was not selected employee of the month for the whole hotel, but that person gets and additional $350, a free night stay at the hotel, a free tour with the hotel, 20 tickets for staff caf and is in the running for employee of the year which gets a free week for two at the shade of green AFRC hotel in Florida with passes to Disneyworld and $1000 spending money. Pretty cool. Too bad I'm not in the running for that. But I was honored all the same. I missed the party to collect my award because we were traveling with my Mom, but that is okay because you know when you stand up in front of people waiting to hear a winner deep down hoping it will be you and then it isn't.... well that is sort of awkward I think, so I'm kind of glad I wasn't there.

Also recently I was given a permanent section at work. Section 8 on the 3rd floor is all mine. :) I like having my own section so I can see what to expect in the days to come and I know when blankets and such were changed out last etc. Tatijana had a minor stroke awhile back and has finally come back to work, but her doctor said she can't clean rooms until at least January. So for now she is in laundry. And instead of having people rotate in and out of this section for all those months they gave me her section based off of my lead, Larry's recommendation. Once again I was honored he thought enough of me and my work to recommend me for this. The other major benefit to this section is there are no loft suits.... so wonderful. I do have 14 rooms though and often extra on top of that, but still no loft suits is a treat.

Let's see what else.... well this is recent, but Ryan and I and a few friends went to the nice restaurant in the hotel for dinner. It was the last night for their special summer menu that was 4 course for $25 and we get an employee discount of 25% off. It was pretty good. I'd say only dessert was really disappointing and I've heard they don't make any desserts from scratch. But my tomato basil soup to start was delicious and the fish for my entree was also very good.

Then just yesterday, Thursday, I got to go to the "We Care" luncheon. This is when a select few based on your last name are invited once a month to meet with the General Manager, his wife head of HR, and the hiring manager to share likes and dislikes about work while sharing a three course meal. Again I was not impressed with dessert and the salad and entree were pretty good, but hey it beat eating in the staff caf and I'm sure all of you will have no problem believing me when I tell you I had the most to say out of the group. :)

OH my goodness... then there are the Fests. Garmischer Fest started on Michelle's last night with us, so we drug her along. She didn't love it, but it was super crowded that night and I had more fun on other nights. We went three times I think to the first one. There is a live band every night playing Bavarian music and live dancers performing traditional dances in traditional costumes. Everyone dresses in their dirndls and lederhosen to attend. The prompted Ryan to start search for some of his own on the internet which sadly weren't here in time for our Fests but he'll wear them to October Fest in Munich. I got many many compliments on my dirndl which my Mom made me and sent me for my birthday. :)

I liked Partenkirchen Fest even better than Garmischer. Part of this heavily had to do with the fact there was cotton candy and I love cotton candy believe it or not, even the health nut I am. I had one every night we went and one night we drove over there just to get cotton candy and I had two on the last night of Fest. But don't worry I shared with at least Ryan and sometimes a few others... just to be nice though I didn't necessarily want to. ;) We ate a couple times at Fest and the food was delicious. The beer at the second one was Ettaler which is made by monks just 20 minutes away. I liked this a lot too since Garmischer served Lowenbrau which is a much larger mass produced and high distribution brewery. Partenkirchen also had a larger more decorated tent. We went on one night that they had stone lifting where HUGE guys would be on the stage standing on a table trying to see who could lift crazy amounts of weight. We knew a guy from the Edelweiss who did it (but at a little bit lower weight that they finished at). He paid 1 euro to enter and received a free mass of beer (1 liter) a nice decorative plate, and a set of trekking poles. That was pretty cool. Then a couple nights later we went for the whip night. There are groups of men who whip the air to the tune of the music. First the youngest guys went then the middle age guys and then the ones who were most well practiced and they were really really good. On the last night people would stand on the benches of the picnic tables we sat at and had moves to these German songs and we tried to follow along. It was so fun. They even did a little YMCA that night. The same night we went solely for cotton candy we also shared a gun for the shooting game. We got five shots and between the two of us neither hit a thing. The sad thing was there was a five year old girl and 7 year old boy standing next to us that hit all five of their shots. Although I've heard mixed reviews on October Fest due to crowds and over commercialization I'm still excited after these experiences. It is better for my bank account that Fest is over and I'm nto staying out as late, but it was a fun few weeks.

Gosh, what else has been going on?

I have a new roommate. It worked out perfect that she came the day after Michelle left, so Michelle was able to have a bed and closet the whole time she was here and made things not crowded at all while Barb was here too and we all shared my room. My roommate is named Lindsay. She is from Dallas Texas. She is 25 years old. She went to Texas Tech. I think her degree is in something like English and creative writing or something. Her job here in in Alpine Adventure which means she does several things including the gift shop, the kids programs during the day and at night, and leads tours although she still has to train for that. She's super nice and I feel very lucky that she's the one I ended up with. I hope she thinks I'm as good of a roommate as I've found her to be.

I feel like those are all the bigger little things to catch up on. Everything else has to do with traveling. I'm thinking of referring everyone to Michelle's blog in regard to wahat we did while she was here for THREE whole weeks because if I try o write about it all myself I may never dig myself out of this blogging backlog I'm in. Yes, I think I'll just give you her address right now. It is .com I haven't read it yet, so if I think I need to fill in holes or can't stand not putting in my two cents then I'll do that at a later date. And I'll tell you about Ryan and my relaxing weekend trip to Lake Bled, Slovenia and then of course there was the two weeks my Mom was here that was so fantastic. If I asked my magic eight ball if I could accomplish all this before my friends Jamie and Andy come next week I think it would tell me "chances are doubtful" or "the outlook is not good" but we'll see and I'll do my best. I feel a sense of accomplishment just finishing Israel.

