On the Sea of Galilee

Some of my favorite hours in Israel were spent in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Our boat was bigger that the disciples’ fishing boat and was motor rather than wind powered, but the water was the same surrounded by the same distant hills. It’s the same water the disciples fished in, the same water Jesus walked on, the same waves (though smaller) that Jesus calmed with a single wave.

We sailed on a beautiful clear morning. Gentle waves lapped at the sides of the boat. When the captain cut the engines, we heard nothing but a breeze and a few birds. It was a wonderful moment. If I closed my eyes, I was there with Jesus. I could easily have dozed off just like he did.

Not only did we walk where Jesus walked. We sailed where he sailed, too.

A few other boats out on the lake

A few interesting people in a few interesting places

I quickly took this picture in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. I’m not sure who this man was or what religious tradition he follows, but I was amused to see him focused on his smart phone, just like I could be in any given moment.

Guarding a door at the Dome of the Rock

A little girl wandering around on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Her family is close by. She has the same sippy cup as my grandchildren.

Priest saying mass for a small group of worshipers at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. I believe he was speaking Spanish.

Great beret, sippers and tote bag.

An older Hasidic man browsing at Mehane Yehuda market.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Our last day in Israel was the “go do whatever you want day.” My wife and I and a few friends decided we wanted to return to the Jewish quarter of Old City Jerusalem and then check out the highly recommended market, Mahane Yehuda.

When we started out, we didn’t even know the name of the market. But a shop owner said, “You are probably looking for Mahane Yehuda” and he wrote down the name for us. Great. Now, how do we get there? “Oh, it’s easy. You have to go deep into the Arab market, out the Jaffa gate, and head towards Jaffa road and St. George.” We thanked him as if we knew what that meant, and headed towards the Jaffa gate, where our taxi had dropped us off early that morning.

We got to the Jaffa gate. Now what? Aha, there’s a tourist center here. He sent us out the gate and up the hill to where we could catch the tram, a light rail train that would take us to the market. We saw the tracks in the road, and waited for the next train to come so we could see where the stop was. Once we got to the stop, it looked like we would need to buy a ticket. Not quite sure how to do that, a random guy simply directed us to a machine that had an English option. As I fiddled with the buttons and my debit card, a train came and left. Finally the machine spit out five tickets for us, and we boarded the next one.

I think this is the first time my wife and I have set out to explore a city on our own without a translator or guide with us. I really enjoyed the adventure! As we were told, everyone we asked for direction was extremely gracious and helpful.

Sitting on the train, I looked up and saw a sign announcing the next stop – in Hebrew. I can figure out some Hebrew, but now quickly. Before I knew it the announcement changed to Arabic. Not helpful. Finally came the English. We reached the stop specially designed to bring traffic to the market, and started down the street.

There is a lot of information on Mahane Yehuda Market on Wikipedia. Over two hundred and fifty vendors lined the streets, some out in the open, some under cover. There were fruits and vegetables, fish and meat, bread, halva, baklava, coffee shops, spiced and dried fruit, olives, and candy as far as my eye could see.

Turning into one of the covered areas, we came across Haachim Levy spices, teas and fruits. The young man working the booth enthusiastically described and let us try many of the blends of dried fruits out front that could be used to make tea, infuse drinks, or mixed into oatmeal. We bought three sweet and one savory blend from him.

Baklava, anyone?

We asked him where to get the best baklava and coffee in the market. With booth after booth selling those items, we wanted a recommendation. He directed our eyes down the long row of booths past several signs his favorite coffee roaster. “Just past that you’ll see an old man – that’s where you want to buy your baklava.” At the coffee roaster, I got a delicious long espresso made from a Tanzanian blend. Sure enough, just a few booths down we found a huge display of baklava. We loaded up a box with one of each that was sealed up so we could take it home with us.

As we continued to walk through the market, I couldn’t help but wonder how many in Jerusalem did their food shopping here. Throughout all our travels, we hand’t seen any grocery stores or Walmarts in Jerusalem. Maybe we just didn’t go through those parts of town. After a little research, I learned that there are some grocery chains there. But most people talk about the markets.

The experience reminded me of the markets in Baltimore when my wife and I lived there. The best thing is you buy everything fresh! I suppose after a while you would have your favorite vendors and be able to get exactly what you wanted in season and for special events. I could get used to a great selection of fish, meats and vegetables. I am too often disappointed with the grocery stores near me.

