Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Visiting The Holy Land of Isreal.....Part Two....

As our tour continued we headed into the mountains to see the beautiful vistas of the Golan Heights. While this area looks pretty with it's mountains, winter ski resorts, ancient ruins and springs there is more hidden here that the naked eye cannot see. Sharing a border with Syria there were large warning signs indicating the existence of land mines throughout the area. During our week long tour our guide pointed out spots along the way where bombs recently went off the week before we arrived. While this gives an eerie edge to our travels, we still felt perfectly safe here. Talking to locals along the way they assured us that there is little to no crime in Israel among the people, just some discourse with the neighboring countries over religious issues. And it's because of this that Israel does NOT stamp passports of tourists entering the country but instead issue a separate piece of paper with the stamp. In the past tourists have not been permitted to enter certain countries with a stamp from Israel in their passport. Our first stop was at ten in the morning for a wine tour and tasting!  Got us in the mood for the day.

An Excellent way to start the day! Four tastings of Israeli wines.






A drive through the Golan Heights
There are still land mines out there!

Our guide told us that there had
been bombing from Syria in this area
just the week before


Back to our tour we passed through an ancient Druze village to snap a few photos of the Druze people. The women of this unique ethnic and religious minority can be seen wearing long black dresses with white veils covering much of their face. The men typically dress in black or blue with large "kippa's" or skull caps on their heads and sport a long, bushy mustache. Although their faith developed out of Islam the Druze are not considered to be Muslims but are Arab speaking citizens of Israel.

Not to happy to
have her picture taken...a Druze woman.


Our tour group was asked if they would like to pay a few Shekels, about $15 each (Ok a LOT of Shekels) to take a boat trip on the Sea of Galilee.  We all agreed and experienced a relaxing trip on the boat.

blowing in the wind on
Sea of Galilee

Ancient Wooden Boats





Next we were off to explore the ancient fishing village of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. There we visited the ruins of a 2nd century synagogue where Jesus was said to have preached.  Then we visited the town of Tabgha where the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes took place. Since that time a church was built over the spot where according to tradition Jesus turned 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread into enough food to feed 5000 men plus their children and women. Then our bus climbed high up on a hill to visit the Mount of Beatitudes. There we marveled at the stunning views of the Sea of Galilee as we learned about the sermon that Jesus delivered on the very spot we were sitting. Our guide explained that the word, "beatitudes" is Greek for "blessings or blessed," since every one of the beatitudes begins with that word. We drove through the town of Tiberius before returning to our hotel for the night.





Ruins of the Synagogue that
that Jesus preached at


Entrance to the church built over
where the Miracle of the
Loaves and Fishes
took place


Mosaic of two fish
and a basket of loaves of bread

Church of the Beatitudes




They had all of Christ's
beatitudes all over the grounds


The following day we checked out of our kibbutz hotel in Galilee and boarded the bus headed for Tel Aviv. Our first stop was the 5000 year old, UNESCO city of Acre (or Akko). This ancient city was shaped by the Ottomans, Crusaders, Romans, Mamelukes, Byzantines, and the British and features one of the oldest ports in the world. We took a short tour around a ruined, crusader fortress and heard stories about how Richard the Lionheart  captured the city in 1191.

Walking in the steps of
The Crusaders!


One of my fellow Tour people
spotted these little guys








Our bus climbed up Mount Carmel to offer us a breathtaking view from the top, overlooking The Bahia World Center and port below. The Bahia Center offers 19 terraced gardens, fountains and spectacular views of the sea and the city of Haifa, Israel's third largest city.

Beautiful View from the Top




Terry and I with the city and port of 
Haifa in the background

Then we proceeded onto the city of Caesarea to see a ruined 2000 year old city built by Herod the Great. This ancient city once served as Rome's capital in Judea and included an amphitheater and other Crusader (or Christian) fortifications.

Out last stop on this
magnificent Tour







We ended this day in the city of Tel Aviv where we said good bye to Patrick our guide and our new friends. The next day Clyde and I did an optional tour to the Dead Sea and Masada.

Despite being tired we woke up very early to meet our tour guide for the day at 7am for another long day of touring. What began with a small group of just us and an Australian couple we knew from our week long tour turned into something much more. After an hours drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem we picked up a single British male traveler along with a Spanish speaking group of six people. This made things difficult as our guide had to explain things both in English and Spanish. She seemed much more comfortable talking in Spanish and pretty much ignored us English speakers for much of the day.

On our journey to Masada, we were able to view from the bus the actual caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  This was special to us as we had already been to the museum that housed the Dead Sea Scrolls


Can you see the caves?
This is were the scraps of paper  (dead sea scrolls) were
 found that created our Bible




After a two hour drive we made our first stop at Masada, an ancient fortress and palace built by King Herod. Along the top of a rugged mountain range sits this massive fortress that was the last stronghold of the Jewish Zealots against the Roman forces in 73 AD. We rode a cable car to the top and strolled around the ancient buildings. We learned that the Zealots ended the siege by committing a mass suicide of some 900 people instead of being captured by the Romans. The views overlooking the valley below were gorgeous with desert landscapes set against the mountains in the distance.

The flat top of the mountain where the 
fortress of Masada, was built


views from the top





Look carefully at the bottom left
This is where the Romans were slowly building up a ramp
to invade the Jews of Masada.
Instead of being captured and enslaved,
They all committed suicide


Back on the bus we headed to a spa near the Dead Sea where we could finally relax. After lunch we changed into swimwear then boarded a rustic train that dropped us off in front of the sea. We were now at the very LOWEST place on the planet....some 1,412 feet or 430 meters BELOW SEA LEVEL. Wow....hard to imagine! Filled with extreme amounts of salt the Dead Sea waters are super easy to float in, and good for our skin. The ground was hard and scratchy with dried salt and wearing our flip flops into the water was a must. The water has an oily feel to it, smooth on the skin yet heavy to walk in due to the high concentration of salt. The mud on the banks of the sea are said to be therapeutic containing plenty of minerals and good stuff for our skin so we rubbed some on. Swimming is NOT permitted in the sea due to the salt so visitors are only permitted to float on their backs, trying hard NOT to get the salty water into their eyes or mouth. Once our time was up we enjoyed a hot shower to remove the salty, oily residue from our bodies, dressed and headed back to our bus. It took another good shower with scrubbing later that evening before I really felt clean.

The Dead Sea








Since Clyde and I picked up the communal cold that was passed around our tour group we enjoyed a day of resting in our hotel the following day. After lunch we walked around Tel Aviv taking in the sights and watching young surfers trying to catch the perfect wave in the Mediterranean Sea across from our hotel.  Tel Aviv which literally means, "old and new," is a vibrant, lively, 24-hour city that never sleeps. While walking around we passed by a laundromat with directions in English so went back to our hotel to collect our smelly clothes and give them a wash.

Hanging out at the Laundromat

The Directions on how the machines work in Hebrew


The little joys that make us SO happy in our travels! Clean clothes, an amazing week of visiting the Holy Land and now onto our next adventures......along the gringo trail.