Travels to the Holy Land III

I woke up early and went for a quick run down the nearby streets. Other tourists were getting breakfast at the various cafes throughout Jerusalem and after a few miles in the early morning heat, I jogged back to the hotel for a quick shower. Following breakfast, our group met with Hannah Goslar, Anne Frank’s good friend and Holocaust survivor. Her story is absolutely incredible! After meeting with her, we boarded the bus and headed off to visit Yad Vashem. Sombering though it is, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial helps bring to light the darkness that occurred during the Holocaust and was well worth the visit.

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We ate lunch at the cafeteria there before driving back to the hotel. With a few hours of scheduled free time before we would head out to visit the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall, and attend a traditional Friday dinner at a Jewish host home, I went out to explore Jerusalem in the daylight.

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I headed over to Ben Yehuda street to check out the markets. After winding through several side streets that looked interesting, I was eventually greeted by lively crowds of tourists milling around, attempting to barter with the various meat, spice, and fruit sellers.  The loud clamor of broken English and thick accents met my ears as tourists from around the world swarmed through the stalls.

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After trying numerous samples from different sellers, I settled on buying some tea. Everything was pretty expensive in Jerusalem, thanks to the high tourist traffic, but I managed to get the tea at a  reasonable price after bartering it down.

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After wandering through the shops nearby and snacking on various treats, I turned back and headed for Jerusalem’s central bus station. I ducked inside to see what shops it had, but everything had started to close early for the Sabbath. I ended up getting some sort of mixed chocolatey milkshake from Aldo, an ice cream cafe found all over Israel. The man who ordered in front of me spoke Hebrew to the lady behind the counter, and ordered a chocolate milkshake with various types of chocolate ice cream in it. When it came my turn to order, I simply asked for the same thing he had. Best chocolate milkshake ever.

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As I walked back towards the hotel from the bus station, I noticed an abandoned building with shuttered windows and a small, open gateway. I peered into the darkened corridor past the open gate. Thin layers of grey dust had settled on the ground. The stark scent of stale urine hit my nostrils. Adventure awaits. So with chocolate milkshake in one hand and bags of looseleaf tea in the other, I ventured into the abandoned building. I walked through the dark corridor and emerged into an old courtyard with an old basketball hoop and gnarly graffiti. The air was still and my heartbeat quickened as I heard the sound of approaching footsteps in the corridor. I decided to head back and greet whoever was coming toward me (and play the role of confused tourist). As I rounded the corner to enter the corridor, I paused. It was completely empty. There were two small, empty, concrete windows in the corridor, about 10 feet off the ground but that was it. I hastened my speed and walked the few metres into the light on the other side.

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On the way back to the hotel, I stopped by David’s Harp to take a shot with my Xiaomi Yi Action Camera (since it doesn’t have a viewing screen on the back, I was pretty stoked to see that the shot actually turned out). So here it is, shortly before the sunset initiating the Sabbath.

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As I walked around, an IDF soldier got off a bus and we somehow ended up walking side-by-side down the busy street. I turned to him and introduced myself. We chatted for a brief while about life in the military and in the U.S.A. until a car pulled up with several of his friends and he left.

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I returned to the hotel, and after freshening up for the Sabbath I boarded the bus and went with the rest of the group to visit the Western Wall.

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As we walked toward the Western Wall, we passed by the ruins of ancient Roman rule built above ancient cisterns and I spotted a blue hat that had been discarded on the ground. See if you can find it in the picture below! While the rest of the group continued on (note: I’m horrible at being part of organized tours), I ran down the steps with Alex and picked up the blue hat, while Alex grabbed a white hat. After quickly inspecting them for lice or fecal matter (of which we found none), we kept them and joined back up with our group.

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From there, we continued on to the Western Wall before going on to a traditional Friday night dinner at a host home. The dinner was great, and it was swell getting to experience it. Our group was divided into two, and the half that I was with went to the home of an American-Israeli who taught us what a Friday meal typically looks like for Jewish families.

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The next day, we visited the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem for Sabbath prayers and then visited various churches and historical sites around the city. We explored ancient Roman cisterns below the city and visited the Mount of Olives and looked upon the Old City.