One cool thing about the market is that you get to talk to the person working the shop. Everyone was very proud of their booth and products, encouraged me to try samples, and loved to talk about their product, their family and the market. The few farmer’s markets near us give us a bit of that, but it just wasn’t the same.

I think I could have spent the whole day there!

Travel tips

Before a trip I often scour the internet for travel tips to various places. Here are my tips, gleaned from my recent 10-day trip to Israel.

Packing cubes are a gift from God. I tried a simple set from Amazon basics, and I am hooked. A few zippered bags made it so easy to organize and pack for each part of my trip. Where have these been all my life?

Travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner, contact lens solutions and tubes of toothpaste last a lot longer than you think. Those quantities don’t seem much, but a bottle of each lasted us the whole trip. i brought extra, but never opened them. Good to know when you want to pack light.

Bring some instant coffee. My wife and I really look forward to our coffee in the morning, but quickly learned that whatever the hotel provides in your room will disappoint. Pack some instant from Starbucks.

A travel power converter is priceless when traveling overseas. Ours was light and affordable. It not only let us charge up our phones each night, but powered my wife’s hair dryer and curling iron each morning.

Pack snacks. I was pleased to learn that we would get two meals on the long flight from Miami to Vienna. I was not pleased at what they called a meal. I’m not even sure what some of that food was. Bring some fruit, nuts and bars. Your stomach will thank you.

I journal each day and love to use a fountain pen. I had no problem using a Kwaeco Sport with cartridges. I had no problem writing on the plane.

I brought along a money belt for my cash, credit card and passport. They weren’t very useful. Pants with zippered pockets worked better for me. I only brought along what I thought I would need for the day. Credit cards were welcome just about everywhere I went, so you don’t have to carry a lot of cash. My daily carry was about $100 cash, some local currency and one credit card. All the places we went welcomed American currency. Visa and MasterCard worked the best. I sometimes had problems with American Express.

By the way, you don’t have to let your credit card providers know about your travel plans. They let you know by text or email when your card is used away from home. If you have your phone in your pocket, they know it is you using your card.

I didn’t bring my computer on my recent trip and didn’t miss it at all. I was able to blog, navigate and WhatsApp with my phone. Leaving my computer and charger at home probably saved me five pounds in my luggage.

When you leave your country, just watch, listen and learn. I usually figured out what to do by watching the person in front of me. If I waited long enough, the announcement I didn’t understand was repeated in English. People are nice, helpful and friendly in every culture.

That’s all I’ve got for now. More later.

The sounds of Israel

So after spending 8 days in Israel and simply recording where we went each day, I now have time to stop and reflect on our amazing trip to the Holy Land. From the first moment, our tour guide, Tali, told us to take in our eight days with all our senses. I’ll begin with what I heard.

Twelve hours in the air from Miami to Vienna and then Vienna to Tel Aviv on Austrian Airline meant I had numerous chances to hear German followed by English instructions and updates on the plane. I took two years of German in high school plus two semesters in college. I may not remember much of the vocabulary, but surprisingly I could follow the conversation when the pilot let us know how far we were from our destination or what kind of food might be served next.

It was hard to get to sleep our first night at the hotel on the Sea of Galilee because of a large, loud party on the beach below us that didn’t break up till about midnight. I might not have minded had we been invited!

I sat in the front row of our tour bus, so I got to hear the wide variety of music our driver, Anatoli, played while on crowed city streets and highways between destinations. He switched between Hebrew talk radio, classical, Broadway show tunes, country, and a little techno thrown in for good measure.

From time to time we would be outside to hear a Muslim call to prayer. These were digital, not live. I am not sure I’ve ever heard one before and was surprised at how long a call lasted. Each seemed like a minute or more. We must not have been in Arabic locations, because I did not see many people bow in prayer.

A sea of tour busses surrounded us everywhere we went, filled with visitors from all over the world. As the groups passed, I heard Spanish, Portuguese, French, Russian and English tour guides pointing out the sites and explaining some history behind each. Each person in our group wore a headset, too, and the voice of our tour guide was always in our ear, explaining what we were looking at and where we were headed next.

Sometimes I heard nothing. Silence. Some sites prohibited explanations, so we took it all in with our other senses. At some, reverence for the moment and respect for those praying or meditating dictated quiet. Silence has a way of accentuating the holy. It was very quiet at the Church of the Beatitudes. A nun made sure of that. It was also virtually silent at Mary’s house in the Church of the Annunciation.

