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?
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.
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.