Oh and one last thing I've done that has been awesome is host couch surfers like when Pepe and Noelia hosted Ryan and I in Cairo. Two nice guys stayed here on Michelle's second to last night that came from the Berlin area to hike the Zugspite. Then Betsie who is from Florida, but is currently studying abroad in Florence came for a couple days. Ryan and I went on an incredible hike with her and took her to Fest with us. And then just last week a couple from Wurzberg stayed with me for a night on their way home from a two week trip through Italy. Chris and Conny, such nice people. I have loved every experience and all the people. I think it is an incredible program and I'm glad I was able to host a few people after being hosted myself. I'm currently looking for a host for Krakow Poland. I'm going there with Renee and a girl named Taylor from the 30th of September to the 2nd of October. The three of us really want to see Auschwitz, something Ryan didn't really care about. I am sad he won't be coming though and I'm sure I'll miss him a lot, but I'm super excited since I've read about this place in books since I was a little girl.

Okay I've got to go to sleep now. My pillow is calling my name.

Our last day in Israel

July 9th

Okay faithful readers, can any believe I've finally reached my last day of Israel. Goodness gracious, thank you for being so patient.

We woke up and got ready for the day before heading to the beach first thing. It was really nice to spend our first and last days in Israel both in Yafo, soaking up the sun and relaxing. Goodness knows we needed it since we were about to come back to Germany to work 10 days in a row.

We laid on the hot white sand and played in the warm waters of the Mediterranean for several hours I'd guess. Oh gosh I almost forgot that on the way to the beach we did make a pit stop. We stopped at the oldest bakery in Jaffa and bought A LOT including some pita bread we brought back with us for a few days later as a treat. It was all really good and they even threw in a few things on the house. I guess we can't stay away from bakeries no matter where we are. :)

After the beach we went to lunch at the same place we did with Ari on that first day. I had falafel and Ryan had shwarma and we each stuffed ourselves silly with the free "salad" bar items. Oh it was so good. I still miss these types of places.

Then it was shopping time. We went into the covered market area for the first time. I got a cool tapestry similar to ones I got in India. Now it is hanging over my bed from the ceiling and looks really cool. I also got a couple pairs of loose baggy pants like I'm a big fan of, so I was a happy camper. Ryan also bought me a scull and cross bones bracelet made of burnt bone and leather that I love. Ryan bought huka... you can smoke fruit flavored tobacco out of it (well you can smoke an assortment of things out of it but that is what his plan is). And I can't really remember if we picked up anything else. But we were happy with our purchases and felt satisfied with how we spent our last day.

We went back and packed our bags to travel home and then said goodbye to our last hostel. We walked from there back to our first hostel in Tel Aviv because Ryan forgot a shirt he put outside to dry and thankfully it was in the exact place he left it because it was his favorite shirt and he'd been thinking about it all week. Then we walked to the main road and caught a bus to the train station where we took the train to the airport. Everything at the airport went pretty smoothly. We did give ourselves plenty of time just in case. They questioned the two of us A TON about how we knew each other, if we lived together, how often we saw each other, what we had done in Israel, etc etc. And kept looking at our passports and our faces very intently. After awhile they asked me for another ID, I guess I looked different to them in person compared to my passport. But eventually we went through. Then only I had to have my bag inspected my an agent but the thing she questioned me on most was where I got my books which were all library books. Who knows why? But I didn't mind it, better safe than sorry and I understand why they do it. Then at customs the gal Ryan went up to actually had someone else come and look at him and his passport because she wasn't sure she thought it was him. But we both got through.

At our gate a German sports team showed up and was all together. Ryan thought it could be the German Fussball team (soccer team) since they had just lost in the world cup, but I knew they had a game to play yet to decide 3rd and 4th places and these boys were too skinny to be professional soccer players if you asked me. As it turned out they were the German cycling team. Interesting.

We made it to Garmisch. The flight was thankfully uneventful. We almost had to sit surrounded my a bunch of loud and obnoxious high school age Israeli kids, but there were two open seats in the emergency exit row that we moved to which was good two fold because it also allowed Ryan to have a lot of leg room.

There you have it folks. It was a great trip, and incredible adventure, and truly a blessing to have such an opportunity. We were thankfully praising God the whole trip for how smoothly everything went and I do believe He played a big role in all of that. I do hope to someday return to Israel, so if anyone wants to go just let me know.

My Favorite

July 8th

Since July 7th was our last night sleeping on the east side of Israel this was my last chance to see a great sunrise. I've always been more of a sunset person, but I think it is possibly because I grew up on the West Coast. There is nothing like the sun setting over the horizon of Bellingham Bay. But being on the east side of a country showed me that watch the sunrise from the east can also be a very special thing. So I decided to set my alarm to go sit on the bank of the Dead Sea and watch the sunrise. When my alarm went off I walked over to the window and saw a glow in the sky, but decided to crawl back in bed and sleep for 10 more minutes. Ten minutes later I was awoken again, I walked to the window to see the bright orange ball climbing it's way up the sky, but again I couldn't muster what it took to put on shoes and go outside and I went back to bed. I'm sure people were thankful in the room that I kept having my alarm ring and then go to the window.

When we got up for good we went to breakfast, which was included in the price. It was a pricey hostel, so I'm glad breakfast was such a feast. They had canned fruit, yogurt, granola, coffee, tea, eggs scrambled and fried, toast, bread, lettuce, mixed salad, pickled fishes, and I know I'm forgetting things. We ate till we were full, but I know we could have stayed until we were uncomfortable if we'd chosen to.

After breakfast we checked out of our room and stored our bags in a room at the hostel. Unfortunately we had to put up a bit of a fight about the payment because the rates at the hostel were more than if we booked online which we tried to do. Eventually the desk clerk got his boss who checked his email and our names and acknowledged that he had received our message and honored the price on the internet. I hate price games. I just wish that there would be a set price. Same with airline tickets, as a side note, I just wish that they'd be one price based on distance or whatever and you wouldn't have to play games and search for hours upon days to find good prices and then get on the plane knowing that people on either side of you paid something else. Ugh.