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After entering the Old City via the Lion Gate, we walked around some more and checked out St. Anne’s Church before getting lunch at El Burak in the Old City.

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From there, we walked the Via Dolorosa and visited the Coptic Church which had a memorial for the Coptic Christians killed by ISIS  a few months before.

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We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where some believe that Jesus is buried (instead of in the Garden Tomb), and the architecture inside is absolutely incredible.

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From the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we visited the Arab Quarter and checked out the market stalls. One of the shops we passed by had the oddest assortment of items in it, including a live parrot and an upside down pink chair.

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Many of the items in the shops we passed seemed to be made in China…so that was interesting. Reminded me of when I was in South Africa and came across supposedly “African” artifacts that had actually been made in China. That was a bummer. Stick with buying spices and tea if you want something authentic.

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While waiting to board the bus, I bought a bag of Doritos and ate half of the bag before trading it with an old man selling Capri-Sun-like juice packs. He ate a few chips, then gave them back to me with a juice pack. A small boy hollered at me to come look at the bread he was selling, so I asked him if I could sample a piece. At first, he said no. Then after offering him some of my chips, he gave me a small hunk of bread which tasted marvelous.

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We drove back to the hotel for dinner before having a meeting with the renowned Neil Lazarus. After the seminar, I took to the streets for a walk down to an ice cream shop. While eating ice cream, I sat next to an older man who was originally from Egypt and had been living on the streets for several years. We talked for about an hour before I told him I’d meet him again the following night and we could grab dinner. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there the following night, but I was able to meet up with my friend, Nick Mills, from my days at Oral Roberts University. He had recently gotten a job in Jerusalem and so together we walked around the dark streets and got ice cream.

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The next day, we boarded the bus bright and early and drove toward the Dead Sea. We passed by Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls had been found and continued on to the desert oasis of Ein Gedi, where David had hid from King Saul. Our bus transformed into a submarine as we descended hundreds of feet below sea level.

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At the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, the dry, desert temperature was around 115° F and our guide told us that we’d melt if we stayed out too long. We watered up and then hiked the few hundred yards down the path toward the first set of waterfalls. I had to restrain the urge to go clamber around the caves and rocks nearby.

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After getting our feet wet at the falls, we hiked back to the bus. Along the way, I spotted a small herd of Nubian ibexes munching on some greenery in the oasis.

As we boarded the bus, I chatted with a middle-aged couple from England who were bike-touring Israel (riding from North to South), and they mentioned how they’ve had to mainly cycle at night due to the heat in the desert but that they’ve loved their journey so far. They planned on retiring early and biking across Australia next summer. From Ein Gedi we drove to the ancient fortress of Masada, where 960 Jewish Sicarii rebels committed suicide against the advancing Roman army.

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Since our tour guide was adamant that we would die of heat exhaustion if we climbed up the windy “Snake Path” up to the top, we took the aerial cablecar to the top.

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After walking amongst the ruins and learning about the history of Masada, we took the aerial cablecar back down to where our bus had parked and after a brief lunch at the cafeteria and buying random things at the gift shop (I bought some date syrup), we drove off to the Dead Sea.

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At -1,407 feet, the Dead Sea is the Earth’s lowest elevation on land. It is pretty neat, although the salty water will blind you and sting your lips. Most of us floated around and grabbed chunks of the Dead Sea Salt before heading back to the bus and a few of us wild-types smeared Dead Sea mud on ourselves. Apparently, that mud is worth quite a bit of money… $9.50/lb (Purity Beauty) and upwards of $14 on Amazon

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On the drive back up to Jerusalem, we stopped by a petrol station that had camels available to ride. Eight dollars per ride was a bit too much for my meagre budget so I just hung out groaking in the shade.

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There was a pretty thirsty-looking dog who was chilling nearby in the shade, so while I waited for those riding camels, I got him a cup of water and he left without saying thanks. Thanks pal.

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The next day, we’d check out of our hotel in Jerusalem and head off to the coast. Only a few days left of this trip and the days were flying by…

Continue on to Chapter IV.

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