Church of the Beatitudes
(See the water flowing from the altar)

It was not quiet at all in the church of the Holy Sepulcher. I thought the place was packed, but our guide said it was only about 60% of what she had seen. Crowds of people in long lines and constant conversation in every conceivable language surrounded us everywhere we went. We did not stay long, but it is a busy, busy place!

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

In some remote places like Qumran, Masada and Caesaria Philippi, I heard the songs of birds. Some where there because our guide brought a few crumbs to feed some of them. Others were just curious or up in the trees.

At the Western wall in Jerusalem I was surrounded by many speaking or singing prayers. They sat in chairs in front of the wall with prayer books or scripture open before them. Many sang psalms at the site of King David’s tomb as well. We didn’t spend a lot of time in those places, but I imagine that some who came spent a large portion of their day there.

The souvenir shop at the Jordan River baptismal sight had a selection of shofar (rams horn trumpets) you could try. I heard these being blown in the store and also several places along the way. I was the only one in our group to blow a few notes.

At Temple Mount, a vigilant voice broke up couples who were simply holding hands or had arms around one another for a picture, warning, “No hug! No touch!” No one had to be warned more than once.

A boat took us out onto the Sea of Galilee. Once out there, the pilot cut the engines, and I heard nothing but the breeze, a few birds and the sound of gentle waves against the side of the boat. I really enjoyed this calm, peaceful moment.

On our way from someplace in Jerusalem to some other place, we came across a family celebrating their three-year-old son’s first haircut. I didn’t know that was a thing. But they beat on drums, sang songs and released blue and white balloons into the air, too.

First haircut celebration

Other sounds included the hiss of the espresso machine at a market coffee shop, the sizzle of an omelette griddle at our second hotel, the enthusiastic description of so many dried fruit mixes at one market stall, and the endless invitations to check out the merchandise at each and every shop in the Arab market.

For me, the best sound was my own voice singing in St. Anne’s church by the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. The acoustics were amazing. A sung phrase would linger in the air for five seconds. So I could sing and then listen, sing and listen, and marvel at the rich sounds surrounding me.

St. Anne’s

Unfortunately, my days were peppered by voices in our group complaining about long lines, waits and walks during the day and hotel room problems at night. Each concern was legit, but come on, folks. The opportunity to walk where Jesus walked and see all those places I’ve only read about before is worth a little inconvenience. At least it was for me.

When I began writing this, I had no idea how many sounds I would recall. I suspect I’ll remember more, so there might be a part two.

Israel (Day 8)

Today was our “free” day. A few of us decided to spend s little more time in the Old City of Jerusalem.

When we met in the hotel lobby after breakfast, there was already a cabbie looking for a fare, so we hopped in. Our driver was a native of Jerusalem and shared s little of his views on yesterday’s election.

He dropped us off at the Jaffa gate, after we got our bearings, we headed down through the Arab market. We happened across Bassam Barakas, a fourth generation antiquities dealer who had more to offer than the usual trinkets (like yarmulkes with NFL logos). We purchased a pendant with a “widow’s mite” from the 1st century B.C. from him.

Bassam told us that his brother Yosef owns Tony’s Pizza in St. Augustine. We’ll check it out when we get home.

We returned to yesterday’s lunch place, the Upper Gate, for fish meatballs, salmon, and falafel.

After lunch we left the city and took a tram to Menachen Yehuda market, a huge area selling everything you can imagine. We bought some awesome dried fruit from Haachim Levy, drank a Tanzanian long espresso from a little coffee roaster, and bought some baklava to bring home with us.

After a quick taxi ride home, we packed a little, had a drink, and joined our group for a farewell dinner. Our bus to the airport leaves very early in the morning, so it’s time to get a few hours sleep.

Israel (Day 7)

Dome of the Rock

We really covered a lot of ground today. Our group left the hotel about 8 am. Our first stop was Temple Mount. The security line was short and the crowds were few, but we also couldn’t go inside due to remodeling work being done today. Even so, the Dome of the Rock was beautiful under clear blue skies.

At the Western wall

We next headed to the Western wall of Herod’s temple to join many others in prayer. I went to the left with the men, while the women went to the right. The crowd was still small when we arrived.

I watched with interest as many sang psalms and said prayers while others place their carefully written prayers into the cracks in the wall.

We walked further down the western side of the wall and marveled at the size of the stones used to build the wall over 2,000 years ago.

Rounding the corner, my wife and I ran up the southern steps as had many pilgrims before us. The steps are different widths, to keep folks from running too fast.