Directly behind our hostel was the National Reserve. Our hostel was nice enough to give us a voucher for 10% off the entrance fee. Before we even went in the gates we were spotting wild animals. And as soon as we paid and entered we were on the trail. We didn't go as high up as you could, but we still climbed a fair amount. As we went along pretty much everything was brown, but then a pool of water with a waterfall pouring into it would appear as an oasis. The first one had a lot of people stopped at it, so we continued. When we reached the second one we got down to our bathing suits under our clothes and got in. The water was perfect. Everything about this was perfect. The next waterfall was the largest, called David's waterfall, but no swimming was allowed because of the chance of falling rocks. From there we started our ascent to David's Cave which was where our end destination was before climbing down. My friend, Ari, had told us about this and highly recommended it. When we got there it was apparent why she raved about it. We climbed down from the path into the cave area. There was a nice pool of clear water with some itty bitty fish in it. A waterfall pouring into the pool as down below. And this pool was right about David's waterfall thus creating the waterfall. And there was a percect view out over the Dead Sea and the mountains of Jordan in the background. Oh and to top off the fairy tale we were in there were little red dragon flies buzzing about. It was one of the best experiences of my life I would say without exaggeration. I loved it. It was my favorite part of Israel.

We spent awhile enjoying the cave, the water, and the view before putting out clothes and shoes back on and climbing back up to the trail. We walked further south before descending to make a circle. We went by an archeological site of an old synagogue that we could walk through for free after paying the Park's fee before we started hiking. We got back to the beginning and shared a treat from the little souvenir store. It was a prepackaged thing of dippin' dots with a different name. I convinced Ryan to get it (I didn't have money on me) saying that it was probably my only chance while living abroad to have dippin' dots which I love. Then (jumping ahead) we saw them and I got them in Italy with Barb and Michelle a few weeks later. And since then I've seen them another time. Oh well. They were still good and refreshing in the hot hot heat.

Then came the time I'd been waiting for for years. Ever since I first heard of the Dead Sea and the uniqueness of this body of water I've wanted to go at some time in my life. There was a camping area, store, restaurant, gas station, and beach entry all across the road and not to far down from our hostel and the National Reserve. You want into the water and then sit down, but you don't sink. I can try to explain it but really I don't think anyone will ever completely comprehend until they experience it for themselves. If I was on my stomach I would have to work super hard to right myself. The easiest thing to do was roll from back to belly. Sort of like a baby learning to move I suppose. It was trippy. You could sit in a chair position no problem. There was a family of four there from Maryland. The son and daughter were pretty young. The little boy kept saying, "my butt hole hurts." The little girl kept saying, "my vagina hole hurts." And not to be too graphic for anyone but I wanted to let them both know that they weren't the only one experiencing those feelings (although I kept it to myself and told Ryan privately). For this reason and the fact that the water was far from refreshing and actually very warm we didn't stay in the water too long. Probably only about half and hour. You have to be so careful not to get any of it in your eyes. Ari had told me she got the tiniest drop in her eye and couldn't see out of it for 15 minutes. Yikes. I had been worried about some blistered I had that were a few days old and that stinging, which it did a little. I just hadn't thought of the other areas of my body having the issues they did. It was still so cool and if I go back to Israel I want to go to the spa a ways down the road and try the Dead Sea mud that people cover themselves with on the beach and is supposed to be very good for you skin and your health in general.

After showering off we walked back to our hostel, collected our bags, refilled our waters and then waited in the shade until it was closer to time for our bus. Once we went to bus station we didn't have to wait to long for a bus to arrive, however it was packed full. Ryan and I were standing in the aisle way of this coach style bus. I thought maybe the driver let us on because he knew people would get off soon. But I stood in that aisle way for the entire hour and half back to Jerusalem. Some teenagers sitting on either side of us asked if we were married and we said no. Then they asked if we were siblings and Ryan said no, we were a couple. Then they didn't understand why we weren't married if we loved each other and thought it would be a great idea for Ryan to propose right there in the aisle of the bus and told him to get down. One boy looked at me and said it would be romantic and the other looked at me and said it would be sexy. Ryan told them he wouldn't do that while laughing off the idea and told them I'd say no. He's right I would. I don't really find that sexy or romantic. But it was funny to hear them probe.

In Jerusalem we walked back to the Old City from the bus station. Along the way we got lunch/dinner in "New Jerusalem" on Ben Yehuda street at Moshiko's where my teacher from high school had recommended. I don't even know if I need to specify what we had. I had falafel and Ryan had shwarma. :) It was good. What do you know?

We headed straight for the Damascus Gate where the bus station was that goes in and out of the West Bank. It took a little time to search out where exactly the bus was to get to Bethlehem, but we finally found it and didn't have to wait too long to leave. I really wanted to experience the West Bank while we were there and I really wanted to visit Bethlehem. Jerusalem and Bethlehem also have a peach agreement which makes it one of the safest areas of Palestine to go to.

The bus we took in dropped us in the town without us having to cross the border on foot. As soon as we got off the bus a taxi man was at our beck and call. Of course trying to over charge us but eventually we got a price I thought was something worth paying since we'd never make it to the church of the Nativity walking before it closed and it was all uphill and we were pooped. Along the way he tried to play tour guide and tried to get us to accept his services to drive us all over Bethlehem and beyond but we bid him adieu when we got out of the cab.

Have I mentioned this yet. I never go back and read what I write. It is far too long for me, but I often forget what I've already said. What struck me most about Bethlehem was how mountainous it is. Anytime I picture Mary and Joseph searching for the Inn I think of long straight flat roads. This is not what the landscape is at all. Upon returning home to Garmisch the first thing I read in my Bible was the title "Mountainous Israel" and throughout the last chapter I read in Ezekiel it clearly discussed the landscape of the Holy Land. This was a good wake up call to me that I should obviously pay more attention to what I read. I think often I search so hard for lessons to be learned that I miss out on things like that. And after knowing what it is really like, the thought of a woman in labor climbing hills, that I paid a taxi to drive me up, sort of changes the story for me. It makes thing come to life a bit more in my head and I think helps bridge the gap a bit between my head and my heart, from reading words and stories on a page to truly understanding what it was probably like.

