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 4)

Even though many in Israel were observing the Sabbath, we had a busy day.

We were on the road at 8 and went to the site of John’s baptisms in the Jordan River. The Jordan is a modest river but the setting of this place was beautiful. At many locations along the banks, groups were baptizing and renewing baptisms. When Lisa and I dipped out feet in the water, lots of little fish tickled our toes.

The Jordan River

The gift shop there was a marvel of the tourist industry. Items for sale included small jars of water from the Jordan, vials of mud from the riverbed, shofar (ram’s horn trumpets), menorah, balms from the Dead Sea, replicas of the ark of the covenant, rosaries, jewelry, dates, honey, dates and much, much more.

We were most interested in the fresh juice drinks sold at a stand. Delicious!

Our next stop was the ancient ruins at Beit She’an. King Saul’s head was displayed there after his defeat on Mt. Gilboa (1 Samuel 31). The Romans built quite a “spa” complex there, complete with bathhouse, theater, amphitheater, hippodrome, temple and shops. The excavation was enormously impressive.

Ruins at Beit She’an

From there we stopped at the springs of Harold, or Gideon’s Cave and springs where he whittled his army down to 300 soldiers to defeat the Midianites ( Judges 7). The park here is a popular Sabbath destination. Tents and picnic blankets stretched as far as you could see. Kids splashed in wading pools as parents grilled supper. Women lounged in the refreshing springs just feet away from the cave itself. We ate our picnic lunch here too, with freshly baked pita, mango, olives, and homemade cheese and mango jelly.

Gideon Springs

As we made our way south to Jerusalem, we made a quick stop at Bet Alef, the ruins of a 4th century synagogue with a beautiful intact mosaic floor. The history and design we learned from a film was fascinating.

4th century flood at Bet Alef synagogue

As we drove south, we saw the mount of Jesus’ temptation in the distance and drove by the Samaritan Inn. The wilderness all around made me appreciate Jesus’ forty days of fasting and temptation (Matthew 4). The deserted road from Jericho to Jerusalem helped me picture Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan.

We finally arrived in Jerusalem and caught a glimpse of the city as we made our way to our next hotel, the Jerusalem Ramada.

First glimpse of Jerusalem

Tomorrow we begin to explore the city.

Israel (Day 3)

We headed out a little bit earlier today to get a jump on all other tours. This morning’s journey was to several places on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.

Church of the Beatitudes

Our first stop was the Church of the Beatitudes and the site of the sermon on the mount. At a small shaded chapel area we read from Matthew 5 and talked a little about how differs Jesus’ kingdom is from any other.

We then had ten minutes to visit the church along with throngs streaming in and out. My favorite part was the mosaic floor depicting water flowing from the altar.

This site did a brisk business selling intentions for $15 and rosaries beginning at $20.

If you used your imagination, you could picture thousands sitting on the hillside as Jesus taught one afternoon.

The next stop was Capernaum. We saw ruins of Peter’s house where Jesus healed his mother-in-law’s fever. The excavated ruins here were extensive and fascinating.

Ruins at Capernaum

A very short drive from here brought us to Tabgha, the traditional site of Jesus’ miracle of the multiplication of the fish and bread. The old mosaic floors were amazingly well preserved.

Site of the Multiplication of the Bread and Fish

Our last stop on this part of the trip was The Ancient Boat, a fisherman’s boat preserved from Jesus’ time. Here we also got to go out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. We meditated on Jesus walking on the water, sang a few hymns, and enjoyed a breezy time on the water.

A short distance away we stopped for lunch at Kitsa Halahal, a roadside Lebanese restaurant with some excellent tilapia. Washed it down with some Maccabee beer.

They thought my fish was too small, so they brought me a second.

It then took us an hour to drive up to Caesaria Philippi where Jesus told Peter he would build his church on the rock. The massive stone cliff still loomed Over rubble ancient remains of temples, fortresses and churches.

Caesaria Philippi

Since Jesus was in Galilee for so much of his ministry, this was a good day. Just not long enough to see enough of everything, though!

Israel (Day 2)

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee

Ruins at Caesarea

This was our first real full day of touring. After an amazing buffet breakfast, we were on the road at 8 am to Caesarea. Tali our tour guide used our hour drive time to review the religious and socio-political history of Israel.

A nice video helped us understand the history of Caesarea before we stepped out to the edge of the Mediterranean to see what was left of the harbor, hippodrome, amphitheater and Pilate’s lake house.

On our way to Megiddo we passed Mt. Carmel where the prophet Elijah had his showdown with the prophets of Baal. The visitor center at Megiddo is being renovated so many of the structures were temporary. A little bit of an uphill hike took us past twenty-seven layers of ancient cities until we reached the top of the tel where we had a great view of the Jezreel valley. The panoramic view from the top of the tel was awesome. On our way back we went down many flights of steps to the springs far below the surface that provided water to the fortified cities that once stood there.

Ruins at Megiddo

Lunch at a little restaurant near Megiddo gave me my first taste of falafel. Not too bad, especially when you spice it up.