On the way to King David’s tomb, we ran into a special Jewish family celebration. A little three-year old boy was about to get his first haircut! He didn’t seem too happy about it, but the family and many bystanders joined in songs, cheering, and a blue and white balloon release.

Even though King David probably isn’t buried there, I was fascinated by the location of his tomb. Men and women entered on separate sides. Chairs were filled with men praying and reading psalms. I appreciated the reverent atmosphere of that room.

The upper room we visited probably wasn’t the site of Jesus’ Passover meal with his disciples, but we went to that place as well. More Muslim than Christian in design, it was much larger than I would have expected it to be.

As we walked through the Jewish quarter, we paused to look at some of the old wall of Jerusalem, from the time of Solomon. There isn’t much from the first temple period, so I appreciated this ancient site.

Caiaphas’ house is where Jesus was taken after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane and where Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. The house include some deep pits where Jesus May have been held prisoner before his trial. I read Psalm 88 to our group, and we thought about the only One we can cry out to for help when we’re “in the pit.”

Golgotha

Waiting to go into the tomb

Inside the tomb

The very last place on our tour was Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. This place was simple and was more like a place where Jesus could have been crucified, buried and the resurrected. We met for communion and a chorus of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” before we rode back to our hotel.

Tomorrow is a free day. I think we’re going to go back and wander around the Old City again, and spend some time at the market.

Israel (Day 6)

Cave at Qumran

Our journey today took us first to Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. The uncovered ruins revealed much about a community that was able to thrive in a dry, barren, hilly wilderness. Ibex wandered ahead of us on the path to see some of the caves.

Ibex joined our tour

That wilderness seemed to go on forever as we drove to Masada, where we saw Herod’s fortress and the place of the Zealots last stand in AD 73. I remember watching the TV miniseries with great interest in 1981. (You can watch it now on Amazon Prime.)

Masada

We took the cable car to the fortress remains to see the palace complex, the siege ramp, and an amazing view.

En Gedi waterfall

On our way to a beach on the Dead Sea we stopped at Wadi David, or the springs of En Gedi where David hid from King Saul. We didn’t go too far in, just enough to see a beautiful waterfall.

I did get to float in a very warm Dead Sea under a clear blue sky. Some in our group applied lots of mineral rich mud in pursuit of younger looking skin.

Today was great from start to finish. Tomorrow, we’re back in Jerusalem.

Israel (Day 5)

We hit the ground running at 7:30 and got a bird’s eye view tour of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

Garden of Gethsemane

To save a little time (and energy) we drove the Palm Sunday walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. I led a communion service there for our group. I’ve done it hundreds of times, but never “on site” before. What a great experience!

Pool at Bethesda. You can see one of the seven colonnades.

St. Anne’s

From there we entered the old city of Jerusalem through the Lion’s Gate. We first stopped at St. Anne’s church and the Pool of Bethesda. Amazing excavations brought the story of John 5 to life. In St. Anne’s we sang a few songs (everyone knew “Jesus Lives Me” and the Doxology) in a place with remarkable acoustics. The hang time of each phrase lasted at least five seconds. I did a verse of “Of the Father’s Live Begotten” because you can’t take the Seminary Kantorei out of the kid.

A very crowded Via Dolorosa

Beginning at Pilates judgment hall we then walked the Via Dolorosa past the fourteen stations of the cross. This path takes you up and down through a maze of churches, shrines, and markets jam-packed with people of who knows how many nationalities.

The place where Jesus died on the cross

We finally arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, within which are one tradition’s location of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. The line to see that last station was three to fours long. We plan on going back there on our free day.

The stone of anointment, where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial.

Today was also our day to go to Bethlehem. Our Israeli tour guide handed us off to an Arab tour guide for this part of the trip. We first stopped at a great restaurant for lunch of schwarma. We also spent a little time at a store selling olive wood carvings. We got a few gifts there, but many of the items were way up there in price.

Church of the Nativity

Inside the church of the Nativity. Long line to the right.

We got onto a smaller bus that took us up to the Church of the Nativity, but not after backing over a concrete barrier. This driver was definitely on the wild side. But then again, so was everyone else on the road.

The wait to see one traditional birth place of Jesus was two hours, and most of our group didn’t want to do that. The rest of the church was either under construction or not open to the public. So we really didn’t see much there. I wasn’t impressed by the town of Bethlehem at all.

Overall it was an up and down day. In some spots I saw more than I expected. In others I saw less. But we were right there where it all happened.