You enter the church through a very low door and emerge into a small room like a foyer, I guess. Then you enter another door into the sanctuary of the church. On the floor was large wooden slats that I wasn't sure about. I think maybe it was the entrance to the Inn of the Manger or I could be all wrong, but it struck me that it was somehow significant. When you walk down stairs that go under the alter of the church there is a small room that has a hole in the floor that is supposedly where little baby Jesus was born, on that spot. How they know I do not know. But they all do seem to have some archeological evidence that has led them to their conclusions and it isn't totally out of thin air. So of course Ryan and I joined in the tradition of stooping down and touching the floor. For me the significance is less in the idea that I am touching the exact spot Jesus was born and more in the fact that I was in Bethlehem which has so much Biblical significance. It was more just being on the same ground Jesus walked on that it was all these specifics, yet that was cool to see too while we were there.

When we left the church it was getting quite late and any other site was closed. So we negotiated for a cab and he took us to the border crossing where we would enter back into Israel on foot. This was something else I had wanted to to after it was recommended to us by the Swedish woman we shared a cab with in Egypt on the very first day of our trip. As a reminder she had been working in Jerusalem for months and said this was a good experience to see what the Palestinian's go through on a daily basis.

As we walked along the narrow path between the wall and the fence I felt like a prisoner. And then I saw a heart breaking image. There was a lot of art and writing on the wall, but the image that stood out to me was the head of a woman who wore a head covering and next to the image was written "I am not a terrorist." THIS is what these people must go through on a daily basis. They have no choice but to come to find work on the other side of the wall while few Israelis ever cross over to their side. We spoke with two young guys from Israel probably about our age and that day was their first time ever going to Bethlehem or anywhere in the West Bank and they had each lived in Jerusalem their entire lives. I don't really care what people's opinions are politically speaking on the whole situation. I do not think that this is a human way for people to live... in fear and in a cage. I don't think it is too much to ask for for all of us to live in peace and harmony. I never think it is okay for one person to feel scared in their own home. And then as we went through the bag scanners and metal detectors and several guards not one of them opened our passports once they say we were Americans. I felt almost like I wanted to say, hey treat me like you treat everyone else who comes through here. I'm just like they are and they are just like me. We are all just human and there is equally as much chance I could be a terrorist as they could be. All this being said I am glad I made this part of my experience and I will never forget it.

We had to catch a bus back but kept having a taxi guy haggle us to take his cab. Then he came over to us at our bus stop and told us we missed the last bus, which I didn't think was true. This is when we met those Israeli guys who had just been to Bethlehem for the first time in their lives. Thankfully as the cab driver was still trying to take us for way more than we were willing to pay the bus arrived and by then there were five of us ready to get on and escape the cabbie.

Back in the Old City we went to our former hostel collected our things and took a city bus back to the Main Bus terminal. There we took a bus back to Tel Aviv for the night. This time we wanted to stay where Ari had before. They had places to sleep on the roof, which we really liked doing. The cool thing about this night was that it was Thursday. Thursday night is like what we are used to on Fridays since Friday and Saturday are Shabbat and make up the weekend days in Israel and much of the middle east that I'm aware of. So the streets were packed. There were people set up selling things all along the sidewalks and the noise level was intense. But despite it all happening on the streets all around our new home for the night after we showered and changed we were quickly caught up in dream land for our last night in Israel.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Holy City

July 7th

EARLY in the morning I was woken up by the bright light of the sun rising over Jerusalem. This was my first view of the city in day light and my oh my did it ever deserve the title of Holy the way I was seeing it. I only wish I had mustered up the energy to reach for my camera and try to capture that incredible moment, but instead I used all the strength I could find to roll over and hit Ryan on his mat next to me so he could catch a glimpse of his own. It was very special for this to be the first thing I saw in the morning, but I was far from ready to get up so I quickly let myself fall back asleep.

When we did get up we each got ready for the day, moved our bags to the luggage storage area, and hit the town with our map. I thought it would be cool to head to the Mt. of Olives but with the twists and turns of the narrow streets we quickly didn't know where we were. We stopped in the covered market area and bought some pastries for breakfast. Eventually I realized we were on the Via Delarosa. This is the road that they claim Jesus carried His cross along. I had read that today it can be hard to imagine what it was like when Jesus was alive because it is so commercial. But the book I was reading also said that during the time of Jesus the street also was where all the shops were and that although everything has been made more modern and the street we walk on is actually 3 layers on top of the streets of the past that the Via Delarosa is a good representation today of the equivalent of what Jesus walked down a couple thousand years ago. I think that is interesting.

Eventually we found where we were on the map and found our way to the "Lion's Gate" where we left the city walls and were directly across from the Mt. of Olives. We were planning to go on the free tour of the city at 11:00 so we didn't have time to hike to the top of the hill but we took a lot of pictures from outside the walls in a cemetery that lined the outer wall. It was interesting that all the gravestones were in Arabic. On the Mt. of Olives across from us we saw the Jewish Cemetery that is the largest Jewish Cemetery in the world that is still in use. And by in use I mean they still bury people there because I suppose all cemeteries are still in use seeing how I've never heard of removing bodies and turning the land into something else... bu you never know.

Once the photo opp was over we walked along the outside of the wall. I wanted to see the next gate, The Golden Gate. This gate is very special because although it was built as a gate it is filled in and cannot be used as an entry or exit point into the Old City. This is the gate that people believe that Jesus will enter the city through when He returns. It also stares out at the Mt. of Olives. As we rounded the wall we came to the Dung Gate which originally was made out of dung but today smells and looks normal. Then came the Zion Gate.