Church of the Annunciation

Mary’s house; place of the annunciation

Our next stop was Nazareth. I was surprised to learn that the population of Nazareth is mostly Islamic, with a few Arabic Christians mixed in. Jews do not live in Jesus’ hometown.

The city of Nazareth was old and kind of dirty. The closer we got to the Church of the Annunciation, the more souvenir vendors lined the street. This church is amazing. Beautiful stone architecture and artwork. The grotto on the lower level, supposedly where Gabriel told Mary she would be the mother of our Lord looked liked little more than a small cave. Many tourists knelt there to pray.

Our last stop for the day was Cana, where Jesus did his first miracle of turning water into wine. The church itself and several side chambers were filled with couples renewing their wedding vows. We headed into the basement to see a twenty gallon stone jar, like the one Jesus told servants to fill with water.

Church at Cana

Upon returning to Tiberias, we stopped in the National Diamond Center where a crack team of salesmen leached onto us until we finally found the exit and escaped.

A busy day. Each site was full of tour busses just like ours. A thriving business for sure.

Tomorrow we head to Galilee.

Israel (Day 1)

The official day 1 of our trip was spent mostly in the plane. Nine hours in the air from Miami to Vienna, then another three plus to Tel Aviv, both on Austrian Airlines. Smooth flights all the way.

I watched and really enjoyed two movies, “Tolkien” and “Aquaman” The onboard meals were meh, but I didn’t expect much. I got about three hours of sleep. Not too bad.

We finally landed safely in Tel Aviv. There were a LOT of people in line for immigration. I’m guessing five hundred or so. But also twelve people checking passports, so we got through, got our bags and got on the bus in about 45 minutes.

Because it was rush hour, we had a two hour drive to our first hotel, the Lake House Kimberly in Tiberius. Our tour guide for the week, Tali, lives in Tiberius, and shared lots of info with us on the way. I think most of our group was dozing. She told us what to expect our first day out when we’ll get to Caesarian, Megiddo, Jezreel, Nazareth and Cana.

After we checked into our hotel room, we enjoyed a great buffet dinner on site. All freshly prepared, all typical regional food. Lots of veggies, olives, cous cous, hummus, wine, and a number of thing we liked, but couldn’t identify. Lots of seasoning, too.

The Sea of Galilee from our hotel balcony.

Israel (Day 0)

First leg of our trip may have been the toughest: getting to the Miami airport. A five hour drive south on I-95 is rarely a good time. But today, it didn’t get exciting until the last twenty miles through the heart of the city. We were glad to get through that last pulse-pounding stretch.

I was initially a little concerned about our choice of off-airport long term parking. A little sketchy. But once we pulled in, they took great care of us and got an entertaining ride to the airport that includes some advice on how to stay married a long time: always say “yes” to your wife.

We checked our watches and noticed we had a four hour wait till we boarded our flight. The ticket agents hadn’t even arrived yet. Once the whole group arrives, we were compelled to get in line. Our check in and bag check went smoothly, as did security. A great start to any trip.

Three hours to wait now. Time for lunch. After a bit of wandering, Lisa and I found a nice little sit down place when I had a beer and a remarkably good Beyond Burger, and Lisa a tasty salad with chicken. With airplane food to look forward to over the next twelve hours, it was worth a few bucks to enjoy a nice meal.

Two hours to wait now. I had to write early since I’ll be in the air till tomorrow. Next stop Vienna, then Tel Aviv.

Israel (Day -1)

My wife and I will join a group of seventeen other travelers to Israel tomorrow. Day zero will be all travel, from Miami to Vienna to Tel Aviv. So today is negative one on the trip time line. (I’m a math guy, so this entertains me.)

I finally packed today. The instructions said to pack light, pack casual, pack comfortable. I did. All of my stuff fits easily into a small rolling duffel. I am using packing cubes for the first time. Boy do they make packing easy! No computer, my books are electronic, my journal is ready, and the car is gassed up.

Tomorrow we drive to Miami where we will meet the rest of our group, most of whom are from our church. I believe we’ve been planning this trip for more than a year. We’re looking forward to eight days packed with all the popular destinations, from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea to Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

One of the things we keep reminding ourselves is that we are traveling to a first-world country. So much of our international travel has been to third world countries, where we can’t drink the water, travel on unpaved roads, and navigate throngs of people trying to sell us stuff, carry our bags, or simply receive a little American wealth. We checked out our hotels. They are nice. The food looks delicious, the water is safe, and we will join so many other travelers who have sought to walk where Jesus walked.

So what are my expectations? I hope to be able to picture the bible stories that happened in each of the places we will visit. I want to see fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, imagine myself at a wedding in Cana, walk through Jerusalem to Golgotha, stand where the temple must have been, and take in a history that goes back nearly 4,000 years.

Since I am a pastor, I expect to be peppered with questions about bible stories, places and people. That’s OK. I like the stories, the places and the people. I talk about that stuff all the time. But now I will be there. I will see it with my own eyes. That has to be an awesome experience, so I’m beginning to look forward to it.

Since I am a pastor, though, I fear that some of the trip will feel like work. I just want to listen to the tour guide, look at the amazing places, and imagine the people without being on the clock. We’ll see how that goes.