2012 has started off with a bang! Have been so extremely busy that I've barely had time/energy to write up blog posts and read other blogs on top of all the cooking and eating I've been doing :( I've also spent alot of my time online doing some research for an upcoming little holiday that Ryan and I will be heading off to in a couple of weeks - totes excited about that! :) Anyway, I thought I should continue on with another blog post of my amazing trip last August so here goes...
We've barely recovered from our big climb up Mt Sinai the day before but are packing up our bags and on the move again. We say goodbye to our little resort by the Red Sea and grab some breakfast before we board our bus to continue our journey into Israel. The food (buffet) here at the resort was a-ok but my golly gosh, they made the best omelettes ever which caught us by suprise. No one else seemed to want to go for the cereal or whatever else they were serving, we all had eyes for the omelette station. The long wait was worth it though. I'm not sure how an omelette made of eggs could melt in your mouth, but these omelettes did. Ryan even endured the line to go for seconds.
(Top: Egyptian coast, Bottom: Israeli beach, )
With our tummies full of food we're on our way to the Egyptian-Israeli border. We pass by many many resorts along the coast but many of them are unoccupied as the summer heat is too harsh. We're told by our guide that people tend to come here for holidays when it's a little cooler.
It's another long drive and we finally reach the border. We all have to get off the bus, collect our luggage and walk to the exit check point and walk across to the Israeli side. I don't think I've ever had to walk across a borderline before, there's a first for everything I suppose. The exit point (which I also thought was the entry point at the time) was a fairly simple procedure. Our luggage was scanned, the officers checked our passports and then out we walked. We were warned of being asked lots of questions so I thought it was a little strange that it all seemed too easy.
We dragged our luggage down a path past some official looking buildings and then we got to another gate and had to queue up again. This was now the entry point into Israel. And this is where the interrogation starts. The first encounter is when your passport is checked. An observation most of us make is that a lot of the officers are female, and pretty good looking ones too. But you knew not to mess with them, unless you wanted your ass kicked.
The second point is where your luggage is scanned. Some of us received a nice little sticker on our passport, which meant that our luggage would actually be opened up and examined. Luckily I escaped the examination, and then moved onto the third check point where they asked you a few questions while checking your credentials - Why are you in Israel? Who are you with? How long are you staying here? Etc etc. It was a sigh of relief walking out the gate with the all clear. Then I had a brief moment of panic when I realised that my travel wallet was still stuck where my luggage had been scanned. Luckily Ryan came to the rescue and was able to retrieve it for me.
A new country meant a new bus fleet (3) and new tour guides for our group. It was sweet that they tried to personalise the bus with some Aussie memorabilia, just to remind us of home.
When I learnt that I was going to be travelling to Israel, I really didn't know what to expect. It wasn't a country that I thought I would ever visit despite that fact that it is so important to Christianity and so many people go on a pilgrimage to this place. This part of Israel that we travel through is quite beautiful, just vast desert with the occasional crop of date palms (and Israel has the best tasting dates!).
We have a bit of a pitt stop for some lunch and snacks and then it's another long drive by the time we reach the Dead Sea. Our guide also points out the area where the cave was, where they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls.
We visit the Masada National Park, which is an ancient site sitting on top of a great cliff overlooking the Dead Sea and the Judean Dessert. It's also the place where King Herod set up fort. Some parts of the ruins have been recreated to depict what the buildings would have looked like, most of the bases are original stones.
You can see right across the Dead Sea into Jordan. The uninterupted views on top of Masada were quite spectacular.
We could not drive past the Dead Sea and not have a float in it. As we were running behind schedule we couldn't go to the original patrolled 'beach' that the guides had planned to take us to. Apparantly it was a bit nicer than where we ended up which was quite gravelly. Signs around the place cearly instructed you not to splash the water and not to try and swim.
The water in the Dead Sea is just so full of salt and minerals that it becomes extremely dense. Drowning in the water was pretty much impossible, though I always have a fear of drowning when my feet can't touch the bottom of the water which didn't help the experience. An amazing moment was when some of the carers of the disabled youth who were travelling with us carried one of the guys who was wheel chair bound down to the water. It must have been so cool for him to see himself floating on water when he could not walk on his own legs.