We weren't even able to approach the gate before a man came up to us and asked what we were looking for. And then without warning he is offering to show us how to find the sites on Mt. Zion and having us follow him. I thought it was sort of weird because we hadn't even told him what we were doing, which was simply exploring, and off we went with him. First he took us to the Church of Dormition believed to be where the Virgin Mary died. He took us through here very quickly. Then to the Tomb of David. The tomb is divided in half for women and men to be separated. So this man took Ryan to his half and directed me to enter on my half. It was another in and out. Next stop is the room of the last supper (or where they say it was). So the man led us there, pointed to where they think the table sat, and then said to follow him and he'd take us into the Old City for the rest of the tour. By this point we had figured he would probably be looking for some kind of a tip and I was prepared to give him something for this 15 minute walk that we could have done by ourselves. But we had no interest in going into the Old City with him because we were going on a free tour in half an hour. So we told him we had to go. He said okay for just this part it was 250 shekels each. That $65... WHAT?! And he said that for the whole thing it is 500NIS. Heck NO! Ryan told him he had not asked if we wanted a tour, he had not said how much it cost, and that we weren't giving him all that money. At first when he was leading us there we honestly thought he was just being nice and pointing us in the direction of the sites. So then he started asking how much we did want to pay him. But he was very disinterested in any small sum and ended up just walking off. It was like we were back in Egypt all over again. Argh! I just hate the feeling when people are trying to take advantage of you. So then we wove our way out of Mt. Zion sites and followed the wall until we came to the Jaffa gate to meet our free tour.

The free tour ended up being fine, but not great. When we went on our first free tour in Amsterdam I was sold on these. I thought they were the best thing every because the guides work more for your money than if you pay up front. After doing several in very different cities I realize that it can also just depend on your guide. I didn't feel the guide we had in Jerusalem was as funny and interactive as some others. I also recognize there is a lot of information and a lot to see in Jerusalem but all the same it was just a fine tour. And he kept plugging his tour in the afternoon to the Mt of Olives, which cost to go on and I got tired of his advertisements for that.

On the free tour we went to the Tower of David right inside the Jaffa Gate, we climbed on some rooftops for a view of the city (although the roof of our hostel we slept on was higher and a better view), we went to the Temple Mount and had the oppotunity to go up to the Wailing Wall (again men and women have separate sides), we went to an area where there used to be a market, we walked by a monastery, we walked by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher but did not go in, and then ended up back where we started 3 hours later. I might be missing a thing or two, but nothing really stood out to me and I was bummed about that. Right after the tour Ryan and I went back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was my favorite thing to see in Jerusalem after the incredible master piece by God that morning in the sunrise.

For anyone who does not know, as I didn't before I went to Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is where the last few stations of the cross are. This is where they believe Jesus was crucified, bandaged after death, and then placed in his tomb where he rose from on the third day.

As soon as you walk in there is a stone on the ground where they say Jesus' body was laid to be bandaged. People were there rubbing the stone and then rubbing their hands over their own bodies. They placed objects on the stone, they just knelt there with their hands on it while praying. It was quite a site to witness. Then further inside the church is a large box-like building thing that confused me at first and there was a line to go inside. Then I realized this is where they believe was the tomb of Jesus. When we had our turn to go in there is the stone they say Jesus body was laid on. There is another place outside the gate called the "Garden Tomb" that some say is the tomb of Jesus, but from what our A-political/religious tour guide said the most up to date archeological evidence points to this one in the church being the actual spot. In the Bible it says that the tomb, the crucifixion was all outside of the city and although at this time in modern day the Church is inside the city during the time of Jesus there is a lot of evidence that it was outside the city. Upstairs in the church is a huge rock with an alter built around it now but you can crawl under the alter to touch the rock because this is where they say Jesus' cross was placed for his crucifixion.

Jerusalem was A LOT different than I expected. There were WAY more tourists than I thought there would be for some reason. I didn't get any feeling of Israelis going about their daily life, it was all touristy. Everything for sale was geared toward tourists. It was very overwhelming. It was fascinating to see everything, but you definitely have to work very hard to try and get even a glimpse of what life could have been like during the times of the Bible. I had thought before our trip began that I would want to spend the most time in Jerusalem, but after being here for not even a full day I had had my fill.

We went back to the hostel and packed overnight bags. Our goal was to get to Masada for the night to do a sunrise hike there in the morning and then bus to Ein Gedi to hike there before swimming (more just floating) in the Dead Sea. We were running late at this point and as we made our way to the bus stop to catch the city bus to the central bus station we saw the bus we needed pulling away. We ran after it and while it was stopped in traffic we tried to get on but the driver wouldn't let us even sweating and out of breath. So we kept running to look for the next stop he would come to. The whole run was pretty much up hill and we were dying. We finally found a bus stop and waited for quite awhile debating the whole time whether we'd make it. Eventually a bus pulled up and it was the same driver who hadn't let us on. Traffic was so bad at this hour that the bus was going really slow. When we made it to the station we were 15 minutes late for the last bus to Masada. But we could still take a bus to Ein Gedi but it wasn't leaving until 8 and it was then a little before 5. So we killed time looking in an outdoor store at the bus station. We walked down the street a ways. We found free wifi which was great because I found there was a single hostel in Ein Gedi although it would not let me book online within 72 hours of our arrival. And they weren't answering their phone, but I did send them an email too. We found some dinner and then headed back to the station to wait the last 45 minutes or so at our gate. It was a lot of waiting. We both slept most of the way to Ein Gedi and the bus driver was nice enough to point up a small hill to the hostel when it was our stop. Thankfully the hostel was literally right off the highway. There is hardly anything in the town anyway.

We climbed the hill and found reception which only had a security guard at it, but he took our passports and gave us a key to our dorm. We were just thankful to have a place to sleep. Otherwise we would have been sleeping on the "beach" along the Dead Sea. I definitely would not worried about being too cold since even the air at 10pm was more than warm, but it was nice to shower and sleep on a bed in a room with air conditioning. And I slept like a rock and if I'd been on the beach I would have been sleeping on rocks which might have hindered that a bit. So it was a good night.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sorry for the long break

Gosh I have so much to catch up on. Sorry for the break from my Israel story, but I had some very important business to attend to. I HAD to travel through Italy for five days with Barb and Michelle. And then I had to sadly say goodbye to both of them. But life goes on and now after our first two full days of rest in I can't even count how long I think life finally is feeling back to normal... for better or worse. So would you like to hear more of our epic adventure?

July 5th

We allowed ourselves to sleep in a little bit. I think we got out of bed a little before 9 and were heading to the bus station somewhere shortly after that. At the station we found out we had to take a bus to one town and then transfer to another bus to take us to Caesarea our first destination. Everything went smoothly finding our bus. But then we had to wait awhile for the buss we transferred to. Thankfully the bus dropped us off right at the front gate of the old town of Caesarea. And even better there was a fruit stand selling cups of fresh cut watermelon right out front. That hit the spot!

Inside the old town (which of course we had to pay to enter) was pretty cool. Everything is rubble more or less now, but they have it laid out well enough that without too much imagination you can see what things were once like. I really liked the area (I forget the name for it) were they would have the horse races with the chariots. I made me think of the movie Gladiator. The large theater is one of the main sites of the town, but I sort of felt like they'd ruined it because they hold concerts there all summer long with big name musicians so they had a huge modern stage set up and even what was old has been made new again. Also the baths were neat. They currently have archeologists working in this area uncovering things. There were beautiful and elaborate mosaics on what would have been the floor made out of tiles that are less than an inch square. Caesarea is also on the water which made me think how lucky people would have been back when the area was inhabited to live such a life with such a view. It seemed grand. We watched a short documentary in the information center about the town. Of course now I remember none of it.

I had really wanted to see the aqueducts in Caesarea because one of my favoirte teachers from high school had recommended we see this and he grew up in Israel. Unfortunately there was not a bus there and it was a fairly long walk for the type of heat we were in. Someone in the information center recommended hitch hiking and assured us it was safe and she'd been doing it since she was 13. But due to the time getting later and later and we wanted to get to Haifa to see the Ba'hai Gardens we decided to head to our bus. Even to get to the bus stop it was a fair walk. We got a bus and got off at the stop we were told to, but there was not another bus stop anywhere that we saw to catch our bus to Haifa. We stuck out our thumb trying the hitch hiking thing with no luck as we walked along. We came to a gated community/ golf course and tried to ask the guard for directions. There was a car there at the time trying to get into the community. It turned out to be a man and wife with their grandson. The man was originally from Israel but he and his wife now live in Florida and were in Israel visiting family and showing their grandson where his grandfather came from. They were kind enough to offer us a ride up the road to our bus stop. We were so grateful we didn't have to hike up the hill in the heat.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity at the bus stop. And we even saw a bus with the number we were waiting for drive right on by and we saw that it was not full. I still have no idea why that happened. But finally a bus came and we got on.

We reached Haifa and I knew the chance of making it to the Gardens before they closed was slim at this point. We got on a local bus that we were told would take us to the Gardens. The driver did not speak English but understood where we were going and told us when to get off. We got off and had no idea where to go. Then we asked for directions and had to get in a mini bus that took us to the front gate and we were 15 minutes too late. The guard said we could go up above and have a good view of the gardens though and found us another mini bus to take us up there, which turned out to be the area we had just been. So at least we were able to get some pictures and say we saw the Gardens even if we weren't able to go in. The Ba'hai Gardens are the main site, I guess you could say, of the Ba'hai faith. The Ba'hai's believe (if I'm not mistaken) that all paths are right. If you are Christians and believe in Jesus that is great, if you are Muslim and believe in Allah that is great, if you are Hindu and believe in reincarnation that is great. They believe everyone should find their path and live peacefully amongst one another. It is interesting that people think Israel and think instantly "Jews" of "Jesus" but in this tiny little country there are many many different faiths that have claimed the land to be spiritually significant to them.

Once we left the Garden lookout we wanted food. We had kebabs and shwarma... big surprise eh? And then walked down the street to a frozen yogurt place that has the plain natural yogurt with lots of fresh fruit toppings to choose from. And they had fresh passion fruit, our new favorite fruit. Yum!

We had decided we didn't want to stay in Haifa that night, but continue on to the Sea of Galilee so we could start there in the morning, so the next task at hand was getting there. We waited for a bus to take us to the bus station. Then we found out once we got there that we had to take another bus to another main bus station a little out of town. But once we got there we quickly found where to wait for our bus to Tiberias the town we were headed to. While waiting a mini bus driver started trying to grab people to take to Tiberias with him and he was leaving before the bus got there. So we decided to go with him.

When we arrived in Tiberias we were dropped off at the bus station. From there I had found us a hostel, but not made a reservation. It was well after dark at this point, so although we knew it wasn't too far we were still unsure of how to get there. We asked in a little store at the station and they tried to give us directions, but then a nice girl about our age offered us a ride once her boyfriend came to pick her up. When he arrived he knew right where to take us. It was so nice of them.

We went inside and asked if they had available beds for the night. Thankfully they did. In fact it didn't seem busy at all. I didn't see another guest in the entire hostel and although Ryan and I asked for the 4 bed dorm we were the only ones in it. The manager was so nice though. He showed us the free coffee and tea and encouraged us to come enjoy the "bungalow" which was a small balcony with a couple tables and chairs. So after we each showered and changed into pjs we had a cup of tea out there in the warm Israeli air. But then we realized how tired we were from our long day and headed to bed.

July 6th

We woke up to a beautiful sunny and HOT day in Tiberias (which by the way after hearing numerous people pronounce the name of the town I finally realized the don't pronounce the 's'). Ryan went down to the mini market next to our hostel and got a little food for breakfast and we sat on the "bungalow" and ate and drank tea.