It was a cool but also weird experience for me and I don't think I'd do it again if I were given the chance. The bottom of the sea was quite slimy and combined with the density of the water it was difficult to walk without feeling like you were being pushed off your feet. I tried to just lie on my back and float but I kept feeling myself being pushed up by the water that it started to get a little uncomfortable, in addition to my eyes stinging because some of the water had been splashed into them.
Excuse the photo above but it's the only one I could find of us taken by other people, our cameras were left on the bus. Some of the guys (and girls too) decided to smear some Dead Sea sludge all over their bodies as the minerals in the mud are quite good for your skin. The smell was enough to turn you off doing the same thing though.
Our last stop for the day before heading to our accomodation was Jericho. We were meant to get there much earlier and in time to attend Mass however as we were way behind schedule we missed it but the Friars of the church were kind enough to let us hold our own Mass. It was dark by the time we arrived, and the only time we spent off the bus was to attend Mass so unfortunately there arn't any photos to show our time there except for this one that I managed to snap of a cross atop a church.
I was however suffering from some digestive problems and spent most of my time downstairs in the residence of the Friars waiting to see a doctor so Ryan and I missed out on Mass. I was fed some figs, chocolate and apricot jam which was supposed to help.
I finally get to see the doctor who gives me a script for some medicines and am then taken for a walk down the main street of Jericho with some of the others who were also unwell to a chemist. That was one experience I won't ever forget. Walking down a dimly lit street, obvious that you're the only few foreigners in this town and looking at what seemed like a community dominated by men. The stares that we got were so piercing that I felt so self concious. It felt like the longest time ever before we boarded the bus again, with a whole bag of drugs which were suppose to make me feel better.
By the time we reach our accomodation it's quite late and after such a long day we're all eager to freshen up and get a good night's rest ready for our jam packed itinerary in Israel. Tomorrow is a new day.
City of Nazareth.
We stop by a place called Yardent, which is a baptismal site on the Jordan river set up by the Protestant church in Israel. The site where Jesus was baptised is actually on the other side of the river in Jordan.
'Nazareth Village' is a replica site of how things were back in the first century during the time of Jesus. We are split into two groups with two different guides and then taken through some rooms with photos, artefacts, diagrams etc and the guide tells us what to expect when we go outside into the 'village'.
Some of the 'villagers' demonstrating some carpentry and wool spinning.
Our tummy's are grumbling telling us that it's lunch time and we are treated to a 'first century meal'. I think most of us remember this part of the visit the most. It felt like you had just been invited to a great feast in their home, the hospitality was just so warm and the head chef was like one of your friend's grandmother constantly filling the table with food making sure that you were well fed.
Clockwise from top left: lentil soup, hummous, freshly fired flat bread, grilled chicken breast.
Happy to see his favourite fruit and it was safe to eat too, something we had been deprived of ever since we left home.
After lunch we head to the Basilica of the Annunciation where we also have Mass. The church is built over a cave where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the news that she was going to be with child.
After mass we head upstairs. The basilica actually has two levels with some amazing stained glass window artworks. On the same block is also the Church of St Joseph, Mary's Well.
This concludes our second day in Israel. We head back to our accomodation to spend the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Sorry no photos of the meals here but we were lodging at a youth hostel so it was a lot of mass produced buffet style food, lots and lots of salads, breads and dips, meats, roast vegies etc. It wasn't bad but nothing worthy to write home about. I definately enjoyed our meals on the road more.
It's another early start to the day and our first stop is the ruins of Korazin (passing by Bethsaida on the way), a once flourishing Jewish town in the region of Galilee where Jesus spent alot of his time teaching. There are a few residential buildings, a synagogue, a bath and an olive press that remains on this site.
After that we head to Capernaum which is another ancient town where Jesus spent his time teaching and was the home to his disciples and may have also been the home of Jesus.
There is a church that is said to be built above the remains of St Peter's house.
It's now time to head out onto the water, on the Sea of Galilee. There are 3 large old fishing boats which are aligned side by side and tied together so that we can have Mass in the middle of the sea.
There were also alot of sides on the table (not all photographed), including some pretty awesome hummous.
Some beets and red cabbage salad.
After lunch is some more church hopping. We head to Tabgha visit the church of the Primacy of St Peter, and also nearby is the church of the Multiplication. Mensa Christi - Latin for Table of Christ.
Our last stop for the day is also in Tabgha, at the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. I think by now I am pretty exhausted as I don't remember much and it even shows in my lack of photos of this place.
It's back to our hostel for some rest and relaxation before another big day.