When we were ready to leave we asked our hostel manager if there was a bus to take us to Capernaum or anywhere in the area famous for where Jesus performed many miracle. He told us no. I was disappointed, but we set out to explore Tiberias and possibly check out the boat that headed to Capernaum. We are both drawn to the water so it was natural we headed straight for the Sea. And when I say sea I mean Sea of Galilee of course, so really we are talking about a lake.

The Sea of Galilee is absolutely gorgeous. And one of the things I have to say right off the bat is that part of what was so special is recognizing that this is the same Sea that Jesus stood along the bank of and even the same Sea that Jesus walked on the water of. Israel has changed a lot since Jesus was here, but the Sea and the landscape I imagine have remained the same outside of the growth of the towns. And even the towns have remained relatively small compared to where we started in Tel Aviv and Haifa and where we were headed to Jerusalem and even Nazareth is fairly large. So being as the Sea was a very very special experience to me for this reason.

When we reached the water we were surprised to already see people in the swimming area even though I think it was about 9am. The gate was closed from where we stood so we walked way around. We found a gate with a guard and decided to ask about the boat. He said it didn't leave until noon and to ask at the harbor (apparently we weren't there). Then we finally found the semi secret path down to the swimming area. The water felt so good. It had to have been 80 or 90 degrees already and the water was clean, crisp, and refreshing. We swam around for 30 or 45 minutes and then decided to continue strolling down the boardwalk (well it was cement but it ran along the water). Then I had the idea to go ask about the boat at the nice hotel right on the water and pretend we were guests. Unfortunately as we approached the guard standing next to the security check in asked if we were staying there and Ryan answered "yes" and then they asked for our room number, so I quickly said "oh we aren't staying here we are staying in Tiberias and we are just looking for some tourist information. But unfortunate turned into fortunate and he pointed across the street to a building that was tourist information... perfect!

At the information office we were given a helpful map and learned that we could take a bus to the area of the three with Christian significance. I also picked up a brochure about the "Jesus Trail." This sounds so cool. You start at Nazareth and walk the path (or something similar) to what Jesus walked when he left Nazareth and moved to the Sea. I think it would be such an experience to do this someday. I'm glad we saw what we did, but as a rode the bus around everywhere I thought about how Jesus didn't ride the bus, He didn't even ride a horse or donkey... He walked everywhere.

We found our bus stop and waited for the bus. We were both so tired all the time that anytime we boarded a bus we would be in and out of sleep the whole ride. Thankfully we usually told the driver where we were going so they'd let us know when to get off. When we got off this bus it was on the side of the highway. So we headed down the only branch we could take. We saw some locals hitchhiking and they got picked up. They didn't have their thumb up though. They just pointed with their index finger... so that is how it is done. We walked along a dirt road awhile until we thought we had reached our first destination. We stopped to put on our pants and my scarf over my shoulders since knees and shoulders must always be covered in Holy places in Israel. Then a nun came walking by and was kind enough to tell us we were in the wrong place. I guess it was obvious we were tourists. :) She directed us back to the main road and down a bit further. We followed her directions and in five minutes were in Tabgha. There is a church here commemorating Jesus miracle of feeding the 5,000 by multiplying the loaves and the fishes.

The church is simple and beautiful with an uncovered mosaic floor that has been made complete with modern tiles yet left to obviously indicate what is old and what is new. At the front of the church is a stone poking through the ground that is said to have been the exact place Jesus performed the multiplication. And in front of the rock in the mosaic is a loaf with a fish on either side.

It is also interesting that this area is heavily inhabited by Germans. Germans actually take care of this church and all the signs are in German. It was just rather bizarre coming from Germany to Israel and seeing this.

When we left here we walked 200 meters further down the main road to another church. The church of St. Peter. There is a larger rock at the head of this church believed to have been the place Jesus and the disciples dined after the caught a net full of fish when Jesus told them to throw their nets in on the other side of the boat after having no luck. And then afterward Jesus reinstated Peter since he had denied Jesus three times.

When we walked down to the water we met three men who were traveling Israel working for some group called something "Extreme." They gather large groups of young Israelis and then teach them about Jesus by saying you can do all things through Him and then will rip phone books in half and roll frying pans into burritos and tell the group this is the kind of crazy strength God can give us. Do I agree with this show tactic? No, not really. They did seem to have hearts for God though, so that is good, but the way they are going about sharing that seemed a bit crazy to us.

Our next walk was a bit longer, 2 km. But there was a nice paved path along the sea. Not much of a sea breeze though and the day was only growing hotter. Finally we reached Capernaum. This is where Jesus settled after he left Nazareth. There is a small entrance fee here and then they have many ruins to walk around including ruins of a synoguge that was built on top of the one that Jesus was believed to have preached in. Many of the disciples came from Capernaum and there was the foundation of the home of Peter which then became a church that is now gone, but they have built a church over it so you can still see underneath what remains.

We had also wanted to go to Mount of Beattitudes where Jesus gave his sermon on the mount, but it would have been a 25 minute walk (at least) up a steep hill, so we decided the view from Capernaum was good enough for this trip and maybe we'd make it to the top next time. We also still had to walk the 3 km back to the main highway to catch a bus back. The heat was truly excrutiating at this point so we went to the Sea where there was a tourist restaurant and a small camp ground and went for a swim. At this point the water wasn't even cold, but it just felt good to be wet from something other than sweat. After our dip we got back on the road.

It was so hot we decided to try hitch hiking again, this time using our finger instead of our thumb. Car after car passed and did not stop. Then after what felt like a long time of walking a truck pulled over at a wide spot up ahead. We didn't know if it was for us and didn't want to look awkward so instead of running we just walked fast. Sure enough this nice man was offering us a ride. We got in and he had the air conditioning on nice and cold. He offered us ice cold water and chewing gum. We were riding in luxury. He said it was too hot to be walking and boy was he right. He worked in Tiberias and had to drive in for work every day, so we actually got a ride all the way to town and saved the bus fair. We are very thankful for this man.

He was on the phone when he pulled over to let us out so we quickly thanked him and jumped out. The decision was whether to run to the hostel to get our bags and get the next bus to Nazareth or eat first. Ryan was very hungry, so we ate first. It might have been my favorite overall falafel experience of the trip... not the best falafel but the best experience. It was on the side of the rode with just a couple tables on the sidewalk. You ordered your falafel or schwarma and then they had an all you can eat "salad" bar in front of the stand and they had so so many things to choose from. Of course I had some of all of it probably 5 times over. I'd seriously take a bite, add more, take a bite, add more. If I had a larger stomach I could have been there for hours and it would have looked like I'd barely made a dent in my pita. It was so good. They had such good eggplant. Oh I wish I could transport back there right now, my mouth is watering.

After I finally realized how uncomfortably full I was becoming we headed back to the hostel stopping for a frozen passionfruit drink on the way. We gathered our bags, thanked the manager, and walked to the bus station. We easily found where to wait for our bus and sat down to wait until it came.

It arrived and we asked the driver to let us know when we reached Cana. We wanted to get off there for a brief stop. Cana is where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning the water into wine. Of course I had to see this town being the wine lover I am. :) We got off and didn't know exactly what we were looking for. We must have looked lost because a car driving through the traffic rolled down his window and asked if we were going to Nazareth and wanted a ride. It was so nice, but unfortunately we hadn't seen what we came to see yet... whatever that was. We saw across the street a street sign that said "church street," "street of wine" or something like that so down it we went. All along were stores selling souvenirs. There were three churches in Cana that commemorate the miracle. I think one was Baptist and it was closed, but we went through the Catholic one. When we left and headed back down the street we stopping in one shop that sold wine and she was nice enough to let us have tastes of a few. One was pomegranate. It really tasted like pomegranate but so much so I could really taste the seeds and didn't love that. I'll just say the wine wasn't our favorite, so we didn't take any home. Ryan did purchase a shot glass though for our collection from our travels. The woman who owned the store was sweet and gave him a discount because she liked us. She was a Christian and I asked her if many people in Cana were Christians or if most were Jews. She said here it was about half and half I think, which is quite different from most parts of Israel.

We made it back to the bus stop and waited 10 or 15 minutes for the next bus to Nazareth. As we rode along I thought about how Jesus walked from one to the other to attend the wedding where he performed the miracle. The distance is not short and the terrain is not flat. These were the images I think were and are most significant to me from our trip.

A nice woman on the bus with us who got off at the same stop we did pointed us in the direction of the church of the annunciation, the main site in Nazareth. We arrive and found a huge church towering above us. This is the largest Christian church in the middle east. The church commemorates the spot where the Angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her she was pregnant with Jesus. In the court yard are many pieces of art depicting this event that have been created and sent from countries all over the world. Inside the church are more of these pieces. On the second level of the church is the one from the US. I am glad I had read that is was odd and strangely modern. It sure was. I sort of thought it was an embarrassment compared to some of the beautiful pieces I saw. It looked like Mary was some sort of silver alien coming down from outer space.

In the same complex was a church that may seem like any other church until you go down into the krypt. This is where they have discovered proof that this was the workshop of Joseph and then later decided it was his home. Which mean it is also where Jesus would have lived and worked along his carpenter father.

We left the church and it was getting into the evening. We walked through the market but everything was being pulled inside. Walking down the main street we asked some people at a bus stop if they spoke English. One young girl, maybe 13 years old did. We asked if she knew where we could catch a bus to Jerusalem. She was so kind to leave her bus stop and lead us down the road. She took us to a shop and asked inside, then she made a phone call. The bad news was that there was no bus direct to Jerusalem that night and we would have to wait till morning OR we could take a bus to Haifa or Tel Aviv and then from there to Jerusalem. We thanked her and she went on down the street. The bus to Haifa came first so we sat at the bus stop. As we waited we realized the overall journey should be shorter to go to Tel Aviv then Jerusalem, so we switched bus stops.

As we sat at our stop a minibus came up and said there were no more buses coming to Tel Aviv. I don't know if this was true or not, but his price seemed okay so we got in. The thing with minibuses is that they don't leave until they are full and we were the first passengers he acquired. He drove up up to a hill over looking the city. It was beautiful and we got out to take a few photos. Eventually up here we were able to fill the van and off we went. We arrived at the Tel Aviv central bus station which we were familiar with and our driver took us right to a minibus read to leave once we boarded. And off we went again.

Having never been to Jerusalem before when we got dropped off there we really didn't know where we were going. We also didn't have a hostel reservation again, but I had found a place that lets you sleep on the roof for cheap and that was where we were headed. The main street we were on took us right to the old city. But unfortunately we chose the wrong gate and got a bit lost at first. Oddly too no one in the old town we asked knew where the hostel was or even the street is was on. Maybe they don't explore other quarters much. We followed a couple people's directions and kept getting lost because I don't think they where directing us where we wanted to go. On one of our wild goose chases a local asked if he could help. He drew us a map on my note pad, but then started asking how much we were willing to pay. I was sort of confused, but eventually he said that his Mom rented apartments right there usually for long stays but maybe she'd give us a deal for just one night. We told him we planned to pay about $10 each and he didn't seem to think it was possible even after I said it was for a bed on the roof. But he gave us his number in case we couldn't find the hostel or it was booked. That was still nice just in case it came to that. Thankfully though we were able to find it only having to ask for directions one more time (and if we'd followed that man's map perfectly we would have found it but we didn't). And we went inside (it was about 11pm or midnight now I think) and they had rooftop beds for both of us and it was $10 each... perfect!

We paid, climbed the stairs, claimed our foam pads, quickly got ready for bed, and were fast asleep